Photo by Oscar Keys
Singing can be easy. Anyone can sing in the shower or on the streets, some a little better than others. However, having the passion and persistence to continue is not something everyone has. Among the successful ones, some people stumbled along their journey, unable to continue their dreams of becoming a singer, but ended up achieving something more suitable for them.
As youths, we have many hopes and dreams, thinking of the endless possibilities that could happen, yet also doubting ourselves while making choices. Sometimes, it is okay for us to fear and pull out of something you’ve signed up for.
Ophelia Chua is a 20-year-old singer, singing various covers of Korean, Chinese and English songs as well as Christian hymns. While pursuing her degree in Mass Communication, she occasionally wrote songs, lyrics and sang for her friend’s production too. While she had a great opportunity to strive further after being accepted for a rare audition to pursue singing as a career, it didn’t happen.
Growing up, Ophelia had an obsession with music. She loved watching musicals and wanted to be in one, wanting to perform. Since the first time she came across her first movie, High School Musical, she has been singing day and night, obsessed over it. Unlike some children who were encouraged to learn piano as a hobby or even a side job, Ophelia begged her parents to let her learn singing instead! While she started singing at a young age, she also had a good environment for her to grow in, which is participating in church music activities. Singing in church choirs, events, worship sessions and having the chance to play the piano during church services helped Ophelia to blossom her passion and gift.
“ I sang so loudly that my parents kept asking me to stop,” Ophelia chuckled.
K-pop, also known as Korean popular music, has been popularized since the Hallyu wave, also known as the Korean Wave. It is the rise of popularity of Korean pop in China after Korea had diplomatic ties with China around the year 1990. It slowly spread to Japan, followed by the Southeast and Eastern parts of Asia. SM Entertainment, a record label and entertainment agency is known as the one who started this wave, producing artists that would be promoted overseas. It led to more opportunities worldwide, even having a 4% minority stake in them for USD 30 million by Alibaba according to Forbes, 2016.
When Ophelia discovered K-Pop, it inspired her to take singing seriously more than a mere hobby, considering it to be her career. “ K-pop singers are all-rounders with refined skills who are portrayed as having few to no flaws”, Ophelia said. She was fascinated and through it, she wanted to aim for that level of perfection, making K-pop singers her role models. This is where she also started to pick up Korean influence and interest in Korean culture, wanting to seek more knowledge in it. Ophelia took a step further, constantly improving herself to achieve her dreams. She wanted to be a K-pop artist herself. That is where in 2017, one of the biggest K-pop entertainment companies announced a rare audition in Malaysia.
While K-pop idols have the image of being near perfect with countless success stories and achievements, there is a dark side to it. Reported by various media outlets such as South China Morning Post, Bloomberg, The Guardian and more, there are hidden truths of sexism, abuse, assault, suicide, spycams, harassment, and the list could go on. According to SCMP (2020), it is reported that trainees are prohibited from using any electronic device, meeting someone of the opposite gender, and losing extreme amounts of weight in JYP Entertainment, another record label and entertainment agency. The strict rules and banned behavior were to maintain their standards and prevent them from being distracted, claimed the agencies. Adding on, it is also not easy for foreigners to travel and have to be away from their families. It would take years before they are allowed to go back to their hometown.
“ It is common for agencies to begin accepting trainees at a young age in order to provide adequate training before they debut at the age of 16-18 . That time, I thought it would be my last opportunity”, said Ophelia.
Upon hearing the announcement of the audition, she knew that she might not have any chance left due to her age. She was conflicted about her decisions, feeling uncomfortable making that decision. As an introvert, it is not easy for her to step out of her comfort zone. Ophelia knows that the bars are already set very high. To be even accepted as a trainee, there isn’t any guarantee of your debut. Although being discouraged to pursue a career in the entertainment industry which prevented her from going near any auditions, she still signed up. Ophelia admitted that with her cowardly self, she never dared to audition for fear of performing under pressure or intense environments. Still, she didn’t want to miss out on this golden moment. After submitting her details, she wasn’t expecting much, but she received a confirmation letter for a physical audition.
Yet, she didn’t attend the audition. Despite being accepted to the audition, she couldn’t apply for a leave request from her part-time job to attend the audition.
“ It did affect my passion to sing. I felt an enormous amount of regret.”, Ophelia admitted.
Ophelia felt guilty as she thought it would be her last chance at an opportunity to enter the K-pop industry that she had dreamed of for years. It was one step closer to achieving her ambition. Ophelia said that it took her some time to get over her feelings. She felt that sometimes, if it wasn’t meant to be, then it’s not meant to be. There is a reason for everything that happens. “It’s not like missing out on an audition means I’ll never be able to sing again. It’s not that bad,” she added. Ophelia realized that she can now sing in her comfort, whenever she wants, wherever she wants, however she wants. She realized that she can learn more about music at her own pace, exploring more new things.
Along Ophelia’s journey to maintain her passion and persistence, she had a strong mentality and support from others. Ophelia’s friends were there for her when they found out, giving her encouragement. She mentioned that there were friends with whom she shared her passion for singing and K-pop was there to pick her up, making it clear that missing one audition isn’t a big deal because she was just doing what she was supposed to do. When it comes to persistence, Ophelia trusts in her religion. As a Christian, she constantly reminds herself that her life is in God’s hands, as He has control over it. Ophelia believes that God has plans to prosper her and bless her, which is why she believes that everything happens for a good reason. Because Ophelia trusted in her religious beliefs, it helped her to continue doing what she loves.
“I know and believe that when God closes one door, he opens another; undoubtedly, there will be more opportunities for me in the future,” Ophelia says.
If given a chance, Ophelia would try to audition again.
Most of Ophelia’s memorable experiences are where she stepped out of her comfort zone. She took the step to perform in front of big crowds, joining her first singing competition at 7 years old. “ I did better than I expected, taking first place! It’s still on my shelf.” she giggled. Growing up, Ophelia never really participated in any singing competitions due to her introverted personality. Although she still has stage frights, it helps by focusing more on the experience rather than the outcome. Ophelia advises to try not to take things too seriously, as stressing too much will cause you to lose confidence and passion for what you love. Make mistakes and laugh it off. It’s the journey that makes everything worth it.
“ Although I’ve passed the age limit for breaking into the K-pop industry, which was my original dream, I’ll keep that dream alive, but I’ll most likely work in the entertainment instead!” Ophelia stated.
She is determined to learn more, produce her music and even get recognition for it. Ophelia’s regret of not being courageous enough pushed her to be more daring to take up challenges. She wants others to step out of their comfort zone too, trusting themselves to take that leap of faith! Ophelia advises that as the future is unclear, you really won’t know what will happen next. So, just appreciate it while it lasts!
It is okay to be scared. If you don’t achieve what you wanted, it is not the end of the road. You are allowed to give up on your plans, not everyone succeeds. Sometimes, we can lose our passion even for something we love because we’re constantly seeking to experience new feelings. When we’ve reached a dead end, why not try to pick back up something we’ve left behind? Chase our dreams, rekindle that passion deep in our hearts. It is never too late.
By: Lydia Chan