Rising K-pop stars ZEROBASEONE have experienced a rapid transition from boy group hopefuls to full-blown idols. While they're full speed ahead promoting their latest EP, Melting Point, it's necessary to turn back the clock and go into the very beginning to fully grasp how their growth has been unfolding.
Last fall, Zhang Hao, Kim Taerae, Sung Hanbin, Seok Matthew, Ricky, Park Gunwook, Kim Gyuvin, Kim Jiwoong, and Han Yujin received an announcement that changed the course of their personal journey: they were accepted into "Boys Planet," a televised K-pop survival series. This platform would introduce more than 90 idol trainees, each of whom strived for the opportunity to debut in a boy group.
Each week of the competition was an uphill climb, but the nine singers were resilient. ZEROBASEONE (shortened as ZB1) emerged as the victors of "Boys Planet," voted by hundreds of thousands of fans around the world who watched them unlock their artistic potential that drafted sky-high expectations.
That summer, the multicultural ensemble from South Korea, China, and Canada released their first mini album, Youth In The Shade. The six-track collection was helmed by "In Bloom," which alludes to the sentiments of flourishing despite the finite nature of a path. "Nothing lasts forever," they sing in the pre-chorus, later reassuring: "But I can change that, my fate."
It was a captivating entry into the world of K-pop and is now the best-selling debut record in K-pop history with almost two million copies sold to date — a milestone that elevated them as "monster rookies." And as such, in true K-pop fashion, they have been busy.
ZEROBASEONE have graced the covers of some of the most prestigious South Korean magazines, made television appearances and circled the globe, all while preparing for Melting Point. In addition to their first performances in Europe, Japan and the U.S., ZB1 performed at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, an event that sold out in a matter of minutes.
But what makes ZB1 truly shine is their essence as artists and individuals. "We have become one," Seok Matthew tells GRAMMY.com over a video call from Seoul. "I just get these random feelings that make me think how grateful [I am] that I got to be a part of this group, and that I have these eight amazing members beside me."
Before ZEROBASEONE continues forging ahead with Melting Point, the group spent some time reminiscing about their big year. From how far they've come since "Boys Planet," to fully stepping into their new facet as K-pop idols, this is the initial stride of nine youngsters etching a future together.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Winning Big On "Boys Planet"
Seok Matthew: To be honest, I didn’t even think I was going to pass the audition for "Boys Planet" because I went from company to company [when I was a trainee]. But, when I did get in, I was super happy because I found that Hanbin hyung also got accepted [into the show], and that made me feel a lot more relieved. I didn't have high hopes and I knew it was going to be a fierce competition…but he made me feel like I could go into this with a bit more confidence than I would have if I didn't go with him.
Sung Hanbin: When I met [my fellow ZB1 members] as trainees, I could tell from their eyes that they were not expecting "Boys Planet" to be hugely popular. We were all there because we just wanted to show off our potential and present something we hadn't been able to share with the world.
We cannot forget about all the hard work from the program's producers, writers, and all staff members, but on top of that, all trainees' passion is what I believe made the program do so well.
Kim Gyuvin: "Boys Planet'' was the program that made the dreams we have been desiring for a long time come true. I think it was the first step for us to receive the Rookie Of The Year awards [at The Fact Music Awards and the K-Global Heart Dream Awards], which [are] not easy to come by, so we are very thankful and feel extremely fortunate to receive that. "Boys Planet'' really served as a stepping stone for us, and I would say it was truly a life-changing experience.
Officially Becoming ZEROBASEONE
Park Gunwook: The realization [that my life was about to change] came pretty soon because after the final episode aired, we went to the dorm where we were going to live together. It was very exciting to learn that I was going to be starting my group activities and living together with these members that I love and respect so much. I felt like my stomach was full of butterflies every time I thought about that.
Ricky: For me, even before the final lineup was out, we already knew that "Boys Planet'' was getting bigger than we thought it would be. Honestly, I wasn’t not sure if I was going to make it into the group, so the moment my name was called, and I went upstairs to sit in [one of the] top nine chairs, I thought, Oh, this is a big turning point in my life.
Kim Jiwoong: Something I want to mention is that we are a very funny group. [Laughs.] I think it shines through the content that we share with our fans and the general public, and they are getting to know a different side of ZEROBASEONE.
Something that I learned by being close with the members is that I'm really cute — even more than I expected. [Laughs.] I'm the oldest member in the group and as I spend more time with the younger members, I find more pure and childish sides of me that I didn't even know. My relationship with the members has made me feel like a flower that is just blooming, and I'm glad I get to enjoy my youth with them.
Making A Statement At KCON Japan
Zhang Hao: It was our first [official] performance as ZEROBASEONE, and we wanted to show who we are as a group to the world. We wanted to demonstrate what we could do as artists because people have been seeing us since we were trainees, and now we are a debut group. I truly think that the KCON Japan performance was my life’s turning point because it announced the birth of ZEROBASEONE in front of everyone.
Kim Taerae: After we finished the performance, I felt very proud of our group because I think we did well. I also thought that we have a long way to go, and [I know] that we can do better, so we need to work even harder… and truly grow as artists while maintaining our youth and beginner's minds. That was something I was looking forward to right after coming off the stage.
Seok Matthew: I just remember vividly that we got to play with the fans, and we were handing out all these gifts to them. Everyone was having such a great time and I felt like we were actually giving back all the love that they gave us.
At the end of KCON, we all went to the stage to say goodbye [to the audience], and we got to see our sunbaenims [senior groups] we have always admired…it was really an honor. I think that was the big point for us where, after we finished our performance, we thought, wow, I can't believe we just did that. At that point, that's when we were like, "we need to get as good as our sunbaenims."
Releasing Their Debut EP, Youth In The Shade, & Continuing To Grow
Han Yujin: On our debut day, I remember looking at the members and feeling absolutely proud of each and every one of them. And I had this thought that if we work harder, we are going to succeed and improve to be even better. I could just feel it. I also thought that, personally, I wanted to work even harder to resemble my amazing hyungs [older members]. I've been enjoying every single day since our debut.
Sung Hanbin: We chose this path because we've been enjoying the process and we love what we do. While preparing for Youth In The Shade, I learned that there are so many more things to learn — and it's not just about improving ourselves as performers, but also building our experience, attitude, and stage [presence].
We also need to consider our relationship with other seniors and colleagues as well, which I think is essential in this industry. The most important thing that I learned and I'm still figuring out is to be open about new things and grow every day.
Performing At Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome
Han Yujin: I remember stepping out [to the stage] for the opening song, which was "Back to ZEROBASE." As we started singing the very first part of the song, the door in front of us opened and we were able to see all the audience cheering for us. It was just a very grand moment and I felt overwhelmed and somewhat emotional as well.
It immediately motivated me to give my best throughout the whole concert. I think that specific memory of just being on that stage for the first time and seeing our fans through an opening door will stay in my mind forever.
Conquering Big Stages Around The World
Ricky: KCON L.A. was special for me because Los Angeles is my second hometown, and it was my first time going back since we debuted. As soon as we got there, it made me realize that all the hard work was worth it.
Zhang Hao: And we met Ricky's mom! [Laughs.]
Ricky: It was the first time my family came to see us perform [as ZEROBASEONE], so it was an unforgettable moment.
Seok Matthew: I'd say that one really good memory I have right now is [M Countdown] in France because I was a special MC. It was my first time being able to do something like that, so I did have a bit of pressure. Hanbin hyung was the main MC, and the fact that I was able to do it with him, it was a very cool experience.
After that, I wanted to also get better at all the three languages that I speak, which are French, Korean, and English. And then, maybe in the future, I can get another chance to be an MC. It felt so different because France is really far [from South Korea], right? It was everyone's first time [visiting the country], and it was beautiful.
Releasing Their New Album, Melting Point
Park Gunwook: I think our intention to tell our stories has never altered from our debut album, but we also wanted to show another side of us. In [Youth In The Shade], we wanted to talk more about our identity and who we are as ZEROBASEONE. But Melting Point serves as a chapter where we expand our sound and share our story with the audience and our fans.
We wanted to include some new sounds and powerful performances that we had never presented before. We wanted to show how much we had grown as a team, and how much chemistry we were able to build. Of course, we practiced very hard, but we also had a lot of discussions among ourselves, and we were very open [when] talking with each other.
Kim Taerae: Our debut track "In Bloom" and Melting Point are aligned in the message that we want to walk along with [our fans]. For "Crush," it’s more about, "with all your love and support so far, we are determined to protect you." I think our new album serves as our future direction and our determination for our fans and our music.
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