One of my fondest memories of fall semester last year took place at Blair Arch. With a cup of apple cider in one hand and a cupcake in the other, I stood under the arch listening to the soothing, harmonious voices of VTone as they sang mashups from artists like Joji and Kenshi Yonezu. Ever since, I’ve been a fan of VTone, Princeton’s premier East Asian acapella group which performs mashups of Korean pop, Chinese pop, and Japanese pop songs. For this special issue spotlighting Asian voices on Princeton’s campus, I sat down with Inwoo Shin ’26, the vice president of VTone, to hear her reflections on her journey with VTone thus far.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity and concision.
Laura Zhang: How did you find out about VTone, and what made you want to apply?
Inwoo Shin: I’ve always liked singing. I remember I quit chorus back in fifth grade. But I think I really liked K-pop and Korean ballads. So, I was really hopeful that there would be a community here at Princeton where I could continue [singing] for fun. When I went to the activities fair at the beginning of the year, they were promoting the acapella group. I remember going up, they were playing a BTS mash-up, and I thought to join.
LZ: How do you think being a part of VTone intersects with your identity as an Asian or an Asian American?
IS: Like I said before, I really like K-pop and singing a lot of Korean songs, but I think it’s also really cool that, when I joined the group, I also got to start listening to J-pop, and C-pop. VTone not only allowed me to continue my interests with Korean culture and my Korean identity, but it also made me feel connected to other people from East Asia. Usually, when we have parties within our group, we like to book a room in Louis and sing karaoke. Through that, I was introduced to a lot of really cool songs that I ended up listening to outside of the group.
LZ: What’s the process that goes into picking a song to perform?
IS: We’re kind of different from other acapella groups in the sense that we try to showcase as many new pieces as possible for each semester. We have a few members who really like to arrange, but anyone in the group can really arrange. We have arranging workshops, and our music directors can help you finalize your pieces, making sure that it's ready for everyone to sing. Then we have a final meeting where everyone presents their piece, and all the arrangers get to vote on: What do we want to make our company piece? What do we want for smaller pieces? So I think it's really inclusive. It gives everyone the chance to try arranging. This is my first year arranging. I was very excited.
LZ: Let’s talk more about the community within VTone. Do you have a favorite memory that you have with VTone?
IS: I think being in an acapella group, it just makes me really happy. Because I know there’s always a group that I can go back to whenever I’m going through something difficult, or if classes are hard. We have this culture of meeting up in the Scully study rooms, and we have a few members who are in the Scully Co-op. Sometimes I would go there and have some food that they cook. And I think that those are really fun. Sometimes in this study room, we’re not really focused, so we would just sing songs together, which is always really fun.
LZ: More broadly, how do you think VTone fits into the Asian community at Princeton? Have you had any opportunities to collaborate with other Asian performing arts groups on campus?
IS: I joined last year, and we haven’t collaborated with other Asian based performing arts groups since I’ve joined. But it’s definitely something we have been thinking about, especially for our spring show. We usually have mid acts, so we’re thinking of inviting other dance groups or performing arts groups. We’re really excited for that. We hope that that’s something that we can do this year.
In terms of VTone fitting into the context of the Asian community at Princeton, something I’ve noticed is that a lot of my friends are really interested in Asian music but don’t want to join an acapella group. These friends are very excited to come to my performances and they’re really curious to see what pieces we’re performing, and they get super excited when they know the pieces. It’s just a really great way to have everyone engaged with the music.
LZ: Do you think there are any challenges VTone has faced in the past with finding representation or opportunities to perform on campus? Do you think that reflects anything about how VTone fits within the acapella scene at Princeton?
IS: We are definitely different from other acapella groups, because we were more recently established. Because of that we don’t really have any funded trips where we get to go on tour and perform. But I think either way, we have our own system. For instance, we have the fall arch. That’s a huge event where we bring hot chocolate and snacks and everyone can come watch. Then, we have our spring show. We have the entire hell week process leading up to our three performances, and even though everyone is so tired by the end, we all have a lot of fun and grow so much closer. So I really like it in our unique way.
LZ: What message do you have for students who would be interested in joining VTone in the future?
IS: I would say that if you have a slight interest in any genre of East Asian music, feel free to join. It’s a really great opportunity to meet a great community. I have received a lot of help from upperclassmen and advice as a pre-med student. I've had several pre-med students give me advice on what majors to choose. At one point, we even stayed up until midnight because they were helping me, guiding me. It’s a really collaborative community. So if anyone’s interested, feel free to join. You don’t have to be East Asian to join. It’s a wonderful community.
Laura Zhang is a contributing writer for The Prospect from Sydney, Australia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.