Korean R&B artist Crush recently kicked off his first international tour, CRUSH ON YOU, and made his New York City stop on Sunday (Nov. 13) before a sold-out crowd. Four years into his career, the 24-year-old producer and vocalist has amassed a loyal legion of fans domestically, where he frequently tops the charts as both a soloist and featured artist, and internationally, where fans follow his pursuits on social media despite the language barrier.
On stage, Crush is charismatic and self-assured as he rifles through his discography with smooth falsettos and body rolls that spark screams. Off-stage, Crush is a self-described daydreamer with a perpetually blank stare. He looks unusually approachable in his eccentric jumble of an outfit: a Marlboro-branded racing jacket, baggy white Y-3 pants and New York staple caramel brown Timbs, his brown hair curled like a comma above his forehead.
Hours before playing New York City's Stage 48, Crush sat with Billboard to talk new music -- including a collaboration with rapper-producer Zico and fellow KR&B sensation Dean -- his inspirations for upcoming EP wonderlost, what sets him apart in the revolving door music industry, and his fans.
Note: This interview was conducted in-person through a translator.
On your latest EP wonderlust, there's a feeling of melancholy and sadness, which is a marked departure from your club-ready hits "Oasis" and "9 to 5." Is that the tone you were trying to achieve? Even without reading the lyrics, I can feel the heavy emotion in it.
I didn't purposefully want the album to sound sad or melancholy, but a lot of the times when I would make the music for the EP, it was after I'd come home, after all of my shows and concerts, after the busy parts [of my day] were over. I'd record a lot at dawn, really late in the evening or really early in the morning. And so, with that kind of mood, you can't help but come up with a more melancholy sound.
I originally wanted [wonderlust] to be about dreams I have, my ideals, but as I was thinking about that and making this EP, I found myself thinking about the past, thinking about things that have already happened. So it's an EP that's in between both my dreams and ideals and my past and things that I reflected on, kind of coming back to my original identity. It's that awkward middle ground.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned an interest in exploring future bass, but listening to wonderlust, it's very subdued, with a focus on acoustic sounds and ballads. What other sound trends have you explored since?
While I was making wonderlust, there were a lot of changes in the way I felt creatively or how I wanted to process the album, and this one was a lot more analog, a lot more subdued like you said. It just changed a lot from the last mix. I always wanted to do an album that was more analog, and with this wonderlust EP, it's the first of three projects. With wonderlust, it's more of my original identity, going back to when I first started music. I wanted to be able to focus on my vocals and lyrics, focus on that a lot more than just the trendier music that I've done. But I do like that music too.
What do you have in store for the next two projects?
The next EP is gonna be titled wonderlost. It's gonna be a really personal album, maybe a little more jazzy as well, with stuff I've been holding back. Maybe lyrics that have a little bit of subdued anger, messages I want to share. And it might be a little trendier, not as analog as the first project, but that's what I'm thinking. And the third EP is something I'm working on separately right now.
Wonderlust doesn't feature any rappers or other vocalists, while your other works feature artists from vocalist MISO to rappers Zico and Gaeko. This is your first EP that really zeroes in on who you are as an artist. Do you want to continue down that path with your next two projects? Is this wonderlust/wonderlost project all about you?
Even in the past when I had a lot of featuring artists, I didn't necessarily do it [thinking], "I need them to be on this album." It was always very natural. So even with this [project], if I wanted to have a featuring artist, I could have added one. I want it to be very go-with-the-flow, natural. Right now I'm working on a song with Zico and Dean. As I go, if I need people on the album, if I think it'll better the song, then I'll do it. It's what feels right at the time. It's not systematic for me.
Your very first single "Red Dress" came out in 2012. It's now 2016, and you're four years into your career. How have you personally evolved?
In the beginning when I first started doing music, I was very passionate. I wanted to get somewhere -- there was always somewhere I wanted to be. But a lot of things have happened in that span of four years. Now I'm really focused on what I want: what kind of sound I want to give off, what kind of message I want to deliver. I guess in a way I matured a lot. It's [no longer] like, "I wanna make this much money, I wanna do shows that are this big." It's more important for me to make music: to share music that I love and is really true to me.
What occurred in that four-year span that changed your point of view?
A lot of difficult things have happened over the past four years. But more than that, a lot of good things have also happened. I have a new car. I have my own home. I was able to meet a lot of good people to work with, like my crews. And I have a dog. A lot of good people have come to surround me, like VV:D, Fanxychild, and Club Eskimo. I'm able to do a lot more collaborative music and do a lot more fun stuff, 'cause a lot of good people have surrounded me.
What do you believe sets you apart from other Korean R&B artists?
There's a lot of R&B singers who know how to produce and make beats, but I'm able to do the full production, which I think kind of still makes me stand out a bit. I can rearrange, make my own arrangements, and oversee the entire process.
In any music industry, musicians can burn out easily with the stress and demands of the job combined with pressures to stay true to their artistry. What keeps you making music?
The music industry's difficult, but I've got incredibly supportive fans. I have a fanclub in Korea called CrushBomb, and I have a lot of fans that really, really love and support me well. And over the years, I've also gotten to get to know a lot of people who love and support me. All that really motivates me to keep going.
As you've noticed, you have a sizable number of international fans who you're getting to meet on this tour. How do you plan on engaging with them in the future? Can we see English language music?
I need to learn English first. Whether it be through my translator Joanne or going to a class, I need to learn English. And hopefully sometime next year, I'll be able to write English lyrics better and share music that has more English in it.
Any last words for your English speaking fans?
I kind of feel bad, because it's not that I purposefully don't wanna communicate with my international fans, but my English is poor. Hopefully I'll be able to learn English soon so I can have more opportunities to get to know my international fans. Thank you for all the support! I love my fans.