“I really want to live in America,” Key said at one point during the conversation. “I’m 31. I can be 29 there.” He leans back in his chair and laughs – it’s as simple, filling and open in person as it is on screen, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from Key. At the time of NME conversation with the K-pop star, he was about to turn 31 at Korean age in a few days – but his reservations about the age are superficial. For Key, his 30th birthday didn’t come with classic Hollywood desperation of running out of time to get things done. For Key, age brings a quiet confidence in the path he is on and the man he is.

“Nothing has changed [after I turned 30]. I made my album ‘Bad Love’ [but in some ways] it’s totally different, ”he tells us about his second solo project on Zoom from any room one morning in South Korea. “I finally became ‘me’. I have the chance to show the public that it is me. This album is the album version of Key.

You don’t have to be a super sleuth to get to the truth of what you say. In fact, a quick glance at “Bad Love” would be enough to trigger a light bulb moment. “Of course, it’s inspired by retro themes! Of course, it looks like a horror themed fashion show in space! you would think. Beyond the initial surprise and wonder, there is recognition, as high concept work like this couldn’t come from anyone other than Key.

Over the years, we’ve been exposed to Key’s personality and creativity, which has been sprinkled throughout subsequent versions of SHINee – whether it’s their artwork, avant-garde fashion, or their music. In retrospect, therefore, “Bad Love” is not as surprising as it first appears. It’s as if the pieces of the puzzle finally come together and fit together with a comfortable ease that leaves behind a bubbling excitement.

Turns out Key knew he wanted to do “Bad Love” 14 years ago, as he revealed to his fans on the interactive Bubble app. The idea had been germinating in his head for years, so when the time and opportunity came he knew exactly how to bring it to life.

“[During] my first solo album, ‘Face’, [I was] involved in making choices, but those choices were exposed for me, ”he says. “But this time, from the start, I was able to say what I wanted to do, what I wanted to create and what my vision was. Attribute it to the idea that the album is almost as old as Key’s career, but today’s man and the development of “Bad Love” can be seen as conceptual parallels.

“Without my background, my career and everything I’ve been through, there wouldn’t be ‘Bad Love’,” says Key. my career. ”If Key is an amalgamation of his experiences,“ Bad Love ”is the culmination of his inspirations – a neat intersection of what he considers to be the epitome of pop culture and how they have it. influenced during his formative years.

“For me, the sounds [on the album] are the epitome of music and a [type of] culture. I wanted to relive them and highlight them again, ”he says. “I wanted to bring these sounds back because they are the pinnacle of entertainment culture. That’s the subject of this album: it’s not about creating something new, but rather bringing it back and reinterpreting it for today’s audiences.

From the energetic synths of the title track ‘Bad Love’ to the ambience sampler that set the stage for this new era, the fusion of old and new is undeniable on this version. In a callback to the sci-fi movies of yore, when futuristic worlds came to life through elaborate sets and bespoke costumes, detailed eye-catching images follow Key as he wanders through a desolate, rosy world, Wearing a structured leather riding crop top and fitted pants.

He walks past cages housing creatures of all kinds – some fighting for release, others resigned to their plight – until he comes across one that is empty, seemingly intended for him. As is often the case in SHINee’s engaging world-building – from the Halloween theme “Married To The Music” to their latest album “Don’t Call Me” – all that glitters is not. gold in Key’s world.

“It’s just me. I did this whole concept. I’ve had like thousands of reunions. His excitement is palpable as he delves into the retro-futuristic visuals of the album. still missing when I received new figurines from Star wars and Star Trek, or you just bought a figurine in a supermarket. It was very cool.

“I wanted to recreate these elements that I kind of remember. With the outfits, especially the fashion, I wanted to bring the rockstar vibes of this generation to mine, ”he says, then stops and laughs. “Isn’t that weird? I mean, people back then… they wore cotton uniforms in space! You will explode!

Of course, Key would have opinions on what kind of fabric you choose to wear in the space. He takes his fashion very seriously – “I want to show my identity through my fashion”, as he puts it. From designing SHINee’s costumes for tours and outings, to displaying the latest bags in editorials, in Key’s books, fashion is more than just satisfying a need: it’s a language. unlimited and unlimited, a lexicon he has spent years experimenting with and can now bow to his willingness to express what’s inside.

“I was brought up in a very conservative traditional home. My parents didn’t even want to let me pierce my ears. After my debut, I started noticing that whatever we were wearing, our fans – especially female fans – would buy similar things and wear them themselves. It was a symbolic moment for me, not seeing the need for limits. »He wrote in an essay for Seduce earlier this year. “I wish someday to see women wearing only men’s clothes, just this person doing this and this person doing that, is all natural and no one will blink.”

“The only difference between men’s and women’s clothing is size. He said during our conversation. “They are not separate in terms of design.”

The key to SHINee. Credit: SM Entertainment

The way he puts it – very down to earth, as if it were cardinal truth – is enough to show that Key only views the world through the prism of his personal identity. The landscape of his life is interspersed only with his personal beliefs, his own decisions, and the things he decides on that reflect who he is today. As long as he gets to be himself, he doesn’t care about perfection and doesn’t need anyone else, as he explains on ‘Eighteen (End Of My World)’, a song that ” means a lot ”to him.

“[‘Eighteen’] That’s what I mean to 18-year-old Key. Something like, “You’re gonna man, you can do whatever you want. You will fail sometimes, but don’t get hurt because of it. You will be Key. So don’t worry, ”he said, before noticing that this introspection – the back-and-forth between the Key that sought to gain a foothold and the Key of today – was not easy.

“The song is really brilliant, but when I was writing the lyrics it wasn’t really [pleasurable], you know what I mean, ”he said. “I can’t stop thinking about when I was very young, so I was a little sad, very sentimental. I worked really hard in high school, so I wanted to cheer [that Key] up. “Despite that, he’s proud of who he is – both the teenage version of himself and who he is now.” In the song, towards the end, I [sing]: ‘I would love to watch the end of my world with you’. “

It’s an almost terrifying level of clarity, clearly resting on a foundation of irrevocable self-confidence, built up year after year and fall after fall. However, with this confidence comes responsibility – the more self-aware he is, the better the road ahead. “There are two types of people,” he explains. “People who, by luck or fortune, are capable of accomplishing great [things] in a short time. And then there are people who have to go through difficult edges.

“They have to go through a lot of experiences, fall a lot and get back up, and then realize those realizations. If I had to choose I [would say] follow the latter. Over the past few years, I have had a lot of experiences. Now I can enjoy the ride because I know I am responsible for my choices.

Key’s new mini album ‘Bad Love’ is now available.