COVER

Kang Daniel

In Full Color

T

The world is starting to awaken from its necessitated slumber. Planes are zig-zagging time zones like its 2019 and calendars that lay bare are repopulating as quickly as they were cleared. For Kang Daniel things have been ramping up for months. We struggle to find time to connect—he’s working 18 hour days of rehearsals and press appearances and interviews. And he wants to do it all. 

 

Kang balances a sort of duality. His public persona, for one, has him charming fans with his soft, sweet demeanor, the occasional hair sweep, and cherub skin that flushes pink at the cheeks with every laugh. And his private life; one he sinks into. It’s where he finds comfort in solitude. Daniel will tell you, he considers himself shy. Which surprises me, and I’m sure others who have listened to his music and watched him nail every bit of his buoyant choreography on screen and stage. “It’s not easy,” he tells me of breaking through that natural state of reclusivity. “But when you get on stage, and you see the fans, something just changes,” he lights up. “They give you so much energy and it’s almost like a different side of me takes over. Like an out-of-body experience.”

 

It’s that exuberant persona that landed him the top spot on the second season of South Korea’s Produce 101 in 2017, a reality competition show that formed Kang’s 11-member boy band, Wanna One. Kang’s childhood influences were R&B singers and dancers from the early aughts. “I would watch music videos of people like Usher, Chris Brown, and Neyo with my friends at the beach and we would imitate the choreography,” he told me of why he decided to pursue a career in music and embarked on this journey. Before long, Wanna One was set on a world tour, performing in over a dozen cities across continents. They overloaded the media and set on back-to-back press junkets, selling record-number albums along the way. Kang landed his first solo endorsement deal that same year as the face of Think Nature, a move that increased the brand’s online sales by 728%. By the end of 2018, after a year and a half together, Wanna One officially broke up. But that didn’t stop Kang. 

The world is starting to awaken from its necessitated slumber. Planes are zig-zagging time zones like its 2019 and calendars that lay bare are repopulating as quickly as they were cleared. For Kang Daniel things have been ramping up for months. We struggle to find time to connect—he’s working 18 hour days of rehearsals and press appearances and interviews. And he wants to do it all. 

 

Kang balances a sort of duality. His public persona, for one, has him charming fans with his soft, sweet demeanor, the occasional hair sweep, and cherub skin that flushes pink at the cheeks with every laugh. And his private life; one he sinks into. It’s where he finds comfort in solitude. Daniel will tell you, he considers himself shy. Which surprises me, and I’m sure others who have listened to his music and watched him nail every bit of his buoyant choreography on screen and stage. “It’s not easy,” he tells me of breaking through that natural state of reclusivity. “But when you get on stage, and you see the fans, something just changes,” he lights up. “They give you so much energy and it’s almost like a different side of me takes over. Like an out-of-body experience.”

 

It’s that exuberant persona that landed him the top spot on the second season of South Korea’s Produce 101 in 2017, a reality competition show that formed Kang’s 11-member boy band, Wanna One. Kang’s childhood influences were R&B singers and dancers from the early aughts. “I would watch music videos of people like Usher, Chris Brown, and Neyo with my friends at the beach and we would imitate the choreography,” he told me of why he decided to pursue a career in music and embarked on this journey. Before long, Wanna One was set on a world tour, performing in over a dozen cities across continents. They overloaded the media and set on back-to-back press junkets, selling record-number albums along the way. Kang landed his first solo endorsement deal that same year as the face of Think Nature, a move that increased the brand’s online sales by 728%. By the end of 2018, after a year and a half together, Wanna One officially broke up. But that didn’t stop Kang. 

I am just thankful that people have stayed by my side through everything."

I am just thankful that people have stayed by my side through everything."


No less than a month after the K-pop group disbanded, Kang pursued his solo career. A few management changeovers weighed heavily on him but became the catalyst for Kang to take the reins of his career, launching his own agency Konnect Entertainment in June of 2019. A month later, Kang released his solo debut EP, Color on Me. It was a turning point for him, he tells me. “Working on the COLOR series was very transformative for me. I got to really explore different emotions and learn to express myself through my music.” He continues, “I wanted to do a project that represented different parts of myself, whether that be a mood or emotion, or events in my life.” 

 

The album reached meteoric success, setting the highest first-day and first-week physical sales records since the inception of Hanteo Chart, South Korea’s most notable record chart ranking site. Kang jumped right into promo and held six signing events in four days. “The most memorable moment for me was my first fan meeting and solo debut. I was nervous if people would enjoy my music,” he reminisces. But he says, “seeing faces that I recognize from the beginning of my career to now, with video fan meetings, I am just thankful that people have stayed by my side through everything.” Throughout our conversation, Kang repeatedly brings up his fans—it’s clear he cares deeply about them. 

I think there’s definitely a lot of pressure being a solo act, but I found it to be very good and humbling."

Major brands took notice of Kang’s unique star power. In 2019, Givenchy cast him as their new brand ambassador, making him the first male to front the brand’s beauty campaigns. Between touring and modeling for Calvin Klein Jeans and Rimowa, Kang hosted The Kang Daniel Show, an episodic radio show that streamed on NOW. The weight of transitioning from a K-pop power group to a solo act was starting to take a toll. All eyes were on him. “I think there’s definitely a lot of pressure being a solo act, but I found it to be very good and humbling,” he confesses. “You realize you have to work harder and constantly improve and I think that’s always a good thing.” That’s the thing with Kang, he always finds his way back to a positive outlook. It wasn’t always that way, though. 

That non-stop hustle and those 18-hour days drove Kang into the ground. In late 2019, he took a hiatus from the limelight, full-stop, to take care of his mental health. He began to feel isolated, “I think the most challenging part is it just being me, alone. I have amazing dancers and staff that help me and make my life easier, but being a solo act, you don’t have a break in the song or choreography and that can be tough,” he says with the sort of honesty that feels refreshing. “When my schedule is overwhelming, I just try to remember that I’m not alone. It might be just my name, but that name also represents my fans, my company, and my staff. I just remember that we are all in this together.” 

 

After some much-needed time away, Kang made his comeback in March 2020, releasing the second installment to his color trilogy with CYAN, a collection of five songs, including his single “2U”. “CYAN expresses a lot of feelings, aspirations, and memories from my childhood,” he says. Early that year, Kang tapped another one of his passions, travel, and announced the debut of his reality show Hello, Daniel. By end of summer, he dropped MAGENTA, which Kang tells me, “is more fun, adventurous, and the excitement that I feel at my age now.” The visuals, bouncy pans, and moody rainfalls with perfectly synchronized choreography, are the perfect pairing. If “Movie ft. dvnm” doesn’t get stuck in your head…well, it will.  

 

Kang has his sights set on a worldwide expansion. His first collaboration with an American artist was a feature on “State of Wonder” by Inverness alongside Anthony Russo. Kang’s most recent release, YELLOW, which came out this past April, “kind of documents some of the struggles I’ve had along the way,” he confesses. There’s always an element of theatrics to his work. “Being a dancer first, it’s a force of habit to listen to a song and think about the visuals and aesthetics,” he says. He finds inspiration all around him, he tells me. He laughs at being deathly afraid of insects but finds excitement in trying new things. “I haven’t gone on a cruise yet!” he laughs when I ask him if there’s something he hasn’t had a chance to do yet. When it comes to what we can expect to see from Kang in the near future, he’s staying mum about it. But we know it’s going to be big.

You can stream Daniel Kang’s latest release, YELLOW, here.



Photographer: HeeJun Kim


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