A TikTok person wrote a complete musical for her Disney-style Korean princess. Now it is going viral


Written by Amanda Florian, CNN

After realizing there weren’t any Koreans within the pantheon of iconic Disney princesses, 22-year-old Julia Riew got down to create one herself, together with an accompanying musical.

The Harvard scholar, who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, has been writing and composing for years. However together with her seventh full musical to this point, “Shimcheong: A Folktale,” she has tapped into her Korean roots and gone viral on TikTok the place the story and songs are resonating with folks world wide.

“For the primary time, I’ve felt such a powerful sense of group and belonging, which I’ve all the time actually longed for,” mentioned Riew in a video name. “I by no means imagined that one thing like TikTok … might carry me to a spot the place I really feel such a heat sense of belonging.”

The primary tune that led followers to find Riew on TikTok, “Dive,” has garnered nearly one million views, with followers performing their very own renditions over an instrumental model. The uplifting lyrics encourage listeners to be fearless and never let something maintain them again.

“Now all the fish within the sea cannot cease me,” Riew sings within the 41-second clip, utilizing a filter to rework herself right into a Disney-style animated character. “The entire waves on the planet cannot rock me. I am on a mission and gee, simply watch me go!”

The one-act musical tells the story of a courageous younger lady named Shimcheong who falls into the depths of the ocean whereas attempting to save lots of her father. She enters the magical Dragon Kingdom with seemingly no means out. Ten years later, she plots an escape, risking all of it to seek out her means dwelling. It is not till the top of the story that the strong-willed Shimcheong earns the title of princess, and like every good fairytale, this one is full of journey, a prince and a villainous Dragon Queen. Riew launched brief clips of each the prince and Dragon Queen’s songs on TikTok, however keen followers should wait to listen to all 16 tracks of their entirety.

The musical is an adaptation of the Korean folktale “The Blind Man’s Daughter,” during which a daughter sacrifices the whole lot for her blind father whom she loves dearly. Riew, a third-generation Korean American, started engaged on the musical over a yr in the past for her senior thesis undertaking however mentioned she by no means anticipated it to take off on-line. Her dream, she mentioned, is to encourage others with tales that put some “good into the world.”

“I feel tales are so essential for teenagers,” she added. “Particularly as somebody who, as a teen, by no means noticed herself represented in media, or in movie, TV or on stage — that was one thing I all the time longed for.”

Julia Riew snaps into character on TikTok.

Julia Riew snaps into character on TikTok. Credit score: Courtesy Julia Riew

Rising fan base

With regards to musical theater within the age of Covid-19, TikTok and Gen Z have confirmed a robust mixture. In 2020, TikTok creators joined forces to supply “Ratatouille: The Musical” after a schoolteacher’s squeaky 15-second video about Disney Pixar’s beloved rat, Remy, went viral. The collaborative production, which got here collectively in a matter of weeks, was on-line for 73 hours and was streamed by 350,000 folks — a viewing determine equal to that of a year-long run at a sold-out Broadway present.
Different TikTokers, like Katherine Lynn-Rose, have jumped into the songwriting scene by composing songs for “Avatar: The Last Airbender” or the Netflix hit “Squid Game” as in the event that they had been musicals.

For Riew and different creators, the platform stretches far past lip-syncing and dance movies. Followers of her totally scripted musical have additionally created fan artwork that includes her characters, and although Riew initially pictured Shimcheong’s trusty sidekick, Lotus, as a dragon, she liked followers’ suggestion that Lotus may very well be represented as a “gumiho,” or nine-tailed fox, as an alternative.

Artist Victoria Phan draws the princess alongside a gumiho, or nine-tailed fox, named Lotus.

Artist Victoria Phan attracts the princess alongside a gumiho, or nine-tailed fox, named Lotus. Credit score: Courtesy of Victoria Phan (Instagram: @vadoodles)

Riew’s followers — which embrace mother and father, children and Disney fans throughout the globe — say they’d prefer to see the story on the silver display screen.

“(The thrill) began off in America after which it began trending on Korean Twitter,” Riew mentioned, including: “Even past producers reaching out, it is when mother and father inform me, ‘I’ve a 5-year-old, or 3-year-old, or 9-year-old — I do know that they’d like to see this film on display screen, and we have been listening to your songs.’ That’s actually the factor that warms my coronary heart most of all.”

Although she started writing musicals on the age of 15, Riew wasn’t positive she would pursue musical theater as a profession, and he or she initially enrolled as a pre-med scholar.

“I used to be afraid of being an artist. I used to be afraid of going right into a profession that did not appear sustainable,” she mentioned. “I feel loads of it got here from my need to slot in with the Asian American group. I wasn’t actually seeing that many different Asian college students take theater on the time, however so much has modified over time.”

Artist MiJin imagines what Shimcheong would look like dressed in traditional hanbok.

Artist MiJin imagines what Shimcheong would appear to be wearing conventional hanbok. Credit score: Courtesy of MiJin (Instagram_ @mjtotoro)

Throughout her freshman yr, Riew participated in Harvard’s “First-12 months Musical,” which provides freshmen the chance to create and produce a musical. At auditions for the present, nevertheless, she was disheartened on the lack of Asian illustration.

“That type of made me really feel like, ‘Oh possibly this is not the factor for me, however, on the similar time, it fueled my need to wish to create extra of an area for the Asian college students on campus who won’t have found theater.”

Riew switched her main to musical theater the summer season after her sophomore yr and, since then, her reveals have been staged on the American Repertory Theater, Harvard College’s Farkas Corridor and Agassiz Theater, The UNC-Greensboro College of Theater and extra.

Seek for belonging

The method of writing “Shimcheong: A Folktale” was difficult however significant, Riew mentioned, because it allowed her to confront many points of her id. After her grandfather handed away and her grandmother moved in together with her, Riew discovered herself desirous to get extra in contact together with her Korean heritage.

“My inspiration positively got here from loads of completely different locations,” she mentioned. “I’d say, foremost, it got here from my journey to seek for belonging. I’ve lately been pondering so much about id and the way that intersects with artistry and the tales that we select to inform. I used to be actually impressed by my grandparents, and my expertise in faculty — and that is type of how I discovered my strategy to ‘Shimcheong.'”

Riew, a student at Harvard, has been writing musicals since she was 15 years old.

Riew, a scholar at Harvard, has been writing musicals since she was 15 years previous. Credit score: Courtesy Ramona Park

When she took her first journey to Seoul, South Korea, on the age of 18, she found issues about herself and her personal story that helped form the musical.

“It was an thrilling time. However in some ways, it was an eye-opening second the place I spotted this place that I all the time regarded to and imagined myself belonging to was way more completely different than I anticipated,” she mentioned. “And I used to be way more of an outsider than I anticipated.”

Although Riew and her household rejoice each Korean and American traditions, she was not surrounded by a big Korean group rising up. Lately, she strived to study extra about her Asian roots, whether or not by means of Korean courses in school or by means of her music. Now, she hopes folks of all ages might be impressed by Shimcheong’s story.

“It is all the time been my dream to be strolling down the road and listen to a toddler singing my tune,” Riew mentioned. “I really feel like I am nearly dwelling that dream proper now seeing the duets from all completely different varieties of individuals singing the tune. It has been unimaginable.”

Disney might not have picked up the script but, however Riew has already heard from producers and filmmakers thinking about bringing the story to greater audiences. For now, she is working with an agent to determine what’s subsequent.

“It is in all probability been the craziest three weeks of my life, but it surely’s a very, actually thrilling time,” she mentioned. “And truthfully, I am simply actually grateful.”

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