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[Herald Interview] Block B’s U-Kwon seeks to make name for himself

U-Kwon is not the first name that pops into your head when you think about Block B. Odds are that it is not even the second or third.

But the 25-year-old K-pop star says he wants to be remembered as more than the top dancer of his group, seeking to establish himself as an artist by honing his skills as a musician.

“When I look back at the past seven years, I wasn’t the most notable member of the team. I’ve never been the leader,” U-Kwon said, in an interview a month before Block B’s next release, slated for November. “Now, I want to discover my own distinct color (as an artist) and do what I want to do, instead of doing what I am told to do.”

U-Kwon poses for a photo. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
U-Kwon poses for a photo. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Block B is widely considered to be Zico’s group to public eyes, with bandmates like Park Kyung and P.O. also popular.

Previously content with taking a backseat since the group’s 2011 debut, U-Kwon said he now seeks the spotlight.

The yearning stems from his appearance last year in “Hit the Stage,” a TV dance competition for idol singers on Mnet.

“A lot has changed since the show. At first I refused because I thought I couldn’t pull it off. ... It made me think, ‘Wow, you never known unless you try,’” he said. He went on to become one of the finalists of the competition.

After the show, he embarked on a six-city tour in Japan from August 2016 to September of this year with Block B bandmate and friend Taeil forming special subunit T2U.

He also has been working on his songwriting, although it is as yet unclear whether he will have a song included on the upcoming Block B EP. The boy band’s agency Seven Seasons on Wednesday confirmed the new EP’s release for Nov. 7.

“I don’t know if I can call myself an artist yet, but I want to be. Members like Zico and (Park) Kyung have what they can call their own style, and maybe I have that, too,” he said. “I’m a seventh-year singer and not many people know who U-Kwon is. That’s because I haven’t really shown myself.”

Many who have heard of him have only through controversy, namely via Block B’s reputation as the resident bad boy of K-pop.

U-Kwon’s became known for prank-like comments he would write for fans at the group’s autograph sessions. When a fans asked him what they looked like, he would respond with answers like a leaf, cement or a chair.

“I’ve always been shy to strangers and I wanted to make a joke. But I sometimes go overboard trying to be funny.”

Revealing his longtime girlfriend, model Jeon Seon-hye, also sparked mixed reactions from fans, as often do romantic relationships of K-pop stars.

“Fans always say, ‘If you’re to date someone, please tell us.’ I did and they all left,” he said. “That made me confused as to what to think about the fans, leading me to build a wall.”

U-Kwon said he and the fans have worked on such misunderstandings over the years, and now he is focused on building up his career.

A looming question now is how long Block B will last, with the contracts expiring in a year and a half and older members due to serve mandatory military service soon. Another factor is the band’s individual success, with Zico having become a rap star on his own, even overshadowing the group itself.

“Sometimes I wonder if seven of us could be as tight as we once were. We had a lot of talks between us, and I think we worked it out. The bottom line is that we all want to continue being part of Block B.”

No matter what lays ahead in his career, U-Kwon said he wants to be someone with an influence over people.

“To some degree, I achieved that goal; having an impact on fans and younger singers. But I like to influence even more people, by continuing to grow.” 

By Yoon Min-sik