Already being touted as the new prince of R&B and likened to a young Usher, Korean artist Dean returns to his roots with new collaborator, Baek Yerin, for “Come Over,” the A-side of his new single album, “Limbo.” Attributing his sound to American hip hop and R&B, Kwon Hyuk first adopted the alias Dean at 18 and soon after began writing for big name Korean acts such as EXO and VIXX while working for Joombas Music Group, the team behind some of Korea’s (and even Justin Bieber’s) biggest hits. However, what sets him apart from most Korean artists is his foresight; he opted to make his debut as a singer in America first rather than having a successful career in his home country only to inevitably flop when trying to make it big stateside – a frequent occurrence among Korean artists. (Anyone else remember CL’s embarrassing performance on The Late, Late Show? Didn’t think so.) After collaborating with Grammy nominee Anderson .Paak and Grammy winner Eric Bellinger and getting glowing reviews of his performance at last year’s SXSW festival alongside Miguel and Chvrches, Korean agencies were scrambling to sign him. Only then did he start making music in his native language with popular Korean artists like Taeyeon, Zico, and now Baek Yerin.
Could this be a new dream team on the rise? Baek Yerin’s feathery lilt is arguably more suitable to Dean’s dulcet tones than his more frequent female collaborator, the sometimes nasally Heize. Heize may passably compliment his more playful tracks but Baek coaxes out his rarely-seen musical vulnerability. Abandoning his usual bravado, Dean channels the spirit of his namesake, James Dean, with whom he shares the brooding dynamism in art but shy and subdued nature in life. Dialing down his familiar sultry growls to a velvety purr compliments Baek’s innocent crystalline tone to create a fire-and-ice affect, which, along with the winter release date, expertly matches the theme of the song about a stagnant relationship in desperate need of heating up (and not necessarily in a sexual way – although some lines are borderline suggestive in typical Dean fashion). He all but begs her to come over and work things out, but she frostily stands her ground, although he does manage to slightly thaw her icy exterior by the end. The track is a refreshing departure from their more ostentatious work (Baek herself became famous for a powerhouse performance of Beyoncé’s “Listen” at age 10) and the contradictory heaviness of the bass to the tinkling jazzy piano makes it a perfect fit for a coffee shop you just walked into to warm yourself on a cold winter’s day.
When one is so influenced by black musicians, they often toe the fine line between influence and appropriation, and many Korean artists crash down hard on the latter side in cringe-worthy displays. Dean retains a sense of integrity these artists lack – he’s loyal to his roots by continuing to release music in his home country and opting to do stateside interviews in his native language instead of the butchered AAVE most Korean hip-hop wannabes adopt. His R&B has his own sound instead of being a cheap copy of what black artists do well – although how much his “own” it is when it’s so heavily influenced by these artists can still be debated. He seems humbly aware of this, though, as can be gathered from this excerpt from an interview with Time: “When I received an offer to make music here in the U.S., I was curious, I wanted to know how American audiences would react to my music. To be honest, the challenge is that, America is a huge country with many different cultures and many talented artists. It’ll be difficult to distinguish myself in this field, and I know that it’ll take a very long time.” Only time will tell, but Dean has certainly had a promising start and with “Come Over” adds another hit to his acclaimed repertoire.