As a singer, Kim Jongdae is intrinsically connected to himself as EXO Chen. An idol who is, quite uniquely, recognised on the merit of his voice.
His debut solo album, April, and a Flower, was released this month with success, yes, but also substance.
In the idol sphere, success usually signals an uptick in appearances in other types of public area entertainment. That’s variety shows, movies, dramas and more.
Instead, Chen has forged his name into the industry without these avenues. In a lot of ways, that’s why his debut feels so surprising.
The beginning of this year’s April opened to a healthy dose of a vocal’s centred album. April, and a flower, is light but emotive; charged but balanced.
It’s all those things but it’s also safe. Particularly from an artist who’s known for mastering the nuances and the depths of different genres.
He’s tackled everything from rock, to R&B, to jazz. Chen is a stunning singer. His tone curls sticky sweet, like molasses, but it also opens up wide to be light and delicate. In yet another turn, his voice also deepens to express loneliness, bitterness, desolation.
Chen’s appearance as the Legendary Guitarman on King of Masked Singer back in 2015 is testament to how he merges it all together.
Chen’s development into a songwriter comes later to his singing but it ties it up together.
He carries poetry in his voice and through his pen. She’s Dreaming featured on EXO’s 2016 repackage Ex’act.
It’s the memory of a relationship only reaching its intended through dreams, quickly forgotten come morning.
He’s also written EXO 2014: Promise among a handful of other songs.
At the same time, he’s been collecting artistic collaborations under his belt.
His first real foray into being a soloist was with Heize with the upbeat, infectious ‘Lil Something’. Most recently, aside from his official debut, he got together with fellow hit soloist 10cm for “Bye Babe”.
In collaborations, as in EXO-CBX (the sub-unit formed with bandmates Baekhyun and Xiumin) it’s a chance to see an addictively joyful side of Chen’s artistic personality.
Of course, we can’t talk about EXO Chen without mentioning his utter success with OSTs.
Dubbed ‘OST King’, Chen’s voice is a key element of some of South Korea’s most famous dramas this decade.
The most notable being It’s Okay That’s Love and Descendants of the Sun. Beyond being an idol, Chen’s voice is recognisable to millions of people. People from all walks of life: both his fans and those with no casual interest in Kpop.
That’s a feat not easily surmountable. It’s unprecedented, even for a top idol with seven years of global success under his belt.
So what’s next for Chen? With a little more experimentation in sound and a full-hearted embrace of composing, he could be unstoppable.