DAWN HAS BROKEN all the K-pop rules. Well, almost all of them. “I want to try getting my nipples pierced,” he tells Rolling Stone over a video call, his smile embellished with a diamond-studded lip ring, “but I’m scared because I recently got a tattoo near my nipple and I went through hell.” Tattoos and piercings are the least of the rapper’s transgressions. For the past five years, in an industry where dating is often contractually forbidden, DAWN has been known as one half of South Korean entertainment’s most notorious and beloved It couples. His partner-in-crime? HyunA, an industry legend.
When the pair began dating in secret in 2016, she was already a K-pop superstar and he was training to join her label’s boy group, Pentagon. In 2018, at the height of Pentagon’s fame, DAWN and HyunA went public with their relationship, pushing back as their label denied they were together. The move got them fired, and cemented the duo as K-pop’s puckish provocateurs.
Psy scooped them up, signing them to his label, P Nation, and they released music as soloists and as a duo, each acting as the other’s muse. Their releases were quirky, bright, and bonkers, a deliciously delirious combination of their creative ethea.
HyunA and DAWN announced their engagement in February 2022, posting a photo of their asymmetrical rings in matching seashell-shaped boxes. The news felt karmic, a well-earned triumph over the obstacles their relationship went up against in the public eye. In August, they surprised fans when they decided not to renew their contracts with P Nation. Then, in November, HyunA posted a simple note to Instagram. “We broke up,” it read in Korean, “We decided to remain good friends and co-workers from now on. Thank you always for your support and care.” A few days later, DAWN added, “[HyunA] is still just as precious to me, more sincere and cool than anyone and the artist I will continue to love most.”
Now single and solo, DAWN has found a new creative partner in the Korean producing duo GroovyRoom, who signed him to @Area, their imprint on Korea’s leading hip-hop label, H1gher Music, in January.