Kevin Woo on the First Song He Ever Wrote: ‘It Gives Me a Better Connection While Performing’
Kevin Woo was only 16 years old when he debuted as part of six-member K-pop group U-KISS with the electrifying hip-hop track “Not Young” in August 2008. With bangs swooping over his right eye, he looked every bit the kindhearted boy next door in the song’s music video as he played basketball, pined after the unattainable girl and danced alongside his members in the rain in a nondescript warehouse.
Throughout his nine years as a member of U-KISS, the California born and raised idol has gone through many transformations for each of the group’s concepts, including donning heavy eye makeup for the gritty electronic single “Neverland,” experimenting with fashion in “Stop Girl,” and showing off his acting skills on the sinister dance track “Stalker.”
Eleven years later, Woo is continuing to transform, this time as he embarks as a solo artist. After separating from U-KISS in 2017, Woo has blazed a career in the American, South Korean and Japanese music markets. A frequent flyer between Seoul and Tokyo, the triple threat has been voraciously creating new music in three different languages in between his first Japanese tour, releasing his second clothing line, holding multiple performances at KCON NY and LA, and wrapping a U.S. tour with James Lee and FYKE in August.
We caught up with Kevin Woo to discuss becoming a solo artist, his ”totally crazy” upcoming music video for “Falling” and how he feels the perception of K-pop has changed globally.
How do you think your time spent as a member of U-KISS prepared you to become a solo artist?
Everything about being in the group [prepared me]: being able to perform, having that experience as a recording artist, performing concerts and tours around the globe, and learning new languages while being in the group like Japanese and Korean. I spoke Korean when I was growing up, but living in Korea I really mastered my Korean. Also just being more comfortable on stage ... As a solo artist, it's a bit different. There aren’t any members backing me up; I have to do everything on my own. That took awhile to get used to but, at the end of the day, it's performing in front of a crowd and as a solo artist that engagement is everything.
Prior to KCON and your tour with James and FYKE, you held your first solo Japanese tour. What was that experience like?
It was scary at first, honestly. It was my first time performing that many songs by myself — I performed around eighteen songs and they were all my songs, which is very new to me because I’ve only performed covers and a few songs of my own. After releasing a lot of songs over the last year, I finally got to perform my own songs at my concert which was really cool because I heard fans sing along — that was a really out of this world experience. I do have experience touring as a group; it’s different when all eyes are on you. That tour really helped boost my self-esteem.
What inspired you, James Lee and FYKE to tour together?
I first met James in Seoul when I was in U-KISS and he was in Royal Pirates. We were neighbors in the same apartment complex, so that’s how we met. We’re both Korean-Americans, and we share the same struggles and hardships being foreigners in Korea so we had just really good chemistry off the bat.
After we went our solo directions, we still kept in touch but we were both so busy we couldn’t really work on music together. This summer I was in Tokyo and he was in LA; it was long distance, but we still wanted to do this track that we had been talking about for so long. He sent over a track [“Falling”] and I wrote some lyrics and then we both met in Seoul and decided to record it. We recorded it and then talked about going on tour while we were doing the song, like, “Wouldn’t it be really cool, since we’re both at KCON LA? We should do a tour while we’re both in the city.” It was last minute planning but that’s how the tour got together.
Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration track, “Falling”?
It’s our first collab track in English and Korean. It’s already [been] released, but we’re going to shoot the music video really soon. It’s not a music video that you would expect to see for this song. It’s gonna be totally crazy.
As a songwriter, do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
The first song I ever wrote was “Freedom.” It was cool because I got to write whatever I felt like that matched the vibe of the song. I do like writing lyrics, because it lets me express whatever I’m going through at that moment or what I’ve felt in the past. It gives me a better connection with the song performing it rather than just singing lyrics that someone else wrote; it’s more personal. I feel like my gestures and expressions become more natural when I’m singing my own lyrics.
As someone who grew up in California and later moved to Korea to pursue a career in music, what is your perception of how K-pop has grown over the last five years?
It’s actually unbelievable to see K-pop grow to this extent. When U-KISS was promoting, we did have a lot of global fans. I wouldn’t say we were pioneers — [there were] groups before us like TVXQ!, Super Junior, Big Bang — we wouldn’t have existed if those groups weren’t around as well. When we first started out K-pop wasn’t on a big scale like it is now; when we were touring outside of Korea that’s when K-pop was starting to grow in the U.S. We would fill out a thousand, two thousand seaters in the U.S., but now they’re filling out stadiums and to see that journey is really, really crazy. I wouldn’t have expected it to become this phenomenal thing as it is now. I’m proud to see these groups grow.
Does your schedule allow time for you to recharge? How do you unwind?
Netflix is definitely big wind down time for me, but also just getting good food after work, having a few drinks, meeting some friends, talking about things that don’t relate to work definitely helps me wind down. I don’t like being alone — some people like being alone when they wind down, but I’m the opposite — so I need to get out there and do stuff, either working out or meeting a lot of friends and just keeping myself busy. I am super alone when I am promoting by myself. I’m by myself most of the time so I like to be with friends and my sister.
Is that part of a having solo career that you weren’t expecting?
It’s something that I’m still getting used to. When my sister’s around I’m fine, but when I leave Japan and I’m doing solo tours and concerts and what not, that’s when it gets pretty lonely.
As someone who has worked in television, music and fashion, it seems like you’re interested in exploring a variety of different professions. Are there any other fields you want to try in the future?
I would say acting. Whenever I’m in LA, or even when I’m in Asia, I shoot audition tapes. Whenever I get the chance I put my tapes out there. [I’m not rushing] into acting yet, but in the next few years I would love to act on Netflix now that there’s more Asian representation on Netflix and in movies and TV shows. I think there would be an opportunity if I keep trying at it.
What can we expect in the future from Kevin Woo?
This is my first tour as a solo artist, but I see it as my first stepping stone to my career in the U.S. When I go back to Asia, I’m trying to write more songs to release, so hopefully look forward to more music and hopefully my own solo tour in the U.S!