The last time Kim Myung-soo, aka L of the boy band INFINITE, was in New York City to perform in 2016, he was standing beside six other men. But the end of last month saw the singer-actor take the stage for the first time in New York as a soloist for a fan-meet at K-Expo, held on Sept. 30 in Queens. On his own, L took to NYC as both a veteran pop star and a man on a mission to show the world who he is.
Sitting down with Billboard ahead of taking the stage, a sense of calmness exuded from the INFINITE member. But L, who goes by his legal name when acting but not when performing as a singer, denied this, and instead said that he’s “a little nervous” at the idea of performing in New York alone; he would later take to the stage with a solo rendition of INFINITE’s pop ballad “No More” off of the group’s January album Top Seed, the group’s first as a six-member act, bringing some of the band with him. “It’s a fulfilling feeling to pursue a solo career,” he admits, adding that he’s working on solo music and looking to shift into film after years of being a popular television actor; he recently appeared in this year’s legal drama Miss Hammurabi. “I’m singing and acting both right now and though it may be a little selfish of me, I want to be good at both.”
Though he’s been a K-pop singer for nearly a decade since INFINITE’s start in 2010, L’s primarily explored his artistry within the confines of the group and his acting, such as with the release of the mellow solo track “Reminisce” on Top Seed or through songs released as part of soundtracks for shows he’s starred in. L as a singularity has been relatively tucked away throughout much of his career, and that’s something he’s putting an effort into changing by more clearly defining who L, or Kim Myung-soo, is as an artist. “I don’t really know about the image that I have now,” he says. “Right now I’m focusing on fulfilling things one by one as a mission I want to accomplish, and so I would like to be seen as someone working really hard for my dreams and who is transparent about my goals.”
For L, one of those aims is to side-step the stereotypical image of what people believe it means to be a K-pop star, or idol, in an industry typified by prioritizing mass market appeal over artistry. ”I want to go beyond that and show what I’m passionate about,” he reflects. “I don’t think there are any problems with being considered a ‘K-pop star,’ and it’s a title that I started with. But I’d like to go beyond it.” He recently appeared and performed anonymously on the popular Korean show King of Masked Singer, which is getting a Stateside remake by Fox, to show off his vocal skills without being hindered by the trappings of the K-pop idol label.
For someone who has publicly spoken about his company imposing a silent and smoldering image on him early on in his career (he has since rid himself of it, to the joy of his fans), it’s apropos that L wants to shirk off the K-pop idol title. But he says he still sees the benefits of management companies shaping the image of their young stars. “I think it’s good for people who are new to the industry, when they’re first under management, it’s necessary. But once you get used to things and you’re a professional at it, you naturally find your own image and that will show.”
While he’s close-lipped on his new music, and even what genres of music Soloist L likes to listen to — he suggested fellow INFINITE member Nam Woohyun’s “If Only You Are Fine” — or would like to pursue, one of his aspirations is to become recognized not only for his music and acting but also for his photography. “Ever since I was young, photography has been a hobby of mine,” he says. “I like analog, I think it’s the best way to express myself, through photography. It captures memories, and it also inspires my acting and singing. One of my goals is to open an exhibition of my own photography. I want to build up more accomplishments and accolades in the field of photography, and even consider it as a career outside of my role as an entertainer.” Several other K-pop stars have pursued visual art careers alongside their musical ones, such as BIGBANG’s G-Dragon collaborating with creatives for his Peaceminusone exhibit in 2015, and L has released two photo essays in the past while fellow BIGBANG member T.O.P is a known art connoisseur.
The star says he’s working on a new album, and even performed a hint of what’s to come at K-Expo, but won’t put any timeline on it or say what he’s aiming for, though he promises that it’ll be exciting. “It’ll be dance, ballad, PBR&B, all kinds of music. I’m also practicing a wide range of music so it may be something I’m used to or something brand new, but regardless it’ll definitely be something that people should be excited about.”