meta-scriptK-Pop Sensation Stray Kids On Their New LP, 'Go Live': "We Wanted To Show Everyone What Our True Colors Were" | GRAMMY.com
K-Pop Sensation Stray Kids On Their New LP, 'Go Live': "We Wanted To Show Everyone What Our True Colors Were"

Stray Kids

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K-Pop Sensation Stray Kids On Their New LP, 'Go Live': "We Wanted To Show Everyone What Our True Colors Were"

The eight-piece troupe spoke to GRAMMY.com about the creation process behind their debut LP, enjoying food together and how "every member really trusts and loves each other"

GRAMMYs/Jun 29, 2020 - 10:52 pm

"Hello, we are Stray Kids!" they shout enthusiastically, just before someone howls for a few seconds with exuberance. It’s fitting, considering that the South Korea-based boy band just released their first LP, Go Live, prior to hopping on the phone to discuss the June 17 release.

Featuring a total of 14 tracks, Go Live is a sonic taste of what Stray Kids has to offer. A group of eight members who hail from Asia and Australia and came together under K-pop label JYP Entertainment in 2017, the act has been together for less than half a decade. But in that short while, since the drop of their first "unofficial" release, 2017’s Mixtape, which arrived before their formal debut as a K-pop act in 2018 with the I am trilogy followed by their 2019 Clé album series, they’ve made a name for themselves for their fiercely frank approach to both their world view and experimental music making, with internal production team 3racha, made up of members Bang Chan, Changbin and Han, taking center stage as the guiding hands of Stray Kids' discography.

Go Live, which debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s World Albums chart upon its release, is a different look for the group. They did away with the thematic approach they used when crafting prior album series’, and instead decided to go with a more free-flowing, spontaneous creation method, which resulted in a diverse soundscape that reflects the moments they ideated songs (see the culinarily inspired single "God’s Menu").

"Because it’s our first full album, we want to show a vast variety of colors, or taste, in our so-called menu of the track list," Changbin told GRAMMY.com during a conversation with Stray Kids over the phone from Seoul about the act's first LP. "The creative process just happened on the spot, so we just wanted to make it raw and feel alive, as much as there are a lot of different flavors in Stray Kids and our music."

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

How're you feeling nowadays? You must be pretty busy considering you just released the new album.

Bang Chan: We’ve been busy, but luckily everyone’s been in the finest condition, so we’re all really good right now.

Felix: We’re healthy!

Always good to hear, especially considering all that’s going on in 2020. Which, excitingly, includes the release of your first official LP, Go Live. What inspired you to release this album to the world?

Bang Chan: Because it’s our first official full one, I think we put a lot more effort into it and we really wanted to show everyone what our true colors were, what Stray Kids is best at. I think what really inspired us to complete this album was to show what we make on the spot. This is really hard to explain, can you give me a moment? [Pauses.] Okay, so before, with our other [I am and Clé] series’ albums, we thought of the message we wanted to write about, and then we would write the music and sort things out. But with this album, we made everything on the spot. Whatever we wanted to say, we just made it.

You mentioned that you wanted Go Live to show your true colors. Do you feel the past albums didn’t really do that?

Bang Chan: In our past albums there were our true colors as well, but what I meant was that through this album the process was just a bit different. Before, we would choose the message first but with this one it was more about a right now kind of thing. Whatever happened happened, and it would come out as it is.

So this album is kind of a reflection of the moment rather than an idea or message you’re putting into it.

Bang Chan: Yes. For example, our first song "God’s Menu." It might be weird to see the title, "God’s Menu." But in Korean, it’s called “Shin Menu (神메뉴),” and it has two meanings. One is “God’s Menu” and one is “New Menu.” With that wordplay, we wanted to relay how the way we relate to music could be like cooking [something new up], we wanted to take that image and put it out to show what we’re made of.

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You must have a strong relationship to food to base your whole album on it?

Bang Chan: Everyone loves food in our team.

Felix: Ever since, you know, we trained [to be part of Stray Kids under JYP], we had food together so it’s become natural for us to eat a lot together. And, even without me realizing, way before this album came out, I started cooking food for the team just as a hobby, seeing I could bring my energy to the group that way. I feel that it was really right for this album, since I cook and love food. 

Why did you decide to name the album Go Live?

Bang Chan: We wanted to exhibit something different. Of course, we could have named this whole album God’s Menu but we wanted to show that we, Stray Kids with their music, are that itself. They are alive, they are raw, there’s no special ingredient, there’s no special filter. It is what it is, and that’s what we wanted to show through this album.

Beyond the single, are there any songs that members have particular connections to? Either as songwriters or just because you like them?

Bang Chan [about Changbin]: He’s thinking deeply. He loves every song.

Changbin: "God’s Menu."

I.N: "Haven"

Han: I’m going to choose "Blueprint." That’s a good song.

Hyunjin [sings]: "TA"

Seungmin: "Blueprint" also.

Felix: "God’s Menu."

Bang Chan: I will have to choose "God’s Menu." Yea, I can’t choose.

Lee Know: "Easy."

Han: Nobody answered [the song I wrote the lyrics for] "Another Day." A bit sad. Yea… Nobody. No one. [Members all laugh.]

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This is your first LP, so, aside from how you approached the creative process differently, were you in a different headspace while approaching this release?

Seungmin: The albums that we released so far have our own story, but this full-length album, I think, contains what Stray Kids is all about. For example, there is a lot of music of various genres, because we wanted to tell you that we can enjoy these different kinds of music. It’s very meaningful that it’s our first full-length album so we worked more and more hard.

Stray Kids is known for its kind of edgy, experimentally aggressive approach to music, especially for singles, but on this album there’s a lot of diversity, and a lot of the songs, like "Another Day," "Blueprint" and "Phobia" were pretty mellow. Is that because rather than telling a story you were focused on showing a broader, truer representation of Stray Kids?

Bang Chang: Well, I mean, we do experiment a lot with our songs. But like you said there are some easygoing songs as well as experimental songs. There’s a whole package, isn’t it? That’s what we’re going for, because there can be times when you need to take a break. Even in a novel, there’s a whole structure where it goes really crazy but then cools down for a bit. Even in a full-course meal, you get the appetizer, the entree, the dessert. It’s all one big package, and that’s what we were going for.

You have had a hands-on approach to songwriting since prior to your debut. Do you feel your songwriting process has changed at all over the years?

Changbin: If there’s one thing we’ve gotten better at, or grown out of, is that our creative writing process comes a lot faster. What we want to write about in the moment, the ideas come faster as well. Because it’s our first full-length album, we were able to put in a lot of songs so that being an opportunity for us was just really exciting, it was really exhilarating, it made us more excited and it made us want to create more ideas to write about. The whole creative process of this full-length album, it was really special. Just playing around with music and being able to do whatever we want. I think that was really special.

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What’s the overall message you want listeners to take away from Go Live?

Bang Chan: There’s a lot of flavors in the album, but if there’s anything that we want listeners to get out of it… You know, "Stray Kids has their own very special genre." I mean, I can’t tell them to think like that. But if they do think like that, I think it would be one of the hugest compliments we can get, for Stray Kids' music to have their own different genre. I think that’d be really amazing. I think it’d be really special for us. Yeah… But for the first listen of our album, I hope listeners can realize that Stray Kids really have fun when making their own music, and really experiment a lot, and really enjoy making genuine music.

You mentioned how fun the process is to create music, but it’s still work. How do you keep finding motivation and joy in this even when those times come where it may be hard to approach your work?

Felix: Honestly, for us, we have no problems at all because, all thanks to [our fandom], Stay [Stray Kids' fandom name] we’re still on our track, still on this journey. For us, there’s no end to it, so we always keep striving towards the goal we haven’t seen yet. There are always bits and pieces that we’re still picking up together. It’s all thanks to Stay, that they’re right beside us, that we get to walk this journey without any trouble.

Bang Chan: And another thing to add onto what Felix said. Of course, we have our fans, our lovely Stay who are right there with us. Not only that, but what’s most important for Stray Kids is Stray Kids itself. Every member relies on each other, every member really helps each other, every member really trusts and loves each other, and that’s what’s really important for Stray Kids.

Felix: Woah… Mic drop. [All cheer.]

Felix said that you’re still on your path to achieving your as-of-yet undetermined goal. So what is something you think you might want to achieve in the future?

I.N: One of my main goals, and one of Stray Kids’ goals, in 2020 is to show not only Stay but a lot of people what Stray Kids’ performance is all about. I want to give a lot of people energy through performances, and energy, inspiration, and strength through our music. 

Final question: What’s something random you’ve never told your fans?

Bang Chan: I really enjoyed watching Community, it’s really, really funny. And The Big Bang Theory.

Felix: I actually enjoy baking instead of cooking. So far I make brownies, but I’m trying to find other stuff to do.

Bang Chan: Yea, I’m trying to make him make chocolate chip cookies. He won’t make it, but I really like chocolate chip cookies. He’s being annoying. He makes a whole lot of brownies, just to be energizer.

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

Photo: JYP Entertainment

interview

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

The nine members of K-pop girl group TWICE spoke to GRAMMY.com about their new EP 'With YOU-th,' released today, and their ability to navigate the choppy waters of life and stardom over their nearly decade-long journey together.

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 03:14 pm

In the music video for "I Got You," K-pop girl group TWICE are stranded at a tempestuous sea. Their ship waders and wobbles, thunder roars outside, but the nine members are safe and sound in the cabin — lying on cozy pillows and having a good time, they know all storms are temporary.

"I Got You" precedes TWICE’s thirteenth EP, With YOU-th, out Feb. 23, and the video mirrors their journey together so far. 

TWICE members Nayeon, Jeongyeon, Jihyo, Momo, Sana, Mina, Dahyun, Chaeyoung and Tzuyu made their debut in Oct. 2015, after being selected through JYP Entertainment’s survival show "Sixteen." Almost a decade later, the group is now one of K-pop’s most influential, beloved names. They've even made history by becoming the first K-pop group to win a Breakthrough Award at the 2023 Billboard Women in Music Awards, and the first girl group and Asian female act to sell out Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium last year.

Achieving their level of success didn’t come easy. In songs like "Feel Special" and "One In a Million," they've openly shared the dedication and resilience it took to make it this far. They highlight the importance of unity and their special connection, both with each other and their fan base known as ONCE.

With YOU-th celebrates all that. It’s a journey navigating toward the calm after the storm, and a statement on the importance of friendship, love, and just having someone who can say "No matter what, you got me/ I got you/ And I wouldn’t want it any other way."

Ahead of the release, the nine members of TWICE (and a special appearance by Momo’s Norwich Terrier, Boo) chatted with GRAMMY.com over Zoom about their new album, the most significant moments in their career so far, and how they see themselves today.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Explore The Sounds Of K-Pop

Reflecting On The Present While Creating With YOU-Th

Nayeon: With YOU-th is meaningful in a way that it tells our story and reflects who we are at this moment.

Sana: Our [lead single], "One Spark," was supposed to be in one of our previous albums, but it didn't make it. [When] we chose it to be the single for this album, and we wanted to make it even better than it already was. We changed arrangements and the parts that we sang, and we also re-recorded the song to make it as perfect as possible.

Dahyun: The song that I wrote the lyrics for, "You Get Me," is a sequel to our pre-release single, "I Got You." The story continues in that there's a connection between the two songs. I also wrote lyrics for another song, but it didn't make it in this album and I'm hoping that it'll make it in the next album.

Experiencing An Unbelievable Debut — And Global Success

Jeongyeon: The first moment that really stuck with me was during the [2015 survival show] "Sixteen," where TWICE members were decided. Another moment was when we released our first single, "Like OOH-AHH." I cried a lot on that day.

Another moment [that I remember well] was the first time we topped the Korean music charts with [2016’s] "Cheer Up." It happened on May 5. I remember it very clearly.

Tzuyu: During the years that I was a trainee, some of the members were already chosen to debut [with TWICE], and I was not one of them. Whenever I watched them during monthly evaluations, I would always think about how perfect they are and how good they are. I never thought that I would be one of the members. The fact that I made it into TWICE and that it lasted so far is still really unbelievable for me.

Dahyun: When we first visited a broadcast station to perform on stage as TWICE, that was really memorable. I remember being so nervous in front of the fans. And I remember our first concert where I cried a lot.

Blinking Twice, Nearly 10 Years Have Flown By 

Jihyo: I sometimes look up our old concert videos on the internet, and when I watch them, I am impressed by how much improvement we made, and also how young we were and how hard we worked.

Sana: When we debuted, I thought our eighth anniversary would never come, but it happened so quickly. Our eighth anniversary fan meeting was so beautiful and we cherished it with our fans and all nine of us. That was such a precious moment. I'm just so grateful that we made it this far and all of us are healthy and happy. I think that's what matters the most.

Mina: Right before we signed the contracts again as a group [in 2022], we had a concert at Tokyo Dome. At this point, none of us knew what would happen, so we cried a lot and we were very anxious as well. That performance really stuck with me.

Twice Have Had To Overcome Hardships As A Team

Jihyo: Because everybody else talked about happy moments, I'm going to talk about the difficult times rather than the good times. I think the hardships made us solid as a team, and it really made me feel that I'm not alone in this. Whatever we go through, I'm not alone.

That feeling struck me hard when I released my solo album, [Zone]. I got so many cheers from the members and they helped me by doing all these challenges for Instagram. I really felt like difficult things are easier to overcome when we're together.

Every time when we're so busy and all of us are sensitive, it's much easier to get over yourself and think that you're not alone in this. All of the members are going through the same thing. That kind of thought really helps.

Remembering The "Glamor" Of Touring  

Momo: During our [last] tour, we would all get together in the hotel room and eat. For example, when we are in Japan, our favorite meal to eat together is udon noodles. And there was this one particular day that each of us got into the shower right after the concert, and the hot water didn't come out, so all of us in our respective bathrooms screamed at the same time. That was really funny.

Chaeyoung: Last year, during the promotions for "Set Me Free," we visited the United States for two weeks. Every day we had three or four [performance] schedules, and it made me feel like I was back to the newly-debuted times of our group. It was physically challenging, but we got over it, and it’s now a good memory. The most striking part was when we went to the Empire State, and they lit up the whole [Empire State] building with TWICE’s official colors.

Dahyun: There was also a concert in Japan where we performed on a big, round stage. I remember all of us members holding hands and circling around, and that somehow stuck with me. I also remember vividly the first time we got an award overseas, in America.

TWICE Want To Face The Future Together

Nayeon: In the last scene of the music video for "I Got You," we are sailing on a ship in the middle of the ocean. I thought that it was a reflection of where we are, career-wise and in our lives. Of course we had difficult times, but I think that going through all of it together solidified us as a group. I'm not going to say that we have a clear destination point now, but what matters is that we are together, and that is something very clear and solid.

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Global Spin Live: LE SSERAFIM Spends A "Perfect Night" With Fans On The GRAMMY Museum Stage
LE SSERAFIM

Photo: SOURCE MUSIC

video

Global Spin Live: LE SSERAFIM Spends A "Perfect Night" With Fans On The GRAMMY Museum Stage

K-pop quintet LE SSERAFIM hit the GRAMMY Museum stage for an energetic live performance of "Perfect Night," their latest English single.

GRAMMYs/Dec 19, 2023 - 06:00 pm

For the rising K-pop girl group LE SSERAFIM, their most “Perfect Night” might consist of partying with your closest friends from dusk to dawn. Or, in this case, spending an evening in Los Angeles with their loyal fanbase, FEARNOT.

In this episode of Global Spin Live, watch the quintet light up the GRAMMY Museum stage with a premiere performance of their latest single. They take turns at the center before quickly positioning into a new formation.

“I got all I need/ You know nothing else can beat/ The way that I feel when I'm dancin' with my girls,” they cheer in the chorus. “Perfect energy/ Yeah, we flawless, yeah, we free/ There's no better feelin' in the whole wide world.”

Released on Oct. 27, "Perfect Night" is LE SSERAFIM's first all-English track, co-written by member HUH YUNJIN. The group teamed up with the video game 'Overwatch 2' to create the animations for the music video; they later promoted the track at the gaming convention BlizzCon 2023.

Global Spin Live is held in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY.com as a live extension of the popular online series Global Spin, showcasing Global Music artists. Press play on the video above to watch LE SSERAFIM's infectious performance of "Perfect Night," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Global Spin.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined K-Pop

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined K-Pop
(from left) NewJeans, Jung Kook, xikers, Jimin, VCHA

Photos: ADOR; Jason Mendez/Getty Images; Santiago Felipe/Getty Images; The Chosunilbo/JNSImazins via Getty Images; JYP Entertainment

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2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined K-Pop

K-pop aims to appease the biggest crowds possible, but it’s also unafraid of trying new ways of making music and building fan communities. Read on for five trends in K-pop that marked the industry in 2023, from globally-based acts to new sounds.

GRAMMYs/Dec 15, 2023 - 04:00 pm

K-pop is a living, breathing organism. It’s way beyond just pop music from South Korea — more like a whole microcosm that includes culture, tech, fashion, other music genres, and even other countries. Its boundaries are increasingly blurry: there are K-pop groups releasing albums entirely in English and American groups being created under the K-pop business model. Where does it end, and where does it begin?

No one knows exactly. What we do know, though, is that the industry and all its adjacent productions remain one of the most experimental and innovative. K-pop aims to appease the biggest crowds possible, but it’s also unafraid to leap into new ways of making music and building fan communities.

These are some of the traits that make it so exciting — whether it’s a 24-member, NFT-based group like tripleS or a song about baggy jeans, you never know what awaits around the corner. As K-pop continues to expand and surprise, here are five trends that marked the industry in 2023.

Boy Groups To The Front

If 2022 was the year of girl groups in K-pop, 2023 saw a wave of boy groups rising up to the challenge. While female acts continue to thrive — with exciting names like Loossemble, Kiss of Life and tripleS joining the industry — it was this year’s male debuts that attested the beginning of a new era.

Monster rookies ZEROBASEONE broke all-time records by selling over 1 million copies of their first EP, July’s Youth In The Shade, on the first day of release. The nine-member group was formed through survival TV show "Boys Planet," and was marketed as the initiator of K-pop’s fifth generation. That statement is not as simple as it looks (many factors contribute to a change of generations in K-pop, not just debuts), but it pointed to a definite handing of the torch.

There were also fresh teams coming from some of the most well-established K-pop agencies this year. Xikers, the younger peers of ATEEZ at KQ Entertainment, debuted in March. In May, BoyNextDoor came forth from KOZ Entertainment, a subsidiary of HYBE (BTS, TXT, and more) founded by the singer, producer and leader of Block B. In September, RIIZE met the world as SM Entertainment’s first non-NCT-related boy group since 2016.

Other promising newcomers include Xodiac, 8Turn, Evnne, TOZ, and Ampers&One — many of whom are former contestants of "Boys Planet" — and it becomes clear that 2023 set the bar for a new generation of boy bands to come.

Living In The Age Of TikTok

"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," manager and A&R consultant Marion Van der wees told GRAMMY.com earlier this year. 

Van der wees’ statement rings true. While TikTok and Instagram Reels have been popular in K-pop for a few years, they became the norm in 2023. From rookies like Lun8 to industry veterans like Red Velvet, every release now comes with an obligatory video "challenge" for those platforms, intended to be replicated ad infinitum by the artist, their peers, and their fans.

As K-pop becomes increasingly fandom-focused, these challenges also serve as one of the main forms of interaction between artists of different labels, styles, and levels of experience who wouldn’t normally engage with each other. It’s less a question of going viral, and more of cross-promoting, exposing themselves to new audiences, and gifting fans with unique content.

Besides all that, newer groups like RIIZE are tapping into Gen Z’s online habits and reveling in their spontaneity: they gained buzz for replying to fans’ comments and for posting relatable (if a little unhinged) videos, just like any teenager would.

AI Dreams (Or Nightmares?)

While AI music and virtual artists have been on exponential rise since the COVID-19 pandemic, 2023 was the year where K-pop truly embraced them. Virtual girl group MAVE: amassed over 26 million views on their debut single, January’s "Pandora," and virtual boy group PLAVE, who also debuted this year, became the first of their kind to perform at KCON LA in August.

In May, entertainment giant HYBE launched Midnatt, the alter ego of singer-songwriter Lee Hyun. Although Hyun is a real person, his first single "Masquerade" was released in six languages (English, Korean, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese) through the utilization of Supertone, an AI audio company that HYBE acquired in January. Supertone modulated Hyun’s tone, pronunciation, delivery, and even shifted his voice from male to female.

AI is also shaping how fans interact with artists — you can even talk to the digital twin of GOT7 member Mark Tuan now. Created by New Zealand company Soul Machines, Digital Mark Tuan is available 24/7 via OpenAI’s GPT3, and aims to "connect with fans, share stories about the real Mark Tuan, and cement his presence in the metaverse," according to Soul Machine's website.

These projects have growing audiences, but there’s still plenty of discussion on whether K-pop and AI’s mix has yielded positive results. As best summarized by songwriter/producer Wonderkid on Grammy.com’s roundtable, K-pop’s relationship with AI "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."

Softer Sounds And Chill Vibes Proliferate 

K-pop has always been known for shaping different musical genres into something of its own. This diversity — spanning from reggae to classic orchestra, sometimes all in one song — is part of K-pop’s DNA. Superstars like Stray Kids and NCT 127 often have their styles described as "noise music," and girl groups like BLACKPINK and ITZY rose to the top with hard-hitting beats, spawning a trend that is still followed by several rookies.

This bold, in-your-face style of K-pop will likely always exist, but a new trend has begun to emerge. Songs from rookie groups like NewJeans, IVE, and even Fifty Fifty (see their viral "Cupid") are softer and have the calming effect of putting on earphones in a busy office.

NewJeans’ December 2022 single "Ditto" was inspired by Baltimore club but also manages a more chill vibe. The year-round hit achieved the coveted PAK — Perfect All-Kill, meaning it  charted at No. 1 on real-time, daily and weekly charts on all major South Korean music streaming platforms. IVE’s disco-infused "I Am" was another PAK winner, and so was the duo AKMU’s bouncy ballad "Love Lee."

The trend toward more mellow sounds is also present in three of BTS’ solo projects this year: Jimin came forward with the synth-pop of "Like Crazy," V approached soul and jazz on his "Slow Dancing," and Jung Kook channeled Michael Jackson with the funky "Standing Next to You." Even the debuting boy groups of this year have chosen more laid back sounds. Zerobaseone sampled A-ha’s "Take on Me" for "In Bloom," and RIIZE’s synth-laden "Get a Guitar" is filled with nostalgia. As industry trendsetters veer towards pleasing melodies and chill vibes with retro inspirations, these sounds are certain to become even more widespread in the following years.

K-Pop Beyond The K

"For K-pop to truly become mainstream worldwide, the ‘K’ in K-pop needs to be removed, and it should just be ‘pop’ in itself," HYBE chairman Bang Si-hyuk said in a press release about the label’s latest endeavor: a trainee survival show called "The Debut: Dream Academy," which premiered on Sept. 1. In partnership with Geffen Records, HYBE embarked on "a worldwide search for the next global girl group," receiving over 120,000 applications from Argentina to Japan. The resulting six-member group, KATSEYE, will likely debut next year, followed by a Netflix docuseries.

A few months prior, JYP Entertainment (home to groups like TWICE and Stray Kids) also announced the reality competition show "A2K (America2Korea)", in partnership with Republic Records. Their goal was to create a U.S.-based girl group with members of diverse backgrounds, but who would be trained under the K-pop system. The resulting sextet, VCHA, released their first single album, "SeVit (New Light)," in September.

Add to that SM Entertainment, who helms groups like EXO and NCT, teaming up with UK production company Moon&Back in order to launch a boy band in early 2024, and you have nearly all of K-pop’s biggest players placing bets on Western-based projects. As K-pop has always been an export-driven industry, these moves are no surprise — but 2023 marked a year where companies were finally successful in applying the K-pop model to form artists in markets outside of Asia.

Whether VCHA, KATSEYE, and other groups will be successful remains a mystery, but their existence points to a shift. As THEBLACKLABEL singer and producer Vince mentioned in Grammy.com’s roundtable, "we don’t call pop music from America ‘American pop’, we just call it ‘pop.’" K-pop might be headed in the same direction.

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ZEROBASEONE's Big Year: From Winning "Boys Planet" To The World Stage
ZEROBASEONE

Photo: WAKEONE

interview

ZEROBASEONE's Big Year: From Winning "Boys Planet" To The World Stage

The nine-member K-pop act have seen a stratospheric rise over the past year. GRAMMY.com spoke with ZB1 about the most exciting moments of their career and their recently released EP, 'Melting Point.'

GRAMMYs/Nov 8, 2023 - 06:02 pm

Rising K-pop stars ZEROBASEONE have experienced a rapid transition from boy group hopefuls to full-blown idols. While they're full speed ahead promoting their latest EP, Melting Point, it's necessary to turn back the clock and go into the very beginning to fully grasp how their growth has been unfolding.

Last fall, Zhang Hao, Kim Taerae, Sung Hanbin, Seok Matthew, Ricky, Park Gunwook, Kim Gyuvin, Kim Jiwoong, and Han Yujin received an announcement that changed the course of their personal journey: they were accepted into "Boys Planet," a televised K-pop survival series. This platform would introduce more than 90 idol trainees, each of whom strived for the opportunity to debut in a boy group. 

Each week of the competition was an uphill climb, but the nine singers were resilient. ZEROBASEONE (shortened as ZB1) emerged as the victors of "Boys Planet," voted by hundreds of thousands of fans around the world who watched them unlock their artistic potential that drafted sky-high expectations. 

That summer, the multicultural ensemble from South Korea, China, and Canada released their first mini album, Youth In The Shade. The six-track collection was helmed by "In Bloom," which alludes to the sentiments of flourishing despite the finite nature of a path. "Nothing lasts forever," they sing in the pre-chorus, later reassuring: "But I can change that, my fate."

It was a captivating entry into the world of K-pop and is now the best-selling debut record in K-pop history with almost two million copies sold to date — a milestone that elevated them as "monster rookies." And as such, in true K-pop fashion, they have been busy

ZEROBASEONE have graced the covers of some of the most prestigious South Korean magazines, made television appearances and circled the globe, all while preparing for Melting Point. In addition to their first performances in Europe, Japan and the U.S., ZB1 performed at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, an event that sold out in a matter of minutes.

But what makes ZB1 truly shine is their essence as artists and individuals. "We have become one," Seok Matthew tells GRAMMY.com over a video call from Seoul. "I just get these random feelings that make me think how grateful [I am] that I got to be a part of this group, and that I have these eight amazing members beside me."

Before ZEROBASEONE continues forging ahead with Melting Point, the group spent some time reminiscing about their big year. From how far they've come since "Boys Planet," to fully stepping into their new facet as K-pop idols, this is the initial stride of nine youngsters etching a future together.

The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Winning Big On "Boys Planet"

Seok Matthew: To be honest, I didn’t even think I was going to pass the audition for "Boys Planet" because I went from company to company [when I was a trainee]. But, when I did get in, I was super happy because I found that Hanbin hyung also got accepted [into the show], and that made me feel a lot more relieved. I didn't have high hopes and I knew it was going to be a fierce competition…but he made me feel like I could go into this with a bit more confidence than I would have if I didn't go with him.

Sung Hanbin: When I met [my fellow ZB1 members] as trainees, I could tell from their eyes that they were not expecting "Boys Planet" to be hugely popular. We were all there because we just wanted to show off our potential and present something we hadn't been able to share with the world. 

We cannot forget about all the hard work from the program's producers, writers, and all staff members, but on top of that, all trainees' passion is what I believe made the program do so well. 

Kim Gyuvin: "Boys Planet'' was the program that made the dreams we have been desiring for a long time come true. I think it was the first step for us to receive the Rookie Of The Year awards [at The Fact Music Awards and the K-Global Heart Dream Awards], which [are] not easy to come by, so we are very thankful and feel extremely fortunate to receive that. "Boys Planet'' really served as a stepping stone for us, and I would say it was truly a life-changing experience.

Officially Becoming ZEROBASEONE

Park Gunwook: The realization [that my life was about to change] came pretty soon because after the final episode aired, we went to the dorm where we were going to live together. It was very exciting to learn that I was going to be starting my group activities and living together with these members that I love and respect so much. I felt like my stomach was full of butterflies every time I thought about that.

Ricky: For me, even before the final lineup was out, we already knew that "Boys Planet'' was getting bigger than we thought it would be. Honestly, I wasn’t not sure if I was going to make it into the group, so the moment my name was called, and I went upstairs to sit in [one of the] top nine chairs, I thought, Oh, this is a big turning point in my life.

Kim Jiwoong: Something I want to mention is that we are a very funny group. [Laughs.] I think it shines through the content that we share with our fans and the general public, and they are getting to know a different side of ZEROBASEONE. 

Something that I learned by being close with the members is that I'm really cute — even more than I expected. [Laughs.] I'm the oldest member in the group and as I spend more time with the younger members, I find more pure and childish sides of me that I didn't even know. My relationship with the members has made me feel like a flower that is just blooming, and I'm glad I get to enjoy my youth with them.

Making A Statement At KCON Japan 

Zhang Hao: It was our first [official] performance as ZEROBASEONE, and we wanted to show who we are as a group to the world. We wanted to demonstrate what we could do as artists because people have been seeing us since we were trainees, and now we are a debut group. I truly think that the KCON Japan performance was my life’s turning point because it announced the birth of ZEROBASEONE in front of everyone.

Kim Taerae: After we finished the performance, I felt very proud of our group because I think we did well. I also thought that we have a long way to go, and [I know] that we can do better, so we need to work even harder… and truly grow as artists while maintaining our youth and beginner's minds. That was something I was looking forward to right after coming off the stage.

Seok Matthew: I just remember vividly that we got to play with the fans, and we were handing out all these gifts to them. Everyone was having such a great time and I felt like we were actually giving back all the love that they gave us. 

At the end of KCON, we all went to the stage to say goodbye [to the audience], and we got to see our sunbaenims [senior groups] we have always admired…it was really an honor. I think that was the big point for us where, after we finished our performance, we thought, wow, I can't believe we just did that. At that point, that's when we were like, "we need to get as good as our sunbaenims."

Releasing Their Debut EP, Youth In The Shade, & Continuing To Grow

Han Yujin: On our debut day, I remember looking at the members and feeling absolutely proud of each and every one of them. And I had this thought that if we work harder, we are going to succeed and improve to be even better. I could just feel it. I also thought that, personally, I wanted to work even harder to resemble my amazing hyungs [older members]. I've been enjoying every single day since our debut.

Sung Hanbin: We chose this path because we've been enjoying the process and we love what we do. While preparing for Youth In The Shade, I learned that there are so many more things to learn — and it's not just about improving ourselves as performers, but also building our experience, attitude, and stage [presence]. 

We also need to consider our relationship with other seniors and colleagues as well, which I think is essential in this industry. The most important thing that I learned and I'm still figuring out is to be open about new things and grow every day.

Performing At Seoul's Gocheok Sky Dome

Han Yujin: I remember stepping out [to the stage] for the opening song, which was "Back to ZEROBASE." As we started singing the very first part of the song, the door in front of us opened and we were able to see all the audience cheering for us. It was just a very grand moment and I felt overwhelmed and somewhat emotional as well.

It immediately motivated me to give my best throughout the whole concert. I think that specific memory of just being on that stage for the first time and seeing our fans through an opening door will stay in my mind forever.

Conquering Big Stages Around The World

Ricky: KCON L.A. was special for me because Los Angeles is my second hometown, and it was my first time going back since we debuted. As soon as we got there, it made me realize that all the hard work was worth it.

Zhang Hao: And we met Ricky's mom! [Laughs.]

Ricky: It was the first time my family came to see us perform [as ZEROBASEONE], so it was an unforgettable moment. 

Seok Matthew: I'd say that one really good memory I have right now is [M Countdown] in France because I was a special MC. It was my first time being able to do something like that, so I did have a bit of pressure. Hanbin hyung was the main MC, and the fact that I was able to do it with him, it was a very cool experience. 

After that, I wanted to also get better at all the three languages that I speak, which are French, Korean, and English. And then, maybe in the future, I can get another chance to be an MC. It felt so different because France is really far [from South Korea], right? It was everyone's first time [visiting the country], and it was beautiful.

Releasing Their New Album, Melting Point

Park Gunwook: I think our intention to tell our stories has never altered from our debut album, but we also wanted to show another side of us. In [Youth In The Shade], we wanted to talk more about our identity and who we are as ZEROBASEONE. But Melting Point serves as a chapter where we expand our sound and share our story with the audience and our fans.

We wanted to include some new sounds and powerful performances that we had never presented before. We wanted to show how much we had grown as a team, and how much chemistry we were able to build. Of course, we practiced very hard, but we also had a lot of discussions among ourselves, and we were very open [when] talking with each other.

Kim Taerae: Our debut track "In Bloom" and Melting Point are aligned in the message that we want to walk along with [our fans]. For "Crush," it’s more about, "with all your love and support so far, we are determined to protect you." I think our new album serves as our future direction and our determination for our fans and our music.

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