Zeph’s debut studio album, character development, is nearing closer. Through brutally honest introspection and a willingness to overshare, the viral alt-pop artist is feeling more confident than ever before. That’s why it may be hard to believe that in her younger days, she hardly spoke at all. Read an excerpt from the cover story below, which appears in our 2023 summer issue, and grab limited-edition vinyl of her new album here.
Zephani Jong didn’t really start speaking until she was 13 years old. Well, that’s a bit of hyperbole — she did speak to close family members minimally when necessary, but everyone else was out of the question. “The way I talk today, people would never guess I [didn’t speak before]. It’s crazy because now I sing for a living,” Jong, who performs under the stage name Zeph, tells Alternative Press over a Zoom call following her first-ever cover shoot.
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“I physically couldn’t make sound come out of my mouth, no matter how hard I tried. It started with me being really, really shy and anxious, and then I couldn’t get out of it because everyone knew me as the quiet one — not even quiet, but completely silent. I never spoke in front of people, and that’s all they knew of me,” Zeph recalls. She didn’t want to disturb people’s perception of her, which ultimately left her feeling trapped.
Now 24, Zeph later found out her condition was due to an anxiety disorder called selective mutism. It wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she finally started speaking candidly out loud. Metamorphosing from the “quietest person” in her friend group to the “most talkative,” Zeph credits social media for helping her open up. “Because I went on the internet a lot to talk to people, I found my own interests, beliefs and inspirations online. The internet really gave me a sense of independence.”
Social media has always been a critical part of Zeph’s journey. Before she ever uploaded even one song, Zeph had already amassed a large following from sharing her art online. She began uploading fan art of musicians like Conan Gray and Billie Eilish to Instagram around 2017. A year later, she went viral when BuzzFeed shared her series of Post-it Note doodles inspired by famous viral Vines.
Today, Zeph has over 203,000 Instagram followers, and her posts are a smattering of colorful selfies and anime video clips set to snippets of her music. Her Twitter is much more chaotic: an ever-growing collection of cringe memes, inane shitposts and relatable overshares to over 186,000 followers. The only thing you won’t find on Zeph’s Twitter anymore is a little blue checkmark now that account verification has shifted to Elon Musk’s controversial Twitter Blue. “I don’t care that it’s gone. It’s just annoying because now the only people who have it are the people who pay for it. The entire point of it is destroyed. It’s a fucking ego thing,” she says.