May 17, 2022

Yoo Kihyun had an epiphany | Characteristics

In 2020, Monsta X’s Yoo Kihyun had an epiphany. The singer, who debuted with the South Korean idol group in 2015, admitted to a long-standing struggle to express his feelings, only in his desire to be nice and accommodating to everyone he encountered, the underlying meaning of his words went unnoticed. It was a childhood habit, rooted in fame. “As an artist, a celebrity, I have to continually show myself to the public,” Kihyun explains. “I tried to control myself and put myself in a box with limits and it was hard. Then all of a sudden I thought, ‘This time will never come again because we’re only living one times.’ So I thought about pursuing life more naturally and finding my true self.

There’s been no rom-com-level metamorphosis into the ultimate rebel. “I’m not a bad boy,” he says in English, amused. He’s more approachable, attentive and conscientious than ever, the abrupt, breathless bark of his laughter echoing through his laptop’s tiny speakers. But he speaks firmly and emphatically, his gaze frequently falling on the translator’s notes just to make sure that everything he said is there, intact, complete. Because if anything demonstrates Kihyun’s discovery and consequent sharing of his true self, it’s his first solo EP, “Voyager.”

At three tracks, it’s short but as eclectic and multifaceted as it is, its creation a combination of timing, fate and clarity. He’s played cover songs before (Bruno Mars, Tom Grennan, Crush, Imagine Dragons) and sung original soundtracks for K-dramas, but in the seven years since MONSTA X’s debut, Kihyun says his personal musical identity had been so scattered that a solo record didn’t feel viable: “It’s only now that it’s in one piece,” he says, adding that time, generally speaking, has also played its part. “I didn’t have one,” Kihyun says wryly, referring to Monsta X’s often busy schedules, “but between [recent] press tour and album, I had a short break, and when I heard ‘Voyager’, I immediately thought: ‘This is the song, this is it’.

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‘Voyager’, the title track, is not far from Bruno Mars’ ‘Doo Wops & Hooligans’ era (Kihyun’s tense 2016 live cover of the B-side album ‘Runaway Baby’ remains the a fan favorite): Pop rock with a touch of jazz piano and tinkling orchestration, a song with a soft bounce in its step and a happy, retro heartbeat. It’s a natural fit for Kihyun’s vocal dexterity, the ability to settle into a raspy voice as easily as the powerful notes he’s famous for. It’s a song for the inner escapee – “To feel like a traveler, to feel so free…that paradise I dreamed of, so beautiful” – a side of himself, he says with a theatrical sigh and a laugh, which he doesn’t allow himself to be entertained too often. “Whenever I’m too tired I can think about it, but escaping reality isn’t that easy,” he says. When the pressure mounts, music remains her favorite medium to release and comfort herself.

His taste leans towards solo guitar music since his adolescence. Music that looks or sounds “raw” finds favor over “lots of fine detail,” and satisfaction is when a song’s lyrics strike a chord within it. So it only makes sense that he writes about ‘Voyager’, putting pen to paper for the lyrics to ‘,(Comma)’, a song that almost never existed. A different demo had been chosen, approved, lyrics done, recording finished. “It’s top secret,” he says, and he laughs, most likely at that, his go-to phrase when sharing something he hadn’t quite planned on doing. “Something happened, there was a problem, and that song had to be dropped.”

Scrapping the track hit him hard – “I felt like all the energy was gone,” adds Kihyun – but the bright side of having done so is the delicate melancholy and ad-libs in full swing. boost that ‘, (Comma)’ brings to the disc. “Because it was my first time trying to write the lyrics,” he recalls, “when I got the new track, I tried to be natural. I didn’t want to write lyrics. contrived lyrics and thought it would be nice to write my own story Turns out he didn’t find the writing process difficult at all but he carefully chooses his words based on how whose song most faithfully reflects his life.” I wanted to express that while going through difficult times, sometimes you think you know yourself well but you can often deny yourself [what you need].” He likens the comma to a grammatical pause to the need we as individuals have for that same breathing space. “Having that comma, I can then try to find myself.”

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There’s no textbook definition of what constitutes the perfect K-pop idol, but being in possession of a cornucopia of dualities and talents is lauded. Kihyun himself oscillates on a broad spectrum: from confidence to self-mockery. Mild to strict. Charismatic on stage to charming in person, his humor sprinkled with a peppery dryness. And then there’s his voice, with its beautiful, distinctive timbre and seemingly tireless strength.

But the idea of ​​being perfect – pierced in idols as trainees as the ultimate though, by the very nature of idols being human, invariably unreachable pinnacle – has lost its scintillating appeal. Instead, Kihyun embraces himself as a work in progress, letting go of the expectations he once had heaped on his shoulders. “Before, I preferred to be a perfectionist,” he recalls. “Perfection was always one of the things I wanted to achieve, so every time I made a mistake, I stressed myself out. But now, rather than pushing myself too hard, I just say, ‘I can do better. next time”. It actually made me better as an artist. Whenever I thought something was wrong, that it was impossible, I didn’t try to question myself. I didn’t never liked to take risks and whenever I was scared of things, I always tended to take a step back. But now I’m like, ‘Let’s try this, whatever, let’s do this.’ I have changed a lot.

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This open-mindedness and this freedom acquired by being comfortable in one’s own skin are the backbone of his solo work. As Monsta X’s Kihyun, he says, “There are rules, there are members to take care of, but in doing my solo music, there are no rules or guidelines to to follow.” What emerges are the innermost layers of the balancing act he masters. He remains the no-nonsense member of Monsta X, the one other members’ parents will call to check things out, the neatnik, the dab hand in the kitchen, the “hamster” – an early nickname granted because of his round, youthful cheeks.

But Kihyun is also a restless spirit, unwilling to become complacent in his late 20s. Her preppy boyfriend look — oversized hoodies, cardigans, neat jeans — was sidelined for a plain black t-shirt and beloved black leather jacket, her super-sharp cheekbones and copper-brown hair catching the eye. unforgiving strip lighting above. Many of the concept photos for “Voyager” feature water – in cups, on book covers, at the beach – and he’s either in it, on it, or looking at it. Water is an escape, not just as a means of travel, but as a way to disconnect from life for a while. He loves the ocean, going surfing and the immersion of falling in it, feeling the waves crashing against him. Resistance and surrender. He also enjoys driving, getting behind the wheel of his car whenever he can, a machine he lovingly describes as “fast, black, all black, with nice curves”, as he traces with one hand undulating shapes in the air.

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This deep insight into his polarity unfolds on the EP’s third track, “Rain”, offering unexpected territory to explore. He was drawn to its dark, brooding atmosphere and stung by its challenge: “I noticed there was a rap party and my first thought was, ‘How am I going to do this?’ When I first tried it in the recording studio, it was very unusual. As the first line of this verse unfolds, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s an uncredited feature over it: “That’s me!” he sings, suddenly joyful. He had nailed the section in less than ten takes.

As the line between an artist’s public and private persona thins and blurs, and not just in K-pop, it raises the question of where it stops or should it stop. Kihyun’s teammate IM thinks it’s necessary to protect himself, to protect his personal identity, but Kihyun struggled with that. “Initially my thoughts were along the same lines as IM I thought there was something that needed to be protected as an idol,” he says, “but my personality just doesn’t accept to be in the middle.” When he was growing up among friends, he could never be part of who he was, he had to “show everything I had”, a philosophy that carried over to his career.

This has consequences: “I agree that if we show too much and don’t protect ourselves, we get hurt and we have the experience of it.” This led to what he calls a “sudden closing of the door to our hearts”, and although, unsurprisingly, he didn’t take advantage of it at the time, it equipped him with what he needed. to open that door again. “I grew up,” he thinks. “I was able to control and train my thinking and it helped me in my daily life.” You could call it resilience although Kihyun prefers not to sugarcoat it – “I’ve become more stubborn”, he smiles – but what he wants to make clear is that his mentality, his state of being , is now “at the highest level”. And, besides, Yoo Kihyun isn’t planning on leaving this place anytime soon.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04URwjzQbPI

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Words: Taylor Glasby // @_xTGx

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