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Mamamoo's Solar Puts Her Best Face Forward

The K-pop superstar talks debut solo EP '容: Face,' pushing herself as an artist, and what's next for the group

By Sarina Bhutani

Speaking with Solar feels like catching up with an old friend. As she settles into an evening Zoom call, the last of her day’s packed schedule, the typically ultra-glam idol appears in her most intrinsic state. Her hair, dyed back to its natural dark, is pulled up into a tousled bun, and a simple white mask covers her bare face in accordance with her trendy white athleisure. The woman sitting in front of the camera looks different from the one we normally see on stage, but her confident yet humble disposition remains intact. Talking to Solar is easy, and to know her is to truly love her.

As the leader of one of K-pop’s most spirited girl groups, Mamamoo, Solar has released three studio albums, 11 EPs, and 25 lead singles since her debut in 2014, alongside fellow members Moonbyul, Wheein, and Hwasa. However, ahead of her first solo EP, part of her still feels vastly unsure. “Even though it’s been eight years since my debut, it still always feels like I’m sort of a rookie,” she tells MTV News. “With every song I release, I actually always feel nervous.” The “completely unpredictable” success of her debut single, “Spit It Out,” in 2020 only added to her mixed feelings, allowing her to “let loose a little bit more,” while also worrying about how her future releases would live up to the hype. “There were moments we thought, Oh, maybe we should delay the next comeback,” she reveals.

But after nearly two full trips around the sun, Solar finds solace in her newest work and reemerges with 容: Face (out today, March 16), a five-track EP that displays her multiple dimensions. The title, a play on her given name, Kim Yong-sun (“Yong” meaning “face” in Korean Hanja), encapsulates the project’s overall themes of exposition and self-expression, allowing her to show the world her truest self. Each track takes listeners on a sonic journey.

On “Raw,” a track originally in competition to be released during the “Spit It Out” era (hence the familiar melody), Solar demonstrates a dark and edgy concept: “It’s literally just the raw version of who I really am.” “Honey,” the comeback’s title and arguably the most audibly Solar-esque song here, was developed immediately upon hearing the  “du, du, du” beat that she sings at the chorus. Pop-R&B track “찹찹 (chap chap)” came to her as a random bolt of inspiration, while the jazzy “Big Booty,” a completely self-composed number, puts a classic spin on your average peach-emoji track. The EP ends on a high with “징글징글 (zinggle zinggle),” brought to Solar as an apt fit for her “cute and bright image,” and therefore the perfect way to wrap up her first solo project.

Solar releases 容: Face on the heels of her 31st birthday, which took place on February 21. (Pisces queen!) She says her thirties have deepened her thoughts and broadened her perspective compared to her twenties, the decade in which she both trained and debuted. This newfound sense of maturity and thoughtfulness is well-articulated throughout 容: Face. Below, Solar speaks with MTV News about the creative process behind the EP and what she hopes for the future.

MTV News: You're an artist known for unconventional concepts and pushing boundaries. An example would be the bald-headed promo shoot you did for “Spit It Out.”  What was the overall concept you were trying to achieve this time around with Face?

Solar: With the last album, “Spit It Out,” I really did everything and anything I wanted to for it. Even the bold attempts I wanted to make I put into the concept, so everything was wild and kind of out of this world. But for this album, I was thinking less of the things only I wanted to do because I had already done all of them. Instead, I was thinking with a more balanced approach of what the fans, company, and I all wanted for it. I thought it would make a more complete album if I merged all of these together, so I listened to many opinions while creating it. But if we're talking about an overall concept, it's more about giving a good feeling, rather than a specific concept. I wanted there to be a healing aspect to it, something that makes you feel better. It’s perfect for spring.

MTV News: In one of your YouTube videos, you talked about how your MBTI personality is INFJ. INFJs are known to be very rare and unique and creative. Where do you think your creativity comes from? From where do you draw inspiration? 

Solar: Wow, even overseas MBTI is a trend? [laughs]  I think I get a lot of inspiration just from my daily life. Whether they're things that I'm suddenly thinking about one day, words that pop into mind, things I've experienced, things I've seen, or really good food I've eaten, I get inspired by a variety of things and jot them down in my phone to look back on and think about later.

MTV News: The title track for this comeback is “Honey.” We also get to hear you rap on the song, which was so unexpected. What made you want to include that section?

Solar: OK, so while preparing for this album, one of the first thoughts that I had was, I have to try rapping. I have to rap. So, for me, it was like a must to put it in there. And after doing it, if there’s ever a good rap or something I can experiment with, I’d love to do it again. I always want to continue trying new things.

MTV News: Trying new things seems to be a common theme for you, and you’ve said in the past that you “want to become an artist that makes people look forward to what [you’ll] do next.” How important is it to you to keep pushing yourself as an artist?

Solar: For me, it’s something that is very important. In some ways, it could be one of the most important things. When an album releases, it's technically something that will last forever, right? That moment is cemented in time. Thinking of this, it's like a record of my thoughts as I was making the album, as well as my condition, and a variety of things. So, the things I wanted to do at the time, the things I wanted people to hear, and messages I wanted to convey are all included in the album. This is why it's very important to me to always try new things and take on challenges to evolve.

MTV News: Would you say that you’re someone who thinks about legacy, or what you’ll leave behind? 

Solar: Rather than thinking too deeply about legacy or leaving behind some sort of footprint, it’s more important to me that when people listen to the album, they feel good in the moment. I care more about the albums being comforting for people, something they can use to heal themselves when they’re not feeling good, or in their down times.

MTV News: You care so much, in particular, about how you make your fans feel. Are you that type of person in your personal life, too?

Solar: Being a part of Mamamoo, I was able to meet so many fans regularly, and because of that, I tend to think more about them. And now, while living my daily life, I realized that there are some people that love me so much and so passionately. For the people that put in so much time and effort into their love for me, I actually really consider them because they give me so much, I want to return that much for them. I always think, What can I do for them that can repay that sort of passion?

Courtesy of the artist

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MTV News: Speaking of Mamamoo, how do you think your experiences in the group factor into the way you make music for yourself? Is there any crossover between that process and this process?

Solar: I've learned a lot within those eight years with Mamamoo, but even now, I am actually still continuing to learn from. But because I've been in Mamamoo, and we released so much music together, it's one of the reasons why I can even be active as a solo artist, so I’m very thankful. It’s taught me so much.

MTV News: Eight years is a long time to be together, especially when so many groups fall into the seven-year curse. What do you think makes Mamamoo special? What's the key to your longevity? 

Solar: I think what makes Mamamoo special is that each member actually has their own unique color, and we each also have a lot of passion for music. So when we're together, a lot of that synergy comes into play. And even now, when people watch us or look at us, they always think, Wow, they have so much energy. Wow, they come together so well.

MTV News: Since you mentioned each member’s uniqueness, all four of you have had a big solo comeback in the past few months. Hwasa had Guilty Pleasure, Moonbyul had 6equence, Wheein had Whee, and now you have Face. Now that each of you have taken a turn with a solo project, does this mean a Mamamoo comeback is next?

Solar: Because each member has already completed their own solo project, I do really want to show as Mamamoo with a new project, but it's not going to be immediate. It’s something that we’re continuing to work hard towards, but maybe not right now. I will very, very carefully say maybe this year, but, again, it’s not definite! [laughs]

MTV News: Can you at least promise some more funny dance practice videos? The video for “Hip” is a universal fan favorite! 

Solar: So when we're together as Mamamoo, there's a lot of really funny things that just happen naturally. I think you'll definitely be able to see more of that in the future as well. It’s just us!

MTV News: Aside from a Mamamoo comeback, what do you hope for in the future? What are you personally looking forward to?

Solar: Honestly, I just want to live as happily as right now, working as I do and doing what I like. I hope for fans to still be waiting for my music and loving what I make. I want to be able to meet their expectations and just continue to be happy.