meta-scriptENHYPEN On Trying New Sounds On 'Manifesto: Day 1': "We Worked Really Hard To Show An Improved Version Of Ourselves" |
ENHYPEN Press Photo 2022



ENHYPEN On Trying New Sounds On 'Manifesto: Day 1': "We Worked Really Hard To Show An Improved Version Of Ourselves"

K-pop septet ENHYPEN detail why it was important to explore genres like Chicago drill and rap on their third mini album, 'MANIFESTO: DAY 1.'

GRAMMYs/Jul 11, 2022 - 07:22 pm

Since their debut in late 2020, ENHYPEN have been heralded as the next big thing in K-pop. Formed by Belift Lab — a joint venture between entertainment companies HYBE (home of BTS and TXT) and CJ ENM (KCON producer) — the guys have had a strong backing and big shoes to follow. But they've consistently lived up to the hype.

ENHYPEN's first two album series, BORDER and DIMENSION, saw the seven-member group achieve record-breaking sales and grow their fanbase rapidly — even selling a million copies of their debut studio album, DIMENSION: DILEMMA, last year. 

Now that their spot is cemented, the septet are exploring the world on their own terms with their third mini album, MANIFESTO: DAY 1. Released on July 4, the project explores diverse genres like Chicago drill, pop rock, alt rock, and old school hip-hop. 

From the start, ENHYPEN have aimed to be the voice of their generation through their lyrics and messages. But at their core, they're just seven young boys who love music. This is palpable as sat with them via Zoom, where Jungwon, Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo, and Ni-ki excitedly discuss their involvement in creating MANIFESTO: DAY 1 and their upcoming fall tour.

In just a 30-minute conversation, it was clear that ENHYPEN are enjoying the ride they're on together. They laugh at each other's jokes and finish each other's sentences — and combining that chemistry with their sonic connection on MANIFESTO: DAY 1, all of their success makes perfect sense.

You just wrapped up your first trilogy of albums, which means the end of your introduction to the music world. What lessons are you taking away from the last two years of being rookies? What impression do you hope listeners have?

Jungwon: K-pop has been popular for a while so, not only us, but also the public grows as well, and their expectations get really high. I think we tend to work even harder to live up to those high expectations. 

We constantly think about how we can bring in something new, something fresh to the public. We're trying to bring as many new genres as possible and try as many genres as possible. For this album, theme-wise, it's called a manifesto. We're declaring a lot of our own stories in this album as well.

MANIFESTO: DAY 1 is a step forward as you guys mature as a group. Have you gotten to challenge yourselves with the making of this album? What can we expect to change about the group going forward?

Heeseung: For this album, we have tried this new genre called Chicago drill, and it's also our first time trying rap. I don't know how that's gonna be received. Jake also participated in writing the lyrics. Some of the members took part in making the cover designs, so we were directly involved in the album-making process. I'm sure ENGENE will love this album. 

As you mentioned you guys are showcasing your rapping skills on "Future Perfect". Why was this the right time to add this new layer to your music, and what do you think it adds to the song?

Ni-ki: "Future Perfect" is a song that declares "we will take the leap forward, come along with us" to everyone in our generation. So, we tried many new different things for this album, you know, the rapping and also performance-wise. We worked really hard to show an improved version of ourselves.

Jake, you participated in songwriting for "SHOUT OUT." What can you say about your involvement in this song? And what would you like to write about in the future?

Jake: When we first got the song, they told us that it was going to be a song that we can really connect with our fans and perform with our fans, like sing-along together. So in my mind, I had to kind of imagine what I would feel and what I would experience when we go on a tour or perform to our fans in person. 

It's pretty fun writing the lyrics. And also, when I heard that my lyrics got chosen for this song, I was really excited and really honored to be a part of the song.

What is enticing about some of the genres that you've tried this time? 

Heeseung: We actually enjoy listening to different genres of music and each member has very different styles in music as well. We prepared something very new to show that we have grown this much. 

For the title track, we're speaking to our peers in our generation. For the track "ParadoXXX Invasion," we are actually taking a jab at adults, so we're kind of delivering these strong messages through our music. I think the process of listening to them, practicing them and making our own music is very attractive. When we listen to the final result, it's, you know, very attractive.

Are there any genres that you haven't tried yet that you'd like to try? What genre best showcases ENHYPEN's style?

Jake (pointing at Heeseung): He wants to try slow jams.

Heeseung: A cappella too.

Jake: I like jazz!

Heeseung: Gospel! Or like Brian McKnight. Do you know Brian McKnight?


Heeseung: I want to do that style.

Jay: We're still on a journey to find our unique color. We're trying many different genres for that journey. Usually, for our title tracks, we convey these very strong images through our title tracks but, also, at the same time, for every album we have these soft-pop vibes like "TFW" and "Polaroid Love" for B-side tracks. I think we're really working hard and really trying to bring as many different genres as possible.

Jungwon: We used to do hip-hop and refreshing concepts like before. Now that we did Chicago drill, it's something very new and unfamiliar to us. I can't even imagine what we're going to do next. Something very new. 

Jay: Maybe opera.

Do you each have a favorite track on this album?

Jake: For me it has to be "SHOUT OUT."

Jungwon: "SHOUT OUT"? Me too!

Jake: Oh really? Let's go!

Sunghoon: "Future Perfect."

Ni-ki: "Future Perfect."


Heeseung: "ParadoXXX Invasion" and "SHOUT OUT."

Jay: My favorite is "SHOUT OUT."

You guys are gearing up for your first U.S. tour this fall. What cities would you hope to perform at and what are you nervous or excited about regarding the tour?

Sunoo: It's actually our first time going on a tour — we have never toured before. So we want to go to many different regions. We're planning to go to six cities in the U.S. this time. We participated in KPOP.FLEX [festival in] Germany not long ago, and we received so much energy from the fans in person, so we hope that we can receive as much good energy through this tour as well.

What are your future goals as a group? What do you think fans should take note of when they listen to this new album?

Jake: Our goal was always the same from the beginning. It was to meet our fans in person more often and show our fans what we can do on stage. As a group, we want to always grow in terms of music and performing, and in general, we always want to grow and become the best version of ourselves.

Jungwon: It is the most important thing to meet our fans and bond with our fans in person. I also hope that our music reaches not only our fans, but the public — the audience will enjoy listening to the music, and I think that will be really great.

What sets ENHYPEN apart from other 4th gen Kpop acts? Is there a message in your music that resonates with you most?

Sunghoon: I think our strength is doing music that our peers can really relate to. I hope that we can continue to be artists that can declare the thoughts and ideas of our peers on their behalf.

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ENHYPEN And JVKE "Say Yes" To Cross-Cultural Collabs & Exploring New Genres

The K-pop group and American songwriter/multi-instrumentalist were big fans of each other — so much so that they bridged continents to create music. ENHYPEN and JVKE discuss creating "XO (Only If You Say Yes)," and innovating by staying true to yourself.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:05 pm

During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Jacob Lawson decided to use his time at home to share songs on TikTok. Trained in piano, guitar, and drums, the Providence, Rhode Island-based teen's creativity and knack for whimsical hooks resonated with millions. By 2021, Lawson was better known as JVKE — the singer and songwriter behind viral hits "Upside Down," "golden hour," and many more.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, in Seoul, South Korea, 23 K-pop trainees competed against each other on the survival show "I-Land." The seven victors went on to form boyband ENHYPEN — comprised of four Koreans (Heeseung, Sunoo, Sunghoon, and Jungwon), one Korean Australian (Jake), one Korean American (Jay), and one Japanese member (Ni-Ki). Despite the lack of in-person events in 2020, the group quickly became a coveted name, topping Korean charts with every release and sweeping a handful of awards.

Fast-forward to 2024, and these parallel lives have crossed paths with each other: ENHYPEN covered JVKE’s songs on social media, JVKE saw it and was impressed by their talents. Soon enough, they were working together.

While differences abound — JVKE is under global label AWAL and does everything from home, for example, while ENHYPEN went through years of dutiful training under label BELIFT LAB — their connection was immediate. The Gen Z artists share the same wavelength of thoughts and, above all, bonded over their love for a universal connector: music.

The result is ENHYPEN’s latest single, "XO (Only If You Say Yes)," off their sophomore studio album, Romance : Untold. Crafted by JVKE, who also features in its English version, the summery track represents a new musical and conceptual direction for ENHYPEN. So far, most of their work explored darker sounds and vampiric leanings, but now they show a sweeter side, ready to embrace all the facets of love.

Over Zoom, JVKE met ENHYPEN once more to talk about working together, being creative in the age of TikTok, and the future of music. ENHYPEN will also be featured in HYBE: We Believe In Music, A GRAMMY Museum Exhibit, which opens in Los Angeles on Aug. 2.

How did your collaboration come to life? Who contacted whom first?

JVKE: I remember the first time I saw Sunoo singing "Golden Hour," and that was probably my first time seeing them and interacting a bit. 

I dug a little deeper, got to hear their music and see all sorts of stuff from them, and then with Heeseung singing "This Is What Falling in Love Feels Like" — that cover is amazing. I tried to reach out through [X/]Twitter, like, How can I get in contact with these guys? And, yeah, from there we got to connect, and we made some cool stuff happen.

Did you know anything about K-pop before meeting ENHYPEN?

JVKE: When I first saw ENHYPEN, just the mesh of them as a group, you see the pictures and how all of them are styled together. But watching them dance in combination with the music, really opened my eyes to what K-pop could be, because I hadn't really seen much of it. 

Seeing these guys, I feel like it takes music to a whole different level of performance. I think these guys are even greater than musicians, they are also just performers, state of the art. They are amazing.

Learn more: Watch K-Pop Powerhouses ENHYPEN Bring Their Bouncy "ParadoXXX Invasion" To Life On The GRAMMY Museum Stage | Global Spin Live

ENHYPEN, what do you think of JVKE's music? And what were your thoughts when you learned you would be working together?

Jake: We all knew his songs way before we met him, and we were all big fans. We used to listen to all of his music before we met him, and when we heard that we got a chance to work with him, when we heard the demo for the title song, we knew that it was going to be such an amazing collaboration. We were very excited, even from the start. 

But I think our first impression when we actually met him in person is that he's very tall. [Laughs.] And we just connected straight away. We come from two different parts of the world, and we are both doing different styles of music, but in this collaboration you can see that we were able to connect through music, and [that’s] wonderful.

Read more: JVKE's "Golden" Year: How The Singer's World Turned "Upside Down" With TikTok, Collaborating With Charlie Puth & More

Is there anything specific that you learned while working together? Or something new that you didn't expect?

Jungwon: I was really surprised that he is the same age as Heeseung.

Heeseung: I also didn’t know.

He could be part of ENHYPEN.

JVKE: That's what I want. I'm signing up. I'm doing my audition now. [Laughs.]

JVKE, what was your main takeaway from ENHYPEN’s music and from their new album, 'Romance : Untold?'

JVKE: With stuff that I had heard from before, this [album] is definitely a new take on their sound. I think they're creatively evolving, and to get to be a part of that has just been so much fun. I just can't wait for people to hear what we got on the way.

ENHYPEN, what did you think of the new genres that you are exploring in this album?

Heeseung: When we first heard the demo [for "XO"], we all thought that it was a really great song. And the thing about this song is that it reflects all the creativity that JVKE has.

Jake: This song is very new to us, but I feel like one of our goals when we're working on a new album is to always try something different. This title song is such a big step for us, and I think it's a really good comeback.

JVKE, your songs are very romantic. Did that help to create "XO" and make it fit into their 'Romance : Untold' album concept?

JVKE: For sure. It was really cool to work on the song with the guys, and I think that you will definitely be able to tell the parts that I'm really — you know, I tend to write a lot of love songs. That's just how I am.

ENHYPEN, this is the first time you dive into a full-on romantic concept. What do you think of this evolution in your music, and of this theme?

Sunghoon: In this album, we tried to set a scene where our fans could have this heart-fluttering feeling after listening to [it]. We really put a lot of thought towards our fans, Engene. We showed a darker side in previous albums, but this time it's summer, and it's been a long while since we released a studio album, so we wanted to show a different side. I think that's going to draw attention from a wider audience.

JVKE, you found a lot of success through TikTok. What do you think of the platform as a creative medium? And how is it shaping the way music is created?

JVKE: I think it just made it easier to access potential fans, the public, or people who may have never heard your music before, and that gives any creative person a shot. If you can just put some music online, you don't have to have any sort of thing going for you. If the video is a great video, and the music's great, it'll reach people. I love that. I love that's the world that we live in, that there's not really a barrier to entry anymore. And I think that allows creativity to really ramp up, like, we don't have to move really slow with just a few artists. There's a lot of new artists coming out, pushing out new sounds and creativity. I love that so much.

How has this collaboration inspired you further on your own work?

JVKE: Even the song that we did together, it was a creative stretch for me. I hadn't really done much stuff like this, so it gets me excited to see what people are going to think of it. I'm always trying to do new things and seeing how [mine and ENHYPEN’s] worlds came together definitely inspired a lot of cool stuff. Even when we were in the room together working on stuff, it was very inspiring for me, so I think that inspiration is going to ride for a while.

ENHYPEN, how has this collaboration inspired you and future things you want to try as a group?

Ni-Ki: "XO" is a style that we have never tried before, and every time you try out new things, it can be challenging at times, and have a bit of pressure. But through this collaboration, we learned that we can try various different things going forward, and we can actually pull off these different styles.

Sunoo: What Ni-Ki said is so correct. Doing this collaboration with JVKE is definitely opening a lot of new styles for us in the future, and I think it's going to be great.

What do you think that is necessary to craft a hit song these days?

Jake: A really catchy hook. And like JVKE mentioned, Tiktok and that sort of short videos are very popular right now, and I think having a catchy melody is what gets people’s attention. That's what young people, like us, like these days. 

JVKE: I agree 100%. You gotta have the hook. And now when I'm in the studio trying to make music, getting the production behind it innovative and creative, or just stripping it back, I find that fully committing to an idea, even if it's a little bit crazy, even if it's not what people would expect from you, is the best part about it. And I think Gen Z is always looking for something new and fresh, because the attention span is so quick. So, right now, it's good to keep people on their toes.

What are some "rules" or common techniques in music writing and producing that you don't agree with, and that you like to do your own way?

Jungwon: One of the things that caught my attention was the fact that we usually record in the studio, but we learned that JVKE made all of his work from his home. That was a big surprise, because although he did it [that way], everything is good quality.

JVKE: Thanks, guys. I agree. Definitely, there's certain points when I really need to take my time and get it exactly how I want it, but you know, I think you can always work with whatever you have. And I like that for up-and-coming songwriters. Just by having a computer, you can do pretty much everything on there, and sometimes that's what helps people to figure out their sound. You just do what you can and, over time, you can add in more high quality elements and use some better equipment. So, I love that you don't have to have too much. You can work with whatever you have.

Aside from "XO," do any of you have a favorite track in this album? Why?

Heeseung: I like "XO," especially the English version is really good, and outside of that it would be "Paranormal."

Jay: I think for me it’s "XO" English version too, because JVKE featured as a vocalist.

Jake: Obviously, "XO" is my favorite song on the tracklist, but I really like "Brought The Heat Back" too.

What do you envision for the future of K-pop and of music in general?

Jake: That's a good question. I think even from this collaboration we're doing right now with JVKE, you can tell that K-pop isn't determined by language or anything like that. I feel like it's already gone global, and that's going to continue in the future as well. I think music can bring the world together. I know that in some places in the world, there's people that don't know much about K-pop or Korea in general, and you know, a couple years back, when I was living in Australia, K-pop really helped me learn about Korean culture. I think we're doing that for other people around the world as well. As an artist, part of K-pop is to always show the world what it is and what Korea and its culture are.

Heeseung: What's important is that we put in the creative element to make something new out of existing genres. There are many great musicians out there, and I think if they continue to share what they have, we'll be able to advance music further. Recently, I had the chance to experience a [songwriting] camp, so I got to meet many different musicians and make different songs. If we had more of these kinds of opportunities going forward, that would be great.

Jay: We had a lot of dark and deep concepts or title tracks for a while, so this kind of collaboration with JVKE kind of breaks [that]. I think a lot of musicians breaking their own line and challenging themselves will make the future of K-pop.

Learn more: What's Next For K-Pop? A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

JVKE, do you have any thoughts?

JVKE: I agree with all the stuff that the guys were saying, like, taking in all of the different inspirations. I think if songwriters continue to just be themselves and write what they want to write, we'll continue to get new and innovative music. I don't think we'll ever run out of new ways to create music. And so, I always try to encourage other songwriters to just keep writing what's coming to you. You don't have to put it in a box. 

Even with ["XO"], I wasn't trying to put it in a perfect box, it just was what it was. Sometimes a song just has to be allowed to be what it is, and then you can put it in a box if you need to, but never compromise the art. The art comes first. And as long as people do that, the future will continue to have amazing music.

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GRAMMY Museum Partners With HYBE For K-Pop Exhibit graphic featuring artist names and exhibit opening date

Graphic courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum


GRAMMY Museum Partners With HYBE For New K-Pop Exhibit 'HYBE: We Believe In Music' Opening Aug. 2

Running Aug. 2 through Sept. 15, the GRAMMY Museum exhibit showcases artifacts from superstar HYBE artists, including BTS, SEVENTEEN, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, ENHYPEN, LE SSERAFIM, and many more.

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:09 pm

The GRAMMY Museum joins forces with HYBE to present its newest exhibit, HYBE: We Believe In Music, A GRAMMY Museum Exhibit. This interactive exhibit chronicles the history and impact of HYBE, and showcases its legacy of unparalleled innovation and creativity as a trend-setting global entertainment brand.

The exhibit opens on Aug. 2 in downtown Los Angeles and features spotlight moments with K-pop stars BTS, SEVENTEEN, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, ENHYPEN, LE SSERAFIM, and many more. "HYBE: We Believe In Music" runs through Sept.15. The exhibit will kick off on Aug. 1 with "Global Spin Live: TWS," a program featuring a moderated conversation with K-pop group TWS, followed by a performance.

The exhibit traces HYBE's evolution and influence by showcasing instantly recognizable artifacts from its roster of artists, creators, and fans. The displays notably feature original outfits worn in iconic music videos such as "Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment)" by BTS, "MAESTRO" by SEVENTEEN, "Sugar Rush Ride" by TOMORROW X TOGETHER, "Sweet Venom" by ENHYPEN, and "EASY" by LE SSERAFIM. HYBE: We Believe In Music also boasts accessories and performance gear donned by ZICO, fromis_9, BOYNEXTDOOR, TWS, &TEAM, and ILLIT. The exhibit marks the first time these artifacts will be on display together in one location.

Other highlights include interactive sing-along and dance rooms, a dedicated Fan Section celebrating the endless support between HYBE artists and their fandoms, a Mono to Immersive room featuring BTS's 2022 GRAMMYs performance of "Butter," and a Photoism Booth that allows visitors to pose alongside their favorite K-pop artists.  The GRAMMY Museum exhibit will also feature exclusive video content with producers, artists, music videos, and more.

"HYBE and their artists represent the present and future of the global music landscape, and our goal with this exhibit is to deepen the appreciation and respect for its creators and performers," says Michael Sticka, President/CEO of the GRAMMY Museum. "HYBE has contributed to creating a playground of innovation that inspires fandoms that transcend age, gender, geography and beyond. The GRAMMY Museum is thrilled to provide a space where fans can express their love for K-pop and feel closer to their favorite idols."

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

HYBE Chief Operating Officer Taeho Kim added, "Putting out an exhibition that captures HYBE's journey is a new experience for us. We're very excited about this partnership with GRAMMY Museum, and we look forward to welcoming music fans who visit the museum to enjoy and connect with our historical pieces."

The exhibit highlights the roots of HYBE's meteoric rise. In 2005, South Korean producer, composer, and songwriter Bang Si-Hyuk, known as "hitman" Bang, changed the trajectory of Korean pop music by launching the record label Big Hit Entertainment. He soon signed a talented 16-year-old rapper named RM, which became the first step in creating the label's groundbreaking boy band — BTS. With the group's global success, "hitman" Bang and Big Hit Entertainment became known as musical trailblazers and record industry innovators. Big Hit Entertainment has now evolved into HYBE, which only continues to break boundaries in music and beyond.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Kpop_State Of The Union artist collage
(Back) Simon Jakops, Dom Rodriguez, Adrian McKinnon, Marion Van der wees (Front) Stray Kids, Twice

All images courtesy of Artist except Stray Kids (Jun Sato/WireImage via GettyImages) and Twice (JYP Entertainment).


What's Next For K-Pop? A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

K-pop evolves each year, but what makes it so enticing? And what awaits in the future? invited industry leaders, and members of TWICE and Stray Kids, to discuss K-pop's current state, biggest misconceptions, and celebrate its magic.

GRAMMYs/Jul 11, 2023 - 05:18 pm

K-pop recently entered its third decade since pioneers Seo Taiji and Boys upheaved South Korea with 1992’s nonconforming "Nan Arayo" — considered by many the inception of the industry. Propelled by the Hallyu (or Korean Wave, the phenomenon driving international growth and popularity to the country’s cultural exports), K-pop has evolved from a niche genre to a global scene whose influence is felt in music, fashion, business, tech, and many other fields.

Characterized by a strong visual focus, musical innovation that can include anything from reggae to EDM influences in a single song, knife-sharp choreographies, and devoted fandoms, K-pop’s reach outside of South Korea is nothing short of outstanding — if not expected. While mostly known for multi-member boy and girl groups (some with upwards to 10 singers), there are also plenty of soloists, duos, trios, and a few co-ed ensembles, ensuring that even the pickiest music listener can find something to enjoy.

Its idols — as K-pop artists are called — are inspirational, often skilled in singing, dancing, rapping, songwriting, and producing after years of arduous training. Many are fashion ambassadors to high fashion brands (such as BTSJimin for Dior), and several have ventured into acting, modeling, and designing their own collections. Idols remain in touch with global fans through tours, fan meetings, virtual fancalls and social media, including  K-pop-specific paid apps, like HYBE’s Weverse and DearU’s Bubble, where they can send direct messages to fans detailing their routines and heartfelt thoughts.

All those factors contribute to the worldwide growth of K-pop. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, eight of the top 10 global album sales in 2022 were by K-pop acts, including BTS, Stray Kids, and ENHYPEN. For the first quarter of 2023, Billboard reported that stocks from K-pop's largest companies — HYBE, SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment — have risen an average of 75.1 percent year to date, surpassing both Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, which each presented a decline. 

Ten years after PSY’s 2012 mania "Gangnam Style," K-pop has risen to the upper echelons of the music industry. A BTS music video nominated for A GRAMMY Award (last year’s "Yet to Come"); Fifty Fifty’s viral hit "Cupid" can be heard on the radio; BLACKPINK headlined Coachella and TWICE sold out Los Angeles' SoFI Stadium.  Each a feat that seemed impossible not too long ago.

Moving at breakneck speed, K-pop continues to present a new evolution of itself within each year. But what makes it so enticing? And what awaits in the future? invited several leaders and luminaries of the industry to discuss its current state, demystify some of its biggest misconceptions, and celebrate its magic.

Quotes from these interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What do you think are the key elements to make a K-pop hit? Have these elements changed throughout the years?

Vince (singer/songwriter/producer under THEBLACKLABEL, an associate company to YG Entertainment): Being a Korean American living in Korea gave me cultural influences that are unique and diverse. With so many creatives from different backgrounds just like mine, I think we’ve been able to make songs that blend all those influences and resonate with not only the Korean audience, but the global audience too. Also, our emphasis on making the right visuals to provide a wholesome experience was a major key to success. I think this approach hasn’t changed and we will continue to do that moving forward.

Marion Van der wees (manager/A&R consultant at VDW Music Group, who placed songs for BTS, TXT, and more): Honestly, nowadays, nobody knows what a hit is. Lots of songs have gone viral in the most surprising ways. Fifty Fifty, who recently debuted, is now topping the global charts with their song "Cupid." However, the ideal recipe for a great K-pop song would be a catchy hook/chorus — which is usually in English so more people can sing it — and a danceable song that can bring on a choreography that is infectious enough so people want to learn them and make TikToks.

Nayeon (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): First, I think we were lucky enough to have amazing songs. "Luck" plays an important role when making a hit. Also, there has to be a concept, choreography, and additional content to support it. I don’t think these factors change with time drastically, but rather our attitudes and minds tend to change.

Adrian McKinnon (songwriter, producer): I think it's important to love what you're working on, period. In any career, there comes a point when a person can just phone in an idea, a letter, a proposal, etc. You may be able to get away with that once or twice, but if you get used to operating in that manner, don't be surprised if you get fewer and fewer calls over time. When you love what you do, you grow. When you float along half-assing your work, you're stagnant.

Wonderkid (songwriter/producer under BELIFT LAB, a label founded by CJ ENM and HYBE responsible for boy group ENHYPEN): It is difficult to make a public appeal solely through the power that a track holds. When the concept and plan go hand in hand with the track, it creates a synergistic effect.

There are definitely certain trends during certain periods, but it’s mostly a façade. At the core of high quality music (or art) in any era lies in the essence of "beauty." I think artists should always be humble when it comes to the beauty of art, which is the only definite signpost that connects the past, present, and future.

Changbin (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): I think that keeping our style consistent while venturing into diverse sounds is part of what allows people to listen to our music. At first it was difficult because our color is very strong, but now we have a solid idea as to what direction we have to go in. [Editor's note: "Colors" are often used in reference to a group's charms, musical identity and appeal.]

HAN (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): Trends change very quickly these days, so while I do believe that there are certain sounds that are trending, I don’t necessarily believe that trends are what make a good song. The fact that Stray Kids’ music is always consistent is the reason why listeners are interested in us. A successful song should contain something familiar yet fresh.

Felix (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): I don’t believe we’ve found the key elements to make a K-pop hit yet, but we do have our own way of making our own music. We understand and can express our colors well.

Although K-pop reached unimaginable heights since its origins, it's still an industry that is often misunderstood. Why do you think it's so hard for people to appreciate the true value of K-pop?

Vince: I think idols get misunderstood because they have to present themselves in the media in a lot more diverse ways than a conventional artist would. Most of them are people that have been training to do music for years and are just like any other artist who go through the process of making music. A lot of times, for me, it was a cooperative effort in the studio with artists —  just like with any other writer and producer.

Shin Cho (Head of K-pop at Warner Music Asia): I simply see it as stereotypes, misunderstandings, and preferences from people who come from a different background. This occurs in many industries, not just music. 

One might think a self-producing singer/songwriter is a better artist than a K-pop group. Although the scene is continuously evolving, K-pop idols are more closely monitored and coached by talented and experienced professionals, compared to other genres. It’s an approach that has created its own successes, but I see why it’s a method that not many can agree on. 

McKinnon: I want to preface this answer with my belief that K-pop idols are some of the hardest-working people in show business. I've spoken to some of my idol friends about their daily routines. Let's just say they are very, very busy people.

I think it's multi-layered. People know that idols work within a system of creators, stylists, choreographers, taste-makers, and directors who, more often than not, put together all the ideas for them. I've heard of people challenging their authenticity because of this. I don't think this is fair, because systems like this exist outside of K-pop as well. It's also important to mention that there are many K-pop idols who have more hands-on with their projects.

Simon Jakops (CEO/Executive Producer at XGALX, responsible for girl group XG; former member of boy group DMTN): Being involved in the K-pop scene for over 10 years, I believe that idols are true artists. For the K-pop system, there is an element that is considered as important as talent, and it is "spirit." A true artist won’t lose the grit to walk their own path.

I have been in charge of producing and directing XG, a girl group with all-Japanese members currently active in Korea, for the past six years. It took five years for them to debut. Out of 1,300 applicants, only seven made their final debut. I believe K-pop stars' challenging spirit and dedication [to the process] are one of the most basic virtues an artist should have. And I hope that these qualities will be evaluated more properly.

Dom Rodriguez (SVP/Head of SM Entertainment USA): I often find myself comparing K-pop idols to professional athletes: people who work and strive for years and years to take raw talent and develop it to the highest level. When people take a moment to understand the dedication, commitment, and passion that goes into becoming a K-pop artist, they quickly learn how to appreciate that and any of those other thoughts they might have are put to rest.

Many media outlets spread harmful narratives about K-pop. Claims of it being a "factory system" or that it hides a "dark side" worse than any other field only flatten and dehumanize the very real humans behind it. What would you like to say about these misconceptions?

Vince: We have so many people trying to be "in the system" to become artists, but it’s really a select few that get to come and go through the training program. As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t witnessed any dehumanizing process with the "system" at all.

Cho: Incubating and developing a K-pop artist is a massive investment. It’s a business that cannot be operated without real humans’ dedication and commitment. There were cases where "factory system" and "dark side" happened, but at least in this new K-pop era, no labels that carried over some of those bad practices have survived.

Wonderkid: To understand the misconceptions about the K-pop industry, you need to understand the situation in South Korea, both past and present. The word "factory system" brings an image of a cold factory full of machines churning out products without any passion. [If it were,] the public would see right through it and turn away immediately. If "factory system" pertains to "well-organized systems in place to do multiple tasks simultaneously," then I would agree with this specific concept.

Earlier this year, HYBE's Chairman Bang Si-hyuk said in an interview for CNN that "K-pop is not as hot in the market as you might perceive," and was concerned about its slowdown in growth. Is this something you are also experiencing in your work?

Van der wees: On the song side it’s the opposite. More than ever, competition is at its peak, in my opinion. A lot of people reach out to me to work in K-pop, and it feels like it's fast growing.

Wonderkid: As a producer, I may not be fully aware of the business side of the K-pop industry like Chairman Bang does, but I respect his insights and do not take his concerns lightly. I am constantly studying and playing with different musical genres and trends to keep K-pop up to the latest trend. Quality content will yield results and putting all of my effort into creating quality content is the most I can do.

Jakops: Rather paradoxically, Chairman Bang's quote proves the huge influence K-pop has in the current global music market. The most fearful moment could be when you are receiving the greatest love. As a producer myself, I always focus on "novelty." Whatever the element, I would like to propose an idea that has not been seen in the existing K-pop scene. Fans are also waiting for that kind of music. New sounds, new members, new visuals, whatever.

With the advent of AI, the music industry will likely experience changes. In what ways do you think AI will impact your work?

Vince: I am very fascinated by AI technology, and it will definitely impact the music industry and my work. Now that AI-generated voices can sing anything, I do think it is very dangerous, because I don’t think there are set laws regarding the ownership of voices and the ownership of rights to AI-generated intellectual properties. How we set the rules on these matters will shape how AI will impact the industry.

Van der wees: If AI starts writing songs and labels want to go that route, we will be in trouble. But we are humans and we connect deeper on a human level, a.k.a imperfection. Collaborations between writers, producers, and artists are such a fun process that will hopefully never go away.

Cho: I think AI could enhance and open up new opportunities in different areas of the music industry. On my marketing team, for example, we have started to encourage utilizing ChatGPT in administrative works, translations, and supporting creative problems. I believe that AI technology can potentially become a new day-to-day ritual, like using the Internet and social media.

Wonderkid: AI can be a good tool for first-level reference, where you don't need to go through complicated, emotional steps, and I look forward to seeing how it develops to be a creative tool. However, as someone who works in the industry, I don't think it's had a significant impact yet. 

I think creators and the public alike read and love "subconscious messages" embedded in art, but there is no "subconsciousness" in an AI's work. It looks good on the surface, but we recognize what is missing in half a second. I think of it as falling in love with a robot: it may someday be possible, but it would take a very, very long time.

Jakops: The rise of AI represents a paradigm shift in the music industry. AI can not only create melodies, write lyrics, or compose entire works, but it can also spot trends and influence creative direction through data analysis. You can see that they are already trying to introduce it into some fields, such as writing lyrics. It will also help redefine the way artists connect with their fans and deliver personalized experiences across multiple channels. 

I think AI will serve as an opportunity for human nature, originality, and creativity to stand out more. The challenge will be striking the right balance between harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence and maintaining the human element in music.

Although not every group can be an unprecedented phenomenon on a global scale, more and more K-pop acts have seen steady success promoting overseas, like TWICE becoming the first girl group from any country to sell out L.A.'s SoFi Stadium this year. Do you think it's essential for a group to chase global appeal?

Van der wees: I'm a big world advocate. It's more entertaining to chase global appeal, but not everybody has the budget for it. If labels see the potential for global success and have the financial support, they should definitely do it. There are a few groups, like ATEEZ, who actually have a bigger fan base outside of South Korea.

McKinnon: I think it's important for business, sure. With Bang Si-hyuk's notion that "K-pop is not as hot in the market as you might perceive," and from my experience of hearing some fans not liking the idea of their favorite idols globalizing, there may be a bit of a tug-of-war. In my opinion, K-pop groups going global will benefit the whole music industry.

Jakops: It is true that XG started their activities in the K-pop scene, where idol artists are most active, but in reality, the music that XG develops is called "XPOP." It contains the desire to develop music and activities that can be shared with people around the world, not limited to groups that express the musical characteristics of a single country.

Rodriguez: At this point, the genre is global. There are so many fans all over the world who love K-pop, and our acts have truly reached that global level. Because that appetite is there, as an artist, you would want to try to reach as many fans as possible. With all of the platforms available, you can reach millions of people at once with the push of a button and, if and when you can, show up to meet your fans in person across the globe.

K-pop is an extremely prolific market. How do you make sure your work stands out and maintains high levels of quality?

Van der wees: My writers love challenging melodies, lyrics, production, and strive for better each time. We deliver as great of demos as possible, and then it's in the label's hand to decide what they prefer and finalize the song with their in-house team. We sometimes won't even know a song will be released until a few days before the release date.

Momo (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): I'd like to know the answer to that as well. In my case, I try my best to pull off the concept of each song. Also, our members work hard to synchronize our choreography in a short amount of time.

Dahyun (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): We try to maintain TWICE’s identity, but also change it up a little bit to show different sides of us.

McKinnon: Be great. Take time to do it right. Be great. Utilize your network wisely. Be great. Maintain a positive attitude but be true to yourself. Be great. Don't be selfish. Be great.

Jakops: In the fierce market competition, the basis for establishing XG's unique identity is the character of each member who has been with me for more than five years. Music is an industry where people are more important than systems. I have been concentrating on the idea that discovering each member's character and bringing them to life can be our most important weapon. 

I emphasize teamwork; our team gathers ideas every day on how to make the next project bigger and better than the previous one. It requires a lot of time and effort, but it's no exaggeration to say that it's our everything. The only way to get better at something is to practice consistently.

Bang Chan (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): A lot of thought goes into the process, for sure. It’s pressuring to know that there are a lot of people out there expecting something big from us. However, enjoying that process and producing something new that people haven’t seen yet makes everything more fun and reduces the burden on our shoulders.

Lee Know (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): We continuously seek inspiration from everyday life. We also workout all the time to increase our stamina, which is something that really helps us pull through.

Some K-pop labels apply a "try everything and see what sticks" method for their artists. Do you think that having a solid identity is crucial for success?

Van der wees: There is a strategy behind everything. I think concepts are what make K-pop, K-pop. Some bands might have specific identities but it doesn’t stop them from having variety in their releases. Labels even create sub-groups nowadays to expand their sound and outreach. Each group has its specificity and there is a bit of everything for everybody. 

Cho: There are two ways to look at this. A negative way of looking is that there is no strategy and plan. A more positive way is that there is a flexibility in trying different things, even if they are outside of one’s comfort zone. Enhancing the mindset of the latter, and finding better solutions on the former, I feel like the K-pop industry can find a good balance to reach success.

Sana (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): In my opinion, regardless of a solid concept or sound identity, making music that the artist wants and enjoys is the most important. The fact that the artists themselves enjoy their music will be the biggest charm to people.

Chaeyoung (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): When you're a rookie group you can try different concepts and music, and naturally you’ll find your own team color. The longer I have been in TWICE, I have realized that. I wish people will be able to listen to a song and say, "That sounds like TWICE!"

Jakops: I firmly believe that only when all the direction of training, the selection of music, the crafting process, the visual works, and marketing activities are carried out with a solid, definite concept, the results that the public will love can come out.

Hyunjin (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): I think that once you find your own style, the identity of the group as a whole becomes much clearer, making it easier to win the hearts of fans. Diverse concepts and styles within this boundary will make everything less repetitive, adding to the uniqueness of the group.

I.N (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): I wouldn’t say this is the only way to success. I believe the most important thing is consistently working on improving your abilities. Without personal improvement, it will be difficult to succeed on larger scales.

Rodriguez: Every new project begins with the music. Music drives creativity. The instrumentation, the tempo, the lyrics, the concept of the song, this is what drives the vision. So, for us, it’s not "throwing something at the wall," but rather a creative process that brings a vision to life, which is then executed musically and visually and brought to the masses.

Why do you think there is such a focus in finding "the next generation" of K-pop, even though many artists thrive through multiple of them?

Mina (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): Each generation has their own trends and characteristics, so I think people divide them because they want to remember and cherish each specific generation by their own color. For "the next generation" people will want to do the same.

Jihyo (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): We would love to see everyone enjoying our music without too much focus on which generation it is.

Rodriguez: One view of looking at the generations of music is looking at an artist from their debut through various points of their career. From a company perspective, we are always looking at artists’ development, which is something that U.S. labels often don’t do anymore. We invest in talent, we invest in people, and we give them an opportunity to become the best they can be and achieve their dreams in the hopes that they will become leaders of that next generation.

Where do you think K-pop is headed in the next few years?

Jeongyeon (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): Nowadays, all K-pop acts are beautiful and talented, so I think it would be great if we could see more music and concepts that suit their age.

Tzuyu (singer/songwriter, TWICE member): I'd like to see more collaborations between artists, because I think it's a very unexpected, fun element.

Vince: We don’t call pop music from America "American pop", we just call it "pop." I think music is going to lose its regional borders and music from anywhere will eventually be able to be called just "pop" as long as it’s a hit record. The lines will be blurred and, eventually, names like K-pop, Latin Pop, Afropop will just become "pop."

Cho: K-pop is at a crucial time for the next evolution. It’s hard to predict what’s next, but what I suspect to see is "k-Pop," where "K" is less emphasized than "pop." There will be more hybrid formats of music coming out, and I hope that the K-pop industry can be a leader in this field.

Wonderkid: K-pop will maintain its appeal because it’s on a solid foundation that has been built up over a long period of time. K-pop has been developed in Korea, but will be adopted in multiple countries. It is already happening, young listeners around the world will aspire to be K-pop artists as they grow up. Not all of them will be able to audition and train in Korea, and each country will develop their own versions of K-pop. That will give birth to new music and culture, just as hip hop and rock have influenced the music industry across the globe.

Seungmin (singer/songwriter, Stray Kids member): I do hope that we, Stray Kids, will be at the forefront, leading the way. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like as the world is changing at a very fast rate, but I’m looking forward to seeing a more futuristic side of K-pop.

Rodriguez: As excited as I am about the many successes that we have had within SM, and the many successes the genre has been able to celebrate in recent years, I firmly believe that we are just getting started. We are at a place where everybody knows that K-pop is here to stay as an important part of pop culture. I know we will continue to see more and more artists from this genre influencing the culture of music globally.

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