Kwon Ji-Young, better known to the world by his stage name G-Dragon, first stepped up to the spotlight in 2006 as the leader of K-Pop band Big Bang. In the decade since, he has made his name as a multihyphenate with a veritable toolbox of skills: the producer and lyricist behind many of Big Bang’s number one hits, a genre-crossing solo artist in his own right and the fashion world’s latest male muse, sitting front row at Saint Laurent and taking selfies with Karl Lagerfeld.
G-Dragon is one of the few Asian artists to make inroads in the American music industry, via collaborations on his latest album Coup D’Etat with big names including Diplo, Baaur and Missy Elliott. He is a powerful digital influencer, with 12.4 million followers on Instagram and a global army of devoted fans who strive to emulate his style – designers have seen their sales soar after G-Dragon is photographed wearing one of their pieces.
Everything about G-Dragon’s approach to art is eclectic and all-encompassing. The K-Pop phenom began his musical career at just thirteen, tutored by People’s Crew and scoring a feature on the YG Family Flex album. He was immediately snapped up by YG Entertainment, South Korea’s blue-chip hip hop label. Inspired in equal measure by American rap crews such as the Wu-Tang Clan and MCs like Drunken Tiger who were paving the way for Seoul’s burgeoning hip hop scene, G-Dragon carved out a niche with his group Big Bang, penning the band’s breakout 2007 single Lies and follow-up Haru Haru to create an old-skool hip-pop sound distinct from any other act on the scene. Big Bang went from unknowns to chart-toppers in a matter of months, and continued their reign with G-Dragon at the helm. Their latest 2016 album MADE was the sonic event of the year, with a single released every month while the group toured the tracks to a global audience of 1.5 million fans.
“In the world of K-Pop, where bubble-gum pop songs are played over Disney-esque visuals in pastel colours, G-Dragon’s music videos stood out starkly.”
As Big Bang’s lyricist, producer and frontman, it was only a matter of time before G-Dragon went solo. In 2009 he released his first album Heartbreaker, which shot straight to number one in South Korea and won the MNET Asian Music Award for Album of the Year. Heartbreaker was a deviation from G-Dragon’s old-skool hip hop catalogue, drawing influences from EDM. With subsequent albums and top-charting singles like Crooked, One of a Kind and Coup D’Etat, G-Dragon skewed his sound further, mixing Korean folk with hip hop, and trap with punk-rock. Arguably more extraordinary than his music however, were the videos that accompanied the tracks. In the world of K-Pop, where bubble-gum pop songs are played over Disney-esque visuals in pastel colours, G-Dragon’s music videos stood out starkly. The sets shift between the cinematic and the bizarre. In Crooked he is seen causing chaos in London’s Brick Lane and pissing against a wall – not quite Bieber’s bucket, but deviant enough to shock Korean audiences – for One of a Kind he poses with a tiger cub on a leash, in Coup D’Etat he sits on an electric chair. The imagery is vivid and visceral, and the parade of costumes he dons for each clip are equally bold. A bejewelled boxing helmet, pink dressing gown, vast furs, canary-yellow dreadlocks … on first glance it appears as if G-Dragon does things purely to shock. Connecting the lyrics of each song to the visuals, the viewer joins the dots to find each image carefully constructed with pinpoint precision.
Whether he’s photographed in head-to-toe Dior, mixing streetwear brands Ambush and KTZ, rocking pink hair or a furry Chanel hat, one thing is clear – G-Dragon knows what he’s doing. His seat at Chanel’s casino tables for Lagerfeld’s haute couture Autumn/Winter 2015 show cemented his status among Fashion’s top tier. In 2016, he premiered his M.I.A – Baaur collab track Temple at the Alexander Wang show. A mere two weeks ago, he upstaged Paris fashion week, collaborating with his own art house label Peaceminusone to stage a four-day guerrilla media exhibition at the Galerie Frank Elbaz, attended by Bella Hadid and Olivier Rousteing.
“This soft-culture power has attracted the attention of the fashion world, numbering South Korea among the industry’s A-League nations, attracting oft-piste shows from houses like Chanel.”
Furthermore, G-Dragon is in a unique position, in the right place at the perfect time to make his mark. South Korea is currently one of the most influential nations in Asia; its ubiquitous pop music and youth culture elevating the status of Korean products, in turn rendering the country’s economy the fourth-largest in Asia. This soft-culture power has attracted the attention of the fashion world, numbering South Korea among the industry’s A-League nations, attracting oft-piste shows from houses like Chanel. Enter G-Dragon, his every outfit captured and re-blogged across the internet, his rock-star aesthetic and androgynous hairstyles enabling him to experiment with outfits most regular guys wouldn’t dare touch. With a vast social media influence and sense of stylistic daring, he is primed to be the fashion world’s latest muse.
A recent Dazed photo-op, shot by the eminent Japanese photographer Noboyushi Araki, sums up G-Dragon’s standing as symbolic of the future of K-Pop, and the growing juxtaposition of fashion and music. The pairing of the two creatives was a clever combination, bringing together two legends from opposing eras, connected by their shared defiance of convention and cult following. G-Dragon has won many accolades in his decade-long career, yet he is best known for redefining what it means to be a K-Pop star. He is daring not only musically but visually, the avant-garde pioneer leading the way forward; the It Boy everyone is watching.