ELLE Mic Drop: K-Pop Star KINO On His New Album, Collaborations & Potential India Tour


After showcasing his music to the world for years as a Pentagon member, KINO is now claiming a spot in everyone’s playlist as a soloist. In 2023, KINO founded his own label, NAKED, as a fresh start on his own terms. KINO’s real name is Hyeonggu Kang; he is adored by his fans for his charismatic stage presence, versatile vocals, impressive dance skills and, my personal favourite, his super cool social media game. With a dynamic, young and diverse music style, you can see him blending elements of pop, hip-hop, R&B and electronic music.

His work often showcases his smooth vocals and relatable lyrics, exploring themes of love, self-discovery and personal growth. Whether it’s upbeat tracks that make you want to dance or soft ballads that tug at the heartstrings, KINO’s music is one to be on loop. And talking about his fans, India really is in the top spot. His newly released EP If this is love, I want a refund reached the #1 chart on Indian iTunes. India is also the third largest viewer for the music video of Broke My Heart.

ELLE sat down with the star to talk about his musical journey so far as a soloist and his future plans.

ELLE: Tell us something about your new EP If this is love, I want a refund. How was your experience working on it?

KINO: The title itself is quite amusing. Let me start by saying thank you to Indian listeners for making my EP a chart-topper! It’s the album that represents the full cycle of a relationship. The five tracks talk about honest feelings we feel in situations that we all have experienced at least once. It has a lot of interesting stories, like wishing the worst and cursing at an ex who cheated, or imagining marrying a stranger you’ve only met for two seconds. Moreover, I was involved in every production process. From budgeting to visual directing, and all the way to choosing the materials for the album, which made it more special to me and my listeners.

ELLE: You have been in this industry for a while; how much do you think you’ve evolved as an artist, be it as a solo performer or a member of a K-pop group?

KINO: I learned many things over the past decade such as interacting with people and grasping how to acknowledge and respect other people’s opinions. Above all, I have seen a shift in my singing and better stage presence, how to interact with the audience, convey my feelings and empathise with them. The K-Pop boyband life and on-stage experiences formed who KINO is today.


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ELLE: What are the major differences you noticed between going solo and being in a group? What has been the hardest part of this solo path for you?

KINO: The biggest difference is in the music creation process. As a band member, I am the colour painter for the group, I provide a specific stroke to our music. However, as a solo artist, I become the canvas. I have to set the direction and fill in the blank space as well. I think that makes it so difficult. You have to make good choices every moment; what shade I want to accept, or what kind of work I want to show people.


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ELLE: Which is your favourite track from the album, and which one do you think fans will love the most?

KINO: My favourite song, of course, is the lead single, Broke My Heart. It’s the one that’s close to my personality. People didn’t get to see the witty and fun side of me before. Not to mention, musically, it’s a very trendy and cool song. When it comes to fan favourites, on top of the lead single, I had a feeling that people would love Freaky Love and Valentine. When Freaky Love was released, so many people danced to the challenge and loved the animated video! It’s a fun dance to try! Valentine is the type of music that my listeners love and I ended up being right.

ELLE: Your Coachella marketing was a great idea; did you plan the whole thing? We even saw Simu Liu in the video. How was the overall experience?

KINO: I didn’t plan it all by myself. The idea started with a little conversation with my team, NAKED. It was one of the ideas to the question, ‘Is there any fun way to promote an album when I’m going to Coachella?’ It was something new, so we took it and went ahead with it. I was happy that it went viral! Talking to strangers to rate my songs or carrying a self-promotion picket was honestly a little embarrassing, but it was mainly fun because I was getting a lot of positive feedback on ground. It’s unforgettable memories. I believe there was something magical on that day. Especially when I spotted Simu Liu, it was just ‘”WOW.” I was like, “The whole world is here to help me.


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ELLE: Tell us something about your collaboration with Lay Bankz on Broke My Heart, and what are your future collaboration plans? Any more international artists we can expect?

KINO: When Broke My Heart was made, I was looking for a female rapper that would fit perfectly on the track. Then, I found Lay Bankz on Spotify Canvas and knew right away that she was the one. So I emailed her and the rest is history. When I was in New York for Fashion Week, I had a chance to meet her in person in Philadelphia and shoot a music video together. We even improvised a choreography and included it in the video. Of course, I am interested in working with more international artists who I can make synergy with. Whether it’s featuring, producing or dance collaboration, I am open to an opportunity. I was recently introduced to an Indian girl group called W.i.S.H, they are very talented. If I have a chance, I would like to write a song for them.


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ELLE: Fashion and aesthetics are a part of the album. How much do you participate in the creative direction?

KINO: I am fully involved! While making the song, I thought a lot about how I wanted to visually present them: fashion, hair, make up, etc. On top of that, I had a lot of good ideas for the album design as well. So that’s why we have two visually different versions of the album and various videos! As I always say, I can’t do everything by myself. It’s the team around me who is actually making my ideas into a reality. It’s because I’m with them, that I was able to put out these wonderful results.


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ELLE: What are your plans after this release?Any message for fans in India?

KINO: I’m currently planning on various appearances and a tour (hopefully India too?) and I started working on my second album for a long time. I plan to meet as many audiences as possible and share my music with them. I have never been to India yet, but I really want to visit there. My mother shared a lot of good memories she had during her business trips to India. So I’m looking forward to meeting you there soon. Thank you for your support and let’s interact more on socials!

Also, read: Make Way For W.i.S.H, The New I-Pop Girl Group Taking Over Everyone’s Playlist

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- Digital Writer


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