A soft humming is heard on the other side of the line while the call stabilizes — of course one of South Korea’s most prominent vocalists would be singing. Baekhyun, who debuted in 2012 as a member of the chart-topping boy group EXO, has just released his second solo album, Delight, and his excitement is palpable through the phone.
Just minutes before this call, he was interacting with fans on a live stream through the app VLive. There, he answered a series of questions while waiting for the album to drop at 6 pm on May 25 (KST). Nicknamed “Genius Idol” for his array of talents, Baekhyun has tried a little bit of everything throughout his career: acting, fashion design (he’s the co-creative director of the brand Privé by BBH), gaming, vlogging, duets, the EXO subunit EXO-CBX, and leading the supergroup SuperM — who was the first Korean act to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with a debut release.
His solo career officially started last year with the release of City Lights. The album sold more than half a million copies and became the best-selling physical album of 2019 by a solo artist in Korea. Delight follows the same footsteps: it amassed 732,297 stock pre-orders, sold over six hundred thousand copies on the first day according to Hanteo (a company that shares real-time sales data in South Korea), and topped the iTunes Album Charts in 68 countries so far.
Sonically, Delight is a breezy, RnB-infused experience that showcases Baekhyun’s prismatic artistry. “I worked really hard on this album, and I was really happy working on it as well,” he tells the Recording Academy. Like “Candy”, the title track, each song has a different flavor. Deep cut “R U Ridin’” has a honey-dripping bassline, for example, while the bright “Poppin’” feels like chewing on sour candies, and the intense “Ghost” lingers with a coffee caramel aftertaste.
To deepen the discussion around his new album, The Recording Academy caught up with Baekhyun and talked about his inspirations, the development of his multifaceted persona, and, of course, his favorite candy.
This interview was edited for clarity, and an interpreter translated all answers from Baekhyun.
How are you feeling lately?
I’ve been really happy. There’s been a lot of excitement and expectation personally around the Delight release, so I’ve been relishing in all of that these days.
What were your inspirations for this album?
I wanted to try the RnB genre more, so that’s what I focused on for this album. In terms of the title itself, within EXO my superpower is “light,” so I wanted to emphasize that as much as possible.
[Writer’s note: EXO debuted under a concept where each member has a superpower, and that appears throughout their branding.]
Just the way the word “delight” sounds is pleasurable. What are some of life's delights to you?
Right now, the top ones would be being on stage and performing. Another thing is that I’ve been taking vocal lessons on the side, and that has been a source of delight to me as well.
What's your favorite song in this album? Are there any lyrics you would like people to pay attention to?
I have to pick the title track, “Candy.” If you listen to the lyrics, there is a part where I list candy flavors and ask “what more do you want?” I think it truly expresses confidence and boldness, that I can become whatever you like, just tell me and I’ll do it. That’s the part I want everyone to pay special attention to.
This ability to become whatever is needed at the moment also shows up in the contrasting sweet and sensuous styles you explore in the album. Can you talk more about that?
As you mentioned, that’s exactly what I was trying to do with the concept of “Candy” and of Delight in general. I wanted to showcase a variety of different sides that I have to myself. In the past, fans would always say that they like both my sweet side and the more sensual, performative side, so I wanted to capture both and present them in a bigger package.
Comparing Delight to your first solo album, City Lights, what are the main differences between them?
With City Lights, because it was my first solo album, I wanted to focus more on the vocals and showcase what I felt like I could present the best. If you listen to it, it’s definitely more vocal-focused. In Delight, I wanted to take a step further and show a different side to fans. I wanted to incorporate more performance, which means a lot of choreography and thinking about the visuals on stage. I also tried to make this album a little brighter and fresher than City Lights, so visually and performance-wise it’s different.
When I think of Baekhyun, the word that comes to mind is "balance". You have an impressive talent to blend light and dark, highs and lows, laughter and tears in your performances. Are you aware of this fluency in yourself?
Since I was younger, I always heard that I’m pretty honest with my emotions. People see the bright and happy sides of me, but they see the other sides as well. Because my personality is one that is honest about how I feel, I want to showcase my true self to people. I think that’s why people say that about me as well, of showing the balance between many sides of things. That’s what I want to do because it’s who I am, and also what I want to showcase as an artist.
You have been an idol for almost a decade. What has been your biggest lesson so far?
Going back to my previous answer, I realized that if you’re honest with yourself and you’re truthful in the way you act, talk, and interact with everyone, then people will know. People will know that you’re being genuine, and over the years I learned to be honest with how I feel when I connect with my fans. As time passes, I think they have been able to recognize that and connect with me on a more genuine level too. That’s the biggest thing I learned.
And what is the achievement you're most proud of?
My debut with EXO. Even though my training period was short when compared to other members, just to be able to work together, come together as a group, and debut together, it’s definitely my proudest achievement to date. And that’s what launched me to be where I am right now.
You were always known for your powerful singing, but during all these years you have developed yourself and are currently recognized as a multi-talented artist and skillful dancer as well. Can you tell us more about that process?
My vocals have always been my main strength, so it’s something I continuously work on and want to improve on. In terms of dancing, I have a friend named Kasper who is a dancer/choreographer, and he teaches me all the trendy dances, gives me advice on how I should do this or that, so that’s a practical way that I have improved my skills. In general, because I have a lot of energy, I felt like just my vocals weren’t enough for the amount of energy that I can showcase, so I always wanted to channel that through dancing, which is a different outlet.
Did Kasper create the choreography for “Candy”? And did you have any input on it?
Yes. Because we’re friends, when he would show me the choreography, I would say “what about we do it this way?” and then we bounced ideas off each other, especially when it came to the formations of the dance overall.
In the current world situation, it's hard to expect things or make plans for this year, but what is one thing you are looking forward to in 2020?
It’s hard to make plans for the rest of the year, but I’m hoping that things get better so I can finally meet my fans in person. That’s the one thing I’m looking forward to the most. Because of the current situation, we had to shift things to digital, but I’m also excited to meet my fans via different platforms as well.
Have the members of EXO listened to your album? What was their reaction?
When they listened, they said that it matches the seasons right now, as we’re going into summer. All of them commented on how it was a new style for me as a solo artist, like showing another side of Baekhyun, another vibe. They also noticed that I put a lot of effort into it, they’re really supportive.
If you could describe yourself as a candy flavor, what would that be?
Strawberry. Because its flavor encapsulates both sweet and sour, and that’s precisely what I want to do — show different sides. With this concept in Delight, you can see a more relaxed, confident side, but you can also see a very sweet and doting side of my character.
To sum it all up, what is your favorite candy flavor?
Green grape! In Korea they sell bags of green grape hard candy, those are my favorites.