Soo Joo Park is forever breaking ground. The Korean-American supermodel—known for her iconic platinum blonde hair, long-standing relationship with Chanel, and status as L’Oréal’s first global Asian-American spokeswoman—is now making her musical debut under the name Ether, with a cover of a classic Korean rock song layered with personal meaning.
For Park, who first began working on music with a friend in college, this venture has been a decade in the making. As her modeling career took off, she learned to DJ and became a fixture at fashion parties. While playing a set in 2018, Park met Megan Louise Doyle and Johnny Jewel of the band Desire and the label Italians Do It Better. They would become her future collaborators and the record label to release her work.
She chose the name Ether to conjure the image of a “dreamy, feminine, yet strong presence,” Park says. “It’s all about creating dreampop that’s moody, nocturnal, and ethereal. Like noir vibes playing into a hazy sunset.” When it came time to pinpoint her sound, Park’s mind leaped to “Haenim,” which means “The Sun” in Korean and was written and produced in 1968 by Joong-Hyun Shin, the country’s “Godfather of Rock.” The track opens with a lo-fi guitar riff that hooked Park as soon as she heard it.
“There’s something so psychedelic, warm, and euphoric in the timbre that’s so incredible,” she says. “It’s stripped bare, mostly down to an acoustic guitar and [singer] Jung-Mi Kim’s alluring voice. And the words are so simple and beautiful and all about revering Mother Nature and the sun. I love everything about it.”
“Haenim” was the initial acoustic reference Park shared with Doyle and set the tone for Ether so perfectly that they decided to cover it for Park’s debut. Yet rather than attempt to compete with a piece she found “perfect, precious and immaculate,” Park wanted to shift gears and reinterpret it completely. “Instead of showcasing the majestic quality of the sun that gives us so much hope and the sense of renewal, we’ll focus on the darkness, when the sun is down,” she explains. “It’s a play on the yin and yang, the nature of dualism in all things.”
This cover of “Haenim” is performed by Desire and features Soo Joo as Ether, the vocalist and visual star. She portrays a woman who carries “a visible scar from the past that seeks reparations, to renew herself just in time for a new dawn and a sublime sunrise. Everything cathartic happens in the darkness,” she explains. “‘Haenim,’ or ‘The Sun,’ is a symbol of a new chapter, a fresh start after all the traumas and hurt are chopped and buried.”
The message and its implications are poignant and pointed, given the recent wave of discrimination and hate crimes against the Asian-American community. “I’ve been rediscovering my roots and background as an Asian-American immigrant,” Park says. “A lot of this had begun before the pandemic, but I feel like it was highlighted during the past year. I thought it would be really special for me to embark on my new venture with a vintage Korean song. It’s like an homage to my motherland as well as a nod to nature.”
The music video, directed by Park’s boyfriend, artist David Alexander Flinn, is a beautiful yet haunting homage to the couple’s shared love of horror movies, such as the work of Dario Argento (“His favorite is Profondo Rosso, mine is Suspiria.”). Shot on the day of the solar eclipse, Park first appears in a dimly lit dressing room, stripped down to her nude underpinnings in a moment of vulnerability. As she begins to get dressed—applying a thin stripe of liquid eyeliner, covering her silvery hair with a straight black wig—she appears as though she’s armoring herself for battle. When she drives a Chevy Camaro down a pitch black road, winding her way to a remote clearing to exact her revenge, the synth drifts in and out of focus and Park’s alluring vocals flutter over top.
The video’s stylist, Turner, chose a futuristic white mesh Oriens top, designed by Shirley Tang, and body-conscious Namilia pants for Park to wear. She added personal touches like her own silver Chanel locket, swinging from the car’s rear-view mirror, and her vintage python boots, which were splattered in fake blood in the video’s closing moments. When she emerges from the car like a ghostly apparition—The Bride in Kill Bill, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance—the effect is complete.
Up next is a slew of recording sessions in L.A., including a number of demos written by Park herself. In other words: the start of a new chapter and a future, bright like the sun.