Photo: Roger Kisby/Getty Images for YouTube
BLACKPINK at Coachella 2109
"How You Like That:" BLACKPINK Breaks Multiple Records With Latest Music Video
The K-pop queens' latest music video hit 86.3 million views during its YouTube debut on June 26
K-pop superstars BLACKPINK have broken multiple Guinness World Records and YouTube records for their fierce new music video for "How You Like That." Their first single of 2020, the highly anticipated song and visual both dropped on June 26 following several weeks of teasers on their social channels.
According to Guinness, the video got 86.3 million views on June 26, earning three records: most viewed YouTube video in 24 hours (i.e. any type of video), most viewed music video on YouTube in 24 hours and most viewed YouTube music video in 24 hours by a K-pop group.
The previous recordholder of these three categories was BTS and Halsey, for their April 2019 collab "Boy With Luv," which earned 74.6 million views in the first 24 hours. Prior to the K-pop boy band earning the top spot, BLACKPINK briefly held the record, for just about one week, with their April 2019 video, "Kill This Love," which hit 56.7 million views in 24 hours.
The YouTube premiere of the "How You Like That" music video, which hit 1.66 million peak concurrent viewers, also earned the ladies two more Guinness/YouTube record titles: most viewers for the premiere of a video on YouTube and most viewers for the premiere of a music video on YouTube.
At the time of this writing, just six days after its release, it has 193.4 million views on YouTube.
Other current Guinness World Records held by BLACKPINK are most followed female group on Spotify and music group with the most subscribers on YouTube.
"How You Like That" is confident breakup track, backed by a buoyant trap- and EDM-influenced beat, and follows their massive collab with Lady Gaga, "Sour Candy," from Gaga's new Chromatica album. The latest track, written by Teddy and Danny Chung, is expected to be a lead single for their forthcoming debut Korean-language studio album.
Their first full-length, BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA, a compilation album of prior EPs, was released in December 2018 and included Japanese versions of some of their biggest tracks, including the infectious "Ddu-Du Ddu-Du."
Photo courtesy of the artist
South Korean Rockers The Rose Are Ready To Show The World Their Duality
Known for creating vulnerable, emotional songs in both English and Korean, the Rose continue to expand their sound on 'DUAL.' In an interview, the band details their history as buskers, big year of touring and what's next.
South Korean indie rock band the Rose have reached new heights over the past year. The quartet — which began six years ago as a group of street performers — have toured the world and performed at major music festivals including BST Hyde Park and Lollapalooza, but have never forgotten their busking roots.
During a Lollapalooza midnight aftershow, the Rose went back to basics: They did away with their setlist and instead took requests from the audience testing their improvisation and memorization skills.
Known for creating vulnerable, emotional songs in both English and Korean, the Rose are continuing to expand their sound. Their recently-released second studio album, DUAL, reflects on their past, present and future.
"I think experimenting with music and trying to connect different genres is really fun as a writer, and to showcase our personality,” said the Rose’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Woosung in an interview with GRAMMY.com.
The Rose's busking origin story is unique among Korean groups, many of which are formed by entertainment companies. Keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Dojoon and bassist Jaehyeong first connected busking in the same neighborhood drummer Hajoon and Jaehyeong were working with the same entertainment company. The trio then formed a band called Windfall — now the name of the Rose’s self-made label — and later recruited Woosung.
The Rose made its official debut in 2017 with the soft-rock ballad "Sorry." The song reached No. 14 on the Billboard World Digital Songs Sales chart, and was named among the best "K-pop songs of 2017." The band's debut album, HEAL, followed in October 2022.
The Rose caught up with GRAMMY.com over Zoom in Seoul to talk about their new album, their musical influences growing up and preparing for their upcoming North American tour, which will see them playing some of the biggest venues of their career thus far.
What is the story you wanted to tell with DUAL after the release of your first album, HEAL?
Woosung: HEAL was definitely us coming back after a hiatus. We really wanted to heal through our music and writing it and the whole process of reminding ourselves why we love music and why we love doing music. In terms of the sound, it was more natural. We wrote what we felt.
DUAL, I think, is a little more intentional, in a way where we are giving two sides of a genre and two sides of a tone that we want to present to the audience as the Rose. There’s a dawn side and a dusk side. It’s really showing the listeners the duality of our music, and why it could be dark but also why it could be bright.
Can you elaborate on those two representations of the Rose?
Woosung: Dawn side has more daytime vibes, happier, easier. Dusk side is a little bit darker in a way.
I think our music always did showcase both sides. "Sorry" would be more of the dusk side. Our song "Red" would be more on the dawn side. Whenever we wrote an album, I feel like we always had a dawn and a dusk side. We wanted to showcase that we are capable of both and this is where our music is headed. I think it really depends on the person hearing it.
What can you share about your latest single "You’re Beautiful"?
Woosung: We’re saying that beauty is just a state of mind. We believe anybody should be beautiful in their own way. There isn’t one statement or one face or one thing that makes a person beautiful in this world. There are many things that could be beautiful. And that's why we believe that beauty is just a state of mind. You are all beautiful in this world, no matter what race, what gender.
Dojoon: When you go to an art museum, it’s like somebody thinks something is ugly, but someone [else] thinks it’s very beautiful. That’s what we want to talk about here.
Your other singles sound quite different. And you’ve mentioned before that this project is meant to show a more amusing side to yourselves. Was that why you decided to incorporate some dubstep in the middle of your song "Alive"?
Woosung: Yeah. When we let our team hear that song with that part attached, not all of our team agreed that it was a good rendition of the song. However, the four of us definitely felt like we wanted something like that in there. I know it’s so random, but it also works so well with the song. [Laughs.]
I think we're just influenced by going to a lot of festivals, looking at different artists and enjoying their concerts or DJ sets. We wanted to just try something that was not always on the same line as what you would expect.
"Back to Me" takes me back to the pop-punk songs you’d hear in the early 2000s. The kind of song you’d yell out or release anger or tension with.
Woosung: I think we grew up listening to alternative, pop-punk. We always had it in us to create something like that and sing it ourselves. It’s such a rock band song. We’re just bringing it back.
What were some of the pop punk bands that you’d all listen to?
Woosung: All Time Low, Boys Like Girls, We The Kings. Never Shout Never. All those bands. Panic! At the Disco.
Jaehyeong: I was listening to Green Day, All Time Low.
Hajoon: I used to listen to Bon Jovi or Green Day.
Dojoon: Avril Lavigne, Green Day! Those kinds of legends.
Hajoon: Muse as well!
Woosung: My Chemical Romance.
You have also had a big year as a group, playing at big festivals and completing a world tour. What would you say this year has been like for your group?
Woosung: Going to these different festivals and seeing different people — not just our fans — enjoy our music, has put a lot of perspective in how we do music and how we want to take on the Rose in the future. I think performing in front of these crowds gave us a lot of good lessons.
You celebrated your sixth anniversary the same day that you played Lollapalooza. How would you describe the moment, and being with your fans, known as Black Roses?
Woosung: Words can’t describe it. We said it during the show as well because we started out as a street performing band. If we did a club show, there were like 15 people and five of them were our friends.. So for us to celebrate six years of the Rose with I don’t know how many people, it was very meaningful. It showed how far the Rose brand and the Rose’s music has come. We’re just happy to be on the journey with our fans.
A day later, you performed an aftershow with no setlist and took requests from the crowd. Where did that idea come from?
Woosung: Just busking, street performing. We were just true to how we started.
Dojoon: It was a back-to-back show in the same city. Obviously for Lollapalooza, there was a setlist for that. So maybe instead of doing the same thing over again the next day, why don’t we kind of have a little moment between Black Roses and our fans? We wanted to make something special.
Was there a song that really surprised you during that show?
Dojoon: There was a few fans who actually requested the first song we wrote together, which was "Photographer." We didn’t memorize it all perfectly. So that was all very interesting.
Rock music isn’t something many people in North America would associate with the Korean music industry right now. Do you see the Rose playing a role in getting people to explore different genres from Korea?
Woosung: I think rock has always been there, but not like how K-pop is famous. Right now, the music industry really does like more dance pop, and the culture has shifted a little bit that way. But [rock] bands have always been there.
I don’t know if we’re really sparking anybody to become a rock band or anything. And if we are, we are very,very honored and will be happy that we could be even a little influence to the industry for more instrument-playing musicians. At the end of the day, rock, pop, ballad — it’s all just music. We’re just happy to do music in the way we love doing music.
Dojoon: We really want to talk more about the spirit, like the rock spirit. You know, even rap stars or other pop stars say, "rock and roll" and "we are rockstars." I think now, Korea is more open and they’re starting to open up to the image of a band. Like the structure of a four-piece band.
Woosung, you collaborated with BTS’s Suga on his latest album and featured on the song "Snooze." In his documentary SUGA: Road To D-DAY, he mentioned the song was written with artists in mind, especially when it comes to not giving up on their dreams. I feel like that mirrors a lot of the Rose’s journey. What was that experience of being part of the song like for you?
Woosung: For him to have advice on life was what was beautiful, because it could fit a lot of the general population and what people are going through this day even without music being a part of their life. We’re just happy to share the message of support. That’s what the Rose is, and that’s what the Rose’s music is always. And, that’s why I think Suga maybe felt like I would be a good fit to the song.
When I first received the rapping parts and the lyrics of it all, I definitely had a feeling of warmth with the messaging. I wanted to do my best to write the best chorus that would fit his rapping with the right lyrics that would really portray the initial message better.
You’re heading back to Canada and the U.S. soon. What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?
Woosung: We’re actually practicing for the tour right now. We’re just arranging songs, practicing them and trying to get the right setlist and the right production. Our shows have been great, but this one is definitely a level up.
It’s a whole new set with bigger lighting, bigger screens. We always had this in our head, but we just couldn’t make them come to life in the venues we were doing it at. I think music is just not for listening, but it’s also for seeing and [with] that comes bigger emotions.
Photos: JTBC PLUS/ImaZinS Editorial; RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Coachella; JTBC PLUS/ImaZinS Editorial
K-Pop's Hip-Hop Roots: A History Of Cultural Connection On The Dancefloor
Although they might seem like disparate genres today, K-pop and hip-hop go way back. In honor of hip-hop's golden anniversary and K-pop's ever-growing popularity, GRAMMY.com explores the links between the sounds.
Although they might seem like disparate genres today, K-pop and hip-hop go way back. Their link can be traced to a single nightclub in Korea: Moon Night.
Located in Seoul's Itaewon neighborhood, Moon Night wasn't particularly remarkable among the many other bars catering to tourists and American servicemen at the nearby military base. However, in the late '80s and early '90s, the club was ground zero for the genesis of the nation’s first K-pop group and the founding of the country’s "Big 3" music entertainment labels.
Moon Night is so crucial to the development of K-pop as we know it today because the club played music beloved by its target clientele: Americans. And in the midst of hip-hop's golden age, hip Korean audiences got hooked.
Over decades, that connection to hip-hop has developed and evolved to create the juggernaut that is contemporary K-pop. Today, the influence of hip-hop can be seen in K-pop dance, dress and even instrumentation.
Pioneering K-Pop On The Dancefloor
Where nightlife in Korea was long separated by nationality — Korean citizens had their own establishments, as did U.S. military personnel — a new kind of integrated club scene blossomed in the 1990s. For the first time, Koreans could legally patronize the same bars as American G.I.s.
Around 1 a.m., clubs like Moon Night would transition from a "normal Korean club" to a foreigner haven, recalls Dr. Michael Hurt, an Assistant Professor at the University of Suwon's International College.
That Moon Night became the Ur of K-pop as we know it was chiefly because Black American soldiers patronized the club, which played hip-hop. As Koreans and Black soldiers socialized, a new culture of hip-hop dance, or "rap dance," and music grew. Dr. Hurt experienced the eagerness with which young Koreans learned hip-hop moves while visiting Moon Night in the '90s.
Dr. Hurt — who is Black and Korean and has been living in country for various periods since the mid-'90s — recalls clubgoers asking to dance with him. They would follow along with every step. While hip-hop music was important to the progenitors of K-pop, Koreans at the time were most fascinated by dance moves, and the emphasis on dance remains an important aspect of K-pop today.
By the early '90s, hip-hop had begun to egress its original audience and evolve into a new form. The cross-cultural connection happening at Moon Night was replicated across Seoul; Dr. Hurt notes that Koreans and Black Americans also found common musical interest at Blue Monkey in Sincheon and Golden Helmet in Hongdae.
Future K-pop heavy hitters like Yang Hyun-suk of YG Entertainment, Park Jin-young of JYP Entertainment, and Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment were rumored to have patronized Moon Night. However, Dr. Hurt theorizes that if they were in the club scene they also visited other places too.
K-Pop's First Generation Of Stars: Born At Moon Night, Shared Online
While hip-hop was largely inaccessible to Koreans in the 1990s, there were always dedicated Korean listeners. This young, niche community consisted of members like Seo Taiji, who brought rap dance to the public and became K-pop's first stars.
Seo Taiji and Boys reportedly learned how to dance from Black American soldiers at Moon Night. (Yang Hyun-suk, who later on became the founder of YGE, and Lee Juno were the "and Boys" component of the trio.) Their example laid the groundwork for the second generation of K-pop stars.
"[Seo Taiji and Boys] were like gods on earth," recalls Dr. Hurt.
The members became the undisputed purveyors of hip-hop in Korea, utilizing American hip-hop, metal and punk to create a unique musical fusion. The practice of mixing and melding genres is the standard in K-pop to this day.
Seo Taiji and Boys' 1992 performance of "난 알아요 (I Know)" on a competitive TV show struck a chord with the nation's youth, effectively introducing hip-hop to the general public. The performance also filled a capacious hole left in the Korean music industry after the roll back of Emergency Measure No. 9 (which only allowed patriotic or "healthy" songs to be broadcast), which banned hundreds of songs from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton. Therein, Seo and company brought a new sound to the previously restricted airwaves.
Still, a lesser-known idol predates Seo Taiji and Boys' rise by a couple of years. Once again, Moon Night remains in the backdrop.
If Seo Taiji and Boys is K-pop’s first idol group then Hyun Jin-Young is K-pop’s first solo artist. Though his career was brief, Hyun Jin-Young "is generally credited with bringing hip-hop to the mainstream in Korea," says Dr. Crystal Anderson, Associate Director of Engaged Learning and African and African American Studies at George Mason University. On hits like, "슬픈 마네킹 (Sad Mannequin)," Jin-young sang, rapped, and performed dance moves, such as the Roger Rabbit, over a hip-hop beat. "Without him, you wouldn't have [K-pop] idols, but at the same time, Seo Taiji showed that it could be lucrative and popular."
Artists like Hyun Jin-Young, Seo Taiji, and, later, H.O.T were at the forefront of Korea's "rap dance" scene in the mid-to-late '90s. At the turn of the century, hip-hop culture began to circulate even further via the internet.
"The young hip-hop community [in Korea] has always been pretty hardcore because they had to be to even get enough information to maintain community," Dr. Hurt notes. "[Things] like what are the new fashions, you had to be deep into it."
Youth were largely responsible for disseminating the burgeoning sound of K-pop. "Music is not becoming popular at church. It starts from some kid pirating a CD," says Kirsten Keels, a 2021 Fulbright Korea scholar.
Online, Koreans could explore hip-hop even further. In BTS’ book, Beyond The Story, RM recounted learning about hip-hop through interviews and documentaries about rappers posted on YouTube as a teen. His interest in hip-hop would later cause a ripple effect that would lead him to his current position in BTS.
"Legitimizing" Hip-Hop In K-Pop's Second Generation
By the second generation of K-pop, which roughly begins in 2003, the days of "rap dance" had fizzled out in favor of a distinct K-pop sound. However, hip-hop’s presence in the genre remains in the form of creating a designated rapper in each idol group.
Korean Americans also played a significant role in the "legitimization" of hip-hop and K-pop. "In the early days of K-pop, particularly with the idol groups, you would have one or more members who were Korean American. The idea was they were closer to the source material and therefore it was more authentic," says Dr. Anderson.
This rings true for K-pop groups like H.O.T — Lee Soo-man of SM Entertainment's first massively successful group — and 1TYM, which had Korean American members. Both groups have been cited as inspiration for groups like BTS and 2PM. H.O.T's successful formula became the blueprint for many K-pop groups. They industrialized the K-pop system, much as Motown developed its artists and hit-making processes.
Hip-Hop Artists And K-Pop Idols: Past And Present
Decades after its inception, K-pop and hip-hop acts continue to work together. In 2004, Snoop Dogg and Warren G hopped on Jinusean’s track, "2 All My People." The song's infectiously funky beat made the two rappers' appearance feel seamless.
In 2010, Kanye West was featured on JYJ’s "Ayy Girl" (West also appeared in the music video). And two years later, Psy, who has been a lifelong fan of M.C. Hammer, performed the rapper’s signature dance move next to him at the 2012 American Music Awards.
K-pop and hip-hop royalty came together in 2013 when BIGBANG’s G-Dragon and Missy Elliott gave a mesmerizing performance of "Niliria" on "M-countdown", a weekly music program broadcasted by M-net. It was a legendary moment in K-pop history because it brought together two highly respected rappers from different countries.
One group in particular has a slew of hip-hop collaborations – BTS. It doesn’t come with much surprise, since the septet’s CEO has openly stated "Black music is the base" of their musical identity. BTS and its members have collaborated with the likes of Nicki Minaj, J.Cole, Wale, Desiigner, Juice WRLD, and Lil Nas X (with whom they performed at the 2020 GRAMMYs). Recently, Jungkook, the youngest member of the group, made his solo debut with the song "Seven" featuring Southern rapper, Latto. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2017, Jay-Z signed former 2PM leader Jay Park (who takes his name from the multi-GRAMMY winner) to Roc Nation. The following year, Park was seen at Roc Nation’s annual brunch where he snapped pictures with the likes of Beyoncé and Big Sean. His debut EP, Ask Bout Me, featured rappers such as 2 Chainz, Rich The Kid, and Vic Mensa.
Hip-hop’s influence on K-pop runs through the genre’s past, present and future. K-pop and hip-hop artists have always had moments of mutual respect. Even at the most unsuspecting times, the two genres have always found ways to collaborate.
However, the earnestness with which K-pop takes inspiration from hip-hop has understandably been questioned. The topic of cultural appropriation continues to be divisive, and unanimous consensus a rarity. "One person's appropriation isn't necessarily another person's appropriation," says Dr. Anderson.
Lately, the conversation around cultural appropriation in K-pop is commonly in relation to visual signifiers. Instances where K-pop idols have been in the hot seat include but are not limited to: ATEEZ’s Hongjoong wearing cornrows in promo images, BLACKPINK’s Lisa sporting box braids on multiple occasions, and MAMAMOO’s Hwasa donning a durag. While there's often swift backlash from fans, response from record labels is typically delayed — if they acknowledge the uproars at all.
In 2019 and 2020, respectively, former CLC member Sorn posted a picture of someone dressed in a mask that resembled a racist caricature, while Stray Kids' Hyunjin imitated a Korean cartoon character that was reportedly based on Black racial stereotypes. The latter eventually issued an official apology, while Sorn continued to get into hot water — most recently for a photoshoot where she flaunted an afro.
These recent cases are just repeat offenses of longstanding practices. In the '90s, JYPE Founder Park Jin-young put backup dancers in blackface and afros. The Bubble Sisters infamously wore blackface for their debut cover art and corresponding promo pictures in 2003.
BTS' J-Hope raised eyebrows with his remake of Webstar and Young B’s 2006 track "Chicken Noodle Soup." The 2019 track featured Becky G, while J-Hope appeared with a gelled hairstyle that resembled dreadlocks. While the look bordered on appropriation, Young B praised the song in an interview with Billboard.
"People of all cultures know the song," Young B said."[J-Hope and Becky G] made it even bigger for this day and age. I’m very open-minded and I feel like [the remake] is good for the culture. It was created in Harlem, and now it’s a worldwide thing."
"There’s a legit reason for people to be angry because aspects of African American culture have been and continue to be appropriated… the problem with Black popular culture is [it’s] so damn successful," Dr. Hurt says."[It’s] so hyper-successful that in a way you can't make restraining claims on it. I don't think it's at all realistic anymore."
Cases of appropriation can get harder to identify when there seems to be no clear signs of foul
play. RAIN and J.Y. Park’s 2020 duet, "Switch To Me," is redolent of Bobby Brown’s 1988 tune, "Every Little Step." The beat, clothing, and dance moves show that Park Jin-young was inspired by Brown.
"My baseline for a negative appropriation and misappropriation is a racial performance that mocks or demeans," Dr. Anderson adds. "We need to recognize that there's another perspective, not necessarily to excuse some of the more egregious cases of negative appropriation,. We can't use our American racial lens and just put it over this thing and have it make sense because there are other factors at play."
Sometimes the boundaries are pushed too far and are met with legal contention. In 2004, first-generation K-pop group Baby V.O.X released "Xcstasy," utilizing a freestyle Tupac made while incarcerated. The group’s label founder, Yoon Deung Ryong, vehemently denied the rumors that they illegally used the late rapper’s voice and likeness. However, reports from that time failed to corroborate their label’s defenses. In 2020, "Cupid Shuffle" singer Bryson Bernard accused and threatened to sue K-pop group Seventeen for their song "Left & Right" which sounded comparable to his 2007 hit.
Over the past three decades, hip-hop has become part of Korea’s public consciousness resulting in the K-pop we see and hear today. The spark that Black American GIs, Seo Taiji, and hip-hop-loving Korean youth lit has exploded into a billion dollar industry. Although it can come at the cost of misappropriation and well-meaning appreciation, it ultimately shows the influence of hip-hop and Black popular music around the world.
Photo: Kigon Kwak
Eric Nam Unravels An Existential Crisis On New Album 'House On A Hill'
Korean American ace Eric Nam has done nearly everything in the entertainment industry, yet still found himself wanting more. But with his latest album, 'House on a Hill,' he found himself finally appreciating "the very basics of human life."
Eric Nam is living proof that risk can sometimes lead to reward — or in his case, a booming career.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, to Korean immigrant parents, the 34-year-old was once a business analyst at Deloitte Consulting in New York, but saw a chance to turn his dreams into reality by moving to South Korea and joining the music competition show "Star Audition: Birth Of A Great Star 2" in 2011. While Nam may not have won the competition (he placed fifth), he has since proven that entertainment was his calling — and now, he's one of the most influential figures in South Korean culture.
As a singer, Nam has released two studio albums, four EPs and a slew of collaborations with names like Timbaland and Armaan Malik. As a TV personality, he hosted shows like "After School Club" and interviewed several Hollywood A-listers including Will Smith and Robert Downey Jr. He is also the co-founder and creative director of leading digital media company DIVE Studios, which focuses on AAPI and K-pop communities, and Mindset, a mental health and wellness platform.
His next enterprising step is his forthcoming album House on a Hill (out Sept. 8), where Nam makes his directorial debut through four music videos and a short film. The release will also kickstart a 67-date world tour across North America, Latin America, the UK, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand, with more stops to come.
Ahead of his latest venture, GRAMMY.com caught up with Nam to talk about the highs, the lows and all the lessons of the past decade that led him to this moment.
When you participated in "Star Audition," did you imagine it would be such a defining moment in your career?
I don't think so. For me, it was just the first and only chance to try to become a singer. Going on an audition program and potentially making it is a dream so many young kids have, you never think it's going to actually work. But I ended up doing the program for about nine months, I got to the top five, and at that point, it was one of the highest-rated shows in Korea, so it ended up being very successful. And then I was able to sign a record deal, so that show was just a very, very important start to my career.
Since then, you have released several EPs and albums, and developed your singing and songwriting skills to best portray who you are as an artist. What do you think is the most important song you wrote?
Oh, my gosh, that is an impossible question. It's kind of crazy, because I feel like every album [represents] such a different point of my life, of my career. [Cloud 9], the first one from 2013, was where I didn't really know what I was doing — I was just following the direction of the label.
And then the album in 2016 was the first time [a song I wrote] became a single. What was interesting about it is that I started as a singer, but I became bigger as a TV personality and interviewer in Korea, so that was a big stress for me. People wanted me to just be on TV more, and not so much focus on the music. And so [me and my team] were like, "Well, why don't we just write an album called Interview that is more in line with where we want to go musically?" It was an interesting approach that fit with my personality at the time. Was it musically fulfilling? Not really.
2018 was the first time where I started to really dive into music that I wanted to do, which is a lot more popular. I think that 2018's Honestly [had] a lot of stuff that I wanted to do as a musician. And so if there's one [most important] song, I think it's "I Don't Know You Anymore," only because it's the first song that I put out as a fully independent artist, which was terrifying. It was the first time where there was no label [behind me]. If it doesn't work, it's just me completely failing out, on my own, and that's a scary thing. But that was the kickoff of my indie career.
What has the experience of going indie taught you about yourself?
Well, I already knew it was not going to be easy. It's really not easy. There's so many different challenges and things that happen, stresses and all that kind of stuff. But through the process I've learned that I'm pretty strong mentally, and I have a lot of perseverance to push through things.
That's what was needed, and is still needed, to keep my head up and keep sprinting as an indie artist, because there is no right answer. The only person that can tell you what the right answer is yourself. So you have to really trust your instincts and also have the grit to push through anything and everything that's being thrown at you. That's probably been the biggest realization I've had about myself.
Was there any moment that you thought about giving up? Or that it wasn't going as you expected and you started to doubt yourself?
I think I have that very often. And I think it's because, as a creative person, you're putting out your baby, your creative child into the world, and the world can tear it apart. And it's very scary to sit there, and be fatigued, and yes, there are people who love it, but then, there's also people who are like, "This sucks." It's an emotional roller coaster.
That's why, whenever I do stuff, I always think of it as, "This is not going to be my last, but I have to appreciate it as if it is." Maybe I will retire, I don't know. That's a very real conversation I have with myself all the time.
More than a single moment, I think [this feeling] is always in the back of my head. I know I'm very lucky. I'm very blessed to be doing what I do, to write music and write about your feelings, your stories, and then perform them around the world. And so, as much as it is a blessing, I also know that it could go away at any point. So I'm just trying to appreciate it and live in every moment.
Throughout the years, you collaborated with legendary names in music, such as Timbaland, Gallant and Epik High's Tablo. How important were these encounters as you developed your own sound?
Somebody asked me recently, "What's your favorite collaboration?" and I was like, "I don't know." They're so different and it's been so many people. Obviously, Timbaland is a legend, and to be able to be on a song with him and be on stage with him was a really, really cool moment.
And then with Tablo, he's a legend for Korean hip-hop, and as somebody who is also like him — I'd say more Western- and English-based than just Korean — I felt like there was a connection where I could talk to him and ask questions. Mind you, a few years before the song came out, I was sitting in my college dorm, listening to his music like, "Wow, this is so good." And then we're getting to work on a song together. That was so cool.
And Gallant is the nicest dude ever, very talented. He was having this crazy year of musical success [in 2016] and touring, so for me, to be in the room, to be included on that song ["Cave Me In," featuring Tablo], was a really amazing moment, and I felt very grateful to be a part of it.
Fans always say your concerts are a whole experience, and you expressed your love for going on extensive tours as well. Do you have any remarkable shows or live experiences that remain in your mind?
They're all very memorable. So many shows and cities are special. Just thinking about the last tour, I was playing at House of Blues, Boston, and that's the first place I saw Adele play. Years ago, I played at The Tabernacle [in Atlanta, which marked] the first time I had paid for my own ticket. I saw John Legend and Robin Thicke in high school.
So many of these venues are just really special, but I still can't forget the first show I ever did in the States, on my own. That was 2017, I think, at Irving Plaza in New York. And then I did two back-to-back shows in Atlanta. It was the first time my parents and my friends were seeing me perform. It was probably a 600-person venue, very intimate, very small. But even then, I was like, "Wow, this is so cool."
Were you nervous in those first concerts? What were you thinking at that time?
Yeah, I think I'm always nervous. I think being nervous is a good thing. It means that you care and that you're trying to focus.
When I think about those early days, I still didn't have a lot of songs because, again, I was so busy doing TV, radio, hosting, all that stuff. The label's perspective was, "Oh, Eric, if we keep you busy with other stuff, we make a lot more money than music, so let's just do everything else," so I was always self-conscious about doing my own show. I was like, "Do I have enough songs? Are they going to enjoy it?" It was always very scary.
As you mentioned, you have extensively worked as a host and interviewer, and you still do that today with DIVE Studios and the Mindset platform. You interviewed basically everyone in K-pop, and more. What have you learned from talking to so many different people?
Everybody's human. That's all. Like, I still get anxious sometimes going to interviews if I don't know much about the person, but at the end of the day, that's what an interview is. Let's just talk, and then I'll ask you questions so I can get to know you, and maybe we can become friends. And if we don't, that's fine, too. That's just us learning that everybody's the same.
The biggest stars in the world have the same concerns, and eat the same food, and drink the same stuff as we do. That's it. That's why I think people enjoy my interviews, because I don't like to think of them as the biggest stars in the world.
It's so funny that you were saying, "They do the same stuff that we do," but you are also a star. That shows how you truly don't see that distinction from yourself to others, or vice-versa.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, if there's any criticism I ever get from the people around me, they're like, "You have to remember that you're a celebrity. Can you please not wear this in public? You should maintain an image." And I'm like, "Uh, I don't know, maybe."
People want artists to be more relatable, more human, they like that. And that's why I think your work is so popular, because you can bring that relatableness to the public in ways that K-pop usually doesn't allow.
Oh, thank you. I mean, it is kind of a struggle. I look at some of my friends and peers in their music videos, and they are wearing and doing the craziest things. They're going to outer space, and then they're going, I don't know, into the sewer, and I'm like, "I don't think I can pull that off."
So many of them are in these groups where it's all about the group's presence, not about the solo artist, so for me that's the one thing that is different. It is about me, not about five other people that I'm standing on stage with. I feel more comfortable being honest and open about "This is just the way I am," and not having to — I don't want to say pretend, but — put on an image.
You say you couldn't pull off those things, but for House on a Hill, you directed a lot of stuff, like the music videos and the short film. What were you able to pull off as Eric Nam?
We pretty much put together a screenplay and an entire script for this album, because I wanted everything to have a bigger purpose and meaning. It was a lot, like, going from writing the script, writing all the songs, writing the dialogue, to finding the locations with our team, and giving a lot of direction during the shoots and stuff. It was just very hectic. Luckily I had a great team working with me, and we were able to put it together. We are still editing stuff, and hopefully we get it all done, but it feels good.
Acting, writing and directing are things that I've always been curious about, but never had the time or the energy to really focus on it. But [this time] I was like, "Okay, how can we kill two birds with one stone? We're gonna do these videos, I might as well get a taste of it."
It was like my internship, I learned a lot. There's still so much that I don't know, and so much that I need to learn, but I do have this curiosity and this desire to write more, potentially act more. I don't know about directing, because directing seems like too much. But it is something that was really fun. Hopefully there will be more of it in the future.
You've said that "House on a Hill" felt like the start of the album when you wrote it. What was it about the song that felt that way?
Chronologically, it was the first song I wrote, in August [of last year], and that was kind of, "Okay, even though we're still on tour, this is going to be the start." I feel like, in order to put an album together, you have to live life and experience things, and get in trouble, and have fights, and fall in love, and all those things. But because I was literally touring nine months out of last year, and I have DIVE Studios and Mindset as well, all I do is work, so I was like, "I have nothing that I want to talk about."
And then I was starting to think, "Well, what's on my mind lately? Oh, I want to buy a house. And I want to be happier." And when I wrote "House on a Hill," that's the essence of the song. It's about wanting to find fulfillment and all that stuff. Once we had that [idea], I was like, "Oh, this feels good. What if we start just talking about more of the ways in which I'm feeling and thinking about life?" And that's the overarching theme of the album. It's very much an existential crisis that we're trying to work through.
Do you have the answer to some of the questions that you posed in "House on a Hill"? Like, what if more is never enough? What if nothing ever fills you up?
[Laughs.] I think we will always have those questions, but the one thing that I do believe is that I should be very grateful and happy. That's been my takeaway. We can always want more, want a nicer house, or a better car, or nicer clothes, or the newest phone, and all these things, but let's focus on why should those things be tied directly to happiness.
I think it's being appreciative of the fact that I'm able to do what I like to do, the fact that I am generally healthy, and that I have people that I love and people who love me, and that I have food on the table. It gets down to the very basics of human life. This album has been a big reminder of that fact.
After trying out so many different things, is there anything you still want to try in the future?
Oh man, I think I want to keep acting and writing. I guess something in fashion, but I don't even know what that means… That, or I'm just going to set up a coffee shop and retire. [Laughs.] That sounds pretty simple.
I try not to think too much, I think that everything that I'm doing right now comes very naturally — and that's why I keep doing it.
Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images
Breaking Down The NCT System, From The Rotational NCT U To The Upcoming NCT Tokyo
As 20-piece K-pop collective NCT release their fourth full-length album, 'Golden Age,' take a deep dive into the NCT universe with all six iterations of the group.
When NCT released their debut album, NCT 2018 Empathy, an accompanying documentary video mapped out what connects all of its pieces. "NCT shares dreams," utters a voice in English, with another adding in Mandarin, "The tones become one and become music."
This comprehensive scope — where "openness" and "expandability" are the main principles — began developing in January 2016. Then, SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo-man announced the origin of a mega-ensemble called Neo Culture Technology that would have an ever-growing number of members organized under different units with the objective of transforming into a global entity. In the spring of that year, the first iteration, NCT U, debuted with "The 7th Sense," setting the rollout for the subgroups NCT 127, NCT Dream and WayV.
Fast forward to present times, and this supergroup has become one of the most influential K-pop acts in the industry. Currently, there are 20 active members highly skilled in a diverse amount of fields, and each NCT ramification — now six in total — stands out with a unique identity. The entire NCT collective has also teamed up for full-length productions (2018's Empathy, 2020's NCT 2020 Resonance, 2021's Universe, and the newly minted Golden Age), showcasing the full extent of their potency.
Considering all of this, 2023 has been a transitional year. NCT Dream and NCT 127 concluded their first world tours since the Coronavirus pandemic hit; WayV had its first ventures outside Asia; NCT DoJaeJung was formed; and leader Taeyong debuted as the first official NCT soloist. But most notably, SM Entertainment ended the group's endless expansion, with the upcoming NCT Tokyo being the last subgroup joining the juggernaut.
To celebrate the Aug. 28 release of NCT's fourth studio album, Golden Age, GRAMMY.com breaks down every permutation existing within the NCT system.
As NCT's first subunit, NCT U is considered the core of the intricate engine that binds the supergroup's system. Its constitution is multifaceted and malleable, embodying the premise of all that is the world of Neo Culture Technology, a dominion where the possibilities are infinite.
This extension operates as a nexus where the presence and number of members vary depending on the conceptual choices for each release, opening the door to countless alliances that flaunt their artistic agility. The "U" of its name means "United" — referring to the link between the NCT family.
In early April 2016, the initial lineup of NCT U — Taeyong, Ten, Doyoung, Jaehyun, and Mark — released its debut single "The 7th Sense"; later comebacks like "Baby Don't Stop" and "BOSS" now exist as some of the best songs K-pop has offered in recent years. For Golden Age, this first combination of NCT U got together once again for the record's title track "Baggy Jeans."
By taking Seoul, South Korea, as their base of operations, NCT 127 — its name representing the longitude coordinates of this capital city — have made headway in the world of K-pop as an overwhelming force. For the nine-member contingent (Taeyong, Taeil, Johnny, Yuta, Doyoung, Jaehyun, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan) maximalism is a major part of their artistry, and their stage power is nothing short of exciting.
It all starts, of course, with a catalog heavily rooted in EDM and hip-hop, sometimes laced with irresistible R&B transitions that emphasize the shapeshifting eccentricity of their soundscape. The 2016 debut single "Fire Truck" activated this distinctive (and often divisive) music style that eventually stretched to achieve mainstream acknowledgment. But don't be fooled — the group also know how to tap into the luscious side of things (think 2017's "Sun & Moon" and 2019's "Highway to Heaven").
With the release of their second full-length project, NCT #127 Neo Zone — The 2nd Album, in 2020, NCT 127 cemented their position in the upper echelons of K-pop; the album sold a little over million copies, a first for any NCT division. But their next productions, 2021's "Sticker" and 2022's "2 Baddies," proved to be even bigger, both commercially and sonically — they each surpassed 2 million sales, and the booming experimentation continued pushing boundaries.
Just when you think NCT 127 is living in their zenith, they keep bringing surprises to the game. And they will likely do it again with their fifth full-length album, Fact Check, which is slated for Oct. 6.
Youthful, captivating and graciously irreverent, NCT Dream is composed of Mark, Renjun, Jeno, Haechan, Chenle, Jaemin, and Jisung. They entered the K-pop landscape hoverboarding (literally) in 2016 with their debut single "Chewing Gum," a joyful vignette of their budding talent.
Originally devised to be both an entry and a nonpermanent harbor for the freshest recruits until they reach the age of 19, NCT Dream had its graduation system dissolved by SM Entertainment in 2020, thus earning a fixed status. Then, Mark Lee — the group's leader and the only member who left — returned for the arrival of NCT 2020 Resonance, where the song "Déjà Vu" saw the septet reunited after almost two years. It was a moment of equal happiness for the fans and the members, as the looming uncertainty of the group's fate vanished.
And as The Dreamies (as they're affectionately called) matured, so did their music. The aural landscape evolved from ebullient teen pop to an adventurous blend of hip-hop and R&B steered by their vocal prowess, resulting in a formula that has paid off. NCT Dream's first studio album, 2021's Hot Sauce, gave them the title of "million-sellers," a milestone replicated in subsequent projects "Hello Future," Glitch Mode, "Beatbox," and their latest full-length venture, ISTJ, which was released on July 17.
In NCT's oneiric cosmos, WayV (an abbreviation of "We Are Your Vision") is a subgroup whose identity stems from an amalgamation of C-pop and K-pop. Its artistic components fuse Mandarin, Korean and English to navigate lyrical tales threaded with blaze and fantasy, all while bending the frontiers of time. "I finally saw the light hidden behind the darkness," they sing in their 2020 single "Kick Back." "After deciding on the final truth / Unfold the secret of time again."
Formed by Kun, Ten, Xiaojun, WinWin, Hendery, and YangYang, this China-focused iteration debuted in January 2019 with "Regular," the lead song of their first single album, "The Vision." Since their conception, WayV have molded a niche of entrancing, genre-defying music, and B-sides like "Love Talk," "Electric Hearts," or "After Midnight" showcase said idiosyncrasy. Within their lineup, the subunits WayV-TEN&YANGYANG and WayV-KUN&XIAOJUN also inject inventiveness to their repertoire, proving they're authentic chameleons.
At the tail end of 2022, the sextet unveiled Phantom, their fourth EP that marked the conclusion of a two-year lethargy, and a new beginning where they stand stronger than before.
While sonic risks permeate as the key ingredients across all the NCT branches (mainly in their title tracks), this trio — made of vocalists Doyoung, Jaehyun and Jungwoo — found its footing in more conservative territories. The creative direction is nectarous and seductive, dabbling with motifs of longing and romance.
The development of NCT DoJaeJung was previewed in October 2022 during NCT 127's concert tour Neo City – The Link, but the official outset happened last April with their first EP, Perfume. The six-track mini album shines a light on the three members' voices that dazzle over classic cuts of R&B, with the eponymous lead single being the climax. This is a mere taste of what these guys can offer, and a prologue for more alluring releases to come.
With the concept of NCT's unlimited expansion reaching its final phase, SM Entertainment also announced the formation of one last subgroup — tentatively named NCT Tokyo.
This ramification already includes Sion and Yushi, members of the pre-debut team known as SM Rookies, who were presented to the public last June and will be completed by aspiring idols selected through the reality show "NCT Universe: LASTART."
As of press time, the competition is ongoing and features trainees from Japan and South Korea challenging missions to display their range of abilities. Throughout the episodes, they are being mentored by different SM artists, and at the end of each round, evaluations come courtesy of K-pop legends BoA, Super Junior's Eunhyuk and vocal trainer Jang Jinyoung. The debut date of NCT Tokyo is yet to be determined, but it will surely serve as a dynamic addition to the NCT universe.