Baekho goes to ‘Absolute Zero’ for his solo debut: “I wanted to illustrate the most honest and authentic version of myself”

The former NU’EST vocalist chats with NME about his solo debut with ‘Absolute Zero’, its story and the creative process behind it

According to the laws of physics, when its temperature drops to an absolute zero – the lowest temperature theoretically possible – the particles in a substance glide without obstruction. There is no friction. This motif of smooth non-resistance was what Baekho envisioned for his opening gambit as a soloist with his debut record, ‘Absolute Zero’, released last month. “The album title ‘Absolute Zero’ could not have better described my current footing as I embark on a new journey,” he tells NME.

Baekho – real name Kang Dong-ho – has long valued authenticity in his craft over anything else. Over his decade-long career as one-fifth of veteran boy group NU’EST, he has been heavily involved in both songwriting and production of much of the band’s discography.

Baekho
Credit: Pledis Entertainment

He also occasionally lent his expertise to other K-pop ventures, including music for labelmates fromis_9 and Bumzu, as well as idol reality survival series Produce 48. He had his first taste of solo music through past NU’EST records, namely on the house-influenced ‘Feels’ and the passionate, jazzy ‘Need It’. Baekho now sees these as stepping stones: “Each experience has taught me invaluable lessons not only for my musical career but also designing the individual I am now.”

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Each pursuit of his unravels a new dimension to Baekho as a creator – and elevates his prowess as a vocalist. His voice seamlessly sails through diverse genres and styles, from lurid R&B to emphatic EDM. For an artist and performer as hands-on and polished as Baekho has always been, his independent emergence with a record as slick and scintillating as ‘Absolute Zero’ feels par for the course.

Baekho
Credit: Pledis Entertainment

“I wanted to illustrate the most honest, transparent, and authentic version of myself through this album,” Baekho says. He curated a collection of songs he felt would allow for the optimal listener experience, wanting it to be “as approachable as possible.”

All five tracks on ‘Absolute Zero’ map out a charged tale of romance through the allegory of temperature. “People often use ‘temperature’ to express emotions,” he explains. “For example, phrases like ‘the person is warm-hearted’ or ‘a cold-hearted lover’ successfully capture the type of love that one may give and feel.”

“I wanted to showcase diverse genres and styles of music through ‘Absolute Zero’… so, when the opportunity came, I gladly took it!”

Baekho’s work with NU’EST indicated a proclivity for uptempo, precocious adaptations of R&B and classic pop. As a soloist, he builds on that while exploring dreamier, sentimental soundscapes. Take title track ‘No Rules’ – he describes it as a song that captures “a tantalising moment of freedom that the lovers share amidst the hectic city”, over against dynamic basslines and heady chugs of electric guitar.

“I wanted to paint a breathtaking, tantalising scene with the most trendy, yet minimalistic, manner of musicality,” he says. ‘No Rules’ feels like a callback to the NU’EST sound, though it also communicates Baekho’s lyrical sensitivity and personal style.

The remaining B-sides on ‘Absolute Zero’ embellish the concept. Tracks like ‘Festival in my car’ and ‘LOVE BURN’ paint a fervent picture of a man at the height of his emotional self-discovery, while remaining songs ‘We don’t care no more’, ‘BAD 4 U’ and ‘Wanna go back’ document the subsequent fall from grace.

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Baekho’s focus on weaving a tale through his music is palpable even on the first listen. “Every song has its own story,” he says. “What I care about most is best transgressing my thoughts and imagination into texts and sounds that [can] be shared and delivered to the listeners.”

Everything was calculated to further this cause, including the collaborations with K-indie band Glen Check’s June One, as well as prominent K-hip-hop artist Sik-K on ‘We don’t care no more’ and ‘Wanna go back’ respectively. “Both songs underwent serious contemplation and discussion to achieve the best quality,” Baekho reminisces, describing the experience as “seamless with quick and constructive feedback that helped each other’s growth”.

“I wanted to showcase diverse genres and styles of music through ‘Absolute Zero’… so, when the opportunity came, I gladly took it!”

Baekho
Credit: Pledis Entertainment

Breaking out alone is a tall order for any artist – especially after a decade of continuous collaborative work within a band – but Baekho found himself instinctively slipping into the solo mode. “Although it was a little daunting when I attempted to manifest my imagination in the very beginning, there was nothing particularly difficult throughout,” he recalls.

He also credits the support he received from his team and fellow co-producers and writers in refining the EP. “Having diverse conversations with many people around me, in trying to understand what each individual could do in each situation, helped me in creating this album.”

Baekho – songwriter, vocalist and visionary – realises that this is the opening act of a new era. Now, he’s free to make his own moves – after all, at ‘Absolute Zero’, there is no more friction. But Baekho still knows that he’s still feeling it out and learning how to express his individualism.

“I tried my best to focus on presenting my taste in creating my new EP. So far, it has been a work in progress as I experience and learn new things. I think of ‘Absolute Zero’ as one of the stepping stones to maturing into a better musician and solo artist.”

Baekho’s ‘Absolute Zero’ is out now

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