Romance still exists, Sarah Kang ’14 declares in her music
In an interview with the News, Kang spoke on what has changed and what hasn’t in terms of her artistry, interactions with fans and views on love.
Courtesy of Sarah Kang
For Sarah Kang ’14, romance has yet to be as sexy and grand as the books and the movies have recorded it to be. But that’s okay, Kang says, as her most recent album, “Hopeless Romantic,” makes the argument that romance exists in different forms and across all ages.
Kang is a New York City-based singer-songwriter whose discography is full of gentle R&B and dreamy jazz-pop melodies. Her most recognizable song, “Summer is for Falling in Love,” went viral on TikTok, where it has currently amassed over 79,000 uses, and has been featured in Nespresso and LG commercials.
“When you’re 18, you have this wide-eyed innocence, and you’re naive about the world,” said Kang. “Then post-grad, real life hit, and I became a hopeless cynic. The past five years of my life, I’ve been re-learning what it means to be a hopeless romantic. The whole point of the album that I was writing, and that song in particular, is supposed to follow this journey of feeling jaded about life, but still holding on to hope. And holding on to the people and the moments that remind you that there’s still beauty and there’s still goodness in the world, despite everything else.”
Born in South Korea, Kang moved to the U.S. and grew up in L.A., Chicago and Dallas. She recalled having a sheltered childhood and viewing college as an opportunity to be independent, a chance for “newness,” she said.
College, however, was far different than Kang’s expectations –– for a variety of reasons. Upon arrival, Kang said that she felt imposter syndrome, as she “definitely felt that everyone was smarter than (her).” Further, her college romance did not resemble the whirlwind, fiery love depicted in the books and movies. For one, when she met Andrew Kang ’13, the man whom she would eventually marry, sparks did not fly.
When Kang was introduced to him during her first Sunday worship at Yale, she said that “it wasn’t like a love at first sight thing” at all. They weren’t even each other’s ideal types. Much like her other realizations about college, Kang has learned that the romance of life is not always grand; more often than not, romance may come in smaller waves of mundane happenings.
“I think I’m more and more convinced that, yeah, I’m glad I didn’t look for the kind of fiery, immediate attraction type of love?” said Kang. “Which is a perfectly legitimate way to fall in love, too. It just wasn’t for me and Andrew. Because I’m just learning over time, even if we had started out that way, it probably wouldn’t have stayed that way. And what really remains is like our friendship, and it sounds really … not sexy? But our relationship has been friendship and partnering in life.”
Throughout their relationship, the two have come to resemble each other. In being with Kang, she said that she has learned to be more “outspoken,” while he has become more gentle and aware of his surroundings. Despite these differences, Kang said that they are both “sappy and sentimental” individuals, a dynamic that is playfully highlighted in Kang’s song, “cheezy,” from her first album.
Their college romance is the backdrop of Kang’s song “about time,” which details a series of their firsts: first encounters, first dates and first kisses. Now entering its 13th year, this relationship, said Kang, has shaped the way she looks back at the past and faces the future.
“We often have moments like it could just be sitting on a couch at home and we’re watching a movie, where we’ll stop and talk about, like, ‘Ah, this moment is passing. And one day, we’re going to look back on it,’” said Kang. “And Andrew has shaped my perspective of nostalgia and trying to remember moments by reminding me like, ‘Yeah, because this moment is so fleeting, we can be really grateful for it. So let’s just really be present and enjoy it, rather than feel sad about it already.”
Kang’s music is a fitting soundtrack for student Anh Nguyen ’26 and the current season of love she finds herself in. Nguyen, who has recently entered a relationship, said that Kang’s music stirs up memories of love she has shared with her partner.
There is a warmth and lightness to her music, Nguyen said, one that inspires listeners to stare out the window while sipping on their coffee. In particular, Nguyen named “Maybe the World is a Beautiful Place” as a song that reminded her of the beauties of the world that continue to exist.
“It’s peaceful, and it’s a much-needed reminder that there are good things in the world, and we should always seek them out,” said Nguyen. “I used to call myself a realist, albeit leaning pessimistic, but this song being my favorite of hers is an indicator of just how much more optimistic I’ve gotten as I’ve gotten older.”
In addition to her pursuit of change, Kang said she also sought to leave behind her Christian upbringing when she came to Yale.
For many Korean Americans, the church is both a place of spiritual gathering and cultural community.
Kang’s experiences of growing up in a Korean American church also meant seeing the complications of this intricate interlinking of faith and community. While Kang said she was cautious not to overgeneralize these communities, she said that these spaces frequently exhibited a pattern of “spiritual unhealth,” one that she saw up close as the daughter of a pastor.
“People are seeking community because they’re immigrants,” said Kang. “But then, somehow, it brews a lot of gossip and politics. My dad was a pastor, and so I just saw some really ugly things up close, and I think that’s really what led to my spiritual trauma. I just couldn’t believe in a God who was good when all of these people who claim that they love God, I just saw them do awful things… ”
Grappling with these experiences, Kang said she was ready to leave behind her Christian upbringing. Throughout her first year, she would continue to attend church on Sundays –– just in case her mom called and asked –– but she was determined to stay out of spiritual communities.
Kang’s plan was rather short-lived, however, as she got “really involved” in Yale’s Christian scene, she said. She joined the United Church of Westville, a student-led, on-campus church and became the musical director of the Christian a cappella group, Living Water, during her four years at Yale. Her religious experiences with her peers helped her heal from her previous spiritual trauma, said Kang.
“For me, there wasn’t a singular, big moment where I felt like my life was changed, but it was a lot of small things that added up,” said Kang. “I found a lot of healing and experiencing real community … At the very least, I felt like I was around people who were honest about their faith and the questions that they had.”
As the church heavily influenced her upbringing, Kang’s relationship with her Korean American identity was also one that was riddled with contradictions and complications. While Kang grew up avidly consuming Korean music and television, she said that “to put it bluntly,” she “didn’t really like [the] Korean people” she encountered in her childhood.
A lot of it, she said, had to do with the hierarchical, Confucian values reflected in her relationships with other Korean people, much of them occurring in the setting of the church. Reclaiming her Korean American identity and processing childhood traumas took time, she said.
Writing and singing her lyrics in the Korean language, her first language, was a step towards this reclamation, according to Kang. The first words of love she received, Kang said, were Korean words. In telling the stories of her childhood and family, it “just made sense” to write the lyrics in Korean, said Kang.
“There are certain things that you can say in Korean that just don’t come across in English and for me, personally, don’t evoke the same emotional response,” said Kang. “In ‘goodnight,’ the phrase 수고했어, like you can’t really say that in English. Like, what do you say, ‘you worked hard’? It just doesn’t mean the same thing. For me, it was really important to convey that exact feeling, even though it means a lot of people won’t understand it. But I know that for the people who do understand it, it would mean that much more.”
Ten years have passed since Kang graduated from Yale.
When Kang was a sophomore, she approached Shelly Kim ’15 during the summer before Kim’s first year on behalf of a student organization. Kim said she knew immediately that she wanted to befriend Kang. In the 13th year of their friendship, Kim said that Kang’s gentleness and warmth are an unchanged fixture of Kang’s character.
In fact, not very much has changed. In her time knowing Kang, Kim has “loved” watching her explore new genres, collaborate with different artists and deepen a connection with her fans. Despite these changes, Kim said that there is “no difference between Sarah the friend and Sarah the musician.” Kang is continually truthful, sincere and tender, she said.
“The way she sings about love, nostalgia, home, and hope is how she sounds when she holds space for her loved ones,” wrote Kim in an email to the News. “One of the greatest blessings in my life is that the same voice that has guided, encouraged, and comforted me all these years is the same voice I hear randomly when I’m at a coffee shop or when I’m driving. Even though we have been living on opposite coasts for the past six years, it feels like my best friend is always near.”
The memories of first kisses on York Street, dances in empty parking lots and the youthfulness that only exists at 18 may be well behind Kang.
If Kang has learned one thing over the years, however, it’s that romance exists in the world beyond the years of her bright-eyed adolescence. This romance does not have to be grandiose for it to be real and beautiful, said Kang.
“As a Yalie, there’s this narrative, you’re at one of the best schools in the world, which is a fact,” said Kang. “But two, because of that, you have to become this great person with big dreams, and you’re going to change the world. I wish more people had told me while I was at Yale like, yes, it was a privilege and a blessing to be at such an amazing school, getting the kind of education that you are, but this is not it. It will be better. I wish I wasn’t afraid of graduating and letting go of that part of my life. I treasure it as a really beautiful part of my life, but there’s just so much more to experience afterward.”
Sarah Kang’s most recent single, “loml” with HOHYUN, was released on Feb. 8.