DAWN Opens Up About HyunA & Starting Anew
Now at home on a new label, the South Korean idol is moving forward with the soft single, “Dear My Light.”
2018 was a whirlwind for rapper and singer-songwriter DAWN. In one of that year’s biggest K-pop headlines, he had his relationship with labelmate and soloist HyunA outed, only for both of them to be booted from their label, Cube Entertainment, a month later, under an official statement that said “it is not possible to recover the faith with the two artists.”
Flash-forward five years, and DAWN, real name Kim Hyo-jong, is in the eye of the hurricane once again. Following the 2022 news of his breakup with HyunA and his signing under K-pop producers GroovyRoom’s new label, AT AREA, he is now addressing that turbulent time on new single “빛이 나는 너에게 (Dear My Light),” out April 13. On the soft ballad, a departure from his previous rattling output, he airs out his feelings in hopes to start anew. It's an unseen side to the singer — also signaling the beginning of a wide-open expanse in his artistry.
To understand the many dimensions of the release, it’s necessary to look at DAWN’s history. Back in 2018, he went by the alias of E’Dawn and was one of the main rappers and composers of boy group Pentagon, as well as part of the trio Triple H alongside HyunA and Pentagon’s Hui. When news of his dating life broke, he stood by his relationship — even if it meant giving up on his career. “Since this was a choice I made for myself, I thought that it would be better to be honest rather than continue living a huge lie. That’s why I made up my mind to face everyone honestly,” he wrote on Pentagon’s fan café (something akin to an official forum) at the time, shortly before he was removed from Cube Entertainment.
But the decision had its silver linings — DAWN and HyunA became one of K-pop’s most beloved power couples. Fans all over the world were supportive of their bold love story (in K-pop, dating among idols is still considered a taboo topic), and they reigned supreme on social media and even flaunted a Paris Fashion Week appearance. In 2019, the pair signed a contract under PSY’s new label, P Nation, and DAWN made his solo debut with the single “Money,” which was later followed by his first EP, 2020’s Dawndididawn, and a duet EP with HyunA, 2021’s 1+1=1.
In February of last year, they announced their engagement via Instagram — but the posts have now been deleted. In August 2022, he and HyunA left P Nation after deciding not to renew their contracts, and in November, they announced their breakup.
A few days ahead of the release of “빛이 나는 너에게 (Dear My Light),” DAWN, over Zoom, is wearing an off-white jacket that almost blends in with the cloudy skies peeking through the window panels behind him. Sharing the screen with his interpreter (and at times looking at the translation notes and laughing), he reflects on healing from heartbreak, what his relationship taught him, and how he’s broadening his musical spectrum.
What made you decide to release “빛이 나는 너에게 (Dear My Light)” now?
After I joined AT AREA in January, I’ve been working with GroovyRoom and producer Kwaca. We made many songs, but “빛이 나는 너에게 (Dear My Light)” was the first one that we produced together. Also, in the lyrics, my true feelings are expressed, so that's why I’m releasing it right now.
How did this song come to life?
Kwaca just started playing the guitar, and we started to talk about the melodies and the lyrics. I opened up my feelings about my current situation, and that's how it naturally came out. It's the first song I’m releasing with AT AREA, but if you listen to it, it's not [their] kind of music, and it's also not, like, my [usual] kind of music. So, I thought, ‘Oh, I think it's the right time to reveal to the world how I'm feeling.’ It was the perfect kind of music to convey my thoughts.
The lyrics talk about your breakup with HyunA. Has this song helped you heal, in some way?
After the breakup, I wasn't sure about how I was feeling. But after I wrote these lyrics, my thoughts were more arranged and I was able to think more clearly. It helped me to get to know myself more.
In one part, you sing “It's okay if I lose everything/ as long as I can see you dazzling.” That's quite selfless, almost as if you don't care about yourself. How does this play out in your life right now?
It really doesn't matter if I lose everything, as long as she's happy. I met someone who knows me the most, and we also know each other, we understand each other very well. However, whenever I talk about this with someone else, nobody can fully understand what I mean. The one thing for sure is that if she's happy, I’m happy.
Has HyunA listened to the song?
I haven't played it [to her] yet.
Are you hoping for her to say something?
The title of the song is “빛이 나는 너에게 (Dear My Light),” so it's like a letter that I wrote to her. The whole point of this letter is to express myself and how I feel, so it's less of a conversation, and more like my expression. I don't have many expectations about it, I just want to know if she got the letter, if she received it well.
It's really rare for K-pop or K-pop-adjacent artists to release personal songs like this one. Have you felt apprehensive about being so open with your feelings and your life?
My main priority was to make music that a lot of people can relate to, and sympathize with. Of course, it is my personal story, but I feel like there's a lot of people out there who understand how I feel and what I went through. I thought the [best] method to do that was to be very sincere.
Besides writing music, what other things have you been doing to heal?
I have this thought that, whenever you are alone, you have to know yourself very well. So, I’ve had some time to think about even what kind of food I like, how I feel when I do this, what makes me happy or sad. I had time to think and reflect about these things.
What was the most important thing that you’ve learned from this experience?
Health is the most important thing. There’s mental health and physical health, but if one part isn't healthy, the other will also be affected, so I have been focusing on that.
And how have you been feeling right now, health-wise?
I’ve been feeling well, because I came to AT AREA. [Laughs].
How has coming to AT AREA helped you at this moment?
I think that this is the most important time in my life. After I met GroovyRoom and my AT AREA staff, [I figured] it's a really important opportunity, and I also feel it's kind of destiny?
It's right after I moved to a new label, and now I think is the best time to show who I am through my music and performances. After I came to AT AREA, I think I can show myself [more].
Have you been struggling to find out who you are without HyunA?
Whenever I wanted to rely on somebody, she would be right next to me. But right now she's not, so those differences are really big. Going through those experiences was a struggle.
“Now I think is the best time to show who I am through my music and performances.”
Is it getting easier now, or are you still struggling?
Not anymore, because in the lyrics [to my new song], I say that HyunA taught me to shine by myself. Before realizing that, I was struggling because I wasn't used to this feeling.
What do you want people to understand the most about this single?
I hope people get the feelings that I felt. For example, it's not only me who had a breakup, maybe someone could have broken up with friends, or a family member. Everybody has their own breakups with their own important people, but if someone could overcome [them] with this song, then I’ll be happy.
As you said, this song is very different from everything you released so far. Does this represent a new musical chapter for you?
It’s [more of] an expansion, not an opening door. I’m gonna show many different kinds of music other than what people used to hear from DAWN. There is a variety of music coming soon.
Do you have any goals you want to achieve this year, in general?
Right now, I don’t have any musical limits, so I’m doing whatever I want to do. As the limits are gone, I want to meet more fans and get attention from different kinds of people. I want to make something with AT AREA that everybody will respect, something new that people haven’t seen before.