Collage showing different concept photos from Monsta X's Kihyun's second solo album 'Youth.'
Original images courtesy of Starship Entertainment. (Digital Composite By Sara Delgado)

Monsta X’s Kihyun Masters His Own Style in Sophomore Solo Album “Youth” — Interview

The star sat with Teen Vogue to discuss his new journey and personal aesthetics.

As the main vocalist of Monsta X, Yoo Kihyun should be used to turning heads by now. In the seven-and-a-half years since the band's debut, he's made a name for himself for his vocal prowess, hitting notes that have made his members scream and elicited similar reactions of shock and surprise from other K-pop idols. On this Zoom call, however, opening a window to a prematurely wintry Seoul, he's creating a different type of impact.

Kihyun is dressed in an inky leather jacket with a slim black sweater peeking through and dark jeans that taper off to reveal chunky boots. Dark hair fans his temples, with silver glinting off his earlobes. There's a palpable energy simmering under this suave 'fit and 'do. Past the impeccable façade, the star has much to say and is charming in both Korean and English, languages that he shuffles between. Seven months after the debut of his solo record Voyager, the 28-year-old is promoting his newly-released sophomore album, Youth, a masterful five-track EP that demonstrates his vocal dexterity and further explores his genre-bending penchant for rock

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

Kihyun's solo work is in a completely different direction from the high-octane stylings of Monsta X, but he feels right at home in newer territory. And we're not just referring to music. Through his time in the public eye, we've seen Kihyun in every perceivable hair color, from almost neon orange to candyfloss pink, to moodier blue and purple. As far as concepts go, Monsta X have done it all, from sweet (the MX version of sweet, that is), to sexy, to street, to sophisticated. They're known for their unique style that defies definition, whether it's pearls one day or harnesses the next. 

Carving out individual space from such a thorough oeuvre of styles could have been understandably difficult for Kihyun. Yet, here he is, with a body of work that feels authentically personal. Kihyun's clear vision and artistry manifest themselves in the aesthetic built around the release of an album, from moodboard to wardrobe. It is an entirely different palette from Voyager's marine-tingedbesuited traveler concept. 

Several sets of photos and videos were released in the lead-up to the drop, weaving montages steeped in nostalgia. Kihyun seems to be addressing his younger self. He's seen wearing hoodies and Timberland boots as he hangs out in a playground, comfortably chic in oversized pastel shirt-and-short sets while leafing through books, and lounging in sleeveless sweater vests at home surrounded by vintage paraphernalia. The music video for the title track is a visual treat that has him contemplating this sepia-toned past in outfits that range from distressed sweaters to wildly colorful co-ords. But if that was Kihyun then, who is Kihyun now? 

To answer the question, the star sat down with Teen Vogue, opening up about his music, the concepts he creates, and his relationship with style, both as a member of Monsta X and personally. (Spoiler alert: it's all about that leather jacket.)

Teen Vogue: While Voyager seemed like a look at more current sections of your life, Youth, as an album, looks at different stages of your younger self. What did you envision for your concept photos and videos?

Kihyun: Voyager represented heading towards my ideal paradise in my dreams. This album shows me both in the present day and also in the past. Basically, Youth is present-day Kihyun talking to the past child Kihyun and telling him what I want to say. That message is portrayed in this album. 

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: So that's why in your "Goodbye Youthconcept video, you say, "the dream that I had when I was young has become reality and now I know where I want to go." Where are you going?

Kihyun: I would say that I am headed with Monbebe [Monsta X's fanbase] to my musical destination. I'm not nervous or anxious like I was before because I have a specific path in mind, so I can just run to that goal with my fans next to me.

TV: We see so many different styles in the concept fro Youth. In hoodies, in pastel tones, and what seems to be a younger, more punk Kihyun in boots. Is that an accurate representation of young Kihyun's style? 

Kihyun: Yeah! You are exactly correct. I was trying to really express what I looked like when I was young. If you take a look at the albums and the videos that were released, you can see I was wearing toys over my head and playing with toys and things around me. That's exactly what I used to do when I was a child. So, I really tried to share those exactly in the videos. 

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: It's nice to get that look at your past to give context. In the Voyager concept photos, two Kihyuns face each other, dressed in suits. In your concept photos forYouth*, there are also two Kihyuns facing each other again — styled very differently this time. Who are they, and what do they represent?

Kihyun: The two Kihyuns in the photos are somewhat a representation of youth. But since my solo albums from Voyager on take on the theme of "journey," it also represents meeting another self. Another version of myself in another world. For example, in Voyager, I could meet the Kihyun of my ideal paradise world. Whereas in this album, I could meet another Kihyun — maybe a younger self or a younger version of myself. Kihyun as a child.

TV: In Voyager, you had a strong connection to the color blue and the element of water. Why did you find that to be the correct palette to represent the start of your solo journey? 

Kihyun: You are once again correct with that! Even this [his leather jacket] is blue. Blue is my favorite color, so I absolutely wanted to include it in my album. I really emphasized it during promotions, and it reflected in my album jacket. And also for water — it's something I really like as well. My opinions were really strongly reflected in this album. 

TV: Yes, and the element of water connects to journeys. 

Kihyun: So true! 

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: For Youth, you seem to have now moved to the element of nature and being outside a lot. What does this signify? 

Kihyun: Right now, I'm very happy. But although I'm very happy, I'm very busy and packed with schedules. I wanted to portray the child Kihyun, where I could just be in nature and enjoy freedom. For example, riding bicycles around town. I wanted to express myself missing and looking back on the past. Becoming reminiscent of that time. I wanted to show myself being more liberated and just being freed from all the schedules and the busyness that I'm going through right now.

TV: The dream! You also seem to be asking a lot of questions, and you're sometimes finding the answers yourself. Is that why you wanted to look back on youth? 

Kihyun: I would say yes. I'm the type of person who continuously throws questions at myself, and I try to find answers. To be honest, I actually hadn't thought of it like that before, but through this question, I see it in a new light. 

TV: Can you talk about your idea for the music video for the title track Youth, especially your style notes?

Kihyun: In the first half of the music video, there are a lot of scenes that represent my childhood, my youth. So you can see that my outfits are very colorful and my actions are very big. You can see a playground with the jungle gym and me running around. But in the latter half of the music video, I'm wearing bleaker colors, such as black or deep blue. That's the kind of contrast I wanted to give through the video, because that is somewhat the message of this song as well. But at the very end of the music video, since I know where I need to go, I return to more happy, upbeat scenes. So, my outfits also return to become more colorful. 

TV: With your solo work, you seem to have a lot more creative control, whether it's across various elements of your music, or contributing to the lyrics and your music video. 

Kihyun: As a solo artist, I basically take full control over my album process. So from shooting the album concept to choosing the number of songs and also the style of the songs that are in the album. Also, for this album, I chose all of the songs that are listed on it as well. For example, the last song is called "Cause of You." I built this song because I wanted to give a more diverse feeling to this album. That's why I selected this soft, almost like a sweet lullaby to add more variety and also participated in writing the lyrics for it.

TV: You're right. It's very different from your title track. Each of the songs is different from the others.

Kihyun: I actually meant for it to be all that different because I wanted to give more color to the album.

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: Well, you've succeeded. There's a full rock and roll side to you, too, is there not? Whether in the covers you do, the use of guitars and live bands in your videos, or how comfortable you look in boots and leather. Is this an element of your personality that you like to reveal in your solo work? 

Kihyun: Yeah! I agree. For example, through the song "Bad Liar," I feel I really pulled off that kinda rock and roll element to it. And even right now, I'm wearing a leather jacket and boots! That kind of rock vibe is my personal style. I also wanted to express that through my solo albums and promotions because I can't really do that as a team. I see these solo albums as another way of expressing myself.

TV: That leads to the next question, actually, given that you've shown so many different sides of yourself through two albums. Is that how you would describe your personal style right now?

Kihyun: Well, in the past, I would think of myself as kind of being trapped in a bubble. You can actually find that in the lyrics of Youth. But now I really think that I have changed through releasing two solo albums. I have become more expressive. I have become freer, more liberated, I guess. I can really speak my mind more freely. The funny thing is that I've released two albums to convey that message, but in fact, through releasing these albums, I myself have changed. I think that's pretty interesting.

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: You have always been so unafraid of who you are, especially on stage, with the variety of your stronger looks and accessories. Has that level of confidence taken time to build up? 

Kihyun: Yes. It has taken a lot of time and effort to get to where I am now in terms of confidence. I think all of the hard work and effort paid off in my confidence level right now.

TV: Moving a little bit into Monsta X as well, to give context. Given the number of concepts and various looks that you've had, can you reveal some of your favorites, both of yourself personally and also together as a band? 

Kihyun: My favorites would be "Gambler" and "Love Killa" because they were all suits and were neat and dandy in terms of the stage outfits. But the lyrics, in fact, were rough, very manly, and sexy. So that itself represents the group and who Monsta X is. I think these two songs are the main examples that show the styles of Monsta X. 

TV: Also, "Kiss Or Death" last year with the suits and the accessories, that was really cool too. And, going further back, "Fantasia," even though those outfits were probably very hard to dance in!

Kihyun: Oh, "Fantasia" is the most difficult choreography of our songs! 

TV: But it looked good!

Kihyun: It looked good, yes, but it was really so hard! 

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.
Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: Are there any concepts that you look back on and don't feel so good about now, in hindsight?

Kihyun: From our very early albums, there's a song called "Honestly" and I think the concept was... very cringey [Laughs.] I would be able to do it again right now, but I wouldn't really want to! It's a little awkward for me now. I can do that, but I think it doesn't really fit our group. But I know Monbebe like it! But yeah, it's not my favorite.

TV: But it worked at the time that it came out.

Kihyun: For the time, yeah, you're right. That's true! 

TV: You all are so chameleon-like with every single comeback. How do you then build such a strong, instantly identifiable personality for the group?

Kihyun: As we're recording the songs, the second our voices are recorded instantly gives the song that signature Monsta X personality. Even when we're practicing choreography, we all respect our individual dancing styles. We don't practice it so that we all look uniform because we want each member to give out their own unique style. That uniqueness of each member also comes off in our stages and performances, and that has come to define who we are as a group.

Courtesy of Starship Entertainment.

TV: Have you always had clarity of who you wanted to be as a solo artist [versus as a Monsta X member]?

Kihyun: Yes, I've always had clarity on who I wanted to become as a solo artist. I've always told my fans from the very beginning that I wanted to do rock and explore this genre more. I want to take on rock as the base of all of my songs, but then with my vocals, I think I have the potential to grow limitlessly. I think that will give diversity to my solo songs.

TV: One last question, fellow Monsta X member Hyungwon made quite a noteworthy contribution to this album. He was involved in the production, arrangement, and lyrics for "Bad Liar" and "Where Is This Love." And Joohoney also makes a little surprise contribution in it, too in the backing vocals for "'Cause of You." How did they get involved?

Kihyun: Actually, I asked all the other members to give me songs if they had some to share with me, but Hyungwon made two songs that were created especially for me. That was how these two songs came to be included in the album. Although both songs went through multiple revisions by my requests, Hyungwon took all those requests in, and as a result, they have turned out to be awesome and have defined my musical style. As for Joohoney, it was not planned at all! He was just walking by one day, so I just invited him all of a sudden to make a surprise voice edit for Monbebe!