"KHAMAI" is the Greek word for "on the ground," something natural and of the earth. It’s the root we took and eventually melded into the name "chameleon," an animal that defied our expectations, morphing its appearance in the name of survival to blend in with the rest of its habitat.
That’s a feeling Korean artist HUNJIYA (real name: Alice Kim) has become all too familiar with over the years.
Her new EP is named after that Greek root and sees her opening up about her experience with code-switching — feeling pressure to take different facets of her personality and shift them to match the backdrop of her own environment. Unlike a chameleon, her habitat is more social, exploring the ways in which we interact with those around us.
KHAMAI is taking her social analysis and directing it inwards, looking at how her own relationships have transformed around her over the past few years, a process that’s been catalyzed by her move back to her hometown of Seoul from the small town in upstate New York where she was raised.
That return to South Korea brings with it a musicality that matches her personal narrative. KHAMAI takes the harmonic tropes of K-pop and weaves them into something that’s way more intimate than we’re normally used to experiencing from the genre that’s no stranger to a theatrical and larger-than-life mentality.
Here, those cinematic aspects are packaged into something more human and, as the title KHAMAI implies, on the ground.
HUNJIYA gave PAPER a look at what narrative she crafted on KHAMAI, breaking it down track-by-track, below.
This song introduces the overall concept of the EP. This track is about code switching: the feeling of putting on different versions of myself, that I lose a sense of who I really am. Similar to a masquerade where everyone is disguised with their masks, I wanted this song to portray the feeling of blending into a crowd.
"FAVORITE" is about going back to your routines as an individual versus a couple. The song was inspired by me re-listening to a band my ex introduced me to a while ago. I used to really love the band, but in hindsight, after listening to it, I realized that a lot of my significant other’s favorite things (movies, books, music, etc.) became my favorite things. After breaking up, I realized those were not actually my favorites, but more so, the things I loved because I was in love with that person.
3. "MAIN CHARACTER"
At this time, everyone on Instagram and TikTok was talking about having their "main character" moment where they would put a bunch of aesthetically pleasing videos in a montage and talk about being the "main character" in your life. I got annoyed at the trend because I felt like it only highlighted the peaks, but I kept thinking about how protagonists in movies and shows usually go through so much BS and make really dumb mistakes. I wrote this while I was going through a really difficult time, and was told I was being dramatic and messing up my own life. It made me feel crazy and that my depression was controlling all of my emotions.
When I first moved to Seoul, I was way worse at Korean than I am now and I was trying to make new friends. I could get by and have basic conversations, but there was still a language and cultural barrier that prevented me from having deeper conversations or feeling like I could show my full personality and humor. After befriending people who were also gyopo’s (Korean, but lived/grew up abroad), I realized I wasn’t crazy and it was actually a common feeling others had of being familiar with the culture/language, but still feeling as though you can’t communicate properly or fit in with either identity.
5. "자심감 모자" (or "CONFIDENCE HAT")
The phone recording is a conversation between me and my mom where we ended up having an honest heart to heart where I opened up about being lonely and depressed. I was about seven months into living alone in Korea for the first time and was struggling with my physical and mental confidence in myself. She gave me a whole speech telling me that I need to believe in myself even if no one else will. Later on, my mom knitted me a yellow “자신감 모자” (confidence hat) and told me that every time I put it on, I will exude confidence.
Sometimes you catch up with an old friend and realize it turns you into an older version of yourself or it reminds you of the version you once were. A part of you still wishes that you could go back to how you guys were before going your own ways and a part of you is happy you two grew up. The song is about the natural process of fading out of friendships and the weird, uneasy feeling of not being able to connect with somebody you used to be close with. Writing this helped me realize that even the deepest connections can be temporary, but that doesn’t make them any less significant or special.
7. "last month’s rent"
This song was written after I moved out of my home in Miami and moved out of my childhood home in New York. When you live somewhere for a long time, you don’t realize how many memories come with the home itself. While sharing a home with someone, whether it’s a roommate, significant other, or family, I realized that sharing a space means you’re committing to an experience that can change you for the better or for the worse. In my case, I’ve been lucky to have great roommates in my life who’ve taken care of me and taught me how to take care of others. I’ll always be grateful for the roommates I’ve had.
Photography: Sungmin Kim