Her Min is a super, awesome lady I met a few years back in a music blog. “Kangnam station exit number 6” (강남역 6번 출구 앞) was the song whose appealing melody envelops the experience of waiting for a dear one who may never come.
I didn’t know what Kangnam station was like at the time, but last year, I got to visit several times. Boy was it busy. Because of its convenient location, Kangnam station is one of the most popular meet-up spots for young people. At exits 6 and 7 especially, I would always spot a dozen or more people tinkering with their phones while waiting for their party to arrive.
“Kangnam Station Exit Number 6” is on Her Min’s first album for which Bae Young-joon of W & Whale wrote the liner notes. According to Bae, just like the narrator of the song, we often find ourselves longing for something or someone in the midst of the bustle and agitation of life but never quite find it.
Luckily, I did not have to wait long before my friends found me at the station. But I know which song will come to mind when I would have to just sit waiting, watching people come and go.
Her Min was born in 1981. She grew up listening to old pop, classical music and jazz with her parents. She also took up the piano. In junior high, she was into 전람회 (Exhibition) and dreamed of becoming a singer-songwriter. Singing, playing the piano and writing music quickly became her only hobby. Her first public performance took place during a high school field trip.
According to her parents’ wish, she enrolled as a French major at Hongik University. Her Min stayed close to what was at her heart though. After freshmen year, she took a leave of absence and eventually transferred to the prestigious Seoul Institute of the Arts as a jazz piano major. However, while she had thought that everything would fall into its place once she entered a music program, she realized that she had more soul searching to do. She took another leave during which she traveled and tried to sort things out.
Towards the end of her leave, Chung Won-young, one of her teachers called and encouraged her to stop thinking too much, try whatever she wanted to do and enter as many music contests as possible. Although Her Min was not a vocalist, from that point on, she began vocal practice and prepared for contests. She applied to four different contests and was rejected by three but was chosen as the winner of the highly competitive Yoo Jae-ha contest in 2003. When she finally returned to school, she and three other classmates formed a band called Vanilla Shake in 2003. Vanilla Shake is also the title of her first album from 2006.
Her Min has released three full-length albums so far. Her two singles “melody” and “10 years’ time” (10년의 세월) came out in December 2011. She has been very active in Japan more recently in the last two years, having released [Arigato] in 2009 and performing throughout the country. She also married a Japanese man in 2009 and currently resides in Japan.
Another reason Her Min is super is that she has not only done her own writing and performing but has also done arranging and programming for all of her previous albums. Although she left the arranging task to another person with her latest work (two singles and an album released in Japan), she has been busy with other projects. I read that she has published a travel guide and has written a song for an animation series or film directed by the same guy who made Sailor Moon. Oh, she also did her own illustrations for the second album. Talk about a Renaissance woman.
I love listening to Her Min. Her music makes me believe that we are all in the same boat as flawed humans. It also reminds me of the ballads from the 90’s when music was not as easy to get.
I found some notes on the Bugs website. They pertain to her first album and were written by Bae Young-joon. What’s below is only half of the notes; the rest is about the individual songs. I tried but soon gave up translating. Bae must have listened to these songs so many times before he submitted the comments. They helped me appreciate the album much more.
Album review (from Bugs.com)
Her Min, Vanilla Shake.
Fresh and sincere.
With creator of “Did we love” (사랑은 했는지), the winning entry of the 15th Yoo Jae-ha Music Contest affixed to her name, she came into our view in 2003. But the glowing accomplishment was like a double-edged sword that she had to overcome in order to continue as an independent musician. Three years later, she has released [Vanilla Shake] containing ten sophisticated songs, proving her focus and genius once again. Her piano, which has polished through countless performances, drives the current album; it is also a tiny glistening mirror that fits perfectly in our hand, reflecting the world around.
In a world where everyone sings and dances the same, her voice has the candor of a face without makeup that pleases the ear and has the surprising power to supply the listener with novel emotions each time. Her lyrics, like poetry written in everyday language, together with her composing skills revealed in the record that interplays jazz, blues and rock, meditates the world, amid the calm and the sorrow, with some humor at times, lending credibility to her musical sensibilities.
Such credibility does not spring from faith in the musician’s talent only, but it is an essence that only those who work hard to live a worthy life can offer. In the voice like a radiant morning, we expect to encounter a portrait of a musician who truthfully and diligently attends to her profession.
The album featuring ten songs of consistent workmanship can be defined into two sections: the exciting and lively first half completed with session from the electronica band W’s Kim Sang-hoon and up-and-coming guitarist Kim Jung-hwan, and the second half that centers around Her Min’s piano that plays out like finely woven silk.
Her vocal and performance strike a splendid balance that keeps the album in control. This balance is the greatest virtue that distinguishes her music from others’. I hope that her voice, like the pollen that survived the winter to greet spring, will settle and bud a fair flower in your ear.