[INTERVIEW] Highlight's Yang Yo-seob fills his 'Chocolate Box' with eclectic music

[INTERVIEW] Highlight's Yang Yo-seob fills his 'Chocolate Box' with eclectic music

Singer Yang Yo-seob released his first solo studio album, “Chocolate Box,” on Sept. 20. Courtesy of Around US Entertainment

By Dong Sun-hwa

Yang Yo-seob of K-pop boy group Highlight has more than a decade of singing experience under his belt. But the 31-year-old, who put out his first solo studio album, “Chocolate Box,” Sept. 20, believes little has changed since his debut in 2009. Namely, he still thinks singing is taxing.

“Just like all other singers, I find singing challenging,” Yang, who has been called one of the most gifted male vocalists in the K-pop scene, told The Korea Times in a recent email interview. “I still have to practice hard and pour a lot of effort into it… In fact, I can confidently say that I and my bandmates have never been sloppy when it comes to music. Music is a medium to deliver our thoughts and feelings, so we believe that we should never consider it easy.”

Yang debuted as part of K-pop act BEAST in 2009, with the album, “Beast Is The B2ST,” and dropped a series of hits, including, “SHOCK” (2010), “FICTION” (2011) and “Beautiful Night” (2012). In 2012, he made his solo debut with the mini-album, “The First Collage,” which was fronted by the sentimental lead single, “Caffeine.”

It took about nine years for him to release new solo material, as there have been twists and turns in his career. After his contract with BEAST’s management company, Cube Entertainment, expired in 2016, Yang and his bandmates established their own company, Around US Entertainment, in a rare move of this type in the K-pop industry. Later, the members changed their group name to Highlight and made their “second debut” before starting their obligatory military service. Yang also began his civil duty as a conscripted police officer in 2019 and was discharged last August.

“I began preparing for my fresh album while I was still doing my military service,” he said. “(As I was given sufficient time,) I did not face many hurdles on the path to its release. When I told my company representatives that I wanted it to be a full-length album, they were positive, too. Now, I am both thrilled and nervous to showcase my new music.”

“Chocolate Box” is eclectic, according to Yang. Its title comes from the 1994 Hollywood film, “Forrest Gump,” which includes the popular quote: “My mama always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.'”

Yang hopes his album can also be a kind of surprising chocolate box for people.

“When picking out a chocolate from a box, people don’t know what kind of flavor they will get,” he said. “Likewise, I hope my album can be seen as a chocolate box with various flavors of music.”

“Chocolate Box” is led by “Brain,” a dark, medium-tempo, R&B tune with a trendy melody and an addictive refrain highlighting Yang’s poignant voice.On top of that, for the first time since his solo debut, Yang has included a duet, featuring the female singer Minseo, “Slow Luv.” He also put forth five self-written tracks, “Dry Flower,” “The Last Cold,” “Alone,” “Good Morning” and “YES OR NO,” which are mostly based on his personal experiences and narratives.

“I was inspired to make Dry Flower, after the dry flowers I saw on the floor while cleaning my house,” he said. “These flowers, which were beautiful and precious in the past, reminded me of a couple on the verge of a breakup.”

“The Last Cold” revolves around Yang’s life as a conscripted police officer. He explained that he had tried to express the fear and hastiness he felt while being away from the spotlight.

“When I served my duty on freezing cold days, a crowd of ideas came into my mind and tortured me,” he added. “I was afraid that people might forget me.”

“Alone” is Yang’s reply to one of his fans who shared similar worries with him. And “Good Morning” is a feel-good jazz song, while “YES OR NO” is a funky dance tune.

“While gearing up for the album, I was happy to realize that my voice could fit different styles of songs,” he said. “In the future, I want to keep trying out different genres to discover the true color of my music.”

Although Yang feels blue about the protracted COVID-19 pandemic that is hampering him from meeting his fans face-to-face, he is seeking ways to stay connected to them.

“I want to find more platforms where I can showcase my music,” he said. “I hope more people can get to know my voice and recognize me for my hard work.”

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