Joel DELEŌN Goes Solo! Singer Talks Single 'La Culpa' and How His CNCO 'Brothers' Took His Exit

"Now it's time for me to grow," DELEŌN tells PEOPLE

Zayn Malik left One Direction. Camila Cabello left Fifth Harmony. Jesy Nelson left Little Mix. And Joel DELEŌN left CNCO.

As with most boy bands and girl groups, there seems to be the expectation that a member will depart to pursue music as a soloist. Most of the time, their exit sparks drama — as evidenced by Little Mix unfollowing Nelson earlier this month — and oftentimes, a rivalry.

With CNCO though, DELEŌN's exit seemed to be the complete opposite.

In May, the group announced that DELEŌN, formerly Pimentel, was going to be leaving the group, but not before doing a special livestream performance as a quintet. The concert ended with DELEŌN hugging and crying alongside his "brothers" as they said goodbye. It was amicable. Loving, even.

"I actually let the guys know about my decision of parting ways in the beginning of this year. At first it was a bit shocking for them. It was, I think, a little hard for them but they never took it the wrong way," DELEŌN, 22, tells PEOPLE as he releases his first single as a solo artist, "La Culpa."

"Since there was no bad blood ever, we said we should do something special for the fans," he adds. "We should have this last concert together. We wanted to make it right and close off that chapter and start our new ones without any [rumors] running around."

Miguel Alejandro Mejía

It was spending time alone during the pandemic that allowed him to thoroughly reflect on what he wanted to do with his future, and if leaving the band he joined as a teen was the right decision for his future.

"I was going through an explosion of creativity and I felt like inside the group, since it's five different minds, sometimes you can't come up with the same exact idea," he explains. "I had to do something about it."

So he made the decision and told the boys. And things seem to be working well. Over the summer, CNCO — now comprising Erick Colón, Christopher Vélez, Richard Camacho and Zabdiel de Jesús — dropped their first single as a fourpiece, "Toa La Noche." And now, it's DELEŌN's turn.

On Thursday, he released the ranchera-infused, guitar-backed track "La Culpa," a complete 180-degree shift from the reggaetón sounds of the "Hey DJ" boy band. Both the singer's sound (and his new stage name) are inspired by his late grandfather.

"He's the one that taught me how to sing," says DELEŌN. "He would always teach me 'If you want something, you have to really work for it. If you're super passionate about it, then you go for it.' That's something that I really took in from him."

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Although "La Culpa" seemingly pays homage to his Mexican roots — and DELEŌN emphasizes that he "couldn't be happier" to have the track be his first single — he's also going to try a "whole bunch of different genres" to see where he properly fits on his own.

"I don't want people to just have in mind that this is the only type of music I'm going to be doing," he says. "I'm in the process of experimenting with different sounds but I'm always going to 100% stay true to who I am."

With his solo career still in front of him, DELEŌN is clear that his brotherhood with his CNCO family will always remain.

"We're still super good, we're like brothers," he says. "I saw them yesterday here at the [Sony Music] office and we're all just supporting each other super happy for everyone."

He adds, "Now it's time for me to grow and just to experiment with different things on my own and express to the world 100% who I am."

"La Culpa" is out now.

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