K-pop star Kang Daniel on his SpongeBob collaboration, concert debutjessie tan
He’s not a yellow sponge, or a square, nor does he live in a pineapple under the sea, but South Korean singer Kang Daniel thinks there’s a surprising amount of commonalities between himself and SpongeBob SquarePants.
“SpongeBob is so optimistic and very chill,” says Kang. “In most other cartoons, if there any kind of problem, the characters will usually try to fix the problems. But in the case of SpongeBob, there are a lot of episodes where he doesn’t even try to fix things.
“I think that is probably a way SpongeBob can keep being very happy, by just accepting the problem as it is. For me, being happy and optimistic is also very important.”
Both of them also have pets, although the 25-year-old Kang is more of a cat guy while SpongeBob is more of a snail guy, although his pet snail Gary does make cat sounds the similarities still fit.
“And we both try to give out positive energy to the people around us, me through my music and him through being him,” he later adds. It makes sense that Kang Daniel relates to finding positivity within problems and trials, and sharing happiness.
A B-boy turned K-pop star, he made a name first as a contestant on the popular, but controversially manipulated, K-pop competition show Produce 101, coming in first place during his season in 2017.
He was also a member of the beloved, and very popular, boy band Wanna One during their short-lived, record-making career.
Now, he’s a soloist and songwriter with numerous albums under his belt, the head of his own music company, Konnect, a popular television MC, and an actor appearing in high-profile projects, including Disney+’s Rookie Cops.
Finding happiness through hard work makes sense to Kang. With that, and with him being a fan of the SpongeBob SquarePants Nickelodeon series since he was a kid, a merchandise collaboration between the K-pop star and the hit cartoon character came together seamlessly.
“It’s only a cartoon, but because I watched it since I was young, I feel like it’s like a big success for me, like I really succeeded in something,” says Kang.
He does add, however, that if he were ever to feature on a Nickelodeon series he’d want to appear in a Jimmy Neutron reboot, since that was his favourite show growing up.
Collaborations have become an increasingly important element of Kang’s career since he launched Konnect.
Founded in 2019 as a one-man independent label, he has since signed other popular Korean stars – soloist and songwriter Chancellor, CL and Yuju, the latter pair, like Kang, famous for being in K-pop groups – 2NE1 and GFriend respectively – but now finding their own path.
“Nowadays, I definitely feel much less lonely compared to when it was just me [at Konnect],” he admits.
“The other artists have a lot of different experiences, so I learn a lot from them. And also because we’re all solo artists, it always feels really good to, you know, connect with each other.
“Personally, I’ve been really inspired by them, and feel a real connection because we’ve had similar, but different paths. From the company perspective, it’s just really amazing to have all these big names as part of Konnect.”
Kang is busy doing everything under the sun while trying to spare some time being a self-proclaimed homebody.
Everything he does is motivated by his drive for more, even his music – at the heart of it, he says, is a desire to deliver more than listeners may be expecting from him, usually in the form of some sort of surprise in the music or lyrics, or in the corresponding music videos.
He gives as an example the common K-pop concept of school-themed releases. Some may make a song and/or music video inspired by school life focusing on students, but he’d want to switch it around.
“I would like to make music about how teachers enjoy summer vacation, something like that. Most artists take the obvious road, but I would put a twist on it all.”
Kang recently caused controversy with comments on a social media app where he was talking about his appearances as a host of the Street Woman Fighter and Street Man Fighter dance competition shows on Korean cable television.
Some fans were upset with him for implying he was more comfortable filming the male version than the female one. Kang promptly apologised, and is taking it as a learning experience moving forward.
“I kind of realised that I have to take more responsibility for what I say and do,” he says.
Kang is having a busy summer, and August is full of firsts: he’s performing at his first music festival, Japan’s Summer Sonic, and before that he’ll have his first solo concert, First Parade, in Seoul.
“Now that the Covid situation has finally got a bit better, I’m excited to perform in front of audiences again. I realised [while preparing for these concerts and festival shows] that actually so many people are interested in my music and are excited to see me, so I’m really happy about that.
“I previously had started performing in front of fans again, but then got sick” – he had to halt promotions for his first LP’s release, The Story, in June after being diagnosed with a herniated disc – “so I had a lot of things prepped, and I’m really excited that I can finally show my fans everything”.
There’s more where that came from too, with Kang looking towards the rest of 2022 with more of that “find happiness in everything that comes your way” attitude.
“I don’t actually really try to consider how full my schedule is, because it could be overwhelming, but overall I’m quite excited for the second half of the year, I have a lot planned.”