When Kai debuted with EXO 11 years ago, he was already a fan favorite. His teaser featured him smoothly dancing across a puddle of water to the group’s jazz pop track “My Lady.” From then on, Kai, whose real name is Kim Jongin, became one of the attractors and magnets for potential EXO-Ls to be.
With a massive discography and awards accrued over the last decade with EXO (and SuperM), it was only November 2020 when Kai unraveled his own world to the masses and proved how much of an ace he is. With his debut single “Mmmh,” the EXO member checked off every tick on what it meant to be a whole package — and be rightfully called “Idol’s Idol:” a catchy R&B ear worm that’s easy to sing along; sexy, jaw-dropping choreography that went viral; and looks (including a jawline so sharp) that could kill from a glance.
His title as Asia’s First Love only continued to grow when he followed up with “Peaches” (2021), a poetic R&B serenade that highlighted his romantic side.
Fast forward to today (March 13), Kai unleashes the wild side of him in his upbeat, Latin-inspired single “Rover” off his third EP of the same title. Last week, we caught up with Kai to discuss his new project, and his success as a soloist and member of EXO.
We obviously think of a car when we hear “Rover.” But how would you interpret that?
Kai: “Rover” is about not caring about what people think or say. It’s about just going your way freely as a wanderer. But that is also the whole album overall. It’s also about social media as well. A lot of different people see what you post and it’s a place where a judgment or opinion could actually be easily made. There are possibilities you could also be jealous of someone, or look up to someone when you’re on social media. But it’s more about not caring about all those different perspectives, or those gazes at all. And it’s a message of just think free, so the message that’s here I think is let’s be free.
I have a lot of messages to share to the world but whoever interprets it or whoever sees it, are free to interpret it individually since it’s different for each person. But regardless, I want to say that I’m just going to do whatever I want to do, what I like to do, and just spread the message of freedom and show that I’m doing what I want to do and what I like.
It’s such a switch from your last two singles, what did you think when you first heard it?
Kai: The first impression for “Rover” was very good. I thought the melody and rhythm meshed well and was very addictive. The song has a nice rhythm that’s very fun and easy to dance to. And while preparing for “Rover,” I was excited knowing I can focus on showing a new side of myself.
Are you aware of your virality every time you make a comeback?
Kai: Well, actually I don’t focus on that that much. Nor do I feel it that much because it’s a fight with myself because of how time is actually limited. We only have 24 hours a day and there’s a lot of good that I want to do and show to my fans. But other than focusing on the virality that I bring or the popularity that I have, I do have a little bit of pressure to focus on making something good
In “Mmmh” it was the choreography, then “Peaches” the detail that went viral was when you twirled one of your dancer’s hair. What do you predict would be the viral moment for “Rover?”
Kai: I could honestly say that out of all the dances or choreography that I’ve done, this one was very much difficult. But difficulty [for me] is shown in a cool way, or I hope so. So I’m not going to be able to choose just one part because I like everything.
Actually, I’m actually looking forward to what the people, fans, and listeners would choose as the viral moment or the killing part of the song. So, I really wish and hope that people could choose for me.
Any behind-the-scenes moments you want to talk about in this album?
Kai: Particularly, I do like the track “Bomba.” It’s one of my b-side tracks for this album and one of the tracks that I actually considered as the lead single for my second album,Peaches — between “Peaches” and “Bomba.”
Especially for this album, rather than focusing on what others would like to see from me, I mainly focused on what I like and what I would like to show. As I was really enjoying that thought in the production process, I couldn’t even think about any difficulties. I think my third album is more of a result of the experiences that I had with my first and second albums. So if it weren’t for my first and second albums, I think that my third album wouldn’t be possible. And I think when I was shooting the song, preparing the album itself, I tried to be more bold and unique with the choices that I make and I tried to work on that.
Do you feel any pressure still, as you make these comebacks?
Kai: Sometimes. I did have some pressure creating this album because I really want to showcase a new and different side to my fans. However, all of that pressure was released in the process of this album, while also preparing for it.
I always want to do better and show the best to my fans. I try my best not to think too deeply about it because I ultimately want to solely focus on the stage. Because when I start thinking too deeply into things, then I won’t be able to concentrate and fully show my 100 percent.
Have you found any stark differences or discoveries about yourself as a soloist and you as a member of EXO?
Kai: Well, yes there are differences to this actually. So, when I’m in the group — as a member of EXO, I feel more comfortable because we’re able to share this pressure that we feel altogether. I tend to rely more on the members than relying on myself. And it’s also that I really do enjoy and like being in EXO when in a group altogether. Because there’s EXO, I exist. Because of EXO, there’s Kai.
But even as a soloist, it’s very fun. I enjoy it as well since it’s only about me doing well, and me doing the best that I could do. It can be comfortable in those terms, but sincerely do enjoy both. Because, once again, I think Kai exists because of EXO.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned as a soloist?
Kai: As a soloist, I’m honestly very satisfied to where I’m at but I still can feel that I really, and truly, miss my members, especially those who enlisted. I’m really looking forward to the album that we will release as EXO altogether.
I could say that I realized I still do lack a lot of skills, and I have a lot to improve on still. And since I had my members while doing a lot of different activities with EXO, I was able to share the pressure. As a soloist, all the pressure is on me. Everything really depends on how I show my performance, and how the outcome is done by me. I really came to realize that I have to do my best and do better.
And, this is actually not directed to me being a soloist but, one really big learning that I realized these days is that time is special.
One thing the world doesn’t know that Kai wants to share.
Kai: Actually, I really don’t know who I am still and I think it’s kind of definite for the world not to know fully about me too. It’s more so that the images that I show as a member of EXO and Kai are very different from who I am as a person.
And the fans do know that on stage, I’m charismatic and pretty much cool, but that I’m a bit different off stage. Not a lot of people know this because that’s how I showcase myself on stage, but actually, I’m a pure and kind person.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I actually went to go eat Kaljebi which is a mix of Kalguksu (hand-pulled noodles) and sujebi (flattened hand-pulled noodles, and that was my favorite place to go eat.