The solo debut we’ve all been waiting for has finally come, with Kang Daniel releasing his MV for “What are you up to” on the 25th! His debut mini album Color On Me has also been released, with four out of five tracks co-written by Kang Daniel himself.

Following the disbandment of Produce 101 Season 2’s infamous group Wanna One, Wannables saw the debut or return of most members – including Ha Sungwoon, Hwang Minhyun, Lee Daehwi, and Bae Jinyoung – sans Kang Daniel. Instead, he’s had to undergo a legal battle with his now former agency LM Entertainment for the breaching of contract rights. LM was caught having sold Kang’s contract to a third party, thereby enabling said party to delay Kang’s debut. Further restrictions included the lack of access to his own Instagram and fan café, altogether severing the line of communication between him and his fans. After filing a lawsuit in March, a grueling battle unfolded, with defamatory media play, rumors, and more bringing the ire out of the public.

Thankfully, the court sided with Kang Daniel to suspend his exclusive contract with LM back in May. This ruling allowed Kang Daniel to fully jumpstart solo promotions. The downside, however, is found in LM submitting appeals twice to rectify the lost contract. Their second appeal was submitted back on July 17, with no news yet on the court’s response. Kang has launched his new career in the meantime, much to the satisfaction of his patient, loyal fans. Both expectations and excitement were high, considering album preorders went up to 450,000 in numbers. Starting anew with KONNECT Entertainment, Kang Daniel got to witness his album topping iTunes album charts all around Asia and the Middle East, as well as domestic real-time charts such as Naver and Soribada.

With this fresh, welcoming start, Kang Daniel’s theme for his debut is centered on colors – specifically, the chance to showcase his unique colors musically. Each song in the album is meant to contribute to the message of finding and creating one’s own color. This is also reflective of Kang Daniel’s own journey to find himself as a new solo singer.

To further convey this theme, the MV for the title track, “What are you up to?” is ridden with symbolism. The majority of the elements present serve to explain his story from disbandment to solo debut. From the beginning, the MV is very telling in displaying past items reflective of Produce 101 Season 2 – starting with the numerous dismantled card towers to the blue wallpaper (reflective of the show’s iconic use of pyramids). Even the 1st place chair knocked down by his own fingers – potentially signifying its limited term. All of this reveals that while the show was a crucial part of Kang Daniel’s discography, it is no longer active in his life. Other participants have moved on, and so must he.

Then comes forth scenes of isolation, misunderstanding, and loss. For instance, the heap of yellow balls burying Kang depicts his feelings in the face of the swirling rumors that media spew at the start of his legal battle. Unfortunately, it has been a common practice for agencies to sometimes make it difficult for their artists to leave, especially with the media as an active participant. Recent examples include Hyosung’s legal saga with TS Entertainment, or Yoon Ji-sung’s conflicts with LM as well. Other signs of distance are depicted by Kang looking at a TV or through a filming camera as an outsider – if not being lost among a sea of other items, trinkets, and hobbies, just as small and insignificant. And of course, with dwindling media presence comes the threat of losing public interest, as represented by the water cups surrounding Kang.

Although he attempts to use a phone, typewriter, or megaphones to speak with his fans, there is only a tiny door of light that offers hope. However, when he is typing, the incoming paper airplanes signify mail from outside. Similarly, the pile of crumpled yellow papers Kang Daniel sits on is symbolic through the color yellow, which – in Korea as of late – stands for the message ‘do not forget.’

These little changes are further perpetuated by the ticking clock or an incoming call on Kang’s phone, all of which represent an opening for him at last. Meaning, his chance to finally debut and achieve his dream onstage. He stretches out a hand towards the light, despite the twirling cards representing the gamble behind his choice to debut. After all, the lawsuit is technically ongoing due to LM’s repeated appeals. Yet, items such as the color yellow, his phone, and the flying paper airplanes suggest a hope that fans truly won’t forget him. On this note, as Kang Daniel is able to communicate, the title of his main track is aptly asking his fans, “What are you up to?”

One of the beauties of art is in portraying feelings without words, solely through the powerful use of images. Through these scenes, Kang Daniel uses this advantage to express what otherwise cannot be said with professional words, bringing fans right into the essence of his heart and character. While the song itself evokes a light, easygoing mood, the MV provides greater depth into Kang Daniel as an artist and a raw person altogether. By the end of the video, fans see that though Kang’s path might be narrow and difficult, he will nonetheless continue his journey.

On a lighter note, the aesthetics and colors used in the MV are also effective in portraying Kang Daniel’s story. Fully aware of the theme of colors, the MV portrays Kang in numerous colors, from a range of pink to blue, orange and yellow, dark versus light. Not only does the audience get to see Kang styled up in a variety of colors, but colors are another way his journey is expressed – with all its various emotions. Plus, one could simply see this diversity as an aesthetic job well done. The changes provided throughout the MV keeps the eyes interested and portrays another fresh look at Kang Daniel to truly see all his colors.

Overall, the elements of storytelling used in the MV are simple and powerful. However, Kang’s approach on his musicality has drawn some debate. On one hand, most fans have embraced the song, as it is a product of Kang Daniel’s hard work, talents, and charms. The laid back vibes induced from its 808 and dreamy synth sounds merge to create a comfortable summer track. In some ways, the MV also reveals a hint of sadness through Kang Daniel’s subtle face expressions, particularly in the scenes that depict his struggles with LM. However, other voices have wished for a concept that maintains Kang’s powerful stage presence and energy from Wanna One – which, while also valid, may go against Kang’s desire to show various colors of his own musicality.

Lastly, it’s notable to see that Kang Daniel chose to sing rather than rap for his debut. Perhaps this is another way out of many that he’s established himself as a solo artist. Or, it simply fit the song better. Whatever reason it may be, Kang’s approach to his solo debut gives reason to be anticipative of his future discography, including his creativity and continual improvement. Here’s also hoping that, legal issues aside, Kang Daniel can pave his way towards being a free, growing artist – in his own ways, at his own pace, and always with his fans.

(iMBC, Newsen, OSEN [1], [2], X Sports News [1], [2], YouTube; Images via KONNECT Entertainment)