It’s been over seven years since Chen appeared in his first teaser video for K-pop group EXO’s 2012 debut. But this week the artist, born Kim Jongdae, graced the world with his first solo album April, and a Flower.
A six-track EP, April, and a Flower revels in Chen’s stirring vocals. Beginning with “Flower,” which the star wrote, and fronted by the heartfelt precursor to a breakup in the form of “Beautiful Goodbye,” the album showcase’s the singer’s wide-ranging talent, and comes after years of not only his work within EXO but also collaborations and one-off songs, many of which have been used in South Korean television dramas.
Following a press conference on Monday (April 1) held in Seoul, Chen sat down with Billboard to discuss what this new stage of his career means.
How does it feel to have released your first solo album?
I think I’m just beginning to feel it. Honestly, before today I was very calm. But today it’s starting to hit. More than anything, like the results [of how well it did], I think it’s about the little things that I’ve come to realize. Such as the fact I was able to experience it first-hand, how hard my staff works. I also saw my own small flaws that I need to work on in order to grow [as an artist]. I feel like I realized that I need to work harder starting today in order to become a better singer. I’ve done a lot of promotions as EXO. I think it is because this isn’t as EXO’s Chen, but it is my first steps as just Chen.
How was the experience different for you creatively?
It was an opportunity to show a more honest side to me. When we’re promoting as EXO, there is a concept EXO is given, and each member has their own position. It’s all broken apart and predetermined. But while working on my solo album I have to fill the stage by myself, and be more honest about showing myself.
The album’s title is April, and a Flower, and the song you co-wrote is called “Flower.” What’s the importance of this?
As seasons and time goes by, flowers bloom and die and bloom. It means that with time all of these painful trials and hardships can bloom with hope. “Flower” means hope and comfort.
What was the experience like for you, writing your own song’s lyrics?
When I first received this song’s demo, there were no lyrics. But as soon as I heard it, I felt like I really wanted it to have a message of hope. I felt that way from the second I heard the piano, which starts in the beginning of the song.
Tell me a bit about the single. What inspired “Beautiful Goodbye”? Why did you want to focus on the emotions related to heartbreak?
For lovers, there is definitely a time where you get tired of a relationship, when it’s too comfortable. So it’s about the fact that it’s not me that felt it, but the other person that is feeling it towards me. The context [of the song] is that I still love you so much, but please give me a little bit of time so we can break up beautifully, amicably. So when I sing this song at least, I sing it thinking, “Rather than being so sad, this person is trying really hard to not show how sad they really are.” That’s what I wanted to convey so I think I’m quite calm when I sing it.
What’s beautiful about that?
Honestly, I think there’s no such thing as a beautiful break-up. I don’t think it exists. But if one must separate, than rather than both being sad and hurting one another, I think it would be better if it can be presented as a beautiful break-up.
Popular Korean singer Paul Kim wrote the lyrics for “Sorry Not Sorry.” How was it working with him?
Paul Kim is an artist I really like. I was given a great opportunity, and he worked on my song. A small worry of mine was that Paul Kim’s sensitive feel would be portrayed [in the song]. It was a song with the sensitive emotive tone of Paul Kim, and so I was concerned about how I can express it in my own way. The end result was great and I’m so pleased with it. I was very happy when Paul Kim said he liked it as well.
Are there any other artists or songwriters you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
There are so many. I have really liked John Legend since a long time ago, and I still do. In the past, I was able to perform with him [at the 2014 Mnet Asian Music Awards]. If given the chance, I would like to work with him again.
What do you want listeners to take away from the album?
Not only the title track, but there are a lot of great other tracks as well. I hope my songs can comfort and console people. Not comforting sad people and saying it’s okay, but comforting people in that I understand everything they’re feeling.