Photography supplied

Crush reflects on lockdown and his isolation album 'homemade'

When COVID-19 cancelled the Korean R&B singer's tour he turned his attention to creating an album under isolation.

by Elaine YJ Lee
25 May 2020, 5:08am

Photography supplied

This story is a part of i-D Asia's Music Week, an entire week dedicated to spotlighting rising musical talents across the Asia region. Follow along as we explore how a new generation of artists are taking their place on the world stage.

For Korean singer-songwriter Crush, music runs in the family. His parents and many of his relatives are deeply rooted in music, but Crush is the first in the family to make it big. In the six years that he’s been in the industry, the 28 year-old has become one of the most defining voices of South Korean R&B. His sound is informed by a mix of old school jazz and modern hip-hop, and has impressed other R&B artists around the world, leading to collaborations with the likes of Pink Sweat$, Joyce Wrice and Devin Morrison.

Crush, who released his second album last December, was planning a spring tour until the coronavirus halted everything. “I got an unintended vacation,” he tells us over the phone. It’s 11PM and our conversation nears midnight, but this is typical for Crush. “I’m just working on some music and planning the release of my next album,” he explains. “I tried to rest and get into some hobbies, but I just got back to working on music.”

The product of Crush’s latest endeavours is homemade, an aptly-named album produced entirely at home during the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s being released in a series of instalments starting with "Mayday", a single featuring Joy of K-pop group, Red Velvet. Last week, just before he dropped homemade 1, Crush spoke with us about performing while social distancing, singing for Pharrell and clapping through the pandemic.

How has the pandemic changed your plans for the year?
My concert tour got cancelled, so I took some time to rest. I tried playing games for the first time in my life, and spent close to $400 on Winning Eleven. But I couldn’t really get into it and just started producing homemade. I also did an hour-long live streaming event for my fans who are under self quarantine because I wanted to find a way to connect with them. homemade is the first body of work since my debut album where I did everything from the songwriting to recording all by myself, without other producers.

Tell us about "Mayday", the first song of the homemade series. What was the inspiration behind it?
In terms of genre, it’s an easy hip-hop and R&B track. When writing the lyrics, I was inspired by my own experiences with social distancing. The song is about my desire to go outside, enjoy nature and travel, because we’ve been stuck at home for so long. I tried to express my frustration of the situation in a fun and light way.

The music video is quite funny. Can you explain the plot?
It’s all shot at my house. I’m bored at home, rolling around, not knowing what to do all alone, until I see a chef on TV cooking up a friend. I get excited and try to cook up a friend for myself. My dog Doyou’s fur is the most important ingredient. I succeed, and the friend I make is Joy.

You’ve been street performing during social distancing guidelines. How was that experience?
We are filming street performances for the upcoming season of Korean television show, Begin Again. The subtext is to perform while social distancing, and to provide an entertaining and healing experience for those on the frontlines of the pandemic. Instead of just performing on the street, we would film at the airport, for example, where it’s mostly empty save for airport and airline employees. We just performed at Incheon Airport yesterday, and every member of the audience sat two meters apart. It was strange because everyone was wearing masks and I was concerned because I couldn’t see their reactions. But it turned out to be a surreal experience — we could still bond via eye contact.

San Yawn of Balming Tiger acts as your creative director. How did you begin working together?
We first started hanging out as friends, listening to and sharing music with each other. San ideates and directs a lot of creative concepts for me, like the content of my songs and music videos. He’s the one person who made me really open up and become honest with myself. I used to think that I had to always look cool and hide these nerdy parts of me, but San helped me realise that showing my true, natural self actually makes me more approachable. We are all nerdy and uncool on the inside, some way or other.

You met with Pharrell and Tyler, the Creator a couple years back. What was the occasion?
I was in Los Angeles for three months working on some music. I was at Chalice Recording Studios, and just saw the two of them eating lunch in the lobby. I was so starstruck, and gifted them my first album, Interlude. Pharrell asked me to sing for them, and I was so nervous my mind went blank. The cover photo of Interlude has my face on it, and Pharrell was like, "The guy in this photo would not be so shy like you are now." So I sang "fall", which was hilarious because it didn’t fit the situation at all.

If you could pick one song that represents you the most, which would it be?
Personally, I’d recommend "NAPPA". The song and its music video contains a lot of elements that are really me.

You’ve opened up about your panic disorder in the past. How are you managing it? And what would you like to say to those who are going through difficult times because of the pandemic?
I used to think badly of my anxiety problems, but I realised that it’s something many people share. These days, I clap a lot. That might sound outrageous, but clapping and applauding makes me feel good. We also made it a point to clap the whole time while filming the music video. I think positivity can win over the virus.

What's your goal for the remainder of 2020? For life?
Rather than a goal, I have a wish. I wish for everyone to be healthy and happy. I hope we can get through these times and start participating in cultural events again. My lifelong dream is to be a good dad someday, and to continue studying music as long as I can.

In light of i-D Asia Music Week, can you recommend your favourite Korean or Asian musicians we should listen to next?
Dean, Hyukoh, and Jeremy Passion.

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