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Meet ENHYPEN, K-Pop's Latest Breakout Boy Group

The emerging global act tells GRAMMY.com about their debut mini-album, 'BORDER : DAY ONE,' and their plans to take over the worldwide K-pop industry

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2021 - 03:49 am

One of the most exciting K-pop debuts in recent years came at the end of 2020: ENHYPEN. The seven members of the group were selected by fans worldwide after they competed on Mnet's "I-LAND," a South Korean survival reality show. Featuring members who were former trainees under Big Hit Entertainment, the masterminds behind BTS and TOMORROW X TOGETHER, and from various backgrounds, ENHYPEN are now spreading the K-pop agenda worldwide. 

After wrapping up "I-LAND'' in September, the septet immediately began preparing their highly anticipated debut: BORDER : DAY ONE, released last November on Belift Lab, a joint venture between Big Hit and South Korean entertainment company CJ ENM. (Belift Lab are the creators of "I-LAND.")

On BORDER : DAY ONE, ENHYPEN explore a wide range of genres while grappling with their new status as an emerging global act. The album's lead single, "Given-Taken," is a high-energy pop song showcasing the guys' youthful vocals and doubling as a dark power anthem; the song's lyrics tackle the complex question of whether they have earned their coveted spots in the group, or taken them. 

Elsewhere, "Intro: Walk The Line" takes on alternative hip-hop, "Let Me In (20 CUBE)," produced by Big Hit's FRANTS and "Hitman" Bang, mixes reggae with hip-hop, and closer "Outro: Cross The Line" wraps up the album in an eerie, waltz style.

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Since debuting in November, ENHYPEN have taken the international K-pop world by storm. Their debut mini-album broke the record for highest first-week sales in Korea among rookies who debuted in 2020, and they won the Next Leader award, aka rookie of the year, at the Fact Music Awards within 12 days of their debut. Their exploding social media presence also reflects their ability to connect with global fans: They currently have more than 1 million followers on Twitter and more than 3 million followers on TikTok.

Beyond the numbers game, the guys come from diverse backgrounds that align with their goals for world domination: Sunghoon, who gave up a successful career as a competitive figure skater to become an "idol," Sunoo, Heeseung and Jungwon are Korean; Jay is from the U.S.; Jake is Australian; and Ni-ki, the group's youngest member, is Japanese. 

Surrounded by some of the best minds in the industry, ENHYPEN have a promising future ahead of them. With young members who are eager to learn and grow, the group is ready for the burgeoning worldwide success that's on their horizon. Despite debuting in a pandemic, which has caused them to rely on the power of social media to connect with ENGENES, their so-called fan base, all eyes are now on ENHYPEN. 

GRAMMY.com checked in with ENHYPEN to talk about their debut mini-album, BORDER : DAY ONE, and their plans to take over the worldwide K-pop industry. 

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First off, you're making your debut not long after ending "I-LAND." What has the process been like preparing for your debut? Has it been difficult or more demanding than training on the show?

Jake: We did our best to prepare, wanting to meet our fans as soon as possible. We helped each other out and received help from our staff as well, so the preparation process was pretty smooth.

There are huge expectations for your group, with many considering you guys the most anticipated rookie debut. How does it feel to have so much support already? How do you deal with the pressure, if any?

ENHYPEN: We are thankful for all this support, and it motivates us to do even better. We try to take all this as a good energy that fuels us to work hard to show our fans the best version of ENHYPEN. 

Read: BTS Talk Inspiration Behind "Dynamite," New 2020 Album, Gratitude For ARMY & More

A lot of new acts debut in the K-pop industry every year. What do you hope to bring that is new and different from other artists? In your opinion, what makes ENHYPEN special?

ENHYPEN: ENHYPEN's forte is music that is rooted in our own stories and performance and the chemistry between the seven of us … Our teamwork has been getting better and better as we've been together throughout "I-LAND" as well as the process that led to [our] debut. 

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Out of the six tracks on your debut EP, do you each have a song that resonates with you most or that you're most excited to perform?

Jungwon: "Given-Taken" resonated the most because the lyrics reflect our current situation. I'm most excited to perform "Given-Taken" and "10 Months." The latter is a very sweet song. The performance and gestures are more relaxed, and I just really like the song. 

Heeseung: I can't wait to show "10 Months" because it puts a spotlight on ENHYPEN's vocals, dance and charms all at once. The song especially highlights the vocals, so we want to perform it really well. 

Jay: It's "Given-Taken." The lyrics encapsulate the complex emotions that I'm feeling right now, and I want to deliver a genuine performance. 

Jake: "Let Me In (20 CUBE)." This song shows a more groovy side to ourselves, and a performance with all of us in perfect synchronization. 

Sunghoon: It's "Given-Taken" for me. I relate to this song the most because it talks about the complicated emotions of seven boys who have finally achieved their dream of [debuting] and are at the borderline of a new beginning. The performance radiates a dark and powerful energy. 

Sunoo: I like "Let Me In (20 CUBE)" because of its catchiness, but "10 Months" resonated with me the most, because the lyrics [say] that despite looks of a grown-up, we have a lot more room to grow emotionally and mentally mirror ourselves. Also, the cute performance allows us to show fans various facets of ENHYPEN. 

Ni-ki: For me, it's "Let Me In (20 CUBE)." I personally like up-tempo melodies, and I also think this song underscores ENHYPEN's charms really well. 

More K-Pop: TOMORROW X TOGETHER On How Their New 'minisode1 : Blue Hour' EP Marks The Beginning Of A New Era

The lead single, "Given-Taken," addresses the complex emotions you face as you're starting a new beginning, which is fitting for your journey and relatable for a diverse audience. What about your group do you hope resonates most with audiences?

ENHYPEN: "Given-Taken" is a song that we can do at this moment as it captures our current situation. We're really at the beginning right now, so we hope that these complex emotions one has at the verge of a new start resonates with many people. 

You've been working with Big Hit's well-known producers on your EP. Is there anything you have learned about producing or songwriting through the process? How do you hope to make your music your own?

Heeseung: The process of making this album taught me how to polish my rhythm and groove into a final output and about the importance of a good delivery. I will take all this into account for the recording that will come hereafter and make good music. 

Jungwon, as the leader of ENHYPEN, what do you think makes you a good frontman? How would you describe your group's chemistry?

Jungwon: I think the most important thing is communication, so I try to listen to our members' opinions as much as possible. ENHYPEN's chemistry is really solid! 

It must be tough to debut during a pandemic, where you can't perform in front of fans in person. Despite that, you're part of the "digital native" generation that regularly utilizes social media. How do you hope to grow the fan-artist bond you have created for the time being? Is there anything you're looking forward to doing for your fans in person when time allows?

Sunoo: We connected with our fans via socials and livestreams. To keep this connection strong, we want to show them various aspects of ENHYPEN [that] we haven't revealed yet! 

You're obviously very busy, but outside of your recent debut, what have you guys been doing to pass the time? What are your hobbies outside of music and performing?

Ni-ki: We usually watch choreography videos during breaktime or at our dorm because those videos point out what we lack. I personally like soccer clips and movies. We don't have much downtime these days, but I want to go [watch] movies and soccer games with our members soon. 

This is a really exciting time for all of you, and you're getting ready to build your own legacy after various years of training. What are you most excited about for the near future, and what career or debut goals do each of you have? What are some of your biggest dreams?

Jay: My career goal is to become a versatile artist not limited to a certain specialty. And throughout all that process, to be close to our fans. As for now, I wish we could perform on the global stage with the costumes I created or took part in designing. 

Lastly, for those unfamiliar with your stint on "I-LAND," what is the most important thing people should know about ENHYPEN going forward?

Sunghoon: ENHYPEN grows together by connecting one another. Our group's goal is to connect worlds and people through our music.

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Sam Smith performing in 2014
Sam Smith performs at Q102's Jingle Ball in Philadelphia in 2014.

Photo: Taylor Hill/WireImage

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How Sam Smith's 'In The Lonely Hour' Became An LGBTQIA+ Trailblazer

As Sam Smith’s massive debut album turns 10, revisit some of the ways it broke ground for the LGBTQIA+ community — from supporting same-sex marriage to making GRAMMY history.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 04:11 pm

Before launching their own solo career, Sam Smith had already teased their pop prowess by guesting on two bonafide dance classics, Disclosure's deep house anthem "Latch" in 2012 and Naughty Boy's two-step garage throwback "La La La" in 2013. And upon debuting their own work in 2014 with In The Lonely Hour, Smith instantly cemented themselves as the master of the heartbreak ballad — and one of pop's new pioneers.

Self-described as the "diary from a lonely 21-year-old," the record was inspired by the love Smith felt toward an unnamed man which, it seems fair to say, wasn't exactly reciprocated. "I don't have that many sad things going on in my life and it was the only thing that was really affecting me last year," they explained to Digital Spy ahead of In The Lonely Hour's release. "So, it's my way of defining what is love, and how unrequited love is just as painful, just as powerful, as what we call 'normal' love." And audiences both in their homeland and across the pond immediately latched on to its overarching theme.

Largely produced by hitmaking extraordinaire Jimmy Napes (Clean Bandit, Mary J. Blige), In The Lonely Hour reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, spawned five hit singles, and, in an era when the album format was commercially struggling, sold a remarkable 8.5 million copies across the globe. And alongside the chart success, the sold-out tours, and the four GRAMMY wins on the same night, the blockbuster LP also became a force for good, and a force for change, within the LGBTQIA+ community.

A decade on from its stateside release (June 17), we take a look at why In The Lonely Hour was such a landmark album for the music industry as a whole, but especially for a new queer generation.

It Made GRAMMY History

Smith famously put their foot in their mouth while picking up Best Original Song at the 2016 Academy Awards for Bond theme "Writing's On the Wall," wrongly declaring — much to Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's disdain — that they were the first ever openly gay Oscar winner. However, the Brit can lay claim to being an LGBTQIA+ trailblazer at the GRAMMYs.

The year before his acceptance speech faux pas, Smith became the first member of the LGBTQIA+ community to win Best New Artist. The singer also won Best Pop Vocal Album for In the Lonely Hour, while "Stay With Me" was crowned both Record and Song Of The Year. (Eight years later, Smith then made history again as the first ever non-binary GRAMMY winner when their Kim Petras collaboration "Unholy" scooped Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2023.)

It Used Gender Neutral Pronouns

The use of pronouns has played a big part in Smith's career. And though they officially announced their they/them change in 2019, the singer refused to commit to a particular gender on their debut album. While In The Lonely Hour was based on their infatuation with an uninterested man, the Brit purposely left things ambiguous, as they explained to Fader at the time of its release.

"[It's] important to me that my music reaches everybody. I've made [it] so that it could be about anything and everybody — whether it's a guy, a female or a goat — and everybody can relate to that." This inclusive approach has also been adapted by several other artists, including singer/songwriter Bruno Major, whonoted how Smith's material "can be listened to by anybody of any sexuality and gender and still apply."

It Advocated For Same-Sex Marriage

While Smith kept all pronouns neutral on record, they were far more specific when it came to In The Lonely Hour's visuals. In the tearjerking video for "Lay Me Down," a flashback shows the Brit getting hitched to their boyfriend in the same church where the latter is later laid to rest. Although gay marriage had been made legal in the UK a year prior to the video's 2015 release, it was still illegal for same-sex couples to wed within the Church of England.

In a Facebook message posted to coincide with its premiere, Smith said, "This video shows my dreams that one day gay men and women and transgendered men and women all over the world, like all our straight families and friends, will be able to get married under any roof, in any city, in any town, in any village, in any country." Smith later performed the album's biggest hit, "Stay With Me," in front of President Joe Biden at the 2022 signing of the Respect for Marriage Act.

It Ventured Into Cishet Territory

Before Smith came along, the modern heartbreak ballad — the kind of emotionally devastating anthem that can reduce an entire stadium crowd to a blubbering wreck — had typically been the domain of heterosexual/cis-identifying artists such as Adele and Ed Sheeran.

However, thanks to radio-friendly chart hits such as "Lay Me Down," "Stay With Me," and "I'm Not The Only One," In The Lonely Hour proved mainstream audiences, no matter their sexual orientation or gender, could be equally moved by candid tales of queer love. Smith's lyrical themes may have been specific to their own situation, but they could just as easily be interpreted on a universal level. Soon after, LGBTQIA+ singers such as "Britain's Got Talent" graduate Calum Scott and Eurovision Song Contest winner Duncan Laurence were mining a similar tragi-romantic path to hugely commercial effect.

It Channeled A Feminine Energy

The tactile way Smith addressed their unrequited love — not to mention, how much it was embraced by the mainstream — meant that In The Lonely Hour wasn't considered an explicitly LGBTQIA+ album at the time. Yet, the singer insists they were deliberately trying to challenge notions of gender, sexuality and masculinity.

Speaking to Out five years after the album's release, Smith revealed it was, in fact, partly influenced by one of the all-time gay icons. "I'm in a suit and in that suit, I was channeling Judy Garland. I look back on those videos of me when I was 20, and I see a feminine energy." They further explained they were surprised when the record wasn't initially interpreted as intended. But thanks to Smith's non-binary journey, the album's inherent queerness has unarguably now become more apparent.

It Opened The Door For Several LGBTQIA+ Artists

Smith confirmed they were gay in the same week In The Lonely Hour hit the shelves, acknowledging the record was "about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn't love me back." And the matter-of-fact way they spoke about their sexuality inspired several other artists to follow suit.

In 2017, Troye Sivan cited Smith as a role model for coming out without making any grand gestures. Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander has also applauded his fellow Brit for refusing to hide their true identity. Even some of Smith's collaborators, including Petras and Cat Burns, have touted the singer's self-assurance.

Indeed, while artists in less enlightened times often felt compelled to keep their sexuality under wraps, Smith has been able to express their true self from the outset. As a result, a generation of artists have seen that queerness needn't be a barrier to commercial success — and that celebrating it can change culture in a powerful way.

Listen To GRAMMY.com's 2024 Pride Month Playlist Of Rising LGBTQIA+ Artists

Normani in 2023
Normani attends Elle's Women In Hollywood event in 2023.

Photo: MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images

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Breaking Down Normani's Journey To 'Dopamine': How Her Debut Album Showcases Resilience & Star Power

The wait for Normani's first album, 'Dopamine,' is officially over. Upon the album's arrival, reflect on all of the major moments that have happened in the six years since she made her solo debut.

GRAMMYs/Jun 14, 2024 - 09:39 pm

All eyes are on Normani as her long-awaited debut album, Dopamine, arrives to eager fans and critics alike on June 14. It arrives more than six years after Normani made her solo debut post-Fifth Harmony — and though she has released a number of singles since, even her most loyal listeners were bewildered by the delay of her debut project. But the 28-year-old has been strategic in building something timeless.

"I took the time to learn and develop my sound. I wanted to be different and create a body of work that's unique but still fresh and exciting," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "There were many days of trial and error trying to perfect something that embodies who I am and the type of artist I wanted to be. I always knew that I had to trust myself even when others doubted me and questioned my hunger."

On the highly anticipated Dopamine, Normani's womanhood and artistic breadth effortlessly glides across its 13 tracks. She makes no apologies for her sexier image and music after years of "feeling safe with being seen, but not too seen," as she told Teen Vogue in 2020. That newfound confidence translates into a musical paradise that's a far cry from her Fifth Harmony days. Up until now, the world has only received Normani's talent in snippets here and there; Dopamine finally gives us the full dose.

As you dig into Dopamine, take a look at a complete breakdown of every major moment that's led to Normani's long-awaited debut project.

2018: She Re-Introduced Herself As An R&B Star

A mere month prior to Fifth Harmony's hiatus announcement, a then 21-year-old Normani teamed up with Khalid for her first-ever single as a solo act, "Love Lies." Penned for the Love, Simon soundtrack, the sultry R&B number foreshadowed Normani's imminent success outside of Fifth Harmony; not only did it crack the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it hit No. 1 on both Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 and Radio Songs charts.

At the tail end of 2018, Normani delivered another R&B jam, the hazy, slow-burning duet with 6lack, "Waves," which found success on multiple R&B charts. Though somewhat forgotten compared to "Motivation" and "Wild Side" (more on those later), "Waves" shows off Normani's vocal range as she laments over an on-again, off-again relationship.

2019: She Celebrated A Global Smash & Massive Opening Act Slot

Normani struck gold again in 2019 when she teamed up with Sam Smith for "Dancing With a Stranger," which became the most-played radio song in the world that year, according to Forbes. Sonically speaking, the disco-tinged oasis marked new territory for Normani — and it paid off in a big way as it boasts over a billion Spotify streams and remains her biggest single to date.

The singer's star continued shining bright into that summer, when she served as the opener for the North American leg of Ariana Grande's Sweetener Tour. The arena trek marked her first opportunity to show off her performing skills, and further prove her prowess as a solo act.

On the heels of the international success of "Dancing With a Stranger" and touring with Grande, Normani released her first fully solo single, "Motivation." The bubbly track presented a poppier side and offered a fun moment with its Y2K-inspired video, even igniting a viral dance challenge. But it seemingly wasn't indicative of the direction she was headed; at the time, Normani admitted to The Cut that she "didn't feel like it represented" her as an artist.

Still, "Motivation" served as a pivotal moment for Normani. It became a top 20 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Top 40 chart, and she delivered a showstopping performance of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards — which even earned the title of 2019's best performance from Harper's Bazaar.

2020 & 2021: She Teamed Up With Two Of Rap's Biggest Female Stars

The next couple of years saw Normani continue linking up with several of her peers. She first joined forces with Megan Thee Stallion for the anthemic "Diamonds" — which brilliantly samples Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" — off the Birds of Prey soundtrack. Soon after, she teamed up with Megan again — this time, for a jaw-dropping cameo in the video for the chart-topping smash "WAP" with Cardi B.

"WAP" drew criticism for its sexually explicit lyrics (and equally racy video), but the message aligned perfectly with Normani's mission to champion and represent Black women in and outside of the music industry. 

"The 'WAP' video I was really, really excited to be a part of, just because I feel like we're in a time in music where women — and Black women — are really on top, which is something I feel like we haven't seen in a very, very long time," she told Teen Vogue. "Where I come from, we were all about female empowerment. The fact that I could be a part of such a special moment embracing our sexuality, in which I definitely think there's a double standard, [was exciting] to be a part of it."

In 2021, Normani took her turn with Cardi B on another fiery track, "Wild Side," which saw her return to her R&B foundation while also continuing her artistic evolution. From sampling Aaliyah's "One in a Million" to executing the intricate choreography seen in the Tanu Muino-directed video, the '90s-inspired slow jam — which closes out Dopamine — whet fans' appetite and established Normani as a force to be reckoned with in R&B and beyond.

2022: She Traversed Several Different Musical Worlds

Keeping fans on their toes, Normani veered away slightly from her signature R&B sound by incorporating synth-pop into the one-off single "Fair." The mid-tempo track put the spotlight on her vulnerability; the lyrics deal with watching a past lover move on as if you never existed.

"This one is really unique and different for me. Probably not what everyone is expecting," she said in an Instagram story ahead of the release.

A few months later, Normani dove deeper into the dance genre by lending her light and airy vocals to Calvin Harris' "New to You," a collaboration that also featured Tinashe and Offset. But she never strayed too far from her R&B stylings, as she also teamed up with childhood friend Josh Levi for a remix of his song "Don't They" that summer.

2023: She Ushered In A New Era

Though 2023 didn't see any new music from Normani, she made some business moves that indicated she was ready for a reset. That May, Normani parted ways with S10 Entertainment and Brandon Silverstein after signing a new management deal with Brandon Creed and Lydia Asrat — signifying a new chapter and much-needed change in direction. 

"The transition signified a new beginning, filled with hopes of  moving forward and getting things done that were important to me," Normani tells GRAMMY.com. "I was faced with many obstacles over the years, some that you would not believe. But through it all, my faith in God kept me aligned with what I felt was right for me."

A couple months later, Normani launched a partnership with Bose that saw her give a first preview of the assertive Dopamine track "Candy Paint." She also offered some insight to the album delays, which partially stemmed from her parents' health struggles.

"It was hard feeling misunderstood because of the lack of knowledge people had for my circumstances in real-time. I don't even know if I had the energy to explain — my emotional, spiritual and mental endurance was really tested," she explained to Dazed. "When my parents got sick, I didn't have the mental capacity to even try to be creative, but I pushed myself anyway. If it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have, but I know it's what got them through such a tough time — they needed to see me persevere and push through and continue to move forward."

As she shared with Bose, crafting Dopamine ended up being a creative outlet for Normani and offered a sign of hope for her and her parents during their respective treatments.

"(When my mom was going through chemo) the thing that really kept her going was getting on FaceTime and being like, 'How are the sessions going?' She's always so eager to hear the new records we've been working on," she said. "And then a year later, when my dad ended up being diagnosed, he would say mid treatment, 'I'm ready for you to take over the world.'"

2024: She Completed A Hard-Fought Journey

By the beginning of 2024, even Normani couldn't help but acknowledge how long fans had been waiting for her debut LP. She facetiously launched a website called wheresthedamnalbum.com — but it actually served as the official kickoff to the album campaign.

Two months after she shared the album's title and stunning cover art on the site, Normani delivered the guitar-driven lead single "1:59" arrived, as well as a release date for Dopamine.

Despite a series of false starts and personal challenges, Dopamine is proof that Normani is as resilient as they come — and this project was well worth the wait. Opening tracks "Big Boy" and "Still" flex her swag, whereas Janet Jackson-coded tunes like "All Yours" and "Lights On" (co-written with Victoria Monét) ooze sensual vibes. While the album mostly caters to her R&B foundation, she touches on her dance music dabblings with the house-leaning"Take My Time." 

Dopamine even offered a full-circle moment for Normani, who has cited Brandy as one of her biggest musical inspirations. The R&B trailblazer lends background vocals to "Insomnia," which also features hypnotic production from Stargate

As Normani embraces her close-up, she's keenly aware that the stakes are high, but it's a moment she's been ready for all along.

"I hope [fans] see the passion and the hard work that I have put into creating something so special," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I love my fans and how they have been patiently waiting and supporting me over the years. I hope the wait was worth it for them and they are proud of what we have accomplished together."

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TWICE's Nayeon On Embracing Authenticity For 'NA'
Nayeon

Courtesy of JYP Entertainment

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The ABCDs Of Nayeon: How The TWICE Member Embraced Her Authenticity On ‘NA’

With her second solo release, K-pop idol Im Nayeon is unapologetically confident and boldly experimental. Out June 14, 'NA' contains English and Korean language tracks alongside collaborations with prominent Korean artists.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 05:20 pm

K-pop idol Im Nayeon is a pioneer with many firsts attached to her name: She was the first to become a member of TWICE, the first from the group to go solo, and was the first-ever K-pop soloist to enter the Billboard Top 10. Now, Nayeon is the first member of TWICE to release a second solo album. 

Nearly two years after her solo debut, Nayeon arrives with a new mini-album, NA —  the title a play on her name and the Korean word for "me." The seven-track record highlights the singer’s unapologetic nature, exploring themes of self-confidence, romance, and tenacity. Nayeon has certainly had to be tenacious in her road to the new EP.

"I don’t know if you can tell, but I really can’t believe that this moment is [finally] happening," Nayeon tells GRAMMY.com. "I really wanted to showcase myself as a confident woman this time around."

NA contains a mix of English and Korean language tracks alongside collaborations with prominent Korean artists. Throughout, the singer tackles pop, R&B, dance and electro-pop with ease. Lead single "ABCD" takes inspiration from 2000s era pop divas, adding hints of hip-hop as Nayeon teaches the A-Zs of love with witty lyrics and a magnetizing rhythm. While Nayeon has previously sung about love with flirtatious undertones, "ABCD" shows the singer's straightforward intentions. 

It seems becoming a superstar was fated for the Seoul native. When she was young, Nayeon caught the attention of agents at JYP Entertainment from a modeling contest — however, given her age, her mother refused to let her sign with an entertainment agency. At 14, Nayeon defied her mom's decision and snuck out of her home to attend JYPE’s 2010 open casting, where she passed the audition and ranked in second place. With her strong ambition to pursue an idol career, Nayeon decided to join JYPE as a trainee that same year.

After three years of training, she was slated to debut as a member of a girl group 6MIX. However, the debut was scrapped afterJYPE was unable to find replacements for members that exited the project. In 2015, Nayeon was chosen from a pool of trainees to enter JYPE’s survival program "Sixteen," and became the first member chosen for nine-piece girl group TWICE. Nayeon is the group's face, as well as its eldest member, lead vocalist, and dancer. 

Nayeon has since become one of the most recognizable members of TWICE, best known for her impressive vocal range and warm essence. Her public image became the epitome of an animated K-pop idol, always exhibiting her youthful personality and sunny disposition to everyone she encounters. Over the course of nine years together in TWICE and hundreds of releases later, Nayeon has proved herself to be the spine of the global girl group. 

Read more: TWICE Reflect On Milestone Moments & Latest 'With YOU-th' EP

Nayeon introduced herself to the world as a soloist in June 2022 with her debut album IM NAYEON, a high-spirited and feel-good summer EP that showcased her perky identity. The album hit No.1 on Billboard's Top Album Sales chart — the highest-selling album in the week of its release — and debuted No .7 on the Billboard 200. Lead single "POP!" has since turned into a fan-favorite, and remains a singalong anthem at TWICE’s concerts two years later. 

While IM NAYEON built off her easy going nature, NA will leave fans enamored by Nayeon’s artistic awakening and newly matured chapter in her solo career. The album’s trailer and concept photos unveiled Nayeon’s assured, hip and hot appeal — a side she has yet to show as a soloist. 

GRAMMY.com caught up with Nayeon via Zoom to learn more about the creation of NA, and how the past two years have impacted her as a soloist and individual. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Is there anything that feels different in terms of releasing NA nearly two years after your solo debut album?

Because my first solo album was the first solo work ever done by a member of TWICE, the pressure was pretty high. There was fear in me, as well, to try something completely new. But since [NA] is my second album as a soloist, I did [my best] to enjoy the ride more this time around. 

I can't say that I'm completely comfortable right now being a solo artist. But compared to [IM NAYEON], I'm much more at ease about it. 

Is there anything new you wanted to showcase this time around in NA?

The performance for the title song "ABCD" is quite different from what I have typically been showing [as TWICE]. So [in that essence], this is what’s new and challenging for [NA].

The performance itself is very powerful, and I wanted to express a bold and cool side of me. Of course, I have shown that side of me [before] during TWICE concerts or performances, but with "ABCD," I want it to be different from [IM NAYEON] specifically, which was just a totally different vibe [in comparison]. 

Does it feel easier to showcase this bolder side of yourself now that you've been a soloist for a few years?

Since I have been working as one of the members of TWICE for so long, I think it feels more meaningful if I show a different side of me through my solo work. So [while] it's new and fun, I can't say that it's easier.

I think it'll be fun for our fans. They receive it really well when we show off a different side of [ourselves]. [Our fans] encourage us a lot so I think it's a great change of pace.

You collaborated with a variety of artists on NA, including American singer/songwriter Sam Kim and K-pop artists Lee Chan-hyuk (AKMU) and Julie (KISS OF LIFE). How was that experience for you?

When I work as [TWICE], there are so many of us that it's really hard to collaborate with other artists. We don't really get that opportunity that often. But when it comes to solo work, it's a really fun and rewarding experience to work with many different artists. 

I haven't really gotten the chance to meet and talk with the artists featured on my album, but it was me who initiated the collaboration process. I specifically asked Lee Chanhyuk, Julie, and Sam Kim to collaborate with me. [That] was a really new experience for me and it just felt great.

I’ve been a huge fan of Lee Chanhyuk for a very long time, so that’s why I specifically asked for him to [help produce] in ["HalliGalli"]. For the song "Magic," we were looking for a female rapper and I had my eye on Julie from KISS OF LIFE. After seeing her perform, I loved [her]! So I very strongly suggested my opinion to have her feature with me on this track. 

Read more: 11 Rookie K-Pop Acts To Know In 2024: NCT Wish, RIIZE, Kiss Of Life & More

It seems like you’re revealing more of yourself with NA. Would you say that this new album is an extension to IM NAYEON?

Oh, of course! The concept and overall theme is much different from [IM NAYEON]. But since both [albums] focus on me as an artist, I think you can say that some parts are an extension while other parts reveal a different side of me.

Were there any expectations or challenges you faced during the album-making process?

Although "POP!" also featured intense choreography, "ABCD" demands a different kind of expression — prompting me to focus more on the performance aspect. 

Additionally, as this is a solo album, I must exert more energy compared to performing with a group. I have to command the entire stage alone for one song. Consequently, I am somewhat concerned that people may perceive me as exhausted, though I will do my best to prevent that! 

Since the release of IM NAYEON, how have you evolved as a person and an artist?

Many people saw that [IM NAYEON] really suited me and my public image. In [NA], I’m revealing a more confident and new side of me. The performance and concept challenged me to evolve [as an artist] in that aspect. 

I have grown a lot as an individual. I released my first solo debut album, and in TWICE, we just completed a huge scale world tour. Next year marks the 10th anniversary for [TWICE] as well. These past few years have been a period of self reflection with the opportunity for [more] growth. 

I have really come to realize why I chose this profession. That realization became a drive as an artist to keep moving forward and improve [upon] myself. 

Read more: Inside SoFi Stadium At TWICE’s Record-Breaking L.A. Show

Over the course of your career, are there important lessons or insights you’ve learned?

I think one of the biggest insights I’ve noticed in the past few years is how valuable the members of TWICE are [to me]. There are things that I cannot do alone but am able to do because TWICE are right beside me. I realized that my fears go away when I’m with the TWICE members. I have come to appreciate them even more over the last few years. I realized even more now how important their existence is to me while working as a solo artist. 

It seems as if TWICE are your encouragement and driving force.

Yes, they really are! 

TWICE's Jihyo Takes Steps Into Her 'Zone' On Debut EP

Lana Del Rey performing in 2024
Lana Del Rey performs at the 2024 Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona.

Photo: Xavi Torrent/Redferns

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Levels Of Lana: 12 Songs To Explore Lana Del Rey's Career For Every Kind Of Fan

As Lana Del Rey's third album, 'Ultraviolence,' turns 10, build — or expand — your knowledge of the melancholy pop queen's catalog.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 03:12 pm

When it comes to exploring Lana Del Rey's discography, it can be hard to know where to start. The pop songstress has a sprawling catalog, consisting of nine albums, four EPs, and a handful of other standalone singles.

You could begin with Born To Die, her highly influential major label debut, or its moody follow-up, Ultraviolence, her first to top the Billboard charts and ultimately establish her staying power as an artist. Perhaps you choose to start with her Album Of The Year GRAMMY nominees Norman F—ing Rockwell! or Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.

Or maybe you're an incredibly diehard fan with encyclopedic knowledge who wants to start where it all began, on Rey's first album Lana Del Ray (note the spelling difference), which never saw official physical release and contained just a rough draft of the cultural force Del Rey would become.

Following Del Rey's career is rewarding, but requires some commitment to listen to, and understand, everything she's put out. It can be intimidating to approach an artist with such a robust, varied catalog. You can go with more mainstream pop offerings like her collaborations with Taylor Swift and The Weeknd, or dive into something more inspired by the orchestra like early track "National Anthem." This is true for fans with any amount of exposure to Del Rey, from those just discovering her music to those looking to become an expert.

As Ultraviolence turns 10, GRAMMY.com presents the levels of Lana, a series of jumping off points to explore all the music Del Rey has to offer. Dig into three songs across four different levels of fandom — Beginner, Intermediate, Expert, and Diehard — to further your Lana knowledge. These songs give a peek into various aspects of Del Rey's body of work, and serve as encouragement to continue exploring.

Beginner

"Summertime Sadness," Born to Die (2012)

The Beginner Level of Lana is for those who have heard of Del Rey, but have never sat down with her music before. This makes "Summertime Sadness," her biggest song to date, the perfect place to start.

It's reductive to simply label Del Rey's oeuvre "sad girl music," but for the uninitiated, it's a simple descriptor to start with. "Summertime Sadness" combines the pop production, elements of classical music, and existential despair that is present throughout Del Rey's career. And Cedric Gervais' remix has turned "Summertime Sadness" into a club banger to help her appeal to those who gravitate more to the dance floor.

"Young and Beautiful," The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann's Film (2013)

It speaks to Del Rey's cultural reach and musical vision that a non-album single is one of her most iconic songs. Written for the 2013 The Great Gatsby movie adaptation, "Young and Beautiful" also serves as a helpful thematic introduction to Del Rey.

Throughout her writing, Del Rey examines youth, Americana, and the American Dream, and how each of these uniquely American ideals are full of decay and liable to corruption and disappointment. On "Young and Beautiful," she asks if her lover will still care when she's no longer either of those things, and the somber tone indicates the likely answer. This song will introduce fans to Del Rey's penchant for using orchestral backing for her music, and illustrate how intertwined with popular culture she really is. 

"Mariners Apartment Complex," Norman F—ing Rockwell! (2019)

The past two songs have introduced Del Rey's "sad girl" persona, but over the years, she has evolved far past being so easily defined. "Mariners Apartment Complex" is the perfect next step for beginners, opening up the popular perception to her to reveal more of her complexity.

Lyrically, it finds Del Rey pushing back on sorrow being her only emotion. Musically, it's a great introduction to more of the ethereal, synth-filled sound that has come out of her partnership with superproducer Jack Antonoff. And in terms of placing her within the culture, "Mariners Apartment Complex" is the first single from her sixth album Norman F—ing Rockwell!, which earned Del Rey her first Album Of The Year nomination in 2019.

Intermediate

"Brooklyn Baby," Ultraviolence (2014)

At the Intermediate level, it's time to start getting into more of the nuances that Del Rey brings to her writing — and, in turn, how much she's influenced her peers, and how respected she is amongst them.

"Brooklyn Baby" is some of her sharpest writing, equal parts playful needling and affectionate tribute to the snooty New York art scene. One of the most indelible tracks off of Ultraviolence, the song epitomizes the entire record's move towards more rock instrumentation, with a guitar-based sound. It references legendary rock artist Lou Reed, who was slated to appear on the track before his death in late 2013, showing just how highly she's thought of by other artists.

"Love," Lust for Life (2017)

For as much as Del Rey recognizes how fallible many of our culture's ideals are, she's always been a romantic. "Love," the first single from 2017's Lust for Life, is a prime example of this.

The whole album is a big play on her love of classic Hollywood imagery, including the video for "Love," and the song is a dreamy throwback to '50s love songs. If "Mariners Apartment Complex" chides anyone thinking Del Rey can only be sad, "Love" is a full rebuke, as it's one of her most straightforwardly optimistic tracks. Commercially, "Love" was Del Rey's highest-charting feat since Ultraviolence (landing at No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100), further establishing that she had longevity. 

"Chemtrails over the Country Club," Chemtrails over the Country Club (2021)

2020 and the pandemic did a number on everyone, radically altering lives and shaking faith in many of the institutions of everyday life. That unmooring is felt on Del Rey's seventh album, Chemtrails over the Country Club, and particularly on its title track.

Del Rey is as sharp as ever in exploring the pulse of American society on the dreamy, disaffected number. "You're in the wind, I'm in the water/ Nobody's son, nobody's daughter" is a breathtaking piece of writing that became a TikTok favorite, illustrating Del Rey's continuing ability to relate to the youth. 

Expert

"F—ed My Way Up To the Top," Ultraviolence (2014)

As we enter the realm of the Expert Lana Del Rey fan, we're firmly out of album singles territory. From here, it's all deep cuts and non-album tracks.

Del Rey has been no stranger to controversy — some warranted, some not. An early knock against her was that the mid-20th century aesthetic and perceived submissiveness in her music was anti-women or anti-feminist, a surface-level reading that in the years since has been largely dispelled. 

The singer has worked to combat it herself on tracks like Ultraviolence's "F—ed My Way Up To the Top," which takes that perceived notion to its extreme. At the same time, it's another in a long line of tracks in which Del Rey has embraced her own sexuality and sensuality as something to be celebrated and claimed, not something to be ashamed of. 

"Art Deco," Honeymoon (2015)

2015's Honeymoon isn't necessarily underappreciated, as it received positive reviews upon release debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, but "Art Deco" isn't likely to appear on many playlists. It should, though, as the track illustrates how much of musical chameleon Del Rey really is, with a sultry, hip-hop inspired rolling beat. 

It treads some familiar territory thematically with trying to find acceptance in night life, but Del Rey is really comfortable here. She shows more of her knowledge of art history by relating the subject of the song to the defining characteristics of the titular art movement, revealing just how much thought she puts into her aesthetic.

"Fingertips," Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (2023)

Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is arguably Del Rey's most intimate album, exploring details of her family and their history that fans have only previously seen brief glimpses of. At the same time, it is partially an examination of her own legacy and work, only natural for someone with as much output as Del Rey, let alone her frequent references to death and finality.

Both of these things combine in "Fingertips," a standout track from the album. A nearly six-minute long ballad, it's musically airy while emotionally devastating — and, for a true Del Rey fan, encapsulates so much of her legacy in just one song.

Diehard

"Yayo," Paradise (2012)

For fans in the Diehard level, everything before is old news. This is for fans who want to fully live the Lana life, who have all her albums on vinyl and have carefully built their image and fashion around her.

Speaking of her image, this section starts with "Yayo," an extremely early deep cut. This track originally appeared on Lana Del Ray before being reworked and rereleased on the Paradise EP in 2012. The song leans heavier than most into the '50s imagery and floats along at a dreamy, lilting pace. While not as refined as her later work, "Yayo" is an indicator Del Rey had a solid idea of who she wanted to be as soon as she started.

"Season of the Witch," Non-album Single (2019)

Del Rey has done several covers throughout her career, and quite successfully. Norman F—ing Rockwell! features her cover of Sublime's "Doin' Time," which is one of the highlight tracks from the record. Less known is Del Rey's spooky cover of '60s classic "Season of the Witch." 

Written for the 2019 horror film Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the song fits Del Rey's style perfectly. The Americana/flower crown aesthetic of her younger years always leaned witch-adjacent, and Del Rey takes her soft vocals into playfully sinister territory. It's a fun cover, and shows just how many gems Del Rey has in her discography for those fans willing to dig. 

"Say Yes to Heaven," Non-album Single (2023)

"Say Yes to Heaven" was never supposed to be heard. A late cut from Ultraviolence, the track remained buried for years before being leaked in 2016. It lurked on the internet, only known to superfans, before gaining steam with the rise of TikTok and finally seeing an official release in 2023.

The deep cut is peak Del Rey ballad material, a tender love song imploring her partner to accept happiness. It's another rebuke of the idea that she can't be happy, and it gives insight into some of her earlier writing.

As a resurfaced older track, "Say Yes to Heaven" may not necessarily indicate the direction Lana Del Rey is set to go on her forthcoming album, Lasso (especially considering Del Rey has teased she's "going country" for her next release). But it's a beautiful reminder of the affecting narratives and arresting vocals that have made her beloved to so many, no matter the level of fandom.

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