meta-scriptMRSHLL On "Show Me What You Got," Lack Of LGBTQ+ Representation In South Korea & Being Inspired By Drag Culture | GRAMMY.com
MRSHLL

MRSHLL

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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 GRAMMY.com 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 GRAMMY.com 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."

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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 GRAMMY.com 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.

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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.

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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. 

K-Pop Group SEVENTEEN Talk New Album 'Your Choice,' Love And Growing Together

RIIZE press photo
RIIZE

Photo: SM Entertainment

interview

K-Pop Group RIIZE Detail Every Track On New Compilation 'RIIZING – The 1st Mini Album'

In an interview, the rising K-pop boy group discuss the creative process behind each track on their brand new EP — including the album's new song, "Boom Boom Bass."

GRAMMYs/Jun 18, 2024 - 01:37 pm

While RIIZE might be a more recent addition to the K-pop scene, you wouldn’t be able to tell. 

RIIZE took the industry by storm last September with their debut single "Get A Guitar." The catchy, retro-synth pop song sold over a million copies in the first week of its release.  

From their debut in 2023, RIIZE was determined to carve out a space for themselves in the expansive K-pop landscape by performing "emo pop" — emotional ballads that still manage to be danceable, evoking the sounds of older gen groups like Got 7 and Super Junior — while also experimenting with other genres. The brightly alluring "Love 119" and disco whirlwind "Talk Saxy" allowed RIIZE to continue their ascent, and netted the group Favorite New Artist and Rookie Of The Year honors at multiple Korean award ceremonies last year.  

On June 17, they'll release RIIZING - The 1st Mini Album. The compilation record features all of the rookie group's releases plus an additional song "Boom Boom Bass," and demonstrates their versatility and willingness to experiment with genres. With their output compiled, it's easy to see that RIIZE's youthful energy and distinct personalities truly shine. 

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

"We wanted to reflect on how far we’ve come from our debut days and growing as artists," Anton tells GRAMMY.com over a video call from L.A. "[The album is] a culmination of our journey and experiences as young adults who are pursuing their dreams."

It’s clear that RIIZE are enjoying the ride they're on together. They laugh at each other's jokes and finish each other's sentences, demonstrating that there's deep friendship behind their already tight harmonious connection. The group is in the midst of an international fan-con tour that runs through the summer — an experience that will, likely, deepen their already close bond. 

In an interview, RIIZE’s Sungchan, Anton, Wonbin, Sohee, Eunseok and Shotaro offer a track-by-track breakdown of RIIZING - The 1st Mini Album, including the creative process behind each song, how they keep themselves motivated, and their musical dreams for the future. 

"Siren" is your pre-debut song and was one of your most anticipated releases. Can you share a bit about the creation process and how it felt to release this song to the world? 

Shotaro: We have a lot of fond memories when we think of "Siren" as it reminds us of our trainee days. We recorded the song while we were still rookies and shot the video in L.A. I remember being in the studio and encouraging each other to give our best deep voices to make our voices shine. 

Eunseok: I think a large part of why people like "Siren" so much is the rhythmic drum beats and soft piano riffs that creates this high rush vibe. The chorus is my favorite, and was the most fun to sing as it’s very addictive to sing along to.

Your most recent song, "Impossible" is a house track about being determined and never  giving up. Were you nervous at all venturing into a new genre? 

Anton: Growth and youth is a huge part of our music, and that’s something we sought to achieve with "Impossible." House music is a genre that is not usually seen in K-pop, but this is something we wanted to experiment with. So we learned firsthand from long-time house music creatives and input their suggestions into the recording. It was a new experience that allowed us to deep dive into a genre we wouldn’t normally be familiar with.

Sohee: The recording was a little difficult at first, because the vocal keys were a bit higher than our usual pitch. But I feel like we successfully encapsulated the genre very well.

Your new song — the special addition to the EP — is called "Boom Boom Bass." It's a disco-influenced track about playing bass guitar; does anyone in RIIZE have experience playing that instrument?  

Wonbin: We do have experience playing the bass guitar. Getting to recreate those moments in the studio was awesome, and you can hear the excitement in our voices. The song also showcases a totally different side of us that fans haven’t seen before: it’s disco but funk and still pop.

"Love 119" is one of your most successful songs. Can you take me back to the day you recorded it? 

Sungchan: "Love 119" captures the feeling of falling in love for the first time in a dreamy and melancholic manner. We decided to recreate that in the studio and put a lot of our emotions into it by channeling good energy. 

Wonbin: The song samples a beloved Korean song, "Emergency Room," released by the band called IZI in 2005. The song captures the distinct charm of emotional pop, offering a different appeal compared to "Get A Guitar," "Memories," and "Talk Saxy."

Shotaro: We aimed to create choreography that many people could follow. While brainstorming in the practice room with Wonbin, he and I came up with dance moves like the "1-1-9" gesture, that you see in the video. The song has a really bright vibe, making it fun for us to perform. 

Can you detail the creative process behind "Talk Saxy"?  

Sohee: We started creating "Talk Saxy" right after performing at KCON L.A. in July last year and we learned the choreography almost immediately.

We wanted to embody a more confident and breezy sound but still within our niche genre of emotional pop. It took a few weeks of practice to get the perfect take and I think the song helped expand our musical sound by a large mile.

Read more: 9 Thrilling Moments From KCON 2023 L.A.: Stray Kids, RIIZE, Taemin & More 

One of your more recent singles, "9 Days," focuses on your journey as a band. Did you find yourselves feeling nostalgic in the studio?   

Sungchan: "9 days" has a more natural feel because while we were making the song, we had to reference back to our trainee days in practice. The lyrics are a very detailed description of our trainee days and who we were before debuting.  

Anton: I would say we had a fun time in the studio because it felt like we were finally telling our story ourselves and being able to share that with our fans is the best.  

"Honestly" reminisces about past love. What, or who, were you thinking about while recording it? 

Wonbin: I think we really aimed to capture the theme of putting yourself first and saying a final goodbye to someone you thought the world of. That resonates throughout the song, especially in the lyrics. It’s an emo pop ballad at its core.

"One Kiss" was RIIZE's first foray into emo pop and sets you apart from other groups as you highlight your vulnerability. How did you go about finding that sound?  

Anton: I see "One Kiss" as a song made with our fans in mind, we had a hands on approach with making the video as we wanted it to come from our hearts. 

Sohee: I would not say we have found our sound yet as we are still growing and experimenting. We hope to create more good songs like "One Kiss" in the future.

You’re in the midst of a fan-con tour, what has been your favorite city to tour so far?

Shotaro: We love every city equally, we started off in Korea and felt right at home. In Japan, we had so much eye contact with the crowd as they were very hands on. Previously, in Mexico, the crowd's energy was infectious and awesome.

What are your plans for the second half of this year?

Sungchan: We plan on finishing off our fan-con tour by the end of August. Our fans can expect to see us at end of the year award shows with bigger and better performances from last year.

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

 

TWICE's Nayeon On Embracing Authenticity For 'NA'
Nayeon

Courtesy of JYP Entertainment

interview

The ABCDs Of Nayeon: How The TWICE Member Embraced Her Authenticity On ‘NA’

With her second solo release, K-pop idol Im Nayeon is unapologetically confident and boldly experimental. Out June 14, 'NA' contains English and Korean language tracks alongside collaborations with prominent Korean artists.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 05:20 pm

K-pop idol Im Nayeon is a pioneer with many firsts attached to her name: She was the first to become a member of TWICE, the first from the group to go solo, and was the first-ever K-pop soloist to enter the Billboard Top 10. Now, Nayeon is the first member of TWICE to release a second solo album. 

Nearly two years after her solo debut, Nayeon arrives with a new mini-album, NA —  the title a play on her name and the Korean word for "me." The seven-track record highlights the singer’s unapologetic nature, exploring themes of self-confidence, romance, and tenacity. Nayeon has certainly had to be tenacious in her road to the new EP.

"I don’t know if you can tell, but I really can’t believe that this moment is [finally] happening," Nayeon tells GRAMMY.com. "I really wanted to showcase myself as a confident woman this time around."

NA contains a mix of English and Korean language tracks alongside collaborations with prominent Korean artists. Throughout, the singer tackles pop, R&B, dance and electro-pop with ease. Lead single "ABCD" takes inspiration from 2000s era pop divas, adding hints of hip-hop as Nayeon teaches the A-Zs of love with witty lyrics and a magnetizing rhythm. While Nayeon has previously sung about love with flirtatious undertones, "ABCD" shows the singer's straightforward intentions. 

It seems becoming a superstar was fated for the Seoul native. When she was young, Nayeon caught the attention of agents at JYP Entertainment from a modeling contest — however, given her age, her mother refused to let her sign with an entertainment agency. At 14, Nayeon defied her mom's decision and snuck out of her home to attend JYPE’s 2010 open casting, where she passed the audition and ranked in second place. With her strong ambition to pursue an idol career, Nayeon decided to join JYPE as a trainee that same year.

After three years of training, she was slated to debut as a member of a girl group 6MIX. However, the debut was scrapped afterJYPE was unable to find replacements for members that exited the project. In 2015, Nayeon was chosen from a pool of trainees to enter JYPE’s survival program "Sixteen," and became the first member chosen for nine-piece girl group TWICE. Nayeon is the group's face, as well as its eldest member, lead vocalist, and dancer. 

Nayeon has since become one of the most recognizable members of TWICE, best known for her impressive vocal range and warm essence. Her public image became the epitome of an animated K-pop idol, always exhibiting her youthful personality and sunny disposition to everyone she encounters. Over the course of nine years together in TWICE and hundreds of releases later, Nayeon has proved herself to be the spine of the global girl group. 

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

Nayeon introduced herself to the world as a soloist in June 2022 with her debut album IM NAYEON, a high-spirited and feel-good summer EP that showcased her perky identity. The album hit No.1 on Billboard's Top Album Sales chart — the highest-selling album in the week of its release — and debuted No .7 on the Billboard 200. Lead single "POP!" has since turned into a fan-favorite, and remains a singalong anthem at TWICE’s concerts two years later. 

While IM NAYEON built off her easy going nature, NA will leave fans enamored by Nayeon’s artistic awakening and newly matured chapter in her solo career. The album’s trailer and concept photos unveiled Nayeon’s assured, hip and hot appeal — a side she has yet to show as a soloist. 

GRAMMY.com caught up with Nayeon via Zoom to learn more about the creation of NA, and how the past two years have impacted her as a soloist and individual. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Is there anything that feels different in terms of releasing NA nearly two years after your solo debut album?

Because my first solo album was the first solo work ever done by a member of TWICE, the pressure was pretty high. There was fear in me, as well, to try something completely new. But since [NA] is my second album as a soloist, I did [my best] to enjoy the ride more this time around. 

I can't say that I'm completely comfortable right now being a solo artist. But compared to [IM NAYEON], I'm much more at ease about it. 

Is there anything new you wanted to showcase this time around in NA?

The performance for the title song "ABCD" is quite different from what I have typically been showing [as TWICE]. So [in that essence], this is what’s new and challenging for [NA].

The performance itself is very powerful, and I wanted to express a bold and cool side of me. Of course, I have shown that side of me [before] during TWICE concerts or performances, but with "ABCD," I want it to be different from [IM NAYEON] specifically, which was just a totally different vibe [in comparison]. 

Does it feel easier to showcase this bolder side of yourself now that you've been a soloist for a few years?

Since I have been working as one of the members of TWICE for so long, I think it feels more meaningful if I show a different side of me through my solo work. So [while] it's new and fun, I can't say that it's easier.

I think it'll be fun for our fans. They receive it really well when we show off a different side of [ourselves]. [Our fans] encourage us a lot so I think it's a great change of pace.

You collaborated with a variety of artists on NA, including American singer/songwriter Sam Kim and K-pop artists Lee Chan-hyuk (AKMU) and Julie (KISS OF LIFE). How was that experience for you?

When I work as [TWICE], there are so many of us that it's really hard to collaborate with other artists. We don't really get that opportunity that often. But when it comes to solo work, it's a really fun and rewarding experience to work with many different artists. 

I haven't really gotten the chance to meet and talk with the artists featured on my album, but it was me who initiated the collaboration process. I specifically asked Lee Chanhyuk, Julie, and Sam Kim to collaborate with me. [That] was a really new experience for me and it just felt great.

I’ve been a huge fan of Lee Chanhyuk for a very long time, so that’s why I specifically asked for him to [help produce] in ["HalliGalli"]. For the song "Magic," we were looking for a female rapper and I had my eye on Julie from KISS OF LIFE. After seeing her perform, I loved [her]! So I very strongly suggested my opinion to have her feature with me on this track. 

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

It seems like you’re revealing more of yourself with NA. Would you say that this new album is an extension to IM NAYEON?

Oh, of course! The concept and overall theme is much different from [IM NAYEON]. But since both [albums] focus on me as an artist, I think you can say that some parts are an extension while other parts reveal a different side of me.

Were there any expectations or challenges you faced during the album-making process?

Although "POP!" also featured intense choreography, "ABCD" demands a different kind of expression — prompting me to focus more on the performance aspect. 

Additionally, as this is a solo album, I must exert more energy compared to performing with a group. I have to command the entire stage alone for one song. Consequently, I am somewhat concerned that people may perceive me as exhausted, though I will do my best to prevent that! 

Since the release of IM NAYEON, how have you evolved as a person and an artist?

Many people saw that [IM NAYEON] really suited me and my public image. In [NA], I’m revealing a more confident and new side of me. The performance and concept challenged me to evolve [as an artist] in that aspect. 

I have grown a lot as an individual. I released my first solo debut album, and in TWICE, we just completed a huge scale world tour. Next year marks the 10th anniversary for [TWICE] as well. These past few years have been a period of self reflection with the opportunity for [more] growth. 

I have really come to realize why I chose this profession. That realization became a drive as an artist to keep moving forward and improve [upon] myself. 

Read more: Inside SoFi Stadium At TWICE’s Record-Breaking L.A. Show

Over the course of your career, are there important lessons or insights you’ve learned?

I think one of the biggest insights I’ve noticed in the past few years is how valuable the members of TWICE are [to me]. There are things that I cannot do alone but am able to do because TWICE are right beside me. I realized that my fears go away when I’m with the TWICE members. I have come to appreciate them even more over the last few years. I realized even more now how important their existence is to me while working as a solo artist. 

It seems as if TWICE are your encouragement and driving force.

Yes, they really are! 

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Members Of J-Pop Group JO1
JO1

Photo: LAPONE Entertainment

interview

JO1's Big Year: Follow The J-Pop Group's Rise, From Their First U.S. Appearance To One Of Japan's Biggest Venues

With a new album, 'HITCHHIKER' out in the world, JO1 are on a road to success. The 11-member J-pop act spoke with GRAMMY.com about their impressive past year, and their hopes for the future.

GRAMMYs/May 29, 2024 - 01:13 pm

Immersed in a sea of lights and basking in the clamor of tens of thousands of fans at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka, one of Japan's largest venues, JO1 felt a profound fulfillment. The 11-member J-pop group brimmed with gratitude at the realization that the road to their shared dream had stretched wide open.
Over a video call from Tokyo,
vocal leader Junki Kono reminisces about the power of JO1's two November shows at the dome — his former employer. "I was impressed by the fact that I was seeing the same view but from completely different sides – from the perspective of a security guard to the one of an artist," he tells GRAMMY.com. "In the next dome concert, I want our fans to be more excited about our performance, and I want to show them something even better."

This sense of conviction has been ingrained in JO1's DNA since the outset. In 2019, each member bet on faith and auditioned for the inaugural season of "Produce 101 Japan," a television contest aimed at creating a boy group chosen by the public. After 12 nerve-wracking episodes, Takumi Kawanishi, Issei Mamehara, Sho Yonashiro, Ren Kawashiri, Junki Kono, Shosei Ohira, Ruki Shiroiwa, Shion Tsurubo, Sukai Kinjo, Syoya Kimata, and Keigo Sato were crowned JO1

However, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the newly debuted group to build from scratch while their fans watched them grow from afar. Their tenacity prevailed and, today, JO1 is at a zenith where collective harmony coalesces with individual projects. 

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind journey. JO1 traveled to California for their first performance stateside at KCON LA 2023 and embarked on their second arena tour, which later expanded to Jakarta, Bangkok, Taipei, and Shanghai — their first concerts outside their home country. The tour drew a total of 200,000 attendees and led to a pair of encore shows at the Kyocera Dome. Moreover, aside from new music, their solo artistry was enhanced with acting roles and other creative pursuits.

And the group has no plans to slow down. "I know that many people have a final destination in mind when planning a trip, but for me and the rest of JO1, I'm not quite sure what that final destination is," says Shion Tsurubo. "I believe what's important is that we can enjoy the process and the journey itself."

The next horizon is their eighth extended play, HITCHHIKER. Confident and lively, the six-track production pulsates with versatility, and its funky title track, "Love seeker," is a sonic adventure where to be enamored is the ultimate goal. Or, as JO1's leader Sho Yonashiro puts it, "love for everything. For our songs, our fans, and our members."

As JO1 prepares to continue running "with top speed," they pull the break for a bit and unravel the most important year of their trajectory so far. Fasten your seatbelt.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Developing Their Artistry From The Stage To The Silver Screen

Ruki Shiroiwa: Seiji, my character [from the film You Made My Dawn], is very free-spirited, but he's also very realistic and believes that there's only life, so he does what he wants and clearly expresses what he thinks. I must say his perspective is very similar to how I live.

JO1's activities are also this way, and each performance is treated as if it's the last one. In a way, I was replicating the strength he has, which somehow also made me feel supported in all the work I did with JO1 [last year]. Seiji felt like a source of power.


Takumi Kawanishi: When [reflecting] on the current music market, it seems like there is a higher demand to create viral or trendy songs. But within that, there is always music and sounds you want to play and things you want to say. [Playing Kiyosumi in Buzzy Noise] made me realize that it's important for me to try my best to showcase the [message] that I want to convey [with my music] as much as possible.

[For my song "Heaven,"] I wrote what Kiyosumi would feel and think, and then tried to capture what I felt as Takumi Kawanishi. I had a slightly strange feeling of being both Kiyosumi and Takumi when I was writing the song, but I think that sentiment aligns with the emotional nature of the film.

Performing Stateside For The First Time At KCON LA 2023

Sukai Kinjo: We couldn't attend KCON LA when we were first invited in 2022 due to [some of us contracting] COVID-19, so when we heard that we could go the following year, we [asked] every member and the surrounding staff to stay indoors and not go outside at all. Going to KCON is a big step, so we asked our managers if we could take a break before the event to rest and [prioritize] our health.

Ren Kawashiri: We performed three songs, with the third one being a cover of "Super" by SEVENTEEN-san, and we felt the crowd's excitement increasing with each performance. Many people might not have known who JO1 was at first, but I think we were able to enjoy ourselves with the audience and have fun on stage that night. We all felt very welcomed.

Shion Tsurubo: There was a moment in the cover of "Super" where we had to lift Syoya as part of the choreography. My first thought was that I couldn't let him fall.

Syoya Kimata: I was very nervous! I could just imagine it would be so bad if I failed on stage [during my first time] in Los Angeles. I took extra care, so I was very happy when I landed [after they threw me into the air], and I continued dancing throughout the performance without worrying or thinking about it.

Junki Kono: I was proud of my members, and we were all satisfied after our performance ended. We loved Los Angeles and we actually did some filming and photoshoots around the city. We met many local people, and it was fantastic. I want to return sometime soon. I miss In-N-Out. [Laughs.]

Expanding Their Musicality On Their Third Album, EQUINOX

Takumi Kawanishi: The "colors" of JO1 have been changing little by little. During the EQUINOX era, we were allowed to produce music with a nostalgic feel, but it also had a "power-up" element. I believe everyone in our group was looking to convey this as well.

Shosei Ohira: This album has a wide range of styles. For instance, "Venus" has elegance in its melody, and "RadioVision" is a pop song with an old-fashioned, retro charm. We also had our unit songs – "Itty Bitty" and "Mad In Love." This is something that we didn't do in our previous releases, so we were able to show a new [artistic] side of JO1.

Sukai Kinjo: I believe that every time we release a new album, my vocal ability has improved a lot compared to the previous one. I will work even harder and try my best to bring my "miracle voice" to the world.

Seeing Asia On The BEYOND THE DARK Tour

Issei Mamehara: It was our first overseas tour, so I was very happy! The experience made me recognize that I love and enjoy performing with our fans, JAM, at a close distance. Jakarta was especially memorable because it was the first show, and even though there were some sound problems, JO1's performance covered it up.

Ruki Shiroiwa: We had some technical issues [in Jakarta] while performing "Venus" that caused the song to stop playing. However, we usually practice during rehearsals in case something like this happens. It became a real situation, so when the sound stopped, we all knew we had to continue dancing. Everyone who gathered in the concert venue also joined us by singing and livened things up, so it feels like a success that we were able to avoid some trouble.

Keigo Sato: The size of the venues was smaller compared to those in Japan, but we could feel the high pressure from the audience, and it was amazing.

Watching Their Dreams Become Reality At The Kyocera Dome

Shosei Ohira: It was our first time stepping onto the Kyocera Dome [as headliners], which was a stage that all the JO1 members admired. The moment I stood on [that stage], I felt my dream come true, and it was an unbelievable time. I experienced many things [in the past], and many people supported me before I got here, so I was really thankful.

Junki Kono: When I was working at the Kyocera Dome, the stage seemed to be shining, and the artists who filled the venue also looked radiant. I remember being impressed by the sound of the concerts — it shook my heart. I don’t know why, but I remember feeling like I could stand on that stage in the future, and I was telling everyone around me, including my colleagues, that I would make it happen.

[Performing at Kyocera Dome with JO1] was the moment when my efforts and words were rewarded. But I also understood that standing at the Kyocera Dome is not a goal but a passing point on the road to my dream. I found a new challenge from this experience — a dome tour.

Sho Yonashiro: When the stage doors opened, I felt like a hero. But at the same time, there was a feeling of nervousness because we were the protagonists [that day]. If we had made a mistake, Ren, our performance leader, would have been angry. [Laughs.]

Ruki Shiroiwa: The concert is now available on Amazon Prime Video in Japan, and I've already watched it. While on stage, I felt that everything went smoothly, and I was really happy. However, looking back, I noticed that there are also areas where we need to improve. In the future, if we perform at the Kyocera Dome [again] or the Tokyo Dome, we would like to increase the quality of the performance. 

Winning The Excellent Work Award At The 65th Japan Record Awards 

Issei Mamehara: During a period when we were looking to make exciting songs, we had the opportunity to do "Trigger," and it received the Excellent Work Award at the Japan Record Awards. We were really honored. I wouldn't go as far as calling it our representative song, but we would like many people to truly listen to it.

Keigo Sato: I'm still skeptical about why "Trigger" wasn't a title track. I knew it was going to go viral. [Laughs.]

Returning To "Kōhaku Uta Gassen," Japan's Biggest End-Of-The-Year Television Special

Sho Yonashiro: "Kōhaku" is a [major] television show in Japan, and we had the opportunity to be invited [to perform] for a second time. There are a lot of K-pop artists coming in [as guests], and we know there are some comparisons between us and them.

All I can think of is that we need to demonstrate we can be competitive and shouldn't be satisfied with our position. After being there for two years, we need to continue expanding our [performance] skills and be more charismatic on stage.

Ren Kawashiri: It would not be an exaggeration to say that our role as top batters [for the White Team] somewhat determined the show's momentum. Back in 2022, we didn't know what we were doing, so we just tried our best, but the second time around, we had more room to think about how to create a good ambience.

Heading Down A New Road With HITCHHIKER 

Keigo Sato: My favorite song [from HITCHHIKER] is "Lied to you" because up until this point, we didn't have a track with this kind of Western-style [flow]. The lyrics talk about heartbreak and the inability to express your feelings, and the singing is really great. It's very similar to an Olivia Rodrigo song.

Junki Kono: The bittersweet atmosphere of [our B-side] "Lemon Candy" illustrates the emotion of "I can do anything for you." These may be extreme words, but I put the message in the lyrics that I feel [about] you that strongly.

When I heard the song, I instantly knew that it was composed by Yonghwa-san [from CNBLUE] because it really conveyed his vibe. He taught me many things during the recording session, such as how to sing with more of my own personality, which made me a little nervous. 

Syoya Kimata: Our title track is called "Love seeker," and I believe our trajectory is like hitchhiking as we search for the love of the audience in Japan and people who don't know about JO1 yet. I hope we can continue spreading our music and gain more recognition, so we will keep working hard to achieve that.

Ren Kawashiri: I feel we have a common understanding that has developed over the past five years. We are taking advantage of the fact that we have 11 members, which, in some cases, may be considered too many people, but we believe that each one of us injects strength into the group.

Steering Towards A Bright Future

Sho Yonashiro: We still feel that we must become more famous – even though we have achieved a lot as a boy group [in Japan]. It's been almost five years since our [formation], and we have gained experience and grown significantly compared to our beginnings. However, when we look outside Japan, many don't know who JO1 is, and I think this is a challenge worth taking over and over again. 

Sukai Kinjo: JO1 is very strong and unique on stage, and that’s where we can show how powerful we are as a group. I think our artistic [essence] resonated well with people in Los Angeles, and we do have the potential to reach more international fans. I believe it will be a matter of time before we go viral around the world. [Laughs.]

Ren Kawashiri: We will be superstars!

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RM of BTS in 2023
RM attends W Korea‘s ‘Love Your W' breast cancer awareness event in Seoul, South Korea in November 2023.

Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

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Stream RM's New Album 'Right Place, Wrong Person': See The Tracklist, "LOST!" Video & Special Guests

The second solo album from BTS' RM further displays his knack for genre-bending experimentation, while also delving deeper into his vulnerable side. Listen to the new album here, and get to know the project's featured artists, tracklist and more.

GRAMMYs/May 24, 2024 - 04:08 pm

As the world patiently awaits the return of BTS in full force, each member continues to deliver solo projects to show off their individual talents. And 18 months after his last album, RM is back.

With a discography that hops between pop, R&B, and hip-hop, RM returns to the spotlight with his second solo album, Right Place, Wrong Person. The project tells the relatable story of an individual who is a creature of habit, but slowly comes to find solace in foreign spaces.

Below, listen to RM's latest album, and discover more about how he's revealing a new side of his artistry with Right Place, Wrong Person.

The Tracklist

After RM's debut solo album, 2022's Indigo, had 10 tracks (including features from the likes of Erykah Badu, Anderson .Paak), he ups the tally with an 11-song tracklist this time around.

Here is the complete tracklist for Right Place, Wrong Person:

1. Right People, Wrong Place
2. Nuts
3. out of love
4. Domodachi (feat. Little Simz)
5. ? (Interlude)
6. Groin
7. Heaven
8. LOST!
9. Around the world in a day (feat. Moses Sumney)
10. ㅠㅠ (Credit Roll)
11. Come back to me

The Creative Visuals

Two weeks before the album dropped, he unveiled the music video for "Come Back to Me," the lead single from Right Place, Wrong Person. Directed by the critically acclaimed actor Lee Sung Jin, the music video narrates the tale of feeling like an outsider and yearning for a sense of belonging in unfamiliar surroundings.

Then, on the day Right Place, Wrong Person arrived, RM added to release-day excitement with another intriguing visual, this time for "LOST!" The five-minute clip sees RM as the star of "The Lost! Show," where he and a group endure an eerie whirlwind of scenarios they can't seem to get out of. It's equal parts dramatic and slapstick, and another clever display of RM's creative versatility.

Noteworthy Guests

The featured artists on Right Place, Wrong Person — British rapper Little Simz on "Domodachi" and art-pop artist Moses Sumney on "Around the world in a day" — underscore RM's ability to interlace his own musical style with artists from various genres.

The album also has some notable behind-the-scenes collaborators as well. Production credits include Kim Han-joo, keyboardist and vocalist from the South Korean rock band Silica Gel, on "LOST!" and GRAMMY-nominated jazz duo DOMi & JD Beck on "? (Interlude)."

On "Come back to me" — which RM initially debuted last August during a surprise performance at BTS bandmate Suga's encore concert in Seoul — he delves into the album's central theme of wanting to venture into unknown areas, but feeling the intense urge to stay with what's already known. The track was composed and arranged by OHHYUK from the South Korean indie-rock band Hyukoh, but also features credits from artists Kuo, JNKYRD, and San Yawn.

But no matter who RM is working with, his own talent and prowess as a creator always shines. Right Place, Wrong Person presents a diverse array of tracks marked by sheer vulnerability, honesty, and sensitivity — a masterful continuation of a remarkable solo journey.

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