Born in Danville, California, when Kevin Woo moved to South Korea at 15 and signed a deal with XING Entertainment, his life changed forever.
Videos by American Songwriter
After months of training, Woo made his K-pop debut with the group XING in 2006. After two years there, he left and joined the K-pop group U-KISS in 2008, where he began making a name for himself internationally until his contract expired in 2017—after that, he went solo. A talented singer, a commanding performer and an infectious personality, Woo has all the makings to be a star… and with millions of fans, followers and streams continuing to rack up, he is one.
But now, Woo is back, kicking off a whole new chapter of his career. Teaming up with producer Shintaro Yasuda (Ariana Grande, The Weeknd), Woo used the time throughout the pandemic to contemplate his voice as a solo artist and move in a bold new direction. On June 29 via Sony Korea, he unveiled his new single, “Got It.”
“I was in Seoul, Korea throughout this whole past year during the COVID-19 pandemic—I was finally actually able to focus on my music,” Woo told American Songwriter. “Before, I was quite busy, going on tours and performing, but I really wanted more time to learn more about the whole music-making process. When we were all just kinda forced to stay home, I was able to really work on my craft as an artist, which allowed me to tap into my artistry in a new way.”
What’s the “new way?” Well, Woo realized that the more personal and authentic he was with the writing, the more resonant and profound the results were. “Coming from that more personal space allows me to grow a stronger connection with my songs,” he explained. “Telling my story gives me freedom, creatively. So, I’m really proud and happy that I can allow my fans to have a decent look inside me.”
Part of what led Woo to this shift in his approach to songwriting was thinking about the vast reach of social media. With millions of followers spread throughout several platforms, Woo has direct access to more human beings than a single mind can really fully comprehend. Woo sees this phenomenon as an inspiration.
“It is very weird, but it’s also very beautiful,” he said. “Because of the nature of our time, we’re connected, globally. Because I am so active on social media, I feel like my fans and my audience do get to know me. It’s really amazing that they can see my daily lifestyle and connect that with my music as well—it’s especially cool now that I’m getting more personal with my music. Everything correlates and they can see where I am in my life, through the music and through social media. It’s all connected and we’re all longing for the same sense of community and belonging, which is the magic of social media.”
It’s true—connecting with the massive online community around the K-pop and American pop scenes really is like connecting with a physical, real-life community, complete with inside jokes, trends, shared experiences and invaluable mutual support. For Woo, it was thinking about this online community that led him to take the leap of faith and start being direct and personal with his writing. With “Got It,” specifically, he wanted to talk about a difficult relationship from his life in a way that would provide something meaningful to the community as a whole.
“We all have guilty pleasures, you know?” he said. “There are times we do things that make us feel good, even though we know that’s not the best thing for us at the end of the day. I wanted to portray that in the song—even though I’m trying to leave that toxic relationship, I always end up going back to that special someone. It’s kinda like that push and pull, that gravitational force in any relationship.”
Teaming up with Yasuda, the two brought “Got It” to life… but just as Woo owes a lot of his fanbase and success to the interconnectedness made possible by internet, their collaboration was a product of the times too.
“Because of the pandemic, a lot of meetings were held online and over Zoom, which gave me the amazing opportunity to work with Shintaro Yasuda,” he said. “That’s how we started ‘Got It,’ over Zoom—we wrote it all online. What I wrote, I’d send to him, then he’d give me feedback and we just went back and forth. It wasn’t the ‘ideal music-making process,’ because I’d prefer if we had been in the same space, creating in the studio together, but we made the most of what we had in that current situation. Then, I went out to Los Angeles not too long ago to finish the track. We were super excited by how it came out—the chemistry was there, our writing styles were so compatible.”
While it wasn’t the most “ideal” process in the world, the end result of “Got It” is a vibrant retro-pop bop, combining candid lyricism with irresistibly dancey grooves and pure pop wonder. Perfectly marrying his open authenticity, his knack for catchy songcraft and his warm, uplifting personality together, the tune is an exciting sign of even more exciting things to come from a more-confident-than-ever Kevin Woo.
“This single has R&B elements to it, there’s a dance component to it and then all of that mixes with K-pop,” Woo said. “It’s like a perfect balance between my two worlds—I’m Korean-American, so this really defines me best, I think. I’m just really excited for everyone to hear it.”
Kevin Woo’s new single “Got It” is out now—watch the music video for it below: