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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"
"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.
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."
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.]
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.
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.
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.
Photo: CJ ENM
9 Thrilling Moments From KCON 2023 L.A.: Stray Kids, RIIZE, Taemin & More
KCON’s lineup featured over 20 acts over three nights, drawing legions of dedicated fans who experienced some of K-pop's biggest acts for the first time in the States.
For over a decade, KCON has regularly touched down in Los Angeles to create a weekend festival dedicated to all things Korean pop culture.
With a convention floor highlighting everything from K-dramas to K-beauty, the real stars of the show were, of course, K-pop idols. Along with meet-and-greets and special performances throughout the weekend, three nights of concerts brought some of the most popular K-pop stars to the U.S., including headliners Taemin, ATEEZ, and Stray Kids.
Performances at KCON festival were a display of old and new, with rising stars and more senior talent performing alongside one another. Covers of the hits of a decade ago and a variety of "name that song" games in-between sets drew the K-pop generations together, creating an environment that both older and newer fans of Korean popular music could revel in.
Headlining performances were livestreamed from the Crypto.com Arena, and by South Korean TV channel Mnet (operated by the same company, CJ ENM, as KCON).
KCON’s lineup featured over 20 acts, including Cravity, IVE, NMIXX, Taemin, Taeyong, Ateez, INI, Verivery, Kep1er, Xikers, Zerobaseone, and JO1. From groups to solo acts, read on for 10 of the most exciting moments from KCON 2023.
All photos by CJ ENM.
IVE Show Off Their "It Girl" Energy
Known for their fashionable, charming demeanor and rousing dance-pop songs that often feel better suited for stadiums than headphones, IVE’s dynamism and energetic, vocal freewheeling throughout each of their performances made it very clear why they are one of the leader’s of this generation’s K-pop "It" girls.
The six-member IVE took to the stage twice on Friday night, first to perform the nostalgia-fueled "Kitsch'' and the exuberant "Love Dive." They then came back later to perform the unique "Dream Stage," a KCON highlight where concert attendees get the chance to perform on-stage with their favorite K-pop stars. Following a competition held during the KCON convention, tens of amateur dancers joined the members of IVE in a rousing rendition of their most recent single, "I Am."
Bringing the songs off of the streaming apps and into a 20,000-arena capacity made them, and IVE’s success, feel like the sort of pop grandeur that doesn’t happen everyday.
Taemin Moved The Crowd With His Legendary Aura
Taemin and his group SHINee have rarely appeared in the U.S. and never toured as solo artists, making his appearance at KCON a rarity.
But it wasn’t just diehard fans — known as Shawol (short for "SHINee World") — there to see Taemin. Younger performers were seen coming from backstage to witness the three-song set by the now 30-year-old icon who debuted in SHINee when he was just 14 years old.
Taemin’s distinct brand of seductive alt R&B and darker contemporary dance numbers was front-and-center as he performed "Advice," "Criminal," and "Move." Known for his genderfluid performances that push the boundaries of what male pop idols and boy band members are typified by, Taemin’s powerful set confidently and skillfully showed the thousands of fans at KCON why he is known as one of the best.
WayV & Taeyong Showcased NCT'S Sonic Diversity
Boy band Wayv performed in the U.S. for the first time at KCON 2023 L.A., opening the weekend’s concerts with the official KCON theme song "Poppia." Later, the sextet performed sensual fan favorite, "Love Talk," followed by their most recent single, December’s dramatic, pulsating "Phantom."
Though the act’s leader Kun was MIA, the remaining members’ first appearance in the U.S. was eagerly anticipated by their fans, known as Wayzennies, who came out in droves, passionately cheering and waving along their glowing green, leek-shaped lightsticks.
As the Chinese contingent of the larger SM Entertainment boy band brand NCT, WayV’s Ten was joined by fellow NCT member Taeyong. The pair performed their alluring 2018 duet "Baby Don’t Stop," which captivated fans with its hypnotic beats and come-hither verses. The duo are also part of cross-label boy band SuperM, and their reunion was one of the highlights of KCON’s day one concert.
The penultimate act of the night was NCT 127’s charismatic leader, with Taeyong’s two-song set giving him his chance to shine. his recent single, the groovy, funky hip-hop swagger of "Shalala" and the breezy, summertime "Gwando," a b-side on the Shalala album.
ATEEZ’s Warrior Theatrics Struck A Chord
One of the biggest draws of the weekend was boy band ATEEZ, who have become one most dedicatedly theatrical world-building teams since their debut in 2018. With lyrics and related content positioning them as some sort of Peter Pan-esque Lost Boys but also pirates (it’s complicated!), the eight-member act are fittingly bombastic, bringing their riotous tunes to stage in the most theatrical of ways, with weapons raised and flags hoisted to herald the grandeur of ATEEZ’s reign.
Declaring their presence with a wide array of songs from throughout their discography, including their debut single "Pirate King" as part of a special "Hi My First" segment, ATEEZ brought the KCON crowd into their "Wonderland" before spicing things up with "Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers)" before ending things with "From" and "Guerrilla."
Zerobaseone Excite As The "New Kidz on the Block"
Fans camped out for days to be front row for Zerobaseone's first stateside performance, creating one of the biggest draws at KCON. Also known as ZB1, were formed during this year’s competition show "Boys Planet 999" and released their first album, Youth In the Shade in July. Security had to turn people away after two members made a last-minute appearance during KCON’s convention portion.
During the show itself, ZB1 showcased their bright, rookie energy on the ebullient "In Bloom'' and "New Kidz on the block." The group later performed a "Dream Stage" version of "Here I Am," the theme song for "Boys Planet 999." In a bit of a nod to the competitive nature of ZB1’s formation, the group were joined by fan dancers who competed over their weekend for the spot on the KCON stage along with fellow performers from the competition TV show.
XG Prove That They’re Truly "Xtraordinary Girls"
Since March of last year, the girl group XG have been impressing with their fierce hip-pop anthems and sleek dance numbers. A Japanese girl group made with K-pop know-how and a rising star at music festivals, XG performed several times throughout the weekend. The group won over the convention floor on Sunday, as a sizable crowd watched XG talk to the audience and play some games.
While the majority of their formal concert set was spent putting the spotlight on their song "TGIF" and "Girl GVNG" off of September’s upcoming New DNA EP, XG performed the popular songs "Shooting Stars" and "Left Right." However, a surprise performance of 2NE1’s 2011 hit "I am the Best" remixed with elements of "TGIF" exemplified their star power.
Covers and nostalgia in general are a popular element of KCON. 2000s R&B-pop icon RAIN performed, and Kep1er — the female counterparts of ZB1 who were produced during 2021’s "Girl Planet 999" — thrilled with their own set and a cover of Girls’ Generation’s 2014 hit "Mr. Mr." JO1, a Japanese boy band produced in collaboration with CJ ENM, covered Seventeen’s hit "Super" from this year.
RIIZE Preview Their Rising Power
ON the third day of KCON, all eyes were on SM Entertainment’s forthcoming new boy band, RIIZE. Set to drop their first single album Get a Guitar on Sept. 4, the seven-member team performed singles from the album twice — first on the convention stage and then later during the final concert’s pre-show.
While a rare hurricane delaying the final night’s concert, the propulsive "Siren" and the synth-pop "Memories" gave a taste of the skill this septet have to offer, whetting appetites for SM Entertainment’s first non-NCT-associated boy band since 2016.
EVERGLOW Return To "Slay"
Not heard from since 2021’s Pirate, Everglow’s latest song "Slay" arrived on the first day of KCON. Known for their energetic, EDM-flavored songs, the girl group’s anthemic, girl power dance tracks engendered diehard fans. Anticipation was high to see what they’d perform at KCON.
While the new song "Slay" and longtime favorite "Dun Dun" thrilled, it was their finale of 2020’s hit "La Di Da" that felt truly like it heralded the return of the group; the entire arena was sing-cheering along to the rousing "Everglow, forever let’s go" chant.
Stray Kids Are Clearly At The Top Of The Class
Stray Kids debuted in 2018 with their first single "District 9" after a series of preview releases, and quickly earned a reputation for being rambunctious, self-produced and unafraid to hype themselves. Within five years, Stray Kids became one of the biggest acts in the game, selling out stadiums regularly. As the finale closers at KCON 2023, they revisited their roots, most recent hits, and long term faves to give their fans (known as "Stays") a night to remember.
Kicking things off with their recent single "S-Class" and its braggadocios declarations and creative choreography, Stray Kids then brought it back to "District 9" as part of the "Hi My First" KCON segment, pairing their recent successes with their earliest days.
The remainder of their set was full of the unrestrained renditions of "Super Bowl," "God’s Menu" and "Topline," more recent songs that roused the crowd - and the members of Stray Kids themselves — ending KCON 2023 Los Angeles on a major high, filling Crypto.com arena roaring with cheer and dancing in approval to the S-class superstars that are Stray Kids.
Photo: Simone Joyner/Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Travis Scott, Britney Spears, NewJeans & More
July 21 marks a big day of new music releases, including star-studded collaborations like Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and The Weeknd's "K-POP" and a new EP from NewJeans. Hear some of the biggest new songs on GRAMMY.com.
Like so many New Music Fridays before it, July 21 brought a cornucopia of fresh and unique sounds from all over the map.
Want to hear Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and the Weeknd get mellow and psychedelic? Raring to hear the latest dispatch from a One Direction member? Want a taste of A$AP Rocky's long-awaited next album? Is a Britney-shaped chunk missing from your musical life? Want to hear the future of K-pop?
To these and other questions, this slew of tunes will provide answers. In the below roundup, hurtle into the weekend with wildly divergent sounds from some of music's top acts — many with sizable GRAMMY legacies.
Travis Scott, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd — "K-POP"
A week before nine-time GRAMMY nominee Travis Scott's Utopia livestream event at the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt on July 28 — which will debut his new studio album of the same name — he dropped his sixth collaboration with four-time GRAMMY winner the Weeknd.
"K-POP," the album's lead single, is rounded out by three-time GRAMMY winner Bad Bunny, in his first collab with Scott. This triple-threat track has a stony, smoldering feel, with luxurious production from Boi-1da, among others — and it's elevated by its panoramic, transportive video.
ZAYN — "Love Like This"
The former One Direction member continues his solo legacy with "Love Like This," his first new single since 2021.
Therein, ZAYN extols the virtues of throwing caution to the wind when it comes to infatuation: "Everything is on the line, but I would rather be dead/If it's gonna mean a life that's lived without you, baby," he sings. "I think I gotta take that risk/ 'cause I cannot go back."
In the video, ZAYN putters around on a motorcycle on a gorgeous day. Previously signed to RCA, the singer recently moved to Mercury Records; could "Love Like This" be the ramp-up to a new album? If so, "Love Like This" offers a tantalizing taste of what's to come.
will.i.am, Britney Spears — "MIND YOUR BUSINESS"
After the termination of her conservatorship, GRAMMY winner Britney Spears dipped a toe back into her music career in 2022 with "Hold Me Closer," a duet with Elton John that includes elements of "Tiny Dancer," "The One" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart."
Now, she's back in earnest with "MIND YOUR BUSINESS," a sassy, pulsing, electronic duet with seven-time GRAMMY winner will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas fame. The track marks the pair's fourth team-up, and first since 2014's "It Should Be Easy" from Spears' Brtiney Jean.
NewJeans — "ETA"
GRAMMY.com called NewJeans one of 10 K-Pop rookie girl groups to watch in 2023, and keeping ears on them has paid off. On July 21, they released their new EP, Get Up, to critical acclaim: NME declared that "no one can hold a candle to K-pop's rising wonder girls."
Concurrently with the release of Get Up, they released a joyous, iPhone-shot music video to its effervescent single, "ETA," in which a group of girls find a friend's boyfriend making moves on another lady.
Chris Stapleton — "White Horse"
Chris Stapleton's last album, 2020's Starting Over, helped the country crooner make a clean sweep at the 2022 GRAMMYs. At that ceremony, he won golden gramophones for Best Country Solo Performance ("You Should Probably Leave"), Best Country Song ("Cold") and Best Country Album ("Starting Over").
On Nov. 10, the eight-time GRAMMY winner will release his next LP, Higher. As he revealed the news on July 21, Stapleton also unveiled a majestic rocker of a single, "White Horse." "If you want a cowboy on a white horse/ Ridin' off into the sunset," he sings thunderously, "If that's the kinda love you wanna wait for/ Hold on tight, girl, I ain't there yet."
A$AP Rocky — "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)"
For his latest track, A$AP Rocky dropped a stylish, charming short film for Beats depicting a harried diaper run (a fitting narrative for the new dad, soon to be dad of two, with partner Rihanna). That only contains a minute of the song, though; it's worth luxuriating in the whole thing.
To an uneasy, lumbering beat, Rocky extols a lifestyle to die for ("My wife is erotic/ I'm smokin' exotic/My whip is exotic") as well as his unparalleled connections ("I just call designers up, I free ninety-nine it").
Backed by 13-time GRAMMY winner Pharrell, "RIOT (Rowdy Pipe'n)" is said to be the first single from A$AP Rocky's long-awaited fourth album, Don't Be Dumb; if the quality of the track is any indication, it'll be worth the long haul.