SuperM

Photo by SM Entertainment

SuperM Talk 'Super One' & Finding Unity In The Covid Era

GRAMMY.com catches up with the K-pop supergroup ahead of their first full-length album, out on Sept. 25
GRAMMYs
Sep 24, 2020 - 9:00 am

Last year, K-pop group SuperM made history when their self-titled debut EP premiered at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. A miscellany of a boy band featuring seven cornerstones from four different acts signed to South Korean company SM Entertainment, the newly formed act’s star power and the virality of their immensely memeable first single "Jopping" made them a must-watch act of 2020. Now, they’re back with their first LP, Super One.

Out on Sept. 25, SuperM's first full-length album features 15 tracks, some that listeners have heard before, like pre-release singles "100" and "Tiger Inside," and B-sides like "Dangerous Woman" and "With You" that the act has performed in the past during concerts and televised performances. Split almost evenly between songs that are performed predominantly in either English or Korean and fronted by the lead track "One," a blend of two B-sides, "Monster" and "Infinity," Super One is all about meshing different elements together, whether it’s members of SHINee, EXO, NCT 127 and WayV into one whole, or running the gamut of different genres and languages in ways that are all at once familiar and innovative for members of some of K-pop's biggest acts.

Throughout all the multitudes of Super One, however, is one overall theme—serving up a soundtrack perfect for the age of corona. "I think we tried really hard to unify the messaging through the lyrics and through that bring a message of hope and unity to our fans and everyone who listens to it," said Taemin, the most senior member of the group, active in the industry since debuting with the group SHINee in 2008.

Coming out since the world first began reeling from the changes and ongoing impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Super One spends its length motivating listeners through a freewheeling medley of energetic, vibrant electro-pop anthems and mellowing out to offer up lackadaisical, breezy moments on hopeful tracks. Whether it’s the optimistic, sweet bounce of "Better Days" and "Wish You Were Here" or the hint of separate-but-together partying euphoria on "Together at Home" and the smooth sexiness of the groove on "Drip" serving up the type of confidence that comes with good times, SuperM have delivered an album that is oh-so-very 2020 but will live long beyond December.

This interview was edited for clarity, and conducted in both English and Korean.

You’re about to release Super One into the world, following the release of "100" and "Tiger Inside." How does it feel to be sharing your first LP after last year’s debut EP?

Mark: We feel really thrilled to let the whole world see it. We’ve prepared a lot for it. “100” and “Tiger Inside” were just the singles that only lead up to the main album, so we’re pretty excited.

Taeyong: Because we’ve been working on this first full-length album for such a long time, we think it’s that much more meaningful for everyone. We were really thinking of our fans when we were putting this all together. Because we released two singles ahead of the release, we hope our fans and everyone will have the same and rising expectations for “One.” We hope everyone receives a lot of strength and positive vibes through this album.

What is the meaning of Super One to you?

Mark: We believe that it is very appropriate for the situation that the whole world is going through, the message that we have. Not only are we trying to say that we can overcome all of our problems and all these difficulties as we work together, we also believe that—if you see in the album, there are a lot of songs in the playlist where it has an encouraging message. We just want to spread positivity around the world and really bring hope to the listeners, saying, "We can overcome it all." With that positive message, we really want to bring everyone together. That’s pretty much how we, SuperM, were brought together as well. Though we may be all scattered in different ways, when we come together we become very super. I guess that’s the main message and the aspiration also of Super One.

Your first album debuted at No. 1 on the Stateside Billboard 100 chart, so expectations must be high for this album. What sort of response are you hoping for now that Super One is going to be heard by the world?

Lucas: I just hope that, throughout this whole worldwide pandemic situation that we’re all going through, listeners and fans will receive strength and hope through our music.

Why is "One" the perfect single for SuperM to release Super One through, following the earlier releases of "100" and "Tiger Inside"?

Mark: We always thought that having "100" come out first, then "Tiger Inside" leading to "One," that whole picture was a strategy that we thought would be best because we wanted to build up as much anticipation as we can. We wanted to build our fans’ expectations a lot as well. Having "One" come out as the final product was something we knew was right because the song itself has a lot of power in it, it holds a lot of what we can sing and rap about. The potential of the song holds what SuperM can really express. I feel like "One" was one of those tracks we really wanted to explode with. It’s a song that represents the album the best way.

You mentioned that you were sharing a unified picture in releasing these trio of singles one after another. What were you trying to relay through this trilogy?

Mark: I feel like each is great in their own way, but they all are connected as well. They’re all very different. Even if you just see “100” and “Tiger Inside,” the concept, the visuals, the pictures, the sounds, they’re all really, really different. But if you see the whole playlist of the album, they’re actually quite connected because all the songs have one central message on the album. “100,” we really wanted to give our 100% power and energy for fans to receive. “Tiger Inside,” the message was to not hide your power, to not hide the inner wildness you have inside and really release it out. And “One” is to bring all that energy together to overcome something we think we may not be able to but we can if we work together. It’s all about overcoming and collaboratively working together to overcome something we all want.

“One” is a blend of two songs, “Monster” and “Infinity,” how does it feel for you to be blending these songs together?

Ten: I think the concept that we put two songs and mix it together is very new, but also SHINee’s [2012 single] “Sherlock” is a mix of two songs, “Clue & Note.” With this album we think it’s a good idea to put the songs together because both songs, “Monster” and “Infinite” are very strong, they’re both ear-catching. That’s why I think it’s a very good idea to put it together, and I think the fans are going to love the mix too. 

Speaking of… Taemin, firstly, congratulations on the release of your new album Never Gonna Dance Again!

Taemin: Thank you!

You’ve done this blending of songs into a single before as SHINee. How does it feel revisiting this creative style again with SuperM?

Taemin: I personally think that this is one of K-pop’s biggest strengths, the fact that there are so many different styles of music and genres that can be mixed into one song and they’re all so catchy. Since we [already] did this with “Clue” and “Note,” it was really cool for me to see that creative process happen again. If you think of K-pop in general, it includes so many different styles of music. Even in one song, you’ll see multiple genres, multiple drops, multiple tempos, key changes, etc. I actually heard that when the producing team was making this song, it was really hard to make it sound really seamless and natural, making sure the key and tempo and everything matched when they mixed these two songs. But I personally think it was really fun to see this all come together and happen. Seeing a more creative and fun kind of music production process is always what makes K-pop new and exciting all the time.

The album is bilingual, and split pretty evenly between English and Korean tracks. How do you feel about showing this duality? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s ever been done before in K-pop, splitting an album with different language tracks quite in this way.

Taeyong: When I’m recording [in English], it’s very fun but it’s like English studying, a little bit. It’s because English pronunciation is important. I think our fans like our English songs a lot. They and our Korean songs are really good. They’re really dope. Really a bop. 

Several songs, like “Better Days” and “Together at Home” seem inspired especially by the global corona pandemic. Why was it important to you to share these sorts of songs with listeners?

Mark: We structured the entire album to appropriately fit what’s going on in the world right now. So that’s why we thought of this entire message. “Together at Home” and “Better Days” are the songs that really represent that feature the most in a way. Taeyong and I actually wrote some of the lyrics for “Together at Home.” When we received the message of the song for us to get the inspiration, they were talking about how we can talk about the Beyond Live [concert platform] that we used. We could think of that as a way for us to get inspired so we can think of ways to write about ways we could reach our fans at this time. So we actually wrote stuff about that on the song. We really wanted to put that in there. That’s why if you see the lyrics, we’re talking about how we’re always indoors but still kind of connected in a virtual kind of way, however we can [be]. Stuff like that really fits what’s going on right now, so we hope the fans can relate.

Is there a song that any members feel particular fondness for?

All: “Wish You Were Here!” [Members sing.]

Mark: I guess we all like “Wish You Were Here” the most. [Laughs.]

Lucas: Yeah!

Mark: It’s so catchy. It’s easy to listen to and so catchy. That’s why I like it.

Kai: I like the chorus. It’s very bright so I can get uplifted by it. I think it suits the album a lot.

Taemin: It would be great to hear fans’ covers of that song. I think it’s a song people will want to cover, and it’d be cool to collab with someone on it as well.

You’ve been together as SuperM for a while now, but who surprised or impressed you while recording and preparing this album?

Mark: We’ve been together quite a while now and, more than discover an aspect we haven’t seen of each other before, it’s more like, "Wow." For example, I knew Baekhyun was good at singing, but like… It still surprises me to this day, if you know what I mean? There’s stuff like that. Something that I didn’t know was that Baekhyun is good at art.

Baekhyun: We were together, and when we were in LA living together, from the beginning [as SuperM]. As time passes, we feel more like family and I feel every one of us is growing more into our roles as individual members of the group.

Were there any memorable moments from the creation process of this album?

Baekhyun: We actually shot a reality show together. Obviously, the album production process itself is always memorable, but in addition to what we’ve always done – preparing for performances, practicing together, recording the songs, etc. – outside of that, we had a chance to be a part of these shows that will air soon. These shows were where we got to spend a lot more time together, and we could showcase our chemistry to our fans and viewers. Those memories were really fun because we got to travel and do stuff together.

Transportation and speed have been themes that carried throughout your songs and music videos, where you regularly are seen traveling in different types of vehicles, whether it’s space ships or helicopters. At a time when people aren’t able to travel, what do you feel this represents?

Kai: If you look at our past music videos there are motorcycles, there are tanks, there are a lot of cars, and I think that goes well with SuperM’s concept as a group. That’s why they were featured in our music videos and past songs. We can’t really travel right now because of the pandemic and everything that’s going on, but we hope that, just like these modes of transportation can take you somewhere, our music and this album can be a mode of transportation that takes you to a place of hope and takes you to that higher place where everyone can enjoy themselves and be happy. 

What are your favorite lyrics on the album?

Mark: For me “Wish You Were Here”’s, “After all these years, I wish you were, wish you were here” is my favorite. Because the melody is really cool.

Taemin: In “So Long,” there’s a chorus where Mark sings “차가운 표정으로 맞이하는 절정 (An ending with the coldest face*)” I like that part. It’s really addictive, that part in particular.

Mark: I don’t know if he’s teasing me. [Laughs.]

You’re all part of different groups under SM, so what do you think makes Super One a distinctly SuperM album?

Taemin: If you listen to our first mini album, there were songs that were like unit tracks. It wasn’t every member on the album on every track. This album is different because every member participated in all of the tracks, and I think that it’s distinctly SuperM just because we were kind of able to create this album with one unified messaging. There’s so many types of songs, types of genre, on the album, but I think we tried really hard to unify the messaging through the lyrics and through that bring a message of hope and unity to our fans and everyone who listens to it. I think that makes it distinctly SuperM.

What are your goals for the rest of 2020? What do you hope to achieve with this album?

Lucas: The biggest goal that we want is we really want to be able to meet our fans if possible in 2020, because we miss them so much. If that can’t happen, another goal that we have is that through the Super One album we bring a lot of strength and hope to anyone who listens to it.

Ten: We might have more online events, like Vlive [livestreams] or Beyond Live [concerts]. Maybe those kinds of things can happen. We’re still thinking of ways to get close to fans even though everything is far apart nowadays. We’re going to find all our fans. So don’t be sad, don’t worry, just have fun. Hope you guys stay strong during this period. We’re going to do our best to meet you guys.

Baekhyun: That’s right.

*Translation provided by SM Entertainment.

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