[INTERVIEW] RIKA Shines a Light on Toxic Situationships With Debut Release, ‘TOXIC’

“Let go a little and stop taking yourself so seriously.” Golden advice from RIKA, a passionate and self-driven Korean American singer-songwriter who first gained popularity via her BE:LIFT audition in 2020. Following her advice to let go, the California-based songstress recently dropped her debut extended release TOXIC, which takes an honest, raw look at situationships from her singular point of view. The album features two unique collaborations, her signature improvisational sound, and most of all, her ability to embody her emotions through her music. Throughout the four-song EP, RIKA weaves English and Korean together in engaging narratives that deeply encapsulate the difficult emotions she writes about.

With over 550,000 followers on TikTok, RIKA is more than just a musician — she is an inspiring personality. For her, music is a space to work through thoughts and feelings. She has even joked that she uses music as therapy. But her music and impact are no joke. Her followers find not only humor but fulfillment in the emotions and content she shares. The willpower and imagination that drove her to create are obvious in TOXIC. Kpopconcerts.com had the opportunity to not only ask her about that drive, but also about her music, her inspiration, her style, and, of course, her album.

Korean American singer-songwriter RIKA from her debut EP, 'TOXIC'. The BE:LIFT participant gazes off to the side

KPC: Thank you so much for being with us, RIKA. Could you please introduce yourself to Kpopconcerts.com readers?

RIKA: Hey everyone! My name’s RIKA but you might know me as Erica Kim or Kim Sihyun. I’m an independent Korean American singer-songwriter and most people recognize me from my BE:LIFT audition in 2020 or my TikToks. I recently just released my debut EP, TOXIC, which is about toxic relationships in every sense. If you liked my audition video, or you like K-R&B, or you just want to try some new music, please check out my new EP– available on all platforms!

I also love telling stories and I like treating my music as a space to work through thoughts and feelings that I experience over time.

– RIKA

KPC: How did you get started in music and start to develop your musical style? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

RIKA: I’ve always loved music and singing ever since I was little. I guess in a sense I have always known I wanted to do music albeit at times it was just a little thought at the back of my mind. I never had an actual musical background in the sense of years and years of lessons, but I did practice a LOT. At some point, I even had heavy aspirations of being a K-Pop idol although I’ve outgrown those dreams a bit now. I started actually writing songs and releasing them when I was a sophomore in high school. Up until that point, I had the idea that only people with backgrounds in music and fancy recording studios were able to make music. This changed when I met some friends who were independent musicians and I realized how music really is something anyone can do with enough practice and willpower. As for my style, I think it’s heavily influenced by a lot of things. First and foremost, as a Korean American artist, I tend to mix languages quite often. I also love telling stories and I like treating my music as a space to work through thoughts and feelings that I experience over time. I think sound-wise, however, my music has been molded by a lot of amazing artists and genres. I grew up listening to K-Pop and K-R&B religiously but I also grew up listening to a lot of western R&B and hip-hop artists as well. All of that I guess is what makes my musical style my own. 

KPC: So you took on the BE:LIFT audition. Could you tell us about that experience and share any tips for those who want to take on K-Pop auditions in the future?

RIKA: I mean first and foremost I should probably say I’m no expert haha. I don’t fully understand why a lot of people have reached out to me about auditioning since I was clearly unsuccessful but nonetheless I’m always one to give advice. I auditioned once in person for the PLUS GLOBAL AUDITION hosted by (then) Big Hit and Source Music. Before and after then I did a bunch of, terrible might I add, online auditions. I think back when I really wanted to be an idol, I applied to every company under the sun but I mean I guess you can kinda see how that ended up haha. I think the biggest tip I could say is to just do it. If you really want to audition, do it. Most people are too afraid to even try but I mean if you don’t try, you’ll never know. I think then the second thing to remember is to let go a little and stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s great to have a dream and to work hard towards it but if you tunnel vision, you’ll miss a lot of opportunities. Understand that you don’t have control over what people think and what the companies think, and so all you can and should worry about is yourself. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen. I think my last word of advice would be to see this not as a “make or break” moment, but rather a learning experience. Talk to people and make friends! Everyone there probably has a lot in common with you so why not make friends? 

KPC: Now let’s shift into talking about your latest album, TOXIC. When first listening to the album, it took me on an intense journey through some hard-to-unpack feelings about toxic love and situationships. From fun beginnings to sad goodbyes, what inspired you to write such visceral music about this subject?

RIKA: I can say I’m no stranger to toxic relationships. I joked on TikTok saying that I use music as therapy and I think to some extent, that’s true. I tend to be the type of person that has difficulty talking about my own hardships when I’m going through them because I’m afraid of bothering or burdening the people closest to me. This being said, bottling up emotions is a recipe for disaster because at some point you’re bound to explode. I wrote all the songs on the EP when I was either going through a rough time and/or processing my own experiences whether they be good or bad. I wanted this EP to kinda be a representation of the roller coaster that is my mental and emotional state in the past 2 years.

KPC: “Genie” is a sultry, groovy tune with a repeated guitar line and vamping vocals that reflect the addictiveness of physical love. On first listen, it sounds like a song about a steamy night, but is there a little more that lies beneath the surface?

RIKA: First and foremost, I think I’d like to mention that this EP is very dark whether it be directly or indirectly. I think when I first started writing “Genie,” I thought of it as just a fun and flirty song. I think over time though, it started to mean a lot more than that to me. As the first song in the EP, I kinda see it as the beginning of a toxic relationship. In the moment you don’t know how it’s a mistake waiting to happen and you think everything’s all fun and games. Sometimes you end up using your sexuality to feel maybe even too confident. “It can’t hurt me if I’m the one in charge” is something I’ve regrettably told myself multiple times. I think the real fact of the matter is, like the title implies, it’s all just a fantasy. Something a little too good to be true. Even so, the idea of magic is something we hold onto because it’s a representation of hope we have that things will miraculously fix themselves. I think another aspect of the song is that the genie is a role with the purpose of serving a master. I think believing you’re the one in control even when you know you don’t hold that much power is something that shows that we sometimes pretend to be something we’re not in order to make ourselves feel better. 

Korean American singer-songwriter RIKA from her debut EP, 'TOXIC'. The BE:LIFT participant writes toxic on a mirror with a solemn expression

KPC: On “Motels & Cheap Wine” you were joined by DAVIIN.This sounded like a conversation where both people were coming at each other with completely different perspectives and needs. Both of you really embodied the emotions and it sounded like a real couple’s spat. What was it like to work with DAVIIN and achieve this kind of musical chemistry?

RIKA: I remember I sent DAVIIN the demo for “Motels & Cheap Wine” not too long after I featured on a song from his debut EP called “Say No More.” Actually, I think you could even interpret the song as a continuation of “Say No More.” In that song, we had a similar kind of dynamic where we had a conversation in our verses. After writing that with him, I was inspired to have him feature on my song in a similar fashion. He actually surprised me a lot when he sent me his verse because I initially expected him to write like a “male manipulator” kind of verse but instead he really pulled an Uno reverse on me and gave the song a whole new perspective. Although we aren’t and never were romantically involved with each other, I think I actually had the same epiphany that the “character” in the song had. We get so caught up in our own pain that we forget to think about the other person’s point of view. I had been so focused on my perspective of my lyrics that I completely forgot to even consider the fact there was a different perspective out there. 

KPC: In contrast, your collaboration with shoose blended in a way that reflected the song’s theme and title, “Addiction.” When writing this, how did you set about getting that incredibly intertwined sound between you?

RIKA: That’s actually funny that you mention that because a while back shoose told me that she showed a friend the demo for “Addicted” and apparently her friend said that our voices sounded really similar just in different pitches. I think that our voices have a relatively similar cadence is definitely a factor but I think in addition to that, it’s our shared experiences that let us write such cohesive verses. We’ve both been in and out of bad relationships and we both have had interesting methods of coping, albeit toxic. It can be hard to find someone that really gets you on that kind of level and the fact that we’re really close in real life I think is what let us be on the same wavelength.

Korean American singer-songwriter RIKA from her debut EP, 'TOXIC' She sits on the sink with one knee to her chest while looking sad

The song has a lot to do with pain and desperation but also acceptance at the same time. I see the song as a type of closure from both a relationship as well as the EP. I thought, what better way to close the EP but with the bittersweetness of closure itself?

– RIKA

KPC: It’s hard to pick a favorite song on this EP, but “Goodbye” sounds like the musical version of collapsing at the end of an exhausting journey, but your brain is still full of thoughts. It’s also where the title of your album comes into play. Did you purposefully write the album to lead up to this?

RIKA: Yes and no. I wrote “Goodbye” a pretty hefty amount of time after writing the other 3 tracks on the EP. I definitely wrote the song with influence from its preceding songs but I also think a lot of it happened to be a coincidence. I was going through a lot of stuff at the time and I treated the song as more of a venting space. I actually didn’t want to put it on the EP intentionally thinking it would be too personal, but after I finished writing the song I took a step back and realized how connected to the rest of the songs it really was. It did feel like the end of a journey but it also took the perspective of a toxic relationship from a bit of a different perspective. The song has a lot to do with pain and desperation but also acceptance at the same time. I see the song as a type of closure from both a relationship as well as the EP. I thought, what better way to close the EP but with the bittersweetness of closure itself? When I made the decision to finally include it in the EP, this is when I added the line “toxic” into the song. The line was initially “hurts sometimes I know, I know.” I realized the EP, although about toxicity, never mentions the word toxic and I see “Goodbye” as the most objective song on the EP. It’s the only song that isn’t muddled with clouded judgment caused by emotions because in this song, the “character” has essentially realized the true damage that was inflicted and knows it’s time to let go so she savors those last moments. This self-awareness is why I thought it would be fitting to finally mention the title of the EP.

KPC: Your style in your music sounds like free-styling. Is that reflective of your writing process?

RIKA: Very much so haha. Writing for me always starts with some form of freestyling. Maybe it’s just me but I feel like the song isn’t as fun to write or to listen to when everything is perfectly structured. Sure, it might be easier and less time-consuming, but I think the freedom you get when you freestyle lets me express things a lot more genuinely.  I don’t have to worry about whether or not it fits into a specific structure or style. I get to be more creative that way and think outside the box, which I think is something that a lot of people recognize me for. 

Korean American singer-songwriter RIKA from her debut EP, 'TOXIC' touches a lip with her finger in a sexy pose

I have become more self-aware and accepting of who I am and I don’t really try to be something I’m not.

– RIKA

KPC: The production on each song really reflects the mental state of the lyrics. How did you and your producer create those sounds?

RIKA: Initially, my producer sent me these beats with not much context. He knew I gravitated towards darker songs but we never really discussed a specific topic to write the song about. However, I consider my producer to be one of my close friends, and he has definitely heard one too many stories from me about toxic relationships. Maybe that subconsciously influenced him haha. On a more serious note, I think it’s really a case of interpretation. It’s like when you’re upset, you interpret everything to be negative and you interpret everything to be good when you’re happy. I think the way I interpreted each song and wrote lyrics based on this interpretation was heavily influenced by my headspace at the time I was writing each song.

KPC: Speaking of recording, how do you choose your vocal sound and color for a song?

RIKA: I think for the most part, I just sing the way I sing. Some of my earlier songs sound a bit too bright because I was trying to be bright in real life. I think in this EP and in my more recent music, I have become more self-aware and accepting of who I am and I don’t really try to be something I’m not. This is then reflected in the way I sing. Some songs such as “Goodbye” and “Motels & Cheap Wine” are more tight in vocals I suppose but I think it has to do a lot with the desperation and pain in those songs in particular. Since all of my music is directly or indirectly related to my own experiences, I can’t help but to remember these experiences when I write and when I sing. I think this genuine-ness is what subconsciously influences my sound.

KPC: This EP is Korean R&B from a Korean American perspective. What would you like people to take away from your message and perspective?

RIKA: I think one thing I want to establish is that language isn’t really a big deal. Some of my songs, although containing Korean, are still pretty well understood by listeners. Funny how that is, isn’t it? How emotions can transcend language barriers. I think whether you’re Korean or American or both or neither, you can relate to some aspect of this EP because although languages aren’t universal, experiences are. I just happen to mix languages because that’s what feels right to me.

KPC: What is your creative process like? I saw one Youtube video where your process seemed energetic, a little random, very fun, and full of creativity. Is that accurate?

RIKA: Honestly, yes that’s very accurate. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I’m pretty chaotic and sometimes a little too energetic when it comes to things I’m passionate about. Like I mentioned in the video, usually I listen to a beat and freestyle something to write lyrics to. I call it my “superpower” to be able to do that on the spot the first time I hear a beat haha. I come from a background in writing and performing slam poetry and I think I write my lyrics the same way I write my poems. I get a theme, usually the first thing the beat reminds me of, and I spitball a bunch of words and phrases that relate to it. As someone bilingual, it just so happens that I have twice as many words and phrases to choose from. I piece the lyrics together piece by piece and eventually get input from the people closest to me. This process has allowed me to come up with some pretty interesting topics for songs, such as the ones in my songs “Genie” and “Motels & Cheap Wine.”

KPC: Is there an artist whose stage presence inspires you when thinking about your own stage?

RIKA: BIBI! I love her so much. I love watching her perform because she’s so charismatic and I love the energy she has. Everything she does on stage, from little gestures to facial expressions, is always spot on and she inspires me so much. I’d hope to one day be a fraction of as charismatic as BIBI. 

KPC: Thanks so much for your time! Do you have any final words for our Kpopconcerts.com readers?

RIKA: First and foremost, thank you so much to Kpopconcerts.com  for taking the time to interview me. I really do appreciate it and I hope to be invited back next time haha. I think another thing I want to mention is for readers to check out the EP and if you have the time, check out the lyrics. I want people to connect with me and my music and it would be an honor if you guys would check out my music. Lastly, please support everyone that was a part of this project! DAVIIN and shoose are both amazing artists and if you guys like my music, I’m sure you’ll be blown away by theirs. Additionally, please support my manager/producer, Aeon Wang, and my sound engineer, Nomichit! Both of them also make amazing music and this project wouldn’t have been possible without them so it would mean a lot if you guys supported their work too! I promise to keep pushing out music and content so please keep a look out for that too haha. In the meantime, please stream my debut EP “TOXIC” (available on all platforms).

Check out RIKA’s debut extended release and be sure to follow her on social media to keep current with the latest news.

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