Kang Daniel – once dubbed “the Nation’s Center” – is one of South Korea’s most famous young men, selling over million albums globally as a soloist and over 4.2 million as part of Wanna One, the K-pop group with whom he shot to fame. He’s also the CEO of his own company (Konnect Entertainment) and a brand ambassador for Givenchy Beauty, just one in a long line of A-list endorsements. Today, the 24-year-old is makeup-free, approachable, and charming. Wearing a cream hoodie he looks like he could be the, albeit ultra handsome, guy next door.
That is, of course, partly why Daniel became a household name. Yet he remains shy by nature; when he speaks, his eyes drift away from the Zoom camera but the longer we talk, the more frequent is his recognisable hiccupping laugh (compiled across dozens of YouTube videos) and the brighter he becomes with that incandescence unique to very famous people. Our conversation ends with idle chatter about creatives in constant chase of the next adrenaline rush, and Daniel nods. “It’s gotten weirder and weirder (for me). I started thinking about Magenta when I was promoting Cyan. I started thinking about Yellow when Magenta came out. I haven’t even started promoting Yellow but I’m thinking about the next record,” he laughs.
As such, this appetite for creativity is the perfect place to begin because it’s not only the reason Kang Daniel is on his third EP in 13 months but why Kang Daniel is still making music at all. In 2019, his world was turbulent and, eventually, an unhappy one: After Wanna One disbanded, he signed to LM Entertainment in February only to file a contract injunction a month later (the dispute was resolved that September) and set up his own company instead. There was, he says, no fear in doing so. “I started work young, like 15, and I was envious of my friends, they had a path where they could take each step. School, university, job,” he explains. “For me, I was thrown in and had to learn how to go about it. So when the company was made, I was just like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s great. Konnect? Good name, let’s go!’”
A week after releasing “Touchin’” on November 25, a follow-up single to July’s debut solo EP, Color On Me, Konnect announced Daniel’s hiatus due to depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. It came after a fancafe post in which he wrote of “How they edit everything to make me look bad. How the music and performances that I love are being treated like trash, how the fans that I love are being ridiculed… how it’s suddenly become a crime to say that they like me, just everything is really too difficult. The fact that I am me is too difficult”. Unrelenting cyberbullying had driven him into a pit of despair. It wasn’t family, friends or colleagues who encouraged him to take time out. The decision was purely his own. Daniel holds his hands up in a position of defeat. “‘I’m done’,” he recalls thinking.