meta-scriptBreaking Down The NCT System, From The Rotational NCT U To The Upcoming NCT Tokyo | GRAMMY.com
NCT Dream In 2023
NCT Dream, one of NCT's six subsets, in July 2023.

Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images

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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, GRAMMY.com breaks down every permutation existing within the NCT system. 

NCT U

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.

WayV

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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NCT 127 Essential Songs
NCT 127

Photo courtesy of SM Entertainment

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NCT 127 Essential Songs: 14 Tracks You Need To Know From The K-Pop Juggernauts

Eight years after their debut, NCT 127 have released their sixth studio album, 'WALK.' Before you dive in, press play on this chronological list of NCT 127 hits and deep cuts that show their musical ingenuity — from "Highway to Heaven" to "Pricey."

GRAMMYs/Jul 15, 2024 - 02:55 pm

In the K-pop industry, the Neo Culture Technology juggernaut stands out as a cosmopolitan universe. The project is characterized by its highly experimental approach, where each of NCT's subgroups contribute a unique twist.

This is especially true of NCT 127. Comprised of Taeyong, Taeil, Jaehyun, Johnny, Yuta, Doyoung, Jungwoo, Mark, and Haechan, NCT 127's identity was forged via innovative arrangements that defy convention.

During their rookie days, this ahead-of-its-time strategy felt polarizing and raised a few eyebrows. However, after some years of ambivalence (and with some lineup changes in between), they exploded in popularity during the early pandemic with their second studio album, NCT #127: Neo Zone. This record gave them their first title as million sellers, significantly increasing their listeners globally — many of whom embraced the group's music as an escape during quarantine.

Read more: Breaking Down The NCT System, From The Rotational NCT U To The Upcoming NCT Tokyo

Today, they are more influential than ever and their sound is more accepted in the ever-expanidng scope of K-pop. Nonetheless, some K-pop listeners tend to pigeonhole the group as "noise," despite having a diverse catalog and some of the best vocalists of their generation.

Nearly coinciding with their eighth anniversary, NCT 127 released their sixth studio album, WALK on July 15. To mark this occasion, GRAMMY.com presents a song list — in chronological order — demonstrating their musical geniality, which extends far beyond the public's usual perception. 

"Switch"

The group's first mini-album, NCT #127, laid the foundations of their audacious sound and paired it with vocal finesse. To wit, the lead single "Fire Truck" arrived as an unapologetic disruptor shaking up the K-pop industry.

But the bookends of the EP are uniquely contrasting. Whereas "Fire Truck" opens with bold posturing, the outlier "Switch" concludes the ride with a more lighthearted and youthful production. In a way, this song could also be considered a prelude to the NCT universe, as it was recorded a year before NCT 127's debut, and it features members of other NCT iterations — like WayV and Dream — when they were still trainees. 

"Limitless"

The name of this track is a statement of the group's boundary-pushing ethos. True to form, the song is built over a hammering backbone and lengthy synths that bite. The chorus is the highlight; its dynamic explosion of vocals only intensifies the momentum. And while the Korean version is strong, it could be argued that the Japanese rendition imbues the song with new layers of depth that truly elevate it.

It’s worth mentioning that, during the Limitless era, Doyoung and Johnny were added to the lineup, marking NCT 127’s first release with nine members — a move consistent with the original (now-defunct) concept of the NCT system.

"Sun & Moon"

Some songs are crafted for faraway souls and to offer solace to the aching heart. That's why "Sun and Moon," an evocative B-side from NCT 127's third extended play, exists as an unmissable gem.

It's a lyrical tale of longing, where Taeil, Doyoung, Johnny, Taeyong, Jaehyun, and Yuta serenade a distant love, hoping the gap will shrink and a reunion will come. The arrangement is understated but dream-like, and when the pre-chorus arrives, the most beautiful lines are unveiled: "When my moon rises/ Your sun rises as well/ Under the same sky/ In this different time/ Our hearts are connected/ Under the same sky."

"Come Back"

Co-created by GRAMMY-nominated producer Mike Daley and multi-instrumentalist Mitchell Owens, "Come Back" exemplifies maximalism, undulating between intensity and elegance.

"One of the standout aspects of this song is the creative use of chops throughout the track," Daley tells GRAMMY.com. "Even though the arrangement follows a pretty standard structure for us, these chops add a unique flavor that sets 'Come Back' apart. We got to be more experimental [for this track] and bring in some unusual elements."

The voices of Taeil and Doyoung prominently take center stage, infusing potency that ensures smooth progressions throughout the production.

"Lips"

Featured on the group's first Japanese studio album, Awaken, "Lips" is an unjustly overlooked cut that blends sensuality with hypnotizing Latin rhythms. The deeper you are immersed in it, the more enchanting it becomes, casting a spell over your mind.

Its minimalist formula is effective, and the lyrics hint at a compelling journey: "Your lips come and take me to the place to go/ The place you would know where you should go." Sometimes, less is more, and the impact can be equally powerful.

"Highway to Heaven"

"Highway to Heaven" shines as one of the crown jewels in NCT 127's discography, praised not only for its cathartic production but also for marking a turnaround in their artistry. It sees them delving into more subdued and ethereal soundworlds.

A pre-release single from their fourth mini album, We Are Superhuman, the instrumental is woven with buzzy percussion and silken guitar strings. The group's vocal prowess truly exhilarates, crescendoing a declaration of freedom during the chorus: "We'll take the highway to heaven/ Any time, anywhere I feel you/ You and I, highway to heaven/ This place where we're together is heaven." 

The track reaches its pinnacle with an interlude guided by Jungwoo's velvety delivery, eventually setting the stage for Haechan's soaring voice.

"Superhuman"

"Superhuman," the lead single from We Are Superhuman, is a timeless masterpiece. The avant garde song showcases the group's expansive adaptability, exchanging their usual edge for intricate sophistication.

American singer/songwriter Adrian Mckinnon — a frequent collaborator of SM Entertainment, home of the NCT project — teamed up with South Korean producers TAK and 1Take to bring the song to life, and he recalls being "blown away" when he listened to the instrumental. "All the glitches and stutters immediately gave nostalgia," Mckinnon tells GRAMMY.com, noting the sound choices reminded him of old school video games. "[The song] kind of sits in its own lane, maybe somewhere between glitch funk and glitch hop. Maybe a little Daft Punky too?"

Mckinnon says he sat with the instrumental track for half an hour before recording his vocal ideas. "I wanted to absorb it in its entirety before trying anything."

He also explains that they created the song without a specific group in mind, so he was excited to discover the song was placed with NCT 127. "I think this speaks to the versatile nature of the group because they executed the track very well and were able to make it their own. It's easily one of my favorite songs I've been a part of."

"Love Me Now"

Another piece from Daley and Owens, "Love Me Now" pulses with gentleness and heartwarming nostalgia. It's a song made for those days when everything feels right in place. 

Daley recalled working on "Love Me Now" during a K-pop songwriting camp in Seoul, and says he refined an existing track. "Most of our stuff is tailor-made for artists in Korea, but this track was very much a U.S. pop/dance radio-sounding track," he says. "It doesn't feature a ton of sections, switch-ups, or the musically intricate bridge that a lot of our K-pop songs normally have. It's very minimalistic, bright, and centered, and sometimes that's all you need."

He observes the creation process of "Love Me Now" was more straightforward than "Come Back," as the latter contains the usual elaborateness of K-pop productions. "That simplicity in ['Love Me Now'] lent itself to making a very catchy, memorable record that was easy to digest."

"NonStop"

By NCT standards, "NonStop" — from the repackaged album NCT #127 Neo Zone: The Final Round — is a B-side that overflows with the potential of a lead single. It's an amalgam of unburdened rap verses and cohesive vocals that glide effortlessly across a cutting-edge production.

Adrian Mckinnon explains that he and Kenzie chose the track from a selection created by the British production duo LDN Noise due to the magnetic pull of the intro. "The arpeggiated tones and the crazy melody of the lead synth immediately took us to the future," he says. "The chord progression and the rising energy out of the pre-chorus — it all felt like some high-speed race through some futuristic city."

The development of the structure proved quite challenging, but the end result encapsulated the intended concept. "Listening to it in its final form, you would think the sections were obvious, but each of the melody and topline — including others that didn't make the song — all felt quite hooky," McKinnon shares. "But since you only have so much 'song,' you must pick your favorite bits and massage the ideas together. That's how we arrived at what 'NonStop' came to be."

"First Love"

A burgeoning romance transforms into the dulcet melodies that define "First Love," a B-side from NCT 127's second Japanese EP, Loveholic, released in February 2021. Excitement beams throughout the lines of the song, capturing the world of possibilities that come with finding the person you've always dreamed of.

When the group leans towards professing love in all its shapes, they do so with a rawness that percolates through their voices, easily perceptible to all. And here, they opt for a playful and tender side.

"Breakfast"

Off of their third full-length album, Sticker, "Breakfast" is distinguished by its harmonic richness and stunning vocal arrangements.\

The track emerged from a collaboration in which Swedish producer Simon Petrén devised the sonic framework, complemented by GRAMMY-winning songwriter Ninos Hanna and songwriter/producer Andreas Öberg. "As the melody ideas evolved, the song was also developed and built up to match the topline," Öberg tells GRAMMY.com. "The original demo was called 'Breakfast' and tailor-made for [the group]. SM Entertainment decided to release this song with them shortly after we submitted it." 

Öberg describes the composition as "an interesting hybrid," with the original demo molded to be "a modern dance/house record while still using advanced chord progressions not only with influences from jazz and fusion."

He also cites Michael Jackson as an inspiration, drawing from "his unique style of switching between minor and major tonalities." 

"Favorite (Vampire)"

After releasing Sticker, NCT 127 wasted no time and quickly followed up with a repackaged album centered around the hauntingly resonant "Favorite." A brainchild of Kenzie, American producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, and singer/songwriter Rodnae "Chikk" Bell, this record is the most tempered of all the NCT 127's title tracks.

A whistling sample introduces a thumping trap beat that rapidly unfolds into piercing lines — courtesy of Taeyong and Mark — that slice through the song. But as we hit the road toward the chorus, "Favorite" veers into a more vocally-driven approach, a splendid transition that balances its core. In classic SM style, the bridge is a triumph, with Doyoung, Taeil, and Haechan pouring their hearts out as if they've been shattered into a hundred pieces.

"Angel Eyes"

Listening to "Angel Eyes," a cut nestled in the middle of their most recent release, Fact Check, is akin to a healing escape. From the first seconds, pure bliss fills the air and quickly transforms into an open invitation to lose ourselves in the music.

"Paradise, like an angel fly/ With your wings, make me fly through the brilliant world/ My delight in all the days and nights/ Even in darkness, make me dream the greatest dream," they sing in the last chorus, prescribing optimism atop a layering reminiscent of the '80s.

"Pricey"

One of WALK's B-sides, "Pricey" boasts a delightful instrumental with thick basslines and a fusion of piano and guitar chords. Although the rapped chorus momentarily threatens to stall the pace, vibrant ad-libs — growing more captivating as the song progresses — quickly pick it back up, perfectly aligning the overall effort with their unique sound.


"Pricey"
was originally intended for the American market, which makes it all the more inexplicable that it was tucked away in the NCT 127 vault for so long. Thankfully, it's now receiving the spotlight it deserves – it's simply too remarkable to remain unearthed.

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ENHYPHEN
ENHYPEN

Photo: BELIFT LAB

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ENHYPEN And JVKE "Say Yes" To Cross-Cultural Collabs & Exploring New Genres

The K-pop group and American songwriter/multi-instrumentalist were big fans of each other — so much so that they bridged continents to create music. ENHYPEN and JVKE discuss creating "XO (Only If You Say Yes)," and innovating by staying true to yourself.

GRAMMYs/Jul 12, 2024 - 02:05 pm

During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, Jacob Lawson decided to use his time at home to share songs on TikTok. Trained in piano, guitar, and drums, the Providence, Rhode Island-based teen's creativity and knack for whimsical hooks resonated with millions. By 2021, Lawson was better known as JVKE — the singer and songwriter behind viral hits "Upside Down," "golden hour," and many more.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, in Seoul, South Korea, 23 K-pop trainees competed against each other on the survival show "I-Land." The seven victors went on to form boyband ENHYPEN — comprised of four Koreans (Heeseung, Sunoo, Sunghoon, and Jungwon), one Korean Australian (Jake), one Korean American (Jay), and one Japanese member (Ni-Ki). Despite the lack of in-person events in 2020, the group quickly became a coveted name, topping Korean charts with every release and sweeping a handful of awards.

Fast-forward to 2024, and these parallel lives have crossed paths with each other: ENHYPEN covered JVKE’s songs on social media, JVKE saw it and was impressed by their talents. Soon enough, they were working together.

While differences abound — JVKE is under global label AWAL and does everything from home, for example, while ENHYPEN went through years of dutiful training under label BELIFT LAB — their connection was immediate. The Gen Z artists share the same wavelength of thoughts and, above all, bonded over their love for a universal connector: music.

The result is ENHYPEN’s latest single, "XO (Only If You Say Yes)," off their sophomore studio album, Romance : Untold. Crafted by JVKE, who also features in its English version, the summery track represents a new musical and conceptual direction for ENHYPEN. So far, most of their work explored darker sounds and vampiric leanings, but now they show a sweeter side, ready to embrace all the facets of love.

Over Zoom, JVKE met ENHYPEN once more to talk about working together, being creative in the age of TikTok, and the future of music. ENHYPEN will also be featured in HYBE: We Believe In Music, A GRAMMY Museum Exhibit, which opens in Los Angeles on Aug. 2.

How did your collaboration come to life? Who contacted whom first?

JVKE: I remember the first time I saw Sunoo singing "Golden Hour," and that was probably my first time seeing them and interacting a bit. 

I dug a little deeper, got to hear their music and see all sorts of stuff from them, and then with Heeseung singing "This Is What Falling in Love Feels Like" — that cover is amazing. I tried to reach out through [X/]Twitter, like, How can I get in contact with these guys? And, yeah, from there we got to connect, and we made some cool stuff happen.

Did you know anything about K-pop before meeting ENHYPEN?

JVKE: When I first saw ENHYPEN, just the mesh of them as a group, you see the pictures and how all of them are styled together. But watching them dance in combination with the music, really opened my eyes to what K-pop could be, because I hadn't really seen much of it. 

Seeing these guys, I feel like it takes music to a whole different level of performance. I think these guys are even greater than musicians, they are also just performers, state of the art. They are amazing.

Learn more: Watch K-Pop Powerhouses ENHYPEN Bring Their Bouncy "ParadoXXX Invasion" To Life On The GRAMMY Museum Stage | Global Spin Live

ENHYPEN, what do you think of JVKE's music? And what were your thoughts when you learned you would be working together?

Jake: We all knew his songs way before we met him, and we were all big fans. We used to listen to all of his music before we met him, and when we heard that we got a chance to work with him, when we heard the demo for the title song, we knew that it was going to be such an amazing collaboration. We were very excited, even from the start. 

But I think our first impression when we actually met him in person is that he's very tall. [Laughs.] And we just connected straight away. We come from two different parts of the world, and we are both doing different styles of music, but in this collaboration you can see that we were able to connect through music, and [that’s] wonderful.

Read more: JVKE's "Golden" Year: How The Singer's World Turned "Upside Down" With TikTok, Collaborating With Charlie Puth & More

Is there anything specific that you learned while working together? Or something new that you didn't expect?

Jungwon: I was really surprised that he is the same age as Heeseung.

Heeseung: I also didn’t know.

He could be part of ENHYPEN.

JVKE: That's what I want. I'm signing up. I'm doing my audition now. [Laughs.]

JVKE, what was your main takeaway from ENHYPEN’s music and from their new album, 'Romance : Untold?'

JVKE: With stuff that I had heard from before, this [album] is definitely a new take on their sound. I think they're creatively evolving, and to get to be a part of that has just been so much fun. I just can't wait for people to hear what we got on the way.

ENHYPEN, what did you think of the new genres that you are exploring in this album?

Heeseung: When we first heard the demo [for "XO"], we all thought that it was a really great song. And the thing about this song is that it reflects all the creativity that JVKE has.

Jake: This song is very new to us, but I feel like one of our goals when we're working on a new album is to always try something different. This title song is such a big step for us, and I think it's a really good comeback.

JVKE, your songs are very romantic. Did that help to create "XO" and make it fit into their 'Romance : Untold' album concept?

JVKE: For sure. It was really cool to work on the song with the guys, and I think that you will definitely be able to tell the parts that I'm really — you know, I tend to write a lot of love songs. That's just how I am.

ENHYPEN, this is the first time you dive into a full-on romantic concept. What do you think of this evolution in your music, and of this theme?

Sunghoon: In this album, we tried to set a scene where our fans could have this heart-fluttering feeling after listening to [it]. We really put a lot of thought towards our fans, Engene. We showed a darker side in previous albums, but this time it's summer, and it's been a long while since we released a studio album, so we wanted to show a different side. I think that's going to draw attention from a wider audience.

JVKE, you found a lot of success through TikTok. What do you think of the platform as a creative medium? And how is it shaping the way music is created?

JVKE: I think it just made it easier to access potential fans, the public, or people who may have never heard your music before, and that gives any creative person a shot. If you can just put some music online, you don't have to have any sort of thing going for you. If the video is a great video, and the music's great, it'll reach people. I love that. I love that's the world that we live in, that there's not really a barrier to entry anymore. And I think that allows creativity to really ramp up, like, we don't have to move really slow with just a few artists. There's a lot of new artists coming out, pushing out new sounds and creativity. I love that so much.

How has this collaboration inspired you further on your own work?

JVKE: Even the song that we did together, it was a creative stretch for me. I hadn't really done much stuff like this, so it gets me excited to see what people are going to think of it. I'm always trying to do new things and seeing how [mine and ENHYPEN’s] worlds came together definitely inspired a lot of cool stuff. Even when we were in the room together working on stuff, it was very inspiring for me, so I think that inspiration is going to ride for a while.

ENHYPEN, how has this collaboration inspired you and future things you want to try as a group?

Ni-Ki: "XO" is a style that we have never tried before, and every time you try out new things, it can be challenging at times, and have a bit of pressure. But through this collaboration, we learned that we can try various different things going forward, and we can actually pull off these different styles.

Sunoo: What Ni-Ki said is so correct. Doing this collaboration with JVKE is definitely opening a lot of new styles for us in the future, and I think it's going to be great.

What do you think that is necessary to craft a hit song these days?

Jake: A really catchy hook. And like JVKE mentioned, Tiktok and that sort of short videos are very popular right now, and I think having a catchy melody is what gets people’s attention. That's what young people, like us, like these days. 

JVKE: I agree 100%. You gotta have the hook. And now when I'm in the studio trying to make music, getting the production behind it innovative and creative, or just stripping it back, I find that fully committing to an idea, even if it's a little bit crazy, even if it's not what people would expect from you, is the best part about it. And I think Gen Z is always looking for something new and fresh, because the attention span is so quick. So, right now, it's good to keep people on their toes.

What are some "rules" or common techniques in music writing and producing that you don't agree with, and that you like to do your own way?

Jungwon: One of the things that caught my attention was the fact that we usually record in the studio, but we learned that JVKE made all of his work from his home. That was a big surprise, because although he did it [that way], everything is good quality.

JVKE: Thanks, guys. I agree. Definitely, there's certain points when I really need to take my time and get it exactly how I want it, but you know, I think you can always work with whatever you have. And I like that for up-and-coming songwriters. Just by having a computer, you can do pretty much everything on there, and sometimes that's what helps people to figure out their sound. You just do what you can and, over time, you can add in more high quality elements and use some better equipment. So, I love that you don't have to have too much. You can work with whatever you have.

Aside from "XO," do any of you have a favorite track in this album? Why?

Heeseung: I like "XO," especially the English version is really good, and outside of that it would be "Paranormal."

Jay: I think for me it’s "XO" English version too, because JVKE featured as a vocalist.

Jake: Obviously, "XO" is my favorite song on the tracklist, but I really like "Brought The Heat Back" too.

What do you envision for the future of K-pop and of music in general?

Jake: That's a good question. I think even from this collaboration we're doing right now with JVKE, you can tell that K-pop isn't determined by language or anything like that. I feel like it's already gone global, and that's going to continue in the future as well. I think music can bring the world together. I know that in some places in the world, there's people that don't know much about K-pop or Korea in general, and you know, a couple years back, when I was living in Australia, K-pop really helped me learn about Korean culture. I think we're doing that for other people around the world as well. As an artist, part of K-pop is to always show the world what it is and what Korea and its culture are.

Heeseung: What's important is that we put in the creative element to make something new out of existing genres. There are many great musicians out there, and I think if they continue to share what they have, we'll be able to advance music further. Recently, I had the chance to experience a [songwriting] camp, so I got to meet many different musicians and make different songs. If we had more of these kinds of opportunities going forward, that would be great.

Jay: We had a lot of dark and deep concepts or title tracks for a while, so this kind of collaboration with JVKE kind of breaks [that]. I think a lot of musicians breaking their own line and challenging themselves will make the future of K-pop.

Learn more: What's Next For K-Pop? A Roundtable Unpacks The Genre's Past, Present And Future

JVKE, do you have any thoughts?

JVKE: I agree with all the stuff that the guys were saying, like, taking in all of the different inspirations. I think if songwriters continue to just be themselves and write what they want to write, we'll continue to get new and innovative music. I don't think we'll ever run out of new ways to create music. And so, I always try to encourage other songwriters to just keep writing what's coming to you. You don't have to put it in a box. 

Even with ["XO"], I wasn't trying to put it in a perfect box, it just was what it was. Sometimes a song just has to be allowed to be what it is, and then you can put it in a box if you need to, but never compromise the art. The art comes first. And as long as people do that, the future will continue to have amazing music.

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GRAMMY Museum Partners With HYBE For K-Pop Exhibit graphic featuring artist names and exhibit opening date

Graphic courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum

news

GRAMMY Museum Partners With HYBE For New K-Pop Exhibit 'HYBE: We Believe In Music' Opening Aug. 2

Running Aug. 2 through Sept. 15, the GRAMMY Museum exhibit showcases artifacts from superstar HYBE artists, including BTS, SEVENTEEN, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, ENHYPEN, LE SSERAFIM, and many more.

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:09 pm

The GRAMMY Museum joins forces with HYBE to present its newest exhibit, HYBE: We Believe In Music, A GRAMMY Museum Exhibit. This interactive exhibit chronicles the history and impact of HYBE, and showcases its legacy of unparalleled innovation and creativity as a trend-setting global entertainment brand.

The exhibit opens on Aug. 2 in downtown Los Angeles and features spotlight moments with K-pop stars BTS, SEVENTEEN, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, ENHYPEN, LE SSERAFIM, and many more. "HYBE: We Believe In Music" runs through Sept.15. The exhibit will kick off on Aug. 1 with "Global Spin Live: TWS," a program featuring a moderated conversation with K-pop group TWS, followed by a performance.

The exhibit traces HYBE's evolution and influence by showcasing instantly recognizable artifacts from its roster of artists, creators, and fans. The displays notably feature original outfits worn in iconic music videos such as "Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment)" by BTS, "MAESTRO" by SEVENTEEN, "Sugar Rush Ride" by TOMORROW X TOGETHER, "Sweet Venom" by ENHYPEN, and "EASY" by LE SSERAFIM. HYBE: We Believe In Music also boasts accessories and performance gear donned by ZICO, fromis_9, BOYNEXTDOOR, TWS, &TEAM, and ILLIT. The exhibit marks the first time these artifacts will be on display together in one location.

Other highlights include interactive sing-along and dance rooms, a dedicated Fan Section celebrating the endless support between HYBE artists and their fandoms, a Mono to Immersive room featuring BTS's 2022 GRAMMYs performance of "Butter," and a Photoism Booth that allows visitors to pose alongside their favorite K-pop artists.  The GRAMMY Museum exhibit will also feature exclusive video content with producers, artists, music videos, and more.

"HYBE and their artists represent the present and future of the global music landscape, and our goal with this exhibit is to deepen the appreciation and respect for its creators and performers," says Michael Sticka, President/CEO of the GRAMMY Museum. "HYBE has contributed to creating a playground of innovation that inspires fandoms that transcend age, gender, geography and beyond. The GRAMMY Museum is thrilled to provide a space where fans can express their love for K-pop and feel closer to their favorite idols."

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

HYBE Chief Operating Officer Taeho Kim added, "Putting out an exhibition that captures HYBE's journey is a new experience for us. We're very excited about this partnership with GRAMMY Museum, and we look forward to welcoming music fans who visit the museum to enjoy and connect with our historical pieces."

The exhibit highlights the roots of HYBE's meteoric rise. In 2005, South Korean producer, composer, and songwriter Bang Si-Hyuk, known as "hitman" Bang, changed the trajectory of Korean pop music by launching the record label Big Hit Entertainment. He soon signed a talented 16-year-old rapper named RM, which became the first step in creating the label's groundbreaking boy band — BTS. With the group's global success, "hitman" Bang and Big Hit Entertainment became known as musical trailblazers and record industry innovators. Big Hit Entertainment has now evolved into HYBE, which only continues to break boundaries in music and beyond.

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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