There are different shades to Kang Daniel.
This is what the K-pop star is showing fans with his colour-inspired trilogy of EPs, the second of which, Magenta, dropped this month.
Where the series opener, 2018's Colour on Me, was marked by its streamlined RnB direction, the latest batch of songs shows Kang expanding his palette to take in new styles such as Latin-inspired pop and dance hall.
Lead singles Waves and Who You Are form some of the more interesting releases to emerge out of the K-pop scene this year.
The former packs in a lot of ideas over its near-three-minute running time, with stuttering hip-hop beats, staccato piano riffs and flamenco-inspired guitar work. Listen closer and you will also hear the yearning notes of the flute in the mix.
The bilingual Who You Are, however, is an unabashed pop tune that moves from The Weeknd-like crooning verse to boyband-ready chorus.
"The series is a project that shows my journey as a developing artist," Kang, 23, tells The National.
"I feel like I'm still searching for the right musical colour that best suits me, and I wanted to share this period of self-discovery with my fans. Each album shows a different phase of my career, my inspirations, and my thoughts through different sounds and genres. With Magenta, I wanted to bring some energy to listeners this summer with music that everyone can dance and have fun to."
Underscoring the party vibes are the accompanying videos, which are full of K-pop’s trademark glitz.
In Waves, Kang and the track's featured artists, Simon Dominic and Jamie, sing and rap their way through various settings including an underground club and a greenhouse.
The video for Who You Are, meanwhile, shows Kang and an army of dancers juxtaposed between volcanic and arctic settings.
Despite the fun shown on screen, Kang says music videos are a serious and thoughtful business in the K-pop industry.
“The visuals and the music are equally important because the synergy between them determines how impactful the message of the artist is. I want to convey the vibe of the song to the fullest,” he says.
"Magenta has two main music videos (and they) represent 'fire' and 'water' respectively, so the focus should be on the different settings that visually portray those two elements."
From survivor to star
Kang’s assuredness comes from launching his music career under the gaze of millions.
A dancer since his mid-teens, he became a national sensation after winning the 2017 season of Produce 101. The Survivor meets X Factor concept featured Kang emerging from 101 "trainees" to win the series, the prize being a role as the lead singer of 11-piece boyband (the remaining 10 members were finalists) Wanna One.
Despite releasing only one album, 2018's 1¹¹=1 (Power of Destiny), before disbanding last year, the group were an international juggernaut with a world tour that included stops across Asia, the US and Australia.
While Kang's burgeoning solo career has been unsurprisingly successful – Magenta topped the charts and sold more than 300,000 copies in South Korea – he is not taking anything for granted.
Kang doesn’t even know why K-pop is so popular. This is just as well, as he finds such questions a distraction from building an enduring career immune to trends and fads.
“That is a tough question and I’m unsure how to answer that because there were so many artists before me who paved the way,” he says.
“I just want to make sure that I do my part by continuing the legacy of my seniors, by working hard and elevating the standards of K-pop. This is a responsibility I take seriously.”
Kang’s love for his Arab fans
Another career aspect Kang is careful to maintain is a close relationship with his fans, many of whom followed him from his television debut three years ago. And that includes a growing legion in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“I am so thankful that the UAE and the Arab world embraces K-pop and my music despite the cultural and language differences,” he says. “I sincerely appreciate the love and I am truly touched by their support.”
Once the pandemic abates and live entertainment resumes, Kang confirms that the Gulf will be part of his travel plans for work and pleasure.
“I really want to visit for a holiday and to meet my fans there in concert where we can spend time together,” he says “My message to my UAE fans and those in the Arab world is that I hope they enjoy the new EP and I will work harder to make more good music. Hope you stay safe and healthy.”