K-pop, Mandopop and other Asian pop

Kai from Exo: one of the best dancers in K-pop, and possibly its most voracious reader too

As Exo’s main dancer, Kai dominates the stage with his powerful but graceful movements, but in his free time he turns into an introverted bookworm and loves talking about the novels he is reading

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2018, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2018, 9:19pm

While he is known as one of the best dancers in the K-pop industry, Exo member Kai has a more serious, thoughtful side away from the stage.

In the six years since their debut, Exo have experienced some great highs and a few lows. For five years in a row they have won the album of the year award at the year-end Mnet Asian Music Awards (a first for any K-pop artist), but they also saw the loss of three Chinese members – Luhan, Kris and Tao – amid legal battles. Still, the departures don’t seem to have affected the group’s popularity and their fan base continues to swell.

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Exo’s popularity is evident everywhere in South Korea. Walking past a junior school three years ago, I was concerned to see a group of girls crying uncontrollably. When I asked what was wrong, they responded with a look of annoyance that I didn’t know already. “Tao has left Exo!”

Another example is the popular cafe owned and managed by Kai’s family in the fashionable Seocho district of Seoul. A mix of Korean and foreign fans throng to the eatery, hoping to catch a glimpse of Kai. If they are not that lucky, his friendly sister is usually there to share anecdotes about her baby brother.

Here’s what else you need to know about the 24-year-old singer.

His early life

Kai was born Kim Jong-in in South Jeolla province in 1994. When he was a child, his father used to take him to different after-school institutes to help him discover his passions. A shy boy, Kai was slow to bloom until his father took him to a jazz institute at the age of eight, after which he took up jazz dance.

Two years later, he saw a performance of The Nutcracker which he says changed his life – he decided there and then to become a ballet dancer. But later, after seeing K-pop boy band Shinhwa on TV, he decided on a career in music and moved to Seoul to attend a performance-oriented middle school.

His role in Exo

As the main dancer of the group, Kai dominates the stage and Exo’s music videos with his powerful but graceful movements. Having been one of the longest-serving trainees at K-pop company SM Entertainment, his singing and rapping abilities have improved to the extent that he now plays a larger vocal role in Exo’s tracks.

Many K-pop experts predict Kai could become a megastar if his vocal abilities can match his incredible dancing, so rumour has it that Kai is now putting much effort into sharpening his singing and rapping skills.

His image

Although he is all business and charisma on the stage, Kai turns into an introverted bookworm in his free time. During interviews, he loves talking about the novels he is currently reading and is often spotted with his head in a book by reporters. He counts Bernard Werber and Keigo Higashino among his favourite writers.

Two years ago, photos of Kai visiting a cafe and holding hands with Krystal from K-pop girl group f(x) circulated on the internet, sparking rumours that the two were dating, but Kai has so far not given any clarification on the issue.

His solo work

Kai has yet to release any solo tracks but he has built up quite a résumé acting in TV dramas, the latest of which is The Miracle We Met. Although often teased for being too shy on variety shows, Kai sometimes surprises his fans by coming out of his shell and dropping quite random and funny comments.

In his own words

“If I could compare myself to an animal, I would be a jaguar. I have darker skin but more importantly, jaguars change 180 degrees from when they are resting to when they go on a hunt. I change like that, too,” Kai said in an interview with Ize magazine.

“What do I see now that we’ve reached the top? What do you see when you reach the summit? You can see the summit of another mountain,” he replied to a question about how he feels after Exo won the best album award at the Mnet Asian Music Awards in 2014.

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“A person’s life can be like a beautiful backdrop or scenery for another person and provide them with inspiration. I’d like to give that to my fans,” he said after Exo won the best album award at the SBS Awards Festival in 2014.