It was only a matter of time until Kino made his official solo debut. Aside from being one of PENTAGON’s main songwriters and choreographers, he’s been sharpening his skills through various side projects since his debut in 2016. Take the collective M.O.L.A, for example, which also includes Jamie Park, WOODZ, Seventeen’s Vernon, and producers Nathan and HoHo; or his own SoundCloud, Knnovation, where he regularly uploads demos and solo experiments.
Such a prolific engagement with music is just natural to the 24-year-old, who has been doing this for half his life. Born Kang Hyung-gu in Seongnam, a satellite city of Seoul, South Korea, he’s always been a lover of the arts in general – his Instagram account is filled with visits to museums and exhibitions, and he even learned how to paint. This eagerness to learn and experience the world translates to other aspects of his life as well. When the Zoom call with NME connects, the first thing he says is that he wants to answer everything in English. “But unfortunately, my English is not that good,” he apologises.
“To be satisfied with the project in general, I prefer to be involved in the entire creative process”
That’s not true: Kino is nearly fluent, only reverting to Korean when he decides to keenly explain the details behind his special single album, ‘Pose’, out August 9. Partly inspired by the Greek myth of Narcissus and composed by Kino, Nathan, Yunji, and PENTAGON’s Wooseok, ‘Pose’ is an enticing introduction to Kino’s sultry, refined essence. Distinguished by the careful attention given to every single aspect – from composing, to choreographing, to promotion plans – it also gives us a glimpse of an all-rounder artist with unlimited potential.
NME recently caught up with Kino to talk about the hardest part of becoming PENTAGON’s first soloist, how he’s grown as an artist, and the ebbs and flows of having complete creative control over his output.
What came first, the idea of debuting solo or ‘Pose’ itself?
“Actually, at first, the format of this project wasn’t an album. This started out as [extra] content and developed from it. I started working and then my bandmates and my company, Cube [Entertainment], suggested that it was about time for me to release a solo. So I [thought] I might as well do it.”
Was timing the only reason why you chose ‘Pose’ to be your official debut single?
“I wrote a lot of songs for this project, but I wanted to choose the song that I could do best. I grew as a 25-year-old [in Korean age], so all of my skills are better than when I was 19, when I debuted. I wanted to show to my audience that my skills have improved.”
I watched your ‘Kinowhere’ episodes on YouTube and one thing that caught my attention was the briefing meeting with relevant departments at Cube. Did you have to convince them to release this album?
“Rather than convincing, since this whole project started from a song that I wrote, I wanted to explain to the people in the company what kind of things that I wanted to present through the song, and how I wanted this to be portrayed. That’s why I had this briefing session.”
It’s amazing that you planned everything, even the marketing and promotion.
[Laughs] “But PENTAGON always does it like that. We always have a briefing time with our company [to relay] what we’re thinking, because we always make our own music.”
Is that something you enjoy, having full control over what you are releasing?
“Obviously, those processes are very hard on my body and mind, but I prefer to do that, because it’s my song and my project. I really had to explain all of my thinking and all the things that I wanted to do. Not everything that I think of ends up coming true, but to be satisfied with the project in general, I prefer to be involved in the entire creative process.”
Was it harder to do it all on your own, instead of with PENTAGON?
“I think it’s very similar. But I can say that a solo project is easier than a team project, because with the team project, there’s a lot of things that I have to think about. There are nine people and there’s a team colour, so I have to think of all of that. But as the solo is only me, I can ask myself and I can answer myself.”
The ‘Pose’ choreography has lots of partnered moves and dancers surrounding you. How did those ideas come up?
“I wanted to focus on beauty and class, and to make sure it wasn’t just sexy. It could be outright sexy, like, with more revealing clothes and straightforward features, but instead of doing that, I wanted the general mood to be beautifully sexy and classy. From those thoughts, I blended contemporary dance features, because I thought it was the perfect genre to portray this concept. I also reached out to dancers who focus primarily on [that style] and ballet.”
Is this contrast between classy and sexy elements one of the reasons why you used the colour pink in this release?
“I was looking for some factors that would convey the classy vibe in this project, and then I thought of using colours. But I wanted to use colours that might not seem directly associated [to it]. I thought that, if someone were to listen to this song, the colours that would come to their mind would be stronger than pink, like red, black, gold, and stuff. I wanted to choose [one] that probably wouldn’t come to the audience’s mind at first, but still goes well with the vibe.”
What has been the hardest part of this solo endeavour for you?
“The most challenging part was not having my members around me and being on my own. I can’t rely on anybody, especially in terms of stamina and energy. For instance, when I was shooting the MV, if we were [doing it] for PENTAGON, I would have some breaks when the other members were shooting and I would be able to chill for a second. But for my music video, I had to give my 100 per cent during the entire filming session. It was hard to manage my energy, and that was the theme for everything, not just the MV.”
You said that you wanted to show how you improved since your debut. What else do you think that has changed since that time?
“Because of all the experiences I had throughout my career, now I’m able to look at things from different perspectives. On the industry, for example. When I debuted, I was focused on nailing the choreography and putting on a great performance on stage, but now that I’m a few years in, I also consider things like what kind of genres are trending in this industry, what kind of music are people looking for, what do they like, and what kind of artist should I be. I don’t think that I’m perfect in those areas. I’ve gotten better, but I still want to broaden my perspective.”
Do you have any plans of releasing more music, like an EP or a full album? Because we need it.
[Laughs] “Me too. There is no plan right now for a solo project, but we are heading on to the next PENTAGON step. I want to focus on our team. We are doing our best to make a better album than ‘Feelin’ Like’ [the single of latest EP ‘In:vite U’]. We’re already preparing a comeback.”
Kino’s single album ‘Pose’ is out now