SARAH LOHMANN WRITES — Often, our innermost desires stay that way: internal. These wants hum to themselves, “Why can’t I be the only one you need?” This thought, and many others are brought to life in Zeph’s newest album, Character Development.
Zephani Jong, known as Zeph, is a Korean singer-songwriter and producer from Maryland, USA. Her newest project, Character Development, stylized in all lowercase, features 11 magical and complex tracks. Following her previous singles and collections of short demos, the album is her longest musical project yet. It was released digitally on Spotify on June 16, 2023.
Sometimes described as “bedroom pop,” Zeph combines elements from across genres to cultivate her dreamy, introspective soundscape. Classical strings hum over eclectic synth and guitar, and Zeph’s rich vocals give emotional body to the instrumentals before the lyrics are even considered.
“My favorite thing is to write about the in-between feelings that people forget about,” Zeph explains in her interview on Artist Friendly with Joel Madden. She has described her own work as being a “diary” of sorts, exploring her desires and unhappiness in very personal and raw ways. Lyrics like, “It’s cruel and unusual / The way you always keep me wondering after the fact” and “you don’t like me like that” feel and sound like things we may want to say but ultimately keep to ourselves for one reason or another—these words are private, vulnerable. Such intimacy alone would make Zeph’s work especially powerful, but it is not only the lyrics doing the work.
Another important aspect of Zeph’s music is its expression of her LGBTQ+ identity. In a 2019 Twitter thread, Zeph said the following: “I’m bi (and not out to my family) in a hetero relationship so I’ve been fortunate enough to have the same privilege as straight couples do but I know so so so many people do not have the same security.”
The musician utilizes social media to discuss her identity, and it comes through in her music, too. In the track “my best friend,” the lyrics at first depict a girl in denial about her jealousy of her best friend. However, the final quarter of the song tells a different story: “She’s too good for anyone else / Could you blame me for secretly / Wanting her all to myself?” Zeph laments that these feelings are all tangled up, leaving her unable to tell what is jealousy and what is love beyond the platonic.
As with her other work, Character Development is for anyone looking to connect with emotions they have trouble naming, to be vulnerable with themselves, and to consume art they can deeply relate to at every turn.
Sarah Lohmann graduated from Knox College with a BA in Creative Writing and Asian Studies. She focused her research on film, translation, and literature.
Edited by executive editor, Ella Kelleher.