K-Town

Crush Talks Erasing Musical Boundaries at KCON New York 2016: Exclusive

Crush performs at KCON 2016
CJ E&M

Crush performs at KCON 2016 in New York City.

Hours before taking the Prudential Center stage for KCON USA (presented by Toyota), Crush details his introduction to American R&B and hints at future cross-country collaborations.

Korean R&B artist Crush walks into the interview room in what's best described as a Canadian tuxedo from 1995, with a Tommy Hilfiger jacket and jeans wide enough for two pairs of legs. I ask him to do a fun pose for a Twitter photo. He stands there blankly, arms resting at his sides. "I don't have any," he explains through his translator. This moment is emblematic of the singer's fascinating personality -- he's the very same guy who recently won a spacing-out competition in Seoul. Underneath his blank stare, however, is an unstoppable zeal for music.

Though Crush (born Shin Hyo-seob) had a short-lived career as a rapper/singer alongside rapper Cheetah as the duo Masterpiece in early 2012, the 24-year-old made his official R&B debut later that year with the independently released "Red Dress" featuring TakeOne. Now the youngest member of the Amoeba Culture label, Crush has scaled the Korean charts with his numerous collaborations, from "Oasis" featuring Zico to "Don't Forget" featuring Girls' Generation's Taeyeon.

Before taking the Prudential Center stage for KCON New York, Crush sat down with Billboard to discuss his approach to collaborations and what he wants to bring to Korean R&B.

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Korean R&B is gaining a notable amount of attention lately in both Korean and international media, with artists like yourself and Dean as major representatives of the movement. What do you think Korean R&B artists need to do to keep the momentum going?

I, as well as Dean, we're not just doing the conventional things, conventional R&B. We try a lot of experimental music; we try different genres, we try to mix things up and try to collaborate with other R&B artists from other countries as well, like Anderson Paak, and we constantly look for new challenges and new things, new genres -- that's what I think others should do, and we're doing that already too.

What genres and trends are you into lately?

You know SoundCloud? Future bass is pretty popular on SoundCloud, and I would like to work with a lot of producers using that sound.

You're very active on SoundCloud; how do you differentiate between a song made for SoundCloud versus an officially released album or EP track? 

I use SoundCloud mostly to introduce works when I try new things. Official platforms, I use them more for the mass audience and more commercial sounds. For SoundCloud, those are my new, experimental works. But nowadays, the Korean mass audience is open to trying more new things; their taste and level of understanding has grown a lot, so this time, with my new album, there's no boundaries in terms of where I will release my music. 

What can we expect from your upcoming release? The title of your last EP Interlude hinted at it being a midpoint in your career.

I'm adding futuristic sounds to more traditional genres like neo-soul. That's what fans can come to expect with my second album.

You've done collaborations with an eclectic range of artists, from Taeyeon to Zico. What's important to you when you choose to collaborate with an artist?

As a producer, what I value the most from an artist is identity. I always look at that first, and I see if the identity the artist holds matches my music.

How does a collaboration come together?

I create a sketch first, then record it through a voice guide, then think about whom I want to work with and who would be the best fit.

How did you discover American R&B before the dawn of the Internet and YouTube?

I was young; when I was 12 or 13, my first year in middle school, I listened to Stevie Wonder for the first time. After that, I decided to dive deeper into the genre. I explored neo-soul artists like Maxwell, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, and after that, YouTube made it easier. 

You had your first music show win earlier this year. How have you handled your mainstream success?

If you look at the American mainstream market, you look at Billboard [charts], all these songs are experimental too. For instance, Drake and his new song ["One Dance"] -- it's new and it's experimental, but it's still so popular. I think I pursue that, too, by being experimental and trying new things, yet making them for a mass audience.

I've become a little more influential, and now that I am, I think I should use the influence that I have in this market and inspire Korean artists as well.

You worked with Jeff Bernat, an American artist, alongside Dean on "what2do." Can we look forward to more cross-country collabs or even an American market release?

When I create music, I don't limit it to the language. It's not about the language; it's the feel. It's the heart the music delivers. I'm already working with a lot of American artists and I will continue to do that because music has no boundaries, and I think Korean audiences will feel the music, even if it's sung in English.