Kang Daniel – ‘Yellow’ review: overcoming darkness with the beacon of music’s light

A raw revisiting of the solo singer’s emotional turmoil and journey towards healing

The brightest smiles usually hide the greatest pain. Nothing had seemed amiss before Kang Daniel announced his hiatus from the entertainment industry back in December 2019, citing “health problems” – but little did anyone know that he had been diagnosed with depression and panic disorder in the first half of that year.

A year after returning to the limelight in March 2020, the solo artist and former Wanna One member revisits that dark period of his life through ‘Yellow’. It’s the third and final part of his ‘Color’ trilogy. An attempt to find “his true colours as an artist”, the project started in March last year with ‘Cyan’ followed by ‘Magenta’ in August 2020.

Compared to Kang’s previous releases, there is a tighter narrative in ‘Yellow’, which takes the listener through the gamut of emotions he’d experienced during his break. It’s also partly because this time the singer finally had a hand in co-penning all the songs. As Kang himself shared at the press conference for ‘Yellow’, “it’s an album that lets out my inner feelings and contains an emotional aspect… like a late-night diary entry. I planned this with the message that not everything is as it appears”.

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That certainly is the case with opening song ‘Digital’, which has a midtempo melody that belies the agony amidst its lyrics (“The more I expose myself, the more darkness that comes in / I’m slowly going insane”). Here, he likens his past cyberbullying experiences to being in a digital battleground with “enemies invisible” that “wanna take [him] down”; and though he convinces himself at the end that he’s “blank[ed] out all of his emotions” and “[gotten] rid of all the lies”, the voices in his head appear to get the better of him.

Am I just crazy or dreamin’ awake? / Now I can’t escape,” Kang sings on the next track ‘Paranoia’, which explores his emotional pain much more deeply. Coupled with a music video that is symbolic as it is artistic, this song encapsulates the mental and emotional torment that took over in his depressive period and how it manifested (“Out of breath in a panic / Bad thoughts have already been made / Spreading slowly”). The song is successful not only in embodying Kang’s songwriting abilities, but has also flourished commercially, becoming his highest charting song on the South Korean Gaon Digital Chart.

From fear to resignation – ‘Misunderstood’ reflects the echo chamber of Daniel’s mind (“Round and round / I’m going in circles”), making him believe that he’s “forever misunderstood” just because of his place in the spotlight. Though ‘Paranoia’ would seem to be the “darker” track due to its lyrical references of darkness and demons, it’s this song – with its synth distortions and deep bass lines – that truly reflects the nature of being trapped in a depressive cycle with no way out. Meanwhile, guest rapper Balming Tiger’s Omega Sapien blends in a bit too well with the overall song; though his vocals complement Kang’s (and that’s a compliment), his verse isn’t all that memorable.

‘Yellow’ reaches a breaking point on title track ‘Antidote’, a desperate plea from Kang to end the pain and finally find relief. For all of its emotiveness, particularly through its raw and descriptive lyrics of his emotional captivity (“I can’t even believe how / It spreads all over my body, even worse”), one blip that breaks the storytelling is Kang not fully enunciating the word ‘antidote’ when he sings (it comes out as ‘antido’ most of the time); although it can be heard much more distinctively in his rap.

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‘Save U’, featuring rapper Wonstein, rounds up the album as a tender ode from the present-day Kang to his past self. It can even double up as an uplifting and encouraging reminder to those who may be facing the same challenges he had: “You’re stronger than you think you are.”

Like the late John Lennon once said, “Art is only a way of expressing pain.” For Kang Daniel, this deeply personal album seems to be his way of both expressing his pain, and also of processing it. “It’s important that you open up yourself,’ he said in a recent interview with Allure, “If you close up your heart, it’s just so hard to overcome it by yourself.” With ‘Yellow’, Daniel’s not only given himself the chance to heal, he’s also giving others the courage to do so, with the help of his music.

Details

  • Release date: April 13
  • Record label: KONNECT Entertainment
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