Diving deep into DPR Ian’s past and present

DPR Ian (also known as Christian Yu) is the founding member of the collective DPR who was known for his work as visual director until he released his first EP in 2021.

But like many in the industry, he’s not an overnight success.

Behind all that is someone who started as a dance YouTuber in Australia more than 10 years ago and debuted as a member of a Kpop group that no longer exists.

So, here, I want to take you through a deep dive into the transformations he went through during his career with the different names and identities he took on along the way.

We’ll start with his first identity from his childhood and the years before he arrived in Korea.

Australia and pre-Kpop debut

DPR Ian was born in Sydney, Australia in 1990 as Yu Ba-rom (유바롬). 

In an interview with Teen Vogue he shared that he was raised by his mum after his parents split when he was young.

He mentioned that he was in a performing arts school and played the drums in a heavy metal band. He was influenced by the musicals he saw as a child and he mentioned going to circuses that were going around towns in Australia as well.

It’s not unusual for people to get exposed to music and the arts at a young age but Ian seems to have a knack for picking up the skills for expressing himself – and one of the ways was through dance.

Starting on YouTube

From 2008, when he was 18, he started uploading videos on his dance YouTube channel, going by the name B Boy B.yu.

If you want to look up his videos you still can. His channel, the old videos, his playlists still do exist. And it’s quite inspiring actually to see those videos from more than 10 years ago and to contrast them with the ones he is capable of making now.

On his channel, he started by sharing tutorial videos for top rock, which is a form of break dancing.

He said that he loved to dance and would sneak out of the house at night to dance alone, and one day his mum followed him and found out what he was up to; but she allowed him to give it a shot.

He eventually left to Korea to pursue it, with no intention of becoming a Kpop group member according to his response in an interview. But he was street cast by an entertainment agency and when he auditioned he couldn’t sing but he was able to impress with his dancing abilities.

So effectively, his identity as B Boy B.yu came to an end. And he took on another one, this time for his Kpop debut.

C-Clown and Kpop debut

Taken from his Korean name Ba-rom, he became Rome, the leader of Kpop group C-Clown (씨클라운). The 6-member boy group debuted in 2012 and was the first idol group created by entertainment agency Yaedang (예당, link in Korean).

Yaedang was founded by a well-known producer who started all the way back in the 1980s, and helped bring about artists that were mega hits like Deux (듀스) and Roo’Ra (룰라). The company was even listed on the Korean stock exchange Kosdaq in 2001, and even went into producing dramas and games as well.

As one of the agency’s new projects, C-Clown seems to have had some international fame. News articles from 2014 say that they sold out their 2000-seat concert in Japan, and that they even hit number 3 in an Asian pop chart in Bolivia despite the competition from well established Kpop groups.

Articles and interviews acknowledge though that they hadn’t quite hit their peak in Korea itself.

The group was perhaps particularly hard-hit by the sudden death of the agency’s CEO when they were less than a year into their debut. 

Ian did also express how hard it was being an idol group member under the so-called slave contracts and how hard it was to get out of it.

These reasons likely contributed to the group disbanding in 2015. The agency’s official statement was that discussions with members started even in 2014 and that all members had agreed on the decision.

Although Ian’s experience as a Kpop group member was short-lived, it seems like it was a pivotal point in his career. It could have helped him gain clarity on what he didn’t want to be involved in after C Clown and also could have propelled him to experiment with different creative skills that he is known for now.

In fact, even before this boy group chapter of his life ended, he was already well into his greatest adventure – founding his crew DPR and taking on a new identity.

DPR – The crew, the label, the friends

According to their website, ‘Dream Perfect Regime (DPR) is an independent, multi-genre music and video group’. 

Each person specializes in their own niche but at the end of the day they emphasize collaboration no matter who’s final work they are collaborating on. They are a group of friends, experimenting and working outside the typical roadmap Korean artists adopt for their projects and for promoting them. They also act as an independent label.

There are crew members DPR CREAM, DPR REM, DPR Kline and others that support the team, but here I want to focus on DPR Ian and DPR Live’s relationship that seems to have culminated into the DPR gang.

In an Esquire Korea interview on YouTube, DPR Ian and DPR Live talk about how they got connected before forming DPR. 

All the way from Guam, Live had seen Ian’s YouTube channel and sent him a direct message back when Ian was in Australia. But Ian said Live was just another person who had reached out showing interest in his dance videos.

The two only connected after both of them came to Korea not long after. Ian had seen a clip from Live and reached out, giving his number right away to a complete stranger.

Once they met though, they became really close, sharing songs and ideas and, from what it sounds like, dreaming together – of one day producing something spectacular.

That manifested into launching DPR. 

DPR released their first work with DPR Live’s Till I Die in August of 2015 according to their official Instagram account.

The date is interesting, because Ian was technically still a member of C Clown then. C Clown only officially disbanded 2 months later in October.

This overlap makes me believe that Ian and Live must have been making full use of the time they had and preparing hard for them to be ready to launch DPR like that.

And so with the birth of DPR, the former C-Clown member Rome took on a new identity – that of DPR Ian, the visual director.

Director Ian

Even in the C-Clown days, Ian (or Rome back then) was producing videos for C-Clown – but he was still very much in front of the camera as the leader of a Kpop dance group.

When he started DPR though, he flipped things around – and chose to take his place behind the camera instead. Ian took on the role of director and editor of the team’s videos.

This includes music videos for DPR Live and brand collaborations with Nike, Adobe and Adidas. 

A personal favourite of mine is a short visual film called ‘Eyes of DPR’ in partnership with Eyes Magazine that acts like a cinematographic trailer of the DPR crew members, their thoughts and their vision.

Ian directed and edited music videos outside of the DPR collective as well. Some of the more well-known ones might be MINO’s ‘Body’ and Bobby’s ‘Holup’ both in 2016, Taeyang’s ‘Wake me up’ in 2017.

But the most personal and artistic videos he has done so far are perhaps those for his own debut album released in 2021.

MITO

Mito (which stands for Moodswings in This Order) is the name of his album but also the name of another identity he assumed for this project.

As the artist himself explains it, Mito is a darker version of himself, a character that was born out of his experience with bipolar disorder.

Each of the 8 tracks shows a different side of Mito, starting with an entrance music for the character.

What I like about this album is that it really draws you into this Mito universe in what I would describe as a very multidimensional way.

First of all there’s a 13-minute documentary style video called Memories in disorder, with Ian/Mito at the center, introducing the album and each of the tracks with behind the scenes footage.

And then, there are the music videos that, in true DPR Ian fashion, are stylized and edited to fit right into the melody, rhythm and mood of each song.

And finally, there’s the physical album. The cover is made of heat sensitive material and the drawings and writings on the cover are only seen when exposed to heat. There is also a cracked mirror on the inside like the one used in Ian’s photo shoots for Mito.

The whole experience of the MITO album seems to have appealed to listeners. DPR as a whole, and DPR Ian specifically, really limit their media coverage but despite that, the MITO album debuted at number 17 in the week of march on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart, and debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart.

I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight the fact that the success of Ian’s album – as well as other DPR members – is the outcome of the entire DPR crew and not just Ian’s or a single member’s work.

And it’s probably to the credit of the entire crew that DPR Ian and Live were able to join the line-up of Asian artists who took part in the soundtrack for the 2021 Marvel movie.

Shang-Chi soundtrack

DPR Ian and Live performed the track ‘Diamonds + and Pearls’ in the soundtrack album to ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ making a mark on an album for none other than a Marvel film.

They are joined by several others in becoming the first Korean artists to take part in a Marvel soundtrack album.

The founder of 88rising – a media company with a focus on Asian artists that produced the Shang-Chi album – is quoted in a NYT feature saying that DPR Ian and Live are “two of the most exciting artists coming from Korean R&B”.

Before 88rising brought in DPR into the Shang Chi album, they also invited the crew to perform at their Head in the Clouds concert back in 2019. The concert was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic but returned in November 2021 – with both DPR Live and Ian in the lineup alongside other 88rising artists and Korean artists like CL and BIBI.

The concert was also DPR Ian’s first live performance of his songs from the Mito album, marking his on-stage debut as an artist.

There seems to be a lot more that DPR Ian has in store for fans. Although his music videos and Instagram posts tease out a bit of his skills in dance and playing instruments, he’s yet to showcase them fully in his work. And especially now that he’s on 88rising founder’s radar, will there be collaborations with other international artists to look forward to?

Knowing all of what I shared today, I’m curious to see what he’ll share as an artist and also what he’ll experiment with next as DPR’s visual director.

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