Writing A New Chapter: KINO Interviewed

Embracing his singular path, and new single 'Fashion Style'...

Thirteen years into his career as an artist, KINO, real name Kang Hyeong Gu, stands as quite the all-rounder. In what he refers to as his “first chapter”, he blossomed as a member of boy group Pentagon, under Cube Entertainment. He honed his artistry in every way he could, growing as a singer, dancer, painter, rapper, choreographer, and composer. 

October of 2023 brought KINO’s departure from Cube, making way for him to step into his second chapter just two months later. On December fifteenth, he launched his very own agency, Naked, its name representing his desire to show only his most authentic self. 

Though the new year has only just begun, it’s already been a big one for solo artist and CEO KINO. He ushered in the month of January with the release of his first single under Naked, “Fashion Style”, and ended it grandly with his first solo concert in Seoul on January twenty-seventh – the day of his twenty-sixth birthday. 

Days after his concert, KINO opened up to Clash about his new journey, his artistry, and showing the real Hyeong Gu.

Tell us a bit about ‘Fashion Style’, your latest release.

Kino: ‘Fashion Style’ is a confidence-boosting song. It’s also good driving music. I wanted to tell all listeners, “You’re beautiful in your own skin.” This song gives me a sense of nostalgia when I listen to it. The main instrumental, the synth lead, gives me the same feeling that the songs from my childhood give me. 

You’ve transitioned into a role with a whole new set of responsibilities, as a CEO. What has that experience been like, thus far? 

K: There are a lot of challenges. Every single day I learn new things, and face a lot of difficulties while doing my own thing with my team. For example, how to pay customers right, with tax. Things like that, that I’ve never done before. That’s the most difficult part of me, now. But there are a lot of good people around me who help me, as well. So I think I’m doing good. 

What brought on the decision to launch Naked now? 

K: I had a very specific career vision of mine – I was sure I could get success if I had my own team and focused on my music. It felt like the right time. I didn’t make it complicated, I just decided one day. And everybody wonders, “Are you freer than before?” Never. I have more responsibilities, and I really have to listen carefully to my team’s opinions. But I feel that I can go on way better, if I do things this way. 

Why was it important to you to further pursue being a soloist, and being your own artist?

K: As a member of Pentagon, I of course had responsibilities as a part of a team. Now, I have my own team. If I make a mistake as a member (of Pentagon), my other members can cover me. Now, nobody can cover me, so I watch out for every step I make. But now, I also can show my music and contents more freely than before. In (Pentagon), I made dance and hip hop music. Now, I’m writing more easy-listening songs. I want to be more me – a more real KINO, a more real Hyeong Gu. I’m focusing on expressing my life. 

What are you looking to accomplish going forward – as an artist and personally?

K: (Laughs) I want fame and fortune, of course. (Laughs harder) No, these days, there are no boundaries between my personal and professional life. My focus is just on my music, and how to reach more people through this journey. That’s it. 

You just put on your own concert in Seoul, for your birthday. How was that?

K: It was an unforgettable experience. After the concert, I felt that my choice was correct, and that I could show my fans, as well as myself, that I’m doing well. That night, I received assurance that my fans like this new KINO. It was a very important night in my second chapter. 

It was difficult (creating the show) – it was almost two hours of just me. It felt a bit lonely, but my confidence grew when I began to make a concert with my team. I’ve been in this industry for thirteen years, and I always archived my ideas for my solo show. I really tried to put all of those ideas into my concert. I think we did well. Every first step is the most important thing, so I was worried. But I did it. 

Why do you create? What drives you to make the work that you do?

K: I just love to see my fans, and all people, enjoying my work and getting a sense of comfort from my creations. That’s the biggest driving force of my musical life. When I see those things (happening), I remember that I can never stop. The format doesn’t matter, whether it’s painting, acting, music. I just want to show and tell my life through stories and creations to the audience and the world. If they feel my emotions, and I can share my feelings right, then I feel amazing. 

Is there a particular moment in your life when you realized that creating is what you wanted to do?

KINO: It was maybe 2013…I began learning to sing and dance in 2010, but at that time, I just enjoyed doing it. In 2013, I started to write music, and I felt that I wanted to sing my music, my story. That was the beginning of the first chapter of my music journey. After that, there was the moment I could show my music, after I released my first original song to the world, “It’s Over”. The reaction of the fans was beautiful, so I thought, “Oh, I can be loved by people, with my music.”

Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

K: That’s a very easy question, and at the same time, it’s very difficult. I have a big responsibility of making music and reaching success with my team. I’m always looking for inspiration from everywhere. When I walk, when I see people in a conversation…That’s my biggest source of inspiration. Sometimes I get inspired by a great artist, like Andy Warhol or Van Gogh. My life is my inspiration. Every part of life becomes inspiration for my creations. 

I of course have times where I get stuck. I think every creative person has hard times like that. But there is a quote I love by Chuck Close, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” I just show up and get to work. 

What is your favourite part of the music creation process?

K: Taking a nap. (Laughs) It’s essential for me. After the hard work, I have to rest. After taking a nap, I write better. I can listen to my music freshly. 

Would you say that you have a good balance of knowing when you should work and when you should rest?

K: No. Never. And it’s not just because of the new responsibilities. It’s just my personality. I don’t want to say that I am a perfect person, but I can say that if I get success, the reason will be my personality. 

Are you a perfectionist?

K: I was, but not now. Because of him. (Gestures at his manager) His perfectionism is even greater than mine, so I now just…take a step back.

How would you describe the music that you create? 

K: Youth. Of course I’m telling my stories and my life through the lyrics, but I believe that it’s not just for me. It’s for every youth. After (realising) that, I knew I had to write my music very honestly. Being honest is a very important part of Naked. 

Do you want people to see KINO from Pentagon and KINO the solo artist as two separate artists, or as one?

K: Separate. Both of them have a very different musical color. I used to create a different genre of music, but I’ve totally changed my style. Of course, I love both of them, but they’re very different-colored artists. As a member of a team, it’s just for Pentagon. As a solo artist, it’s not for someone. It’s more my own identity. 

And what do you want your musical identity to be known for?

K: The artist who makes good music. That’s the only thing I want. I want to tell people to please not regret it later, thinking, “Oh, I should’ve liked KINO earlier.” No regret. Just like me now. What are you waiting for? 

You’re constantly exploring different art forms. What art form would you like to try out that you haven’t yet?

K: I’m shy to say this, but I would like to try out acting. I’m not prepared now. I believe it’s not my time yet, because I have to focus on my music. But if I have the chance, I want to do it. I would prefer a movie to a series, and I’d be interested in trying a student role. 

Anything else you’d like people to know about KINO?

K: I am an artist who makes good songs. And I want to meet my fans face-to-face as soon as possible. Just give me time. Wherever you are, I’ll be there soon. Thank you. 

Words / Photography: Ciara Glagola // @ciaraglagola

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