MRSHLL On "Show Me What You Got," Lack Of LGBTQ+ Representation In South Korea & Being Inspired By Drag Culture



MRSHLL On "Show Me What You Got," Lack Of LGBTQ+ Representation In South Korea & Being Inspired By Drag Culture

R&B pop singer MRSHLL is paving the way for LGBTQ+ artists in South Korea. He talks to about his latest music, his inspiration and experience in the industry

GRAMMYs/Jun 30, 2021 - 01:29 am

Except for maybe billionaires, the pandemic wreaked havoc on most people’s lives. Korean-American R&B singer based in South Korea MRSHLL was no exception. Shows in Europe and his performance at SXSW were swapped for watching Netflix and eating take out. With concert money having dissipated, he relied on other jobs like participating in an online concert organized by a German artist and a writing gig to get him through the month. And just when he decided to release music, he was diagnosed with a herniated disk that put a stop to everything. Severely in pain and under heavy medication, he filmed the music video for "DO U" featuring the rapper Queen Wa$abii. 

"There were very difficult times. At moments I worried about how I was gonna pay for rent next month. Then something would come at the last minute and then I was able to pay for rent and feed myself," MRSHLL told over a phone call recently about his struggles throughout the pandemic. "For some reason, by the grace of the big woman upstairs, I was able to survive 2020 and somehow I am able to survive 2021."

Born Marshall Bang, MRSHLL’s journey began simply by chance. He had quit music because of a throat issue and was working as a hairstylist in New York. Until one day, a South Korean TV producer found one of his old singing YouTube videos. She had reached out and invited him to a singing competition show. Thinking he wouldn’t last long on the show given he could barely sing one song without his throat hurting, he hopped on a plane to South Korea the next day. At his arrival, he was immediately on camera, and what he thought would be a two-week visit ended up being a stay for the whole length of the show. Seven years later, he’s still going.

At the time of his musical debut in 2015, MRSHLL was lauded as South Korea’s first openly gay singer. Only one other performer, the K-pop singer Holland, has emerged since then. The lack of LGBTQIA+ visibility in pop music in South Korea is crystal clear—MRSHLL, Holland and pop singers like Harisu, the first trans woman entertainer in the country, are opening doors for more artists. And though South Korea’s views on the LGBTQIA+ community are slowly progressing, many would argue there is still a long way to go—the country still criminalizes sex between men in the military for one. More recently, an outbreak of coronavirus in Seoul connected to clubs frequented by LGBTQ+ people last year unveiled fervent homophobic sentiments. On the k-pop front, some artists in the idol industry have increasingly become more vocal about supporting LGBTQIA+ rights, though there has yet to be an openly queer member in a group.

Being an openly queer artist in Korea is still a radical act and not one many dares to commit. But for MRSHLL, who first publicly came out through an interview in 2015, it was important to be his authentic self. "For me, being queer every day isn’t scandalous. If anything, it’s just boring, it is what it is. It’s insane that it’s still this controversial thing," the "POSE" singer said. "It’s a bit of a lonely road since there are not many of us doing this openly yet. Until that happens, I’m going to keep churning out music and art and things that show the different aspects of who I am. Not just as a queer artist, but [as] an artist. In doing so it is queer art. It’s art made by a queer person."

True to his identity—transgressive, queer, and fabulous— his work reflects everything that makes MRSHLL himself. Last year’s "DO U," as the title suggests, is a celebration of unique individuality. "Starlight" is visually a luxe, hazy featuring big, puffy tulle and satin tops and lace applications on the face. "Deserve better" featuring CHAI highlights velvety runs and the rest of his vocal splendor. His genre-blending style lies somewhere in between the mix of his R&B vocals, house music and chill pop, and everything else around, above, and below that.  

Merely two weeks after recovering from his herniated disk injury, MRSHLL spoke to from his home in South Korea about being a queer artist, LGBTQIA+ representation in k-pop, and his upcoming music. 

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Happy Pride! How did you usually celebrate in Korea pre-pandemic?

They call it the Seoul Queer Festival here. It's all love and color, and people are all decked out in fabulous rainbow wear. I performed at the official pride after party two years ago and that was an incredible experience. There is something to be said for when you're performing for random people as opposed to performing for people in your community. People who are like minded individuals, that understand and know the experience and the journey. I think it’s just really special as a queer artist. I really enjoyed the experience, the support, the energy, the love that you feel. It's just so palpable and it’s super rad. I love my community. 

What motivated you to pursue a music career in Korea as an openly gay/queer artist?

I don’t think I ever started off my journey thinking, "I’m gonna be an openly queer artist in Korea." That was never in the cards. When I got to Korea, I was like, "Okay, I guess the opportunity is here for me right now, let's see where this goes." I had some friends already in the music industry who really helped me get acclimated to the culture and things like that. And in terms of me starting my career in general, just out from the get go, I didn’t want me being queer to be anything "controversial." I didn’t want it to be something I was hiding or to become a scandal later on. 

What has your experience been like? Especially now that your latest work has been very queer-presenting?

I love it. I am also someone who is also ever changing, ever growing and I believe that my music and my look keeps evolving. Our art evolves with us. All the different things that I have experienced in my life have played into what I create and what I make. I will be figuring out who I am and my identity for a long time because it changes as we grow and mature in life. I went through a mental health journey, first when I originally came out, and then when I came to Korea. Dealing with all the cultural differences and figuring out cultural cues and things as a Korean American navigating that space and navigating the music industry as a queer person. 

Would you say you’re a k-pop act?

I feel like the k-pop umbrella is such a huge category. It seems like a lot of people put any Korean artist under the K-pop umbrella. I make pop music that has tinges of R&B and house music. I wouldn’t say I am not k-pop, but I don’t know if I would say that I am 100% k-pop. If you were talking about an artist who does Korean popular music, then sure, that is me. You can categorize me anyway you want, I will be making music the way I want no matter what. People can put me under the k-pop umbrella if they want and I am okay with that. And if they don’t want to, I am okay with that too.

In the past few years, some major k-pop idols have increasingly become more vocal about supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and some have included queer people in their music videos. What are your thoughts on this?

I say the more the merrier. Of course, I would love to see more openly queer artist in general. I love seeing more representation with drag queens or dancers who are more queer presenting or more sexually fluid presenting. I also am ever so slightly wary because I don’t want it to become a shtick, a trendy gimmick. I am not a gimmick. Being LGBTQIA+ is not a gimmick, this is real life, this is who we are. You can’t use our culture and our people for your own commercial gain. Sometimes it can be trendy and sometimes it can raise awareness for us. I think it depends on the situation. As of right now because it’s so devoid of representation in general, I am happy to see these k-pop idols are hiring these femme presenting dancers and drag queens, and doing it so far in a way that is powerful—they are normalizing it in a way. I want them to actually support the LGBTQIA rights aside from visuals. Things like tagging their dancers and showing up to pride events to show support, being more present where it counts and being prepared for the risk that comes with crossing the "line." The friends I have in the idol world have always been supportive of me. 

You and Holland are the main representatives of the LGBTQ+ community within the music industry in South Korea. How do you feel about that?

There should absolutely be more. I want to see openly lesbian artists and sexually fluid artists and non-binary artists. I want to see all of it because there's just so few of us. I know they are out there. But, you know, we are waiting. 

You’re working on your first full-length album and are releasing singles leading up to it. What can you tell me about that?

I have a dance single coming out at the end of next month and the song is called "Show Me What You Got." It’s my first all in Korean release this year. There is a music video for it. This will be my first time doing drag makeup. Two drag queens did my makeup for this music video. It was almost an entirely queer production. I was super proud of it. It will be my last dancey single before my actual album. My album will hopefully be out before the end of this year. I don’t want to rush it and make sure everything is perfect for everyone to hear. There will also be some guest features that I am super excited to share. I am very, very excited.

And now, I’m also very excited. And how cool that you have drag moms now! 

I know! I love and respect drag queens so much. I feel like they are kinda otherworldly, just almost like the future of people. They are like love come to life. I feel like I can get so much inspiration from drag culture. The fashion, the performance, I think they are kind of like angels, to be honest with you. I love them. 

You’ve said your single "Metamorphosis" was showing the fully realized version of yourself. What do you mean by that?

When I was younger, I didn’t know anything and I was unsure of myself and who I was. And like "Metamorphosis," I grew into a more realized version of myself. I know I am not at 100% yet because I always want to leave room for growth. I am becoming more of who I am. It was a big change for me not only for musical direction but for visuals as well. And so I think everyone will see what that means in my first solo album.

Last year, you released multiple singles, almost one per month. What is that experience like as an independent artist?

Everything got canceled [last year] because of the pandemic. I had a few months where I was super sad and super down. After about 3 months, I was like, "Okay, you can’t let 2020 go to waste, you have to do something. Let me just release music. So I have things to perform once the world opens again." So I started with "I Don’t Wanna Know," which was a very queer collaboration with Vardaan Arora who is an Indian-American artist based in the States. I just started pumping out songs starting in the summer, I was creating visuals and I was just grinding. I am fortunate enough to have people who wanted to pump out creative stuff—no matter if we were on a bare bones budget or no budget at all. Being an independent musician is not easy, especially in these times. It was a difficult year, but it gave me an outlet to express myself. 

What’s something you’d wish people outside of Korea, or even the k-pop fandom, would know about the Korean R&B scene?

There is actually not too much out there. I feel like, in a way, there is an R&B revolution that is gonna happen. I’m excited to see more of the Korean R&B scene grow. There are a lot of upcoming artists that I am super excited to see expand and grow, and get more recognition. 

What are some of your next projects?

"Show Me What You Got," coming at the end of July. There is this documentary thing coming out where I partnered with this brand coming soon. I can’t say who it is yet. On top of the first full length album, I am also working on my first all English EP, which should come out next year sometime. 

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Eric Nam Unravels An Existential Crisis On New Album 'House On A Hill'
Eric Nam

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."

GRAMMYs/Sep 6, 2023 - 01:21 pm

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, 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.

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Breaking Down The NCT System, From The Rotational NCT U To The Upcoming NCT Tokyo
NCT Dream, one of NCT's six subsets, in July 2023.

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.

GRAMMYs/Aug 29, 2023 - 09:09 pm

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, 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."

NCT 127

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.

NCT Dream

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. 

NCT DoJaeJung

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.  

NCT Tokyo

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.

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New Music Friday: Listen To New Songs From Travis Scott, Britney Spears, NewJeans & More
Travis Scott performs at the 2023 Wireless Festival.

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

GRAMMYs/Jul 21, 2023 - 08:06 pm

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., 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 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" 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.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: GEMINI Reveals The Items That Keep Him Energized On Tour

Photo: Courtesy of GEMINI


Herbal Tea & White Sofas: GEMINI Reveals The Items That Keep Him Energized On Tour

While most artists are concerned about their diet when creating their tour rider, Korean R&B singer GEMINI is most focused on building a pleasant, fragrant environment.

GRAMMYs/Jul 17, 2023 - 05:06 pm

When Korean R&B artist GEMINI is building his tour rider, the first thing on his mind is scents — and that's why perfume and gum are the top priorities on his list.

As GEMINI reveals in this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, he is sensitive to smells he dislikes. With that in mind, the first thing he does at every hotel is spray his trusty floral Le Labo perfume.

"Personally, I'm not a big fan of woody scents," GEMINI explains. "I think I might have trouble adjusting, so I spray a lot of perfume to help me adjust."

In addition to smells around him, GEMINI likes to keep his breath minty fresh — and mind active — with a pack of Orbit gum. "[I chew it] whenever I'm on the move, feel bored, or want to stay awake," he says.

Once GEMINI is ready to hit the stage, he does a quick warm-up with lip trills and acting exercises. "I make a lot of effort to act with sentiment, so I believe that having a mindset before a performance is crucial," he details.

Press play on the video above to learn more about GEMINI's touring mindset, and check back to for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.

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