The Iridescent World of Rad Museum
The producer-songwriter discusses his unique artistry, popularizing the alternative genre in South Korea and his (strange) love for Indian ads
Discovering the meaning of an artist’s stage name is the first facet of their artistry you unveil, giving you an understanding of their creative persona. But in South Korean musician Rad Museum’s case, we’ll have to sit tight and let our assumptions marinate just a little longer. “I think you will be able to find out about it(‘s meaning) when my studio album and images get released,” he teases.
Born So Jae-hoon, Rad Museum’s music is as unique as his moniker. One of the most admirable aspects of his artistry is his willingness to capture his surroundings into a three-minute composition of verses and flows. So it’s a no-brainer as to why I was instantly drawn to his August 2021 release “AirDrop.” Despite the absence of translated lyrics upon its release (and my own commitment to master the Korean language,) I felt drawn to the overarching theme of the release- ‘The Future Is Already Here.’ Though my interpretation was far off from his vision–now clear thanks to the translated lyrics– having the liberty to interpret the piece based on real-world events was an exultant experience.
Like most musicians of the genre, Rad Museum grew up around R&B, admiring the compositions and lyricism of several artists. Discovering, listening and imbibing new voices soon became part of his daily routine, making music his “number one priority.” Creatively charged with bursts of inspiration occurring often, the singer-songwriter expanded the horizons of his creativity through graphic designing. “I majored in graphic design at first and started making music seriously after I met my friends at You.Will.Knovv (his label).”
Founded in 2017 by South Korean alternative R&B singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer, DEAN, You.Will.Knovv is an independent label currently representing South Korean singer Miso, Rad Museum, DEAN and South Korean rapper Tabber– the latest addition to the label. For the original trio (Dean, Miso and Rad Museum,) their story goes way back to the time they spent together under the musical collective, Club Eskimo.
For Rad Museum, declaring You.Will.Knovv as his new home was a no-brainer. There’s often a great deal of thought and contemplation that goes into picking your label, and why wouldn’t there be? After all, finding the right agency determines your growth as an artist. You need to immerse yourself in a system that empowers you to nurture your strengths. This was the case with Rad Museum, though the label was initially recommended to him by DEAN. He agreed to join the roster after discovering the powerful connection label members share. “The team members (Miso, Tabber and DEAN) are very close to each other so there is no need for any explanation,” he says.”
Upon joining the label, the artist released his debut EP SCENE on October 26th, 2017, (coincidently, the duration of the EP happens to be 26 minutes long.) While he tries to leave his “stories and values in his work as much as possible,” the seven-track EP was largely based on his imagination, which is experienced through the thematics of the tracks as well as the album cover. Taking an intriguing approach, Rad Museum picks a verse from the bible and pens it down in his handwriting. “I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.” This is a particularly refreshing approach, giving listeners something extra to ponder over and contemplate. Deeming the release of his debut EP as “the most fulfilling challenge,” he introduces us to a much-needed fresh perspective on hardship. “It’s (the debut EP) the result of a challenge that I achieved so happily, that lets me forget about struggles that I went through in the process.” Rad Museum does a splendid job at utilizing the allure of naturally occurring sounds such as the soft pitter-patter of rainfall and ebullient bird chirps to create a transfixed state of sonic indulgence in SCENE. Exploring an array of genres ranging from alternative rock, lo-fi, dreamy synth and neo-jazz, he exceeds the expectations of his listeners by presenting them with an engrossing experience.
There’s a reason why Adele has been vocal about listeners shuffling tracks in an album. For an EP as sonically rich as SCENE, shuffling or skipping would definitely be a sin as the album deserves to be enjoyed in the manner it was intended to. At its core, SCENE is a riveting sonic tale of a man swinging between burning passion and chilling loneliness. Rad Museum begins to explore the varying stages of romance beginning with “Over The Fence.” The first track of the EP discusses the courage required to confess your admiration. Its short and sweet doe-eyed confession style will immediately draw you back to the time in your life where courage stood between you and your love interest: “Every morning without a doubt/ I see her/ Before sunrise/ She’s gone/ I would like to jump over the fence/ And say something.” The alt-R&B track sets the mood right with the insertion of bird chirps, transporting the listeners to a scenic morning of mystique and allure.
“Cloud” and “Dancing In The Rain” take us into the deeper realms of romance. While “Cloud” is all about persuading your love interest to trust the power of your love, “Dancing In The Rain” takes passion a notch higher with its lyrical metaphors. Rain is often viewed as a gloomy, murky climate, however, Rad Museum gives it a spin to be an experience worth living through provided you’re in the embrace of your partner: “With you in this weather/ I can’t believe how happy I am.”
The picturesque landscape of romance and passion plummets with “MADKID.” Serving as the breaking point of the relationship, “MADKID” dissects the agonizing period of unspoken spite — a time where, despite your best effort at romanticizing and optimism, the future looks bleak: “Look at the sky, it’s like cigarette smoke/ I can see the future it will get tougher.” You’d expect such ardent emotions expressed through soft melodies, but the artist takes an alt-rock approach. As opposed to sappy compositions, the gravitas of the guitar-percussion duo creates a sense of honesty and temporary bitterness.
The narrative shifts from bitterness to loneliness with “Birthday.” Feeling isolated on his big day, Rad Museum talks about it being gloomy: “Nobody knows my birthday/ I feel so blue.” While many may wish for their birthdays to not end, Rad Museum views it as any day but expresses a faint sense of frolic, only to be reminded by the painful reality:”I think it’s regrettable/ I want to party.”
Romance reaches its final stage in “Tiny Little Boy.” The raw lyricism positions the man as a vulnerable boy who feels powerless whilst facing the testament of the relationship: “She is leaving/ Little boy who can’t do anything/ I’m not going to say anything obvious/ This confession won’t stop the breakup.” However, with the final track, “Women” we see Rad Museum set foot in the revival phase, giving a second chance to love — this time in a new city; “Average woman/ Nobody knows/ Ready for your love/ For your love.””
With Rad Museum actively taking up the production and songwriting roles on his EP, I was curious about knowing that role that brought him closer to his artistic persona. “I don’t like to define something or give concrete answers,” he responds. “I think an answer creates boundaries and it leads to a narrow view, so I don’t want to define my career as a single profession. Like the Da Vinci era, I want to break the boundaries of what I can do.”
Rad Museum returned after three years with “Breath” in August 2020 and the single album SINK four months later. This year, he kept his creative juices flowing with his August 2021 single album Brainstorm (lead by the single “AirDrop). Comprising “Exit” and “AirDrop,” Brainstorm is a sonic representation of the thoughts racing through his mind. “Both songs came out as I looked into the countless thoughts that occur in my head and the subconsciousness below the surface, hence I named the single (album) Brainstorm,” he shares.
Released on August 4th, “AirDrop” takes a fresh spin with its synth-piano arrangement, which remains dominant throughout the track and just as the song enters its final lap, a vibrant guitar riff fuses with the existing ensemble, giving it a color of rap-rock. “It is a song that uses the subject of conversation that I often had with close friends,” Rad Museum explains the inspiration behind the track. He continues, “Like the lyrics in “AirDrop,” I always feel like my thinking circuits are synchronized when I talk to the other person and the frequency becomes similar with them. I think other people may have felt this from time to time. I made the track in the hope that everyone would be aware of the feeling.”
As for how co-writing the track with South Korean rappers DAEHEE and Wonstein went, Rad Museum reckons he shares a “very good chemistry” with the two, resulting in a quick turnaround time. Not only has Wonstein penned the lyrics but he also appears on the record as a featured artist. “I listened to Wonstein’s music before he appeared on the TV show Show Me the Money,” Rad Museum reveals. “When I first heard his music, I loved it so much that I wanted to work with him, so naturally I had Wonstein as a collaborator in my mind when I started to make this song.”
Visually, the music video is breezy with minimalist cinematography comprising solid pastel backdrops and scenes with each artist. “I like to try out multiple things by myself. This time, I directed the music video myself because I wanted to work on details and props,” Rad Museum says. “The toughest memory that I have during the production of the video is filming in a heatwave and editing it until the day of the release.”
Talking about his future projects, Rad Museum maintains an air of ambiguity around his forthcoming album, partially hinting at what we can expect from the R&B genius. “My first studio album includes the two already released double singles, SINK and Brainstorm. When the second double single came out, the tracklist for the studio album was already set so you can infer the diversity of the album by listening to the two double singles.””
While speaking about his upcoming projects, he lets us in on his artistic approach and plans. “These days, I work on songwriting and lyrics at the same time,” he shares. As for the music he consumes in his free time, the artist presents an impulsive consumption pattern. “I usually monitor the music I’m making or choose and listen to songs that fit the time, place, and mood.” Because of his tendency to discover new music and explore, I was keen on knowing whether he has come across any India-based artist, and his response is a delightful surprise. “I like Indian advertisements,” he confesses. “I came across Indian TV advertisements when I was majoring in design and studying advertisement design. Their unique ideas and mise-en-scene were very impressive.”
As for his larger goals, Rad Museum wishes to popularize his genre in Korea–currently a scene that hasn’t quite jumped into the variations of R&B in the mainstream. “I hope that ‘alternative’ becomes available as an option in genre categories in Korean music streaming services like Apple and Spotify.” For his listeners, he has a message of hope and comfort. “We’re all having a hard time due to Covid-19 but I hope it will be a time to focus on the present and feel grateful for small things,” he says, thoughtful. “I hope we can overcome this disaster together as soon as possible, and see you offline through tours and shows.”