Firsts with Hojean: Festival Performance, Headline Tour, and ‘Swing EP’
It’s an unbearably hot day. The sweltering heat in Pasadena has reached heights that allowed for drink vendors at 88Rising’s Head in the Clouds fest to charge criminal prices ($15 for a 16 oz drink) — and get away with it. Bullets of sweat bead across virtually every attendee’s hairline in sight and I was no exception. However, I was not deterred, my eyes glued on the 88 Stage, lying in wait for the 3 PM act.
Hojean, an Atlanta-based, Korean-American, indie R&B singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed hoodie enthusiast, burst onto the stage promptly at 3:30 PM. His first time performing at Head in the Clouds, the 24-year-old went to great efforts to prepare for the big day. Over the course of the last few years, the self-taught singer and producer has garnered over 650,000 Spotify listeners and tens of millions of hits on his singles — notably “Over 85” and “You Feel Like.” On what feels almost like a day tethering on the cusp of a breakthrough moment, it’s fair to pinpoint this as the height of his career thus far by the invitation to perform at the iconic Asian festival. Needless to say, Hojean felt like he had to go all out.
“I invested a lot of money, I think like $3,000 into in-ears, receivers and packs so the band could rehearse to it, and truly feel like it’s professional,” Hojean said.
“We did a bunch of rehearsals in New York, as many times as we could, since everyone in New York is so busy. Whenever we were free, we were like ‘Let’s rehearse, let’s do it.’ Every free second we had, we made sure we could get this down right.”
With just a mere, short month for the singer and his band to prepare for the set, Hojean also had much of his time preoccupied with preparations for his first headline tour, which kicked off last August in New York City.
Falling back on the comfort of familiarity, the artist reminisced on experiences that brought him stability, choices like bringing two friends from home to work the merch table, newfound experiences of being on a tour van, and getting closer with bandmates.
However, Hojean also found himself excited to jump on the road after a career half grown in the deep roots of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m always home, I make music at home, and I’m comfortable at home. But for this one, I really have to be going out and moving around with other people,” he said.
“I think that’s going to be a new barrier for me to jump over. I think it might be a little difficult for me, like oh, I’m not by myself all the time. I’m around people all the time, but it’ll be people that I love. Like I love them, so I think this’ll be an easy obstacle to tackle.”
Also in the works is Swing EP, his tentatively titled debut project.
“I did a bunch of studio runs for it. This is a very professional EP,” he joked.
The Georgian teased a different direction for the much-anticipated project, his first ever after over 20 single releases on SoundCloud spanning over five years — to put it plainly, it’s a Really Big Fucking Deal.
“Every song is kind of a new sound, but also similar to my original sound, so people don’t feel too far away from it,” he explained.
“The EP has a lot of songs where [there are] questions about your self-worth, in love, whether you feel a certain way or not. You know where you have your days where you feel like, oh man, I kind of feel like no one likes me, but then other days you feel like you’re the coolest person on Earth. You’re just swinging through all these emotions. I think a lot of people will enjoy and relate to it.”
For Swing, the singer chose to lean more into the R&B and jazz ecosphere but tempers expectations for longtime fans expecting a certain sound.
“That’s not going to be my permanent sound, but a lot of my fans will know when I make music I never really stick to a certain genre,” Hojean said.
“I love making pop, I love making R&B, indie. For this one, we leaned more towards the R&B, jazzy section just to see what it was like. I think it came out pretty great.”
Lately, when he’s not at rehearsals, in the studio working on Swing, or online shopping, the singer spends his free time doing something much more productive — sniping noobs on Valorant. “If I’m stressing out about Valorant, I’ll go straight to Roblox,” he said.
On top of the occasional gaming stream, naturally, the singer has progressed his attempts to connect with fans on a more intimate level through a community on Discord. (Whatever you do though, just don’t call him a Discord mod because he might just go “ghost mode on Twitter.”)
“The Discord idea came from not only fans wanting it, but my manager was also like it might be cool, so we made it,” he said.
“In the early Discord days, we would watch movies every holiday. Like last Christmas, I think we watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I thought it was a cool way to get closer to my fans, and I just love gaming, talking to them, and doing both is like the best of both worlds to me.”
Hojean’s down-to-earth personality and relatability are a breath of fresh air from his more reserved, far-to-reach R&B peers. From his Instagram caption styling choices (“ I don’t know if I’m really excited or not, I’ll literally just do all caps just because I like it!”) to love languages (“people say it’s gifts, but…I mean, I’ll take them but they’re not gonna make me fall in love”) to fashion, the singer craves intentionality in every choice.
“When I was younger, I always felt the need for attention from other people, for them to see what I was doing,” he said.
Sporting a beige hoodie (and unbelievably cool leather jacket) the day of our interview, the singer shared the reason why he rarely takes the garment off.
“When I go outside or go on stage, this hoodie makes me feel like I’m protected in a way,” Hojean said.
A habit that he picked up in college, Hojean shared that he started wearing a hoodie when he didn’t want to be bothered. Friends eventually picked up on the hoodie’s meaning, taking care to note the singer’s mood.
“It worked out for me, I feel as if this hoodie has gotten me through a lot of tough times, just when, like, no one’s there. I just put it on, and I feel better,” he said.
Alone at home, the singer often wears more casual clothing but will turn to a hoodie for emotional support.
“Sometimes though, I’ll wear a hoodie if I’m feeling anxious,” he said.
“Some days I’ll put it on and just isolate, be in my own little room. I wear it at all times really. For me, when I do feel anxious, it always feels like something’s around me, wrapping me, it feels nice.
The singer’s pragmatic personality aligns with his preference for lowkey, no-brand hoodies.
“No graphics on them, my favorite hoodie colors have been purple and black. This beige one I kinda like a lot, those are my three favorite hoodies ever.”
“I think now, me wearing a hoodie and everything… I think it’s a way for people to see that I am this person, I’m just very comfortable, I don’t really want to do anything else.”
This interview was conducted in-person by Nancy Jiang at the 2022 Head in the Clouds Festival. Check out our previous interview with Hojean here.
A New York City native, Nancy Jiang is a budding journalist covering music, arts and entertainment, and politics. One day she hopes to interview Frank Ocean, but for now, she’s bumping Endless and spending all her money on vinyl and concerts.