Eye to the Ground: ESAE

By Kelsey Tang


In her junior year of undergrad, a stranger approached ESAE after an open mic and said the following: “Let me pray for you — one, your music will be a dock where tired ships can rest at; two, you will stand on stages much bigger than this one.”

Fast forward a few years, and the unsolicited prediction has grown into a self-fulfilling prophecy for ESAE: the Korean-American artist has accumulated over 90,000 Spotify plays and will join the likes of Josh Pan and yetep at COMMONUNITÿ Riverside (hosted by the feels collective).

Composing her own instrumentals and writing her own lyrics, ESAE confesses that she’s a one-woman show: “The process begins and ends with me.” Her classical background in violin facilitated a seamless transition into music production, and songwriting followed naturally afterward. ESAE’s discography is a dichotomy between the cutesy K-indie cafe narrative and the self-proclaimed “sad Korean girl” aesthetic. Listeners will traverse from a plucky indie children’s song (“통실통실 [squish]”) to the gloomy jazz-inspired ballad (“trying”). Seriously, the tracks are back-to-back on her Soundcloud.

But one common thread that weaves in between all of ESAE’s tracks — from the playful jingles to the bossa nova numbers — are the lyrics that simultaneously acknowledge loneliness yet emanate hope. The way ESAE speaks about the songwriting process is inadvertently selfless: “I strive to write a song that puts someone back to center … How can I use my words to make you feel better for 2 minutes?“

And that’s one aspect that makes ESAE as relatable as your next school classmate, or that one friend wise beyond her years. The 22-year old artist grew up in a conservative Asian-American household, listening to K-pop and fantasizing about fame. She studied biology at USC, and she maintains a personal list titled “Songs That Pissed Me Off Because I Didn’t Write Them.” She’s also donning dusty blue suede kitty heels because she’s about to head to church on a Sunday afternoon. She’s just like us — and her recent release (“게으른 고양이 [very lazy cat]“) is another indication of her susceptibility to something as pedestrian as cats.

Maybe that’s also why conversation with ESAE feels oddly calming and down-to-earth, as she begins explaining the recurring motifs that appear in her lyrics and visuals. Sunsets and sneakers are just a few expressed in her work — both icons channeling all of life’s mundane simplicity.

After recounting her hardships with juggling two jobs during undergrad, quarreling with her parents over her future, and getting diagnosed with depression, ESAE responds, “At least I can live every single day to love another sunset.” There’s a certain optimism that acknowledges depression and anger as valid emotions, and ESAE’s music reflects just that.

Edward Chao