After reaching more than 23,000,000 cumulative clicks on her YouTube channel alone, independently releasing her first EP, and garnering a huge international following, Jennifer Chung says that all it takes is a little luck, faith, and persistence. In three years, her lighthearted Colbie Callat delivery mixed with a touch of Natasha Bedingfield-style soul has connected with people worldwide.
Despite her busy schedule as a University of California, Irvine student working two jobs on her campus and video recording sessions, Chung squeezes in a coffee shop sit down with Heard Mentality. Chung looks surprisingly well-rested for someone so busy, and happily talks about her move from Korea to Irvine, how YouTube kicked off her musical endeavors, her EP album, and how important it is to be as business savvy as you are passionate about the artistry of it all.
OC Weekly (Kris Cardenas): Are you an Orange County Native?
Jennifer Chung: No, I was born in Korea but I came here when I was about 15 months old. I grew up in the Bay Area, in Millbrae--between San Francisco and San Jose. I'm in the OC now as a UC Irvine student
From Korea to San Francisco to Irvine--that's a pretty big change, how do you feel about the OC?
I think Irvine in general is very comfortable. In Millbrae, it's relaxed and it is here, too. It's safe in Millbrae and it's safe here too. It's definitely my home away from home! Even if I were to live in LA it'd be a vast difference. I had to choose between UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and Berklee College of Music in Boston. Boston would've definitely been colder and San Diego's near the beach like Orange County but it just felt too big! I love it here, it's an hour away from everything!
How do you react to the fact that your music has gotten immense attention on YouTube?
It's weird, after a while you kinda get numb to it. I look at numbers of subscribers but when I really think about the number of views, then I get really humbled. It's not like I'm doing anything special! There are so many musicians out there and if anything it makes me feel more blessed. For me to be able to say that I do entertain people--even if it's just from my computer, it's really a blessing.
Fill me in on what prompted you to record videos of you singing. When did your Internet presence as a singer begin?
I had nothing to do in the summer of 2007 because I moved from Millbrae to San Jose. You know how the summer after senior year in high school is when you're supposed to spend the most time with your friends? I didn't have a car and I didn't have any friends in San Jose, so my friend just said, "Why don't you post a video of you singing? I miss your voice!" and I just did. Shortly after that, people I didn't know were watching and commenting and by the end of that summer, I had 200 subscribers. I thought that was the best thing I've ever done!
I took a listen to your EP album, Common Simple Beautiful. It's has a summery, laid-back acoustic pop sound. How are you typically backed when you perform live?
I've played a few shows in the past with a full band, but my guitarist's name is Johnny Yang. I met him at school too; he's an engineering major and he's amazing at what he does! The only thing we have trouble with is planning our gigs since we have to think about our [school and work] schedules together.
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So now, an EP album and 100,000-plus YouTube subscribers later, what kind of opportunities came from getting so much online buzz thus far?
Oh gosh, for starters, I've gotten to perform gigs like the International Secret Agents concert in 2008--it was a show created to showcase local Asian American artists, and over 1,200 people came! And over the years, I've met so many great, and [laughs] not so great people. I've received so many messages and emails from agents and managers, and I've had a couple of each. It was a good experience for me because I've really learned when and where to place my trust. You have to really learn who wants to genuinely see you succeed and who wants to just be a part of something that they think they can get a chunk out of.
But even if they mean well, it doesn't always work out. I've realized how hard it can be to pursue music, especially since I'm still a student, I still stay up to do papers and have to pay off student loans when I graduate! At the same time, I've learned that I have to know what I want and what to do in order to achieve what I want! I know what I love to do now and even if at the end of my life it's just a memory that I was on YouTube, it's a really amazing memory in my life. I made time to write music, perform, and managed to touch people's lives.