A star is born in Korea: Kai from EXO (an interview with D&G's Swide)

In 1989, Nigel Martin Smith, a manager from Manchester, decided to create an entertainment product aimed at English teenagers. It may be worth noting that a few years previously the boy band “New Kids on the Block” had climbed the charts in the States. Nigel wanted to replicate their success with a British perspective. He wanted to create a music band which went further than a musical product. And he was successful. In 1990 after numerous casting sessions, Take That was born: pop music and entertainment would never be the same again. Today, phenomena such as Justin Bieber and the incredible success of the TV formats like X Factor and America’s Got Talent, et all, continue to produce entertainment products that are more than just about music. It’s not by chance that Gary Barlow, pillar of Take That and author of most of their songs is now a judge on the UK edition of X Factor.

Good singers, good dancers, very cute and full of energy, from Take That onward  the boy band that rose to success and waned are numerous. Many have acted as incubators for mega starts that later enjoyed a successful solo career like Justin Timberlake from n’Sync and Robbie Williams from Take That.

No one had ever thought of localizing the product until in 2011, Korean producer Lee Soo-Man from SM Entertainment had the intuition of forming the boy band EXO, subdivided in two mirror image sub bands: one for the Korean market, called EXO-K and one for the Chinese one named EXO-M. On the 30th January 2012 their first single “What is Love” was launched by the two bands, contemporaneously, in the two language versions, Chinese and Korean. Two more singles followed, “Mama” and “History”, (both with over 9 million views on Youtube).

Lee Soo-Man’s strategic genius lead him to introduce each member of the band with a teaser on the web, like a distilling machine which releases drop by drop hormones onto a stadium of screaming teenagers.

The first young man to be introduced to said screaming teenagers was Kai. A choice that ended up igniting a slight teenage jealousy amongst fans. It was the 23rd December 2011. A year ago. The others then followed. A crescendo of media circus and interest which swept across Asia and that now is starting to echo in the US and Europe. These days K-Pop is contaminating electronic composers and DJs the world over. Is it not time to let go of that pathetic and somewhat decadent postmodern nostalgia represented by Madonna and Gaga and allow globalization the chance to break through new cultural and visual styles?

I viewed a hundred videos, Tumblrs, websites dedicated to EXO to understand that something is definitely happening within pop music. It was an exciting journey through sounds and images and manifrom chaos. Amongst the 12 members of the group Kai stands out in terms of energy, charm, sex appeal and charisma. It may not be a revolution, EXO may not change the history of pop music, but a star is certainly born: Kai. He answered a few questions for Swide.

Kai, for those of us who are unaware of who you are, can you introduce yourself please?
Nice to meet you, I’m Kai from EXO. The name of the group EXO is inspired by the idea of the Exoplanet, a star that comes from an unknown galaxy. The group is divided in two, EXO-K for Korea and EXO- M for China. (The M stands for Mandarin). In 2012 EXO-K and EXO-M launched the same song, at the same time in the two different languages, in order to have a global impact. My specialty within the band is dance: Dance Music and Hip Hop.

Your group name EXO-K is a term referring to planets outside of the solar system. When was the last time you experienced something out of this world?
As a child I always wanted to dance and sing, while everyone else wanted to play. Maybe that was my way of being out of this world!

EXO is made up of 6 guys. What are the different personalities in the group? What problems do you have?
EXO is made of 12 members- the group being divided in 2: EXO-K and EXO-M. I feel more at ease talking about my own group. EXO-K. Suho is the leader of the group, he is always very responsible. Chanyeol is the rapper and Baek Hyunis the one amongst us who tends to sing the majority of the songs. The last two are the most fun, they always make us laugh. D.O. is the other voice, though he’s older than I am, but he is very sweet. Se Hun is the youngest of the group and he just tries to get along with all of us. Each of us has a different character, but we always try to have mutual respect, it’s the most important thing. 

Do EXO-K and EXO-M ever sing together? 
Of course! Some times we perform together in the two languages. It’s fascinating, a truly global spectacle. Unique.

Speaking of South Korea and China, food is never far from my mind… I love South Korean food… you’re from Seoul, what would you cook for me if I came to your house for dinner?
I’m so glad you like Korean food! We have so many delicious dishes. I love fish, and seafood. If you came to my house in Korea I would happily cook for you a seafood soup 해물탕.

So, let’s talk more about Kai. Looking at Mama and the new Samsung ATIV Smart PC advert, you know how to dance… what is your performance training?
I started dancing when I was 9. I found it very useful to learn different styles of dance, from classical to jazz, dance and hip-hop. I practice every day and I want to keep improving. Every day is a good one to better yourself.

Your dance routines involve some… we could say ‘sexy’ moves. What do you parents think?
Eh eh… My parents love to watch me dance, since I was a child. They are still happy to watch me.

You are one of the hip-hop leaders in EXO-K, when did you discover the genre? Also in K-pop, hip-hop is becoming an important characteristic, its not that mundane to mix electronic pop with rap! But you do it very well. 
Thank you! When I was 16 I started becoming passionate about hip-hop, with my friends, I would love to learn how to sing melodically as well, so I’m studying a lot. I want to become a complete artist, one who can dance, sing and rap. Soon you’ll see all my talents! 

What’s the most challenging thing about being a pop star?
Our shows are very dynamic. Its important to be fit and healthy. Its also important to be good humored and have positive thoughts. Generally be happy.

What 3 words would you use to describe your attitude to life?
Passion, not just for music. I try to be passionate about everything I do in my life.
Gratitude, I try to be grateful to others and the world for everything that I have had, that I have and that I will have in the future!

3 words to describe Seoul?
Art, Fiume Han, dynamic

When are you most relaxed?
When I’m with my family.

3 things you could not live without?
The bracelets my parents gave me.
MP3 I can’t live without music.

K-Pop is huge at the moment, all over the world. Apart from the music you make, what music are you into?
I listen to all types of music. At the moment I’m really into Super Junior, the song Sorry Sorry.

Original article in English: D&G's Swide Magazine