TikTok entertainer Chantel Nicole has turned her personal brand of K-Pop entertainment into a humble empire.
BY JD BRANT
When you watch the personal YouTube channel of triple-threat extraordinaire Chantel Nicole, you’ll discover videos where she speaks honestly to her fanbase, urging them to take their hobbies from fangirling afterthoughts to serious business objectives. The K-Pop and rnb dancer, whose charismatic personality on-screen has earned her singing credits on Mnet and in Seventeen and Bustle, knows a thing or two about getting a brand off the ground. From sponsorship choices to color concepts, even unofficially “trademarking” her palette called CHANTONES after the Pantone line, Chantel uses what she’s gained working in publications and production in the K-Pop industry and shares that advice with viewers.
The entertainer initially gained notoriety for her “HERE I AM” music video, inspired by the Sailor Moon series, androgynous dress, and theatrical moves. She is now preparing for her next move, a color concept album, CHROMA, where listeners will be gifted with a synesthesia-fueled experience. She spoke candidly with Eloquent Mag about her debut project, what she’s learned working in the K-Pop industry, her goals of wanting to give Black women a more authentic voice in entertainment, and her advice on how to balance humility and confidence while pursuing a business.
EM: I really love the androgynous, show-tunes-turned-rnb look in your declarative “HERE I AM” video. Your style reminds me of Janelle Monae, who is gender/genre fluid. It truly embodies an anime-like, K-Pop feel. That said, your dance styles are truly unique as well, and I’m wondering, how has your dance style evolved over the years?
CN: Thank you! I didn’t consider the Janelle Monet style, but that is an ultimate honor. I was thinking of Janet, but I’m giving you “Tightrope,” thank you! As for the show tunes look…you must be referring to the second verse blazer and embellished top look. Honestly, I used to do musicals so this is an awesome comparison. I wanted to look glamorous and I had to sew, coordinate, and everything for that one! Thank you! There was another outfit I had to bedazzle on my own, too. The rain scene in the bridge section features me in a nude rhinestone outfit and I handmade the rhinestone shorts. I appreciate your attention to the details.
My dance style was crafted in a dance studio, honestly. This means that there’s a little bit of a stiff ballerina wedged up in me somewhere. Studio dancing is so different from learning at parties or during hangouts with friends. I think the innate swag that comes with age and being black has certainly helped cultivate my style a lot more. Once I got into K-Pop, I think I was introduced into cuter, sexier styles because here in the US we only had Beyonce and Ciara dancing in their videos. I’d say my style is a combination of different influences for sure, but I think that has helped in my versatility. And honestly with TikTok dancing, I still haven’t mastered the half-cringe-half-dope art of dancing in a 16:9 frame. I’ve just been fortunate enough to crop my dances to fit on the platform and people have been super receptive!
EM: You’ve been candid about wanting to strip away stereotypes imposed on Black women in entertainment. Is that hard to do when a traditional way of “making it” in the music industry is reliant on endorsement deals and sponsorships with corporate America, exclusively, as that is a huge chunk of income for most working musicians and artists? For instance, Megan Thee Stallion, Saweetie, and Mariah Carey have all signed clothing endorsements, and more recently, endorsement deals with fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Popeyes. These decisions have been received by Black artistry communities with mixed reviews because many think that corporate America takes advantage of the Black “look” and “voice” of mainstream music.
CN: To answer the first part of your question, I think it is hard because people in the outside world made it a little challenging. For me, I know who I want to target and how I want to sound/look. Some people I work with, as talented/knowledgeable as they are, there is a bit of egoism attached to their knowledge. Or at least, that’s how it seems. “I know how [blank] works, and this is how you should do it. This is how I feel about [blank].” Don’t get me wrong, having another perspective is not a bad thing, it can lead to growth. When I work with brands, I make sure that they know why they want to work with me. Are you here to #TakeTheCNicRoute? Is this mutually beneficial? Are you trying to use me for clout, or do you like what I’m doing and just want to be the supplementary item?
On the other hand, I think that’s the “I was an employee…” rhetoric that made Coco Brown a Tik Tok audio staple. When you are being paid to participate with a brand, it’s awesome! It looks good and you’re making money! I think the best thing is to evaluate its pros and cons. The most important points to consider are: “Does this align with who I am and my brand?” I’m neither holier-than-thou nor a hypocrite, I only found a balance. Even when creating my merch, I thought, “Do I really want to contribute to the waste in the world?!” but my merch isn’t being mass-produced. So I can’t overthink it.
What is it to be a brand? You are a business. The goal of a business is to make money. How you choose to do so is up to you. If you’re going to be a “sellout,” your conviction must be undeniable. If you truly endorse the company, the same attitude must be applied. If Micheal Jordan can take the Nike deal and turn it into an empire, why can’t we? If you think they are a running game, be several steps ahead and capitalize off of them (corporate America). You’re the captain now.
EM: I really enjoy watching your personal YouTube channel. You seem super charismatic and comfortable with yourself on screen. Is that how you aim to portray yourself? What goes into the process of creating your Youtube videos, not just for your personal channels, but for your sponsors?
Ah, you’ve done your due diligence and I appreciate your time! Well, I want to dedicate a lot more time to it because I want to tell you all about what is going on with me. I will call the segment “Chan, Chan, Chan” and it’s being prepared as we speak! You seeing how comfortable and charismatic I am is the intention. I don’t feel awkward about what I’m doing or who I am and I invite people to do the same. Lean into those parts of yourself.
When it comes to my video creation for the person channel and even for my music show CCTV: “The Non-Stop Pop Show,” I plan things out before making the materials. In alignment with the brands I work with, Nailtopia and Arches & Halos. I talk about what’s going in my life and updates, or try fun makeup looks while using the products! So again, this goes back to the point I made about sponsorships. Know your (and their) “why,” and the “what to do” comes more naturally.
EM: How did you feel once larger media outlets picked up on what you were throwing down creatively? It’s impressive to get recognition in Bustle and Seventeen!
CN: Oh, I wish it had been only because of my music, but I booked those gigs because of my personality! Even with the MNet segment, I was asked to participate because of the charisma you mentioned. Good ol’ Chantel snagged those. The Chantel Nicole part is what turned viewers into followers/subscribers. So now they #taketheCNicRoute. Although it was not the way I saw myself going, it opened up the door to another audience of people. People that heard me sing the Pokemon theme song on Bustle, saw me being a goof on Seventeen or watched me dance with (G)-Idle.
EM: Tell me about your first concept album you’re prepping for, CHROMA. I read a little about your creative concept and the incorporation of “CHANTONES” into your work. How will you continue on with this concept on the new album?
CN: CHANTONE is the portmanteau of Chan and Pantone. Each of the single artworks is styled like the “Pantone of the Year.” It comes across as derivative, but it is clever! My first trio of songs (Me+U: I LIKE U, I WANT U, I MISS U) has an iMessage concept from the artwork to the videos. If you notice, the love interest wears grey/silver, the color of the iMessage recipient. It’s a little Easter egg that plays into my artistry and a fan’s eagle eye.
I came up with the concept of CHROMA/CHANTONES in 2018 and [I want to] roll out the project in a fun way. CHROMA is about relating color to a sound and an emotion. For example, “LIKE IT,” is yellow-green, bright/zesty and the song feels flirty. “HERE I AM” carries the warmth of orange in the lyrics but the cool mystery of navy blue in the production. Each song will have these deeper meanings, but I don’t think I’ll be releasing each song as a single.
EM: Musically, when do you plan to release the album, and what can listeners expect to hear?
CN: I’m exploring different types of pop & rnb. So there will be some quirky elements that harken back to my first single “ I Like U”, a poignant dark pop track, a haunting electronic, rnb moment, and one of the songs is future bass, a style I’ve wanted to explore for the longest!
EM: What about the K-Pop genre attracted you to doing more work inside the industry and who are some of your favorite influences and groups?
CN: I think that the idea that you have to write for more than one voice and constantly raise the bar when it comes to the dynamic structure is what attracted me to the genre. That and the big-budget of it all! Also, getting older and wanting to expand beyond being a fangirl drove me to find gigs within K-Pop. Concert jobs, production assistant, publish assistant, each was a step to getting closer and expanding my network at the same time.
My favorite artists include BOA, SHINEE, F(x). I’m a fan of the whole SM vocal technique, honestly). 2NE1 got me through high school. Also, I enjoy neo-pop by artists like Suran & Sumin. I can’t say I listen to too much of the rap from there because I barely do that for American artists, unless it’s Meg, Monaleo, Enchanted, Rico Nasty. Basically, mostly female rappers.
EM: In one of your YouTube videos, you give your audience a glimpse into what it’s like working behind-the-scenes for K-Pop artist Monsta X. You also mention that you learned to write in Korean to do the job. How did you pick up the language?
CN: It was definitely interesting working for a company that wrote music for a lot of groups. I think a lot of people don’t understand that your faves are not getting paid as much as you think they are even if they do have a whole 16-bar-verse and even if they did contribute writing/production to the song. The only person I saw that was an artist and had a large share of the royalties was DEAN. And as for my lackluster skills, I have been studying on and off for 4 years. I want to work on it some more. It’s just a personal goal of mine at this point.
EM: More and more we hear about stories in the news of young TikTok influencers, especially within the Black community, banding together to create “houses” in order to help each other grow their online followings. Would you ever consider joining a house like this AND what is your opinion on young people trying to achieve fame this way?
CN: I think houses are great for people who want to have a community. The environment fosters a collaborative spirit as well as a competitive one. I don’t think I would consider joining it because I am not exactly an influencer that focuses on UGC (user-generated content). I would not mind a genuine interaction and collaboration that makes sense, though. I’m not afraid to go outside of the box, but if I’m usually hitting K-Pop and makeup demographics, why would I collaborate with someone who does motorsports? People also don’t know that in these houses there are quotas you’re supposed to hit, milestones if you will. With what I’m doing professionally I don’t know if I’d be able to rise to the occasion. There should definitely be more houses like this, especially within the black community to show solidarity and also to reclaim all of our culture that we “share” with others.
EM: You have been candid about experiencing imposter syndrome on your YouTube channel. It’s safe to say that most determined artists and creatives experience this feeling at some point in their careers. How do you deal with these feelings when they sprout up?
CN: I think it’s tough balancing the idea that you are good but could be better. There is a level of humility that— as an entertainer— is “charming” to have, but when the humility becomes disparaging of your accomplishments/talents, that’s when you need to step back and reevaluate. You cannot make lightning strike in the same place twice, but it will strike again. When that happens, bottle it and let it galvanize you. Granted, it took me like a year and a half to find my spark, but “HERE I AM” came from that time. And despite my impostor’s syndrome within the realm of songwriting, I was dancing, acting, and doing other things to stimulate my creativity.
An artist’s life is full of ebbs and flows, like a beach. Each time the waves wash something up on the beach, in our case inspiration, a muse, the water will pull back into the ocean, taking with it the sands and whatever came before. That could be a lull in your creativity. The trick is to not walk away from the shore thinking you lost something. Stay there and see what was uncovered by the water. You never know, it could be treasure.
EM: Do you feel like social media usage and the constant need to “keep up and reinvent” on online platforms contributes to imposter syndrome?
CN: For me, I don’t think the imposter syndrome came from social media, and the need to feel relevant. It came solely from me feeling like “I LIKE U” was the peak of my creativity. So keeping the idea of “reinventing” myself in mind, I think the only way to evolve was to explore different facets of my creativity without using IG, FB & TT. I exposed myself to various sources of inspiration via teaching English, YouTube, and other hobbies. By doing that, I was able to find inspiration.
A secret to me not feeling pressure on social media is by not following accounts with users that are so far ahead of me that I become intimidated or anxious. Unless it’s a celebrity/influencer I really enjoy/listen to, I do not follow someone just because they are attractive and make consistent content. Again, why should I? It’s distracting, discouraging and even if I were to be positive, I can find people who do the same thing and also offer guidance via webinars or workshops. The relatability of those kinds of influencers is what garners a “follow” from me.