Kim Jongdae, best known initially to fans as Chen, a member of the record-breaking group K-pop EXO, shared a promotional image for his third solo album of a mostly bare room replicated nine times. Shot through a sheer-curtained window, each photo is bathed in a different rich color – purple, blue, orange, green, and in the center, a muted gray. In each one he plants himself in a new position as if surveying the room from different angles, swathed in warm-hued light. He sits on a windowsill, stares through to the outside, and leans against a counter looking straight into the camera. The effect feels like an old-fashioned slide projector scanning through some kind of homecoming, illuminating the memories of a static environment with an ever-shifting perspective.
The idea of homecoming feels fitting for Chen. “A lot of things changed, and my thoughts changed during my recent hiatus,” he tells Teen Vogue over a video call from Seoul. The hiatus he refers to is the mandatory military service that is required for almost all men under the age of 28 in South Korea. After enlisting back in 2020, he was discharged in April of this year.
This new album is ironically called Last Scene, despite it being his re-entry into the world of making music, and its release acts as a sort of bookend to this break. His last solo album, Dear My Dear, and EXO album, Obsession, were both released in 2019. There’s a calm ease that radiates from Chen as he muses on approaching his comfortable creative bedfellow with a renewed frame of mind. “I was able to look back on who I am and reflect on what I am feeling,” he says. “There were a lot of questions that I asked myself throughout this process. It was a time for me to discover more about myself, and I spent time contemplating what I needed to be able to express my stories and ideas.”
The result is a compact but full six-track album, led by its titular song which is an orchestral, epic ballad about heartbreak. Fans will likely feel a soothing sense of familiarity with his genre of choice, as it’s one that has defined his solo output and led to him being dubbed the “Ballad King.”