Lee Soo-jung or Crystal Yi (28), more famously known by her stage name CHAI, is an independent Korean-American R&B singer-songwriter who gained popularity after winning SBS's K-pop Star 5 in 2016. She had then returned to the USA for a brief period to complete her higher education. In the summer of 2019, CHAI made her official debut with her album "Give and Take". She also has her own YouTube channel where she posts covers and fun vlogs. We interviewed her to find out how she got her quirky stage name, what motivates and inspires her, who she would like to collaborate with, and much more.
Disclaimer: These are very basic questions we ask every artist to get to know more about them in order to write our "Who You" segment on Instagram. All the artists often get similar questions. We would normally not release this as it's not a full-on interview but we thought it might be good to do so.
What is the meaning behind your name, CHAI?
When I first started singing in college, I wanted something short and sweet like SZA. I don't drink coffee, so I had a phase of only drinking chai lattes. I looked up the meaning of 'chai' and turned out that it means tea in various languages, but that it also means 'life' in Hebrew. I thought, “well music is a big part of my life”, so I became CHAI that day!
Your contract with Antenna just ended. Are you actively seeking to join a new label at the moment?
I cannot answer that.
How did you get started in music? What motivated you to become an artist?
As I’ve mentioned before, I started doing music quite late, when I was in college. I had a friend who owned a studio, so I started by just recording and uploading covers on YouTube. In exchange for free studio time, I began singing hooks for his rapper clients. Then I went over to a different studio and started writing my own music. Honestly, I think going to concerts and various shows, and seeing artists perform on stage really motivated me to pursue singing seriously.
What inspires your music and your sound? What did you listen to growing up that inspired who you are as an artist today?
My experiences and my memories inspire my music and sound. I have a lot of visual triggers in my memory bank and also videos on my phone that can trigger a certain feeling I had in that moment. For example, this past month when I came back to Chicago, where I was born and raised, there were so many things that just made me feel relaxed or brought back a sense of calmness. So I took videos of those things, which I can look back on and use to help me create new music.
Honestly, growing up I didn't really listen to any of the greats like Whitney. I just listened to church music. And then once I got to high school and college is when I got exposed to the OG legends. So I think when Adele came out, that was when I really started getting into singing. But I loved Alicia Keys and John Legend. I definitely strived to be like them and sound like them, but I honestly don't know if they have inspired me to be the artist I am today.
What’s your creative process usually like?
If I have a melody or an idea, I'll record it on my phone right away. Or I’ll pick up my guitar and start recording, lay vocals on top of that and then show it to a producer who will transform it into something better.
Your recent single, “Time’s Up” is about love. Same with the single before, “Gimme That”. Are these tracks based on your own personal experiences?
Those two songs are definitely based on my own experiences. But with 'Time’s Up', it can be applied to any situation where you're waiting for someone’s answer or waiting for something to happen like change.
You’ve done numerous collaborations in the past. What do you consider prior to deciding which artist you’d like to collaborate with? How is the experience different from working on your own music?
Before asking an artist to bless the track, I always consider what they can bring to the song to make it better, and also how well our voices can mesh on the song. Working with other artists on a track whether it is another singer, a rapper, a producer, or an engineer, is always a different experience. Every song changes based on these people working on the song, and that’s what makes creating music so fun each time.
Which artists do you dream to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate with John Legend. I would stop breathing for sure!
What is your plan for this year? What can we expect from CHAI?
Now that I am out of Antenna, I plan on thriving more and working ten times harder to work on my craft. I want to better myself, and hopefully make music that people can enjoy and rely on.
YouTube: CHAI's Corner 차이, 있다
Apple Music: CHAI