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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YOASOBI kneel in a pose for a portrait
YOASOBI

Photo: Kato Shumpei

feature

From Tokyo To Coachella: YOASOBI's Journey To Validate J-Pop And Vocaloid As Art Forms

YOASOBI, blending J-pop and Vocaloid with narrative-driven songs, is capturing a global audience through their performances at major festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza, marking a significant moment for Japanese music on the international stage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 9, 2024 - 04:37 pm

For decades, Japanese music has been one of the hardest to access as a foreigner. Even with the popularization of cultural exports like anime and the emergence of streaming platforms, it is still considered a niche, and fans often have to dig deep in order to find albums, translations, or any kind of content at all.

"There weren’t many opportunities for Japanese music to go out into the world until now," says YOASOBI’s producer and songwriter, Ayase, over a Sunday morning Zoom from Tokyo. "If we were to break into the mainstream, I think there’s a lot more work to do. Being a part of Coachella is one of them."

The duo, composed of Ayase, 30, and vocalist Ikura, 23, is gearing up for their first performance at the mighty Californian festival next weekend, plus two sold out headline shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. In August, they are set to play at Lollapalooza in Chicago, IL. 

"Performing at festivals like Coachella was one of our goals when we put our live team together, so I believe that it will be a place for us to grow further,” says Ikura, who lived in Chicago as a kid and considers these opportunities a "full circle" moment.

Read more: 10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More

Formed in 2019, YOASOBI found overnight success with their debut single "Yoru ni Kakeru," a bright-sounding but harrowing tale that topped Billboard’s Japan Hot 100 chart for six non-consecutive weeks. They continued to rise further, recording five EPs (three in Japanese, two in English), the opening theme to Netflix’s anime series "Beastars," 2021’s "Kaibutsu," and their magnum opus so far: "Idol."

Released in 2023, "Idol" became a massive hit, placing No.1 at Billboard's Japan Hot 100 chart for 22 weeks and counting — an all-time record break. It was also the nineteenth best-selling song of 2023 worldwide, according to the IFPI. With these accolades, it’s easy to understand why the duo is fully booked, but what makes their music so enticing to global audiences? 

Listening to YOASOBI is like entering a rabbit hole. First, you get hypnotized by the glistening synths, bursting like fireworks, and the rock riffs taking melodies to full-speed. Then, you discover their adage is "novel into music," and all songs are based on fictional stories written by various authors. There’s also the animated music videos, each with a different style, giving their sounds another layer for interpretation. And finally, there are Ayase’s and Ikura’s (under the name Lilas Ikuta) own solo careers — treasure troves ready to be unearthed.

"I don't know, to be honest," says Ayase when asked about their growing popularity. "I guess the fact that a lot of Japanese [exports] have been prevalent around the world had to do with it. But also, maybe it's because people are experiencing this combination of music with storytelling that is interesting to them." Ikura agrees, adding that YOASOBI allows fans to "enjoy this bigger world that we are part of in a more three-dimensional way."

The experience is similar to how they create their music: mining, collecting, mixing, and transforming different threads into a new fabric. From fictional stories, Ayase transmutes his feelings into beats on his laptop with Logic Pro, then inputs melodies and lyrics through Vocaloid softwares like Hatsune Miku. Ikura listens to the Vocaloid demos, and then adds her own feelings and flair into the interpretations. For English-language tracks, they work with translator Konnie Aoki, who is "very mindful of phonetic sounds," and Ikura listens to the Japanese versions up until it’s time to record, so that she can have "the right emotions set."

It’s such a natural process for them that Ayase is surprised to know that there are still people who don’t consider Vocaloid as "real" music. “Those people probably don’t know what music is,” he says with a laugh. “Do they think that instrumental music, where there's no human singing, isn’t real music? There’s really great Vocaloid music out there, and it’s basically [voices] created through synthesizing softwares. It's very different from AI, which is auto-generated music. Vocaloid is humans creating music using these softwares. That's the only difference from a human singing a song.”

To Ikura, who maintains her burgeoning solo career in tandem with YOASOBI’s busy schedule, Vocaloid allowed her to broaden her talents. "It is my first time singing songs that somebody else wrote, so it was an opportunity to challenge myself with things that I wouldn't necessarily write, or sing in a tone or voice that I wouldn't come up with myself." She says that these experiences influence her solo works all the time, in a "synergy" that allows her to "have more colors to work with in my palette."

"I started producing music through Vocaloids,” adds Ayase. “And it truly broadened my ideas and imagination when it comes to creating music. It allows creators to come up with melodies that a human singer may not come up with. It's a fascinating culture. The possibility I feel is infinite, and it really makes the impossible possible, in a way.”

Read more: It Goes To 11: How One Piece Of Technology Makes YOASOBI's Musical Vision Come To Life

Endless possibilities are also a big allure in AI technologies, but Ayase doesn’t see this as a threat. With the right boundaries, it’s just a tool — like Vocaloid, Logic Pro, and the internet — that can be used positively. "However, as a creator myself, I really hope that creative works come out of the imagination and ideas of the human mind. In that sense, [AI] may not be 100% a positive thing for us," he shares.

But that’s something for the future. Now, YOASOBI is focusing on their very real, very tangible events ahead. "Finally, we have this opportunity where people around the world are discovering our music. So, performing at festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, or doing our solo shows, I think it's important that we communicate with the audiences and maximize this opportunity as much as possible," says Ikura.

And it’s not just YOASOBI getting all the attention: according to data and research company Luminate, J-pop in general is on the rise. "I’m very proud, as a Japanese person, for that situation. For us, it’s really about taking it one step at a time," says Ayase. “Our ultimate wish is to have our music or reach as many people around the world as possible, and so we will continue to work hard every day."

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Photo of Skepta performing at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England. Skepta is wearing dark black sunglasses, a black shirt, and a vest made of bullets.
Skepta performs a headline set at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

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10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More

Peso Pluma, Lana Del Rey, Doja Cat, Tyler, The Creator, J Balvin and a reunited No Doubt may be some of the biggest draws at Coachella 2024, but the beloved festival will host a multitude of must-see artists whose names appear in smaller text.

GRAMMYs/Apr 9, 2024 - 02:11 pm

Ah, springtime. For the average person, that means sunshine, flora in bloom, perhaps a figurative fresh start in the new year. But for music festival fans, it signals another season starter: Coachella.

An estimated 125,000 people will flock to the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, California for the first weekend (April 12-14) of the 23rd Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. While the first weekend is already sold out, tickets are still available for the second weekend (April 19-21).

Coachella's headliners have been busy: Both Lana Del Rey (headlining Friday) and Doja Cat (slated to close out Sunday) just wrapped extensive tours at the end of 2023 and, while Saturday closer Tyler, the Creator's only other 2024 festival date is at Lollapalooza, he did stage a large-scale appearance in 2023 at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in Los Angeles. Still, it stands to reason that there are scores of fans who missed out on those tour stops, and Coachella would be an ideal chance to catch them in a particularly special setting. 

There's also the potential to see a slew of surprise guests (a long-standing Chella tradition) and much-hyped reunions. Coachella 2024 attendees will likely flock to see a reunited No Doubt and Sublime, the latter with a Nowell back at the helm (Bradley’s son, Jakob).

Then there’s the economic logic behind opting to see those bigger acts at a festival: for a price not much more than what you’d pay for an arena ticket, you get the bonus of catching dozens of other incredible artists while you’re at it. The diversity and quality of music throughout even the lower tiers of the Coachella lineup is staggering, so overall the price for a pass is quite the steal. Read on for the inside scoop on 10 of this year’s most exciting undercard performances.

Read More: Music Festivals 2024 Guide: Lineups & Dates For Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo & Much More

Cimafunk

Cuban artist Cimafunk has been relatively quiet since releasing a third studio album, El Alimento, in 2021. But the success of that record — which garnered his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Rock or Alternative album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards — appears to have propelled him to new career heights. He will be the first Cuban-born artist to perform at the festival, kicking off a string of worldwide shows that begin with his appearance at Coachella on April 12 and 19. 

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Cimafunk’s sole release since his last album was the December 2023 single “Te tango en salsa,” which expands upon his self-designated brand of Afro Cuban Funk with accents of disco and grooves filled with New Orleans-style horns. Though the track hasn’t been publicly connected to any upcoming EP or album, one might presume that his impending run of concerts is a precursor to a complete body of new music. Perhaps Coachella will function as a testing ground, and considering the inclusion on El Ailmento of prominent artists George Clinton, CeeLo Green and Lupe Fiasco, who knows what other surprises might be in store at the desert festival known for delighting audiences with plenty of guest features.

L’Imperatrice

Through the years following their inception in 2012, French pop band L’Imperatrice have played primarily in Europe and surrounding regions, so it’s no small feat that they’re poised to make their second appearance at Coachella in two years. They first played the fest in 2022, a makeup show for Coachella's 2020 COVID-19 cancellation. 

Their slots on April 12 and 19, stops on their just-launched Double Trouble Tour, follow the 2018 release of debut full-length Matahari and performances at prominent festivals like Austin City Limits and Outside Lands. Self-produced sophomore album Pulsar arrives on June 7, and its infectiously groovy and sensual debut single “Me Da Iqual” promises a Coachella set sure to incite emotional release among the masses — ideally during one of the fest’s famed golden hours to match the music’s euphoric vibes. 

Skepta

Regarded as one of the most influential rappers in the UK grime scene, Skepta is set to commence his latest return to stateside stages with appearances at Coachella on both Fridays, which marks his second time at the festival after lauded dual appearances in 2017. 

Following a semi-secret DJ set at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March, these shows will preview a run of summer dates in the UK and Europe and the release of upcoming sixth solo album Knife and Fork

With that record’s release date still in question but imminent, it’s a good bet that he’ll introduce new material to build upon the January drop of lead single "Gas Me Up (Diligent)," which adopts a flow and melodic structure more akin to popular American rap. To that end, Skepta’s previous collaborations with U.S. rappers like Drake, Ye and members of ASAP Mob could lead to a loaded lineup of guests during his Coachella set. It has the potential to be a huge moment, though his reputation for high-energy and rowdy gigs are reasons enough to prioritize his performance. 

Read More: UK Drill Is An International Sensation. Will It Be Censored To Death?

Mandy, Indiana

English-French noise rock upstarts Mandy, Indiana make music that isn’t necessarily easy to digest. Minimalist and chaotic compositions, primarily from their widely celebrated 2023 debut album I’ve Seen a Way, resonate as tunes tailor-made for technically minded music nerds. Still, danceable moments emerge among the sonic helter-skelter, which combines experimental elements of industrial, classic house music and samples aplenty (think Death Grips with more palatable melodies and exclusively French lyrics). 

So far, the dynamic four-piece hasn’t played much on this side of the pond — their debut shows at Coachella arrive on the heels of a handful of U.S. appearances in 2023 that included the SXSW Music Festival. Which means Mandy, Indiana’s sets on April 13 and 20 will mark relatively rare (and therefore must-see) chances to embrace their overtly wonderful weirdness in the desert among the more prominent pop-leaning artists on the roster.

The Last Dinner Party

If you’re not yet keen on British indie rock band the Last Dinner Party, it’s time to get with the program. With only one album under their belt, Prelude to Ecstasy (released Feb. 2) — which echoes various influences ranging from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Kate Bush and ABBA —the quintet has already earned multiple awards and accolades, including topping the UK Album Chart. To boot, they opened for the Rolling Stones in London’s Hyde Park two years prior to putting out their record.

The band’s performances are reportedly jaw-dropping, further evidenced by the complete sell-out of their current U.S. tour. That jaunt wraps with their April 20 appearance at Coachella (they also play during the first weekend on April 13), so, unless you want to pay ridiculous resale prices for one of their club shows, this is a prime chance to see them live with the added benefit of catching many more amazing acts while you’re there.

Young Fathers

Young Fathers are often categorized under the umbrella of hip-hop, but it would be wrong to pigeonhole them that way. True, one can pinpoint elements of a spitting, old-school style — especially on debut album Dead (winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2014.. However, their sound spans the landscape of many genres, often weaving in threads of electronic, industrial, and trip-hop. It should be telling that they’ve collaborated multiple times with Massive Attack.

The music clearly resonates with a substantial audience. They’ve reached prime positions on the UK Album charts, their fourth and latest album Heavy Heavy (released Feb. 3, 2023) won them their third Scottish Album of the Year Award, and this year marks their second invitation to Coachella (catch them on Sundays: April 13 and 20). With a full year gone since putting out new songs, there’s no telling if they’ll serve up anything fresh. Regardless, fans of heavy-hitting experimental music, assuredly energizing at any time of day or night, should prioritize seeing their set.

Oneohtrix Point Never

It’s a wonder that Oneohtrix Point Never has never played Coachellal until now given his string of consistent releases since emerging in the early 2000s (with never more than three years between albums) and Coachella’s penchant for historically championing experimental electronic artists. Following the Feb. 29 release of his latest EP “Oneohtrix Point Never - Ambients,” he debuts in the desert on April 13, with his second weekend encore on April 20. 

The Massachusetts-bred beatmaker’s music swings from sparse to compositionally complex. It's not geared toward a typical EDM dance party, but always cinematic and hypnotizing, creating a space where listeners can truly lose themselves in the sonics. Given his style, it’s safe to assume he’ll occupy an evening time slot, so if you’re the type who prefers something a little more raw to the mainstream big-timers topping the bill, Oneohtrix Point Never might be just the ticket.

Mdou Moctar

If there’s one artist on this year’s Coachella lineup that will truly thrive in a desert setting, it’s Mdou Moctar. The Niger-based musician plays rock music steeped in the style of Tuareg, guitar-based blues-rock fusion that originates in the Sahara region. However, Moctar’s music decidedly transcends the traditional sound, often reverberating as sublimely psychedelic.

His performances in Indio on April 14 and 21 precede the release of his sixth album Funeral For Justice (arriving May 3). Based on the two singles made available from that record so far (title track “Funeral for Justice” and “Imouhar”), the people of Coachella are in for a true desert trip.

Atarashii Gakko!

When Japanese “girl group” Atarashii Gakko! make their Coachella debut on April 14 and 21, anticipate the unexpected. The four singers’ have a stated goal of “redefining what it means to be a girl group.” They’re technically categorized as J-Pop, but among the many catchy choruses, their music also incorporates shades of speed metal, trap beats and alt-rap à la Rage Against the Machine, all of which you can hear on their latest album ICHIJIKIKOKU.

What you can certainly expect is an outrageously high-energy show chock-full of nonstop, self-designed choreography performed in colorful sailor-fuku uniforms (essentially sailor suits worn by Japanese students in the ‘70s and ‘80s … think Sailor Moon but intentionally less provocative). If you need an adrenaline boost on the final day of the fest, look no further than Atarashii Gakko!.

Olivia Dean

Dear America, it’s time to give a proper welcome to an artist destined for stardom:  Olivia Dean. With only a handful of U.S. shows in the bank, the 25-year-old British neo-soul singer’s debut at Coachella on April 14 — arguably her biggest U.S. gig yet — will serve as the most well-deserved of receptions. 

Sure, her nominations for the 2023 Mercury Prize (for debut album Messy) and 2024 Brit Awards (Best Pop Act, British Artist of the Year and Best New Artist) should merit attention enough for those who don’t know her. But even a few moments of listening to key album tracks “Dive” and “The Hardest Part” (don’t sleep on the alternate version featuring Leon Bridges) are the real deal-sealers. The richness of Dean’s recorded vocals are absolutely arresting, evocative of and equal to top-tier divas who preceded her. It’s thrilling just thinking about the impact she’ll make at Coachella — do yourself a favor if you have the chance and go witness it firsthand. 

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TWICE
TWICE

Photo: JYP Entertainment

interview

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

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

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 03:14 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Explore The Sounds Of K-Pop

Reflecting On The Present While Creating With YOU-Th

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

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

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

Experiencing An Unbelievable Debut — And Global Success

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

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

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

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

Blinking Twice, Nearly 10 Years Have Flown By 

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

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

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

Twice Have Had To Overcome Hardships As A Team

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

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

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

Remembering The "Glamor" Of Touring  

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

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

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

TWICE Want To Face The Future Together

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

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

NewJeans at Lollapalooza
NewJeans perform on stage during Lollapalooza in Chicago in 2023.

Photo: Josh Brasted/ FilmMagic / Getty Images

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15 K-Pop Songs That Took 2023 By Storm: From Seventeen’s “Super (손오공)” to NewJeans' "Super Shy"

From global tours to viral TikTok hits, explore how acts like Seventeen, Fifty Fifty, and newcomers like NCT DOJAEJUNG shaped the evolution of K-pop with new song releases in 2023.

GRAMMYs/Dec 21, 2023 - 02:16 pm

2023 was a busy year for K-pop. As the South Korean industry moves at lightning speed, new albums were released almost every day, and dozens of artists made their debuts. K-pop tours crossed the globe, and acts like TWICE and BLACKPINK filled out stadiums. Songs like Jung Kook’s "Seven" featuring Latto, or Fifty Fifty’s "Cupid," were playing everywhere, from TikTok to Target stores.

Amidst so much content, what singles best defined this year? There’s mighty chart-toppers, such as NewJeans’s "Super Shy" and AKMU’s "Love Lee," and sales monsters like Seventeen’s "Super" and Jisoo’s "Flower." Of equal importance, there are also songs that entered our collective unconscious — whether for their flawless melodies, such as NCT DOJAEJUNG’s "Perfume", or for their sassy irreverence, like (G)I-dle’s "Queencard".

In terms of musical trends, retro sounds dominated the scene, taking inspiration from synth-pop, to disco, to Jersey club. There’s a few blustering tracks, too, proving K-pop’s versatility and reinvention powers in a style that has been often overused.

Years from now, when we look back to the sounds that shaped 2023, the 15 songs below — listed by order of release — will definitely be remembered:

Fifty Fifty - "Cupid"

Rookie girl group Fifty Fifty turned heads with their sublime debut EP, The Fifty, at the end of 2022. This year, they made their first comeback in February with the sweet "Cupid" and reached even further. The single went massively viral on TikTok, peaked at number 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and reached no. 8 on the UK Singles Chart.

Fifty Fifty were poised to be 2023’s big breakouts — an impressive feat for a group coming from a small company like ATTRAKT. However, at the end of June, the quartet found themselves embroiled in a complex legal battle against the label. In October, ATTRAKT terminated the contracts of members Aran, Sio, and Saena, leaving Keena as the only active member of the group. For all those reasons, "Cupid" is a bittersweet listen. Its sugary synths and bubbly harmonies are still delightful, but its background story and the feeling of lost potential tinge every chord with sadness.

Jimin - "Like Crazy"

BTS’s Jimin had long proved his prowess as a soloist (seen in "Lie," his 2016 solo released under the group), but it wasn’t until this year that he put forward a proper solo debut album. Out in March, Face presented Jimin at his truest: he co-wrote five out of six songs, and helped conceptualize the record and the music video for title track "Like Crazy."

Inspired by the 2011 movie of the same name, "Like Crazy" is a dark synth-pop journey through desperation. In the lyrics, Jimin tries to hold together whatever is left of a crumbling relationship. "I'd rather be / Lost in the lights, lost in the lights / I'm outta my mind / Can you help me numb the pain?" he pleads. Delivered with stirring mastery, the song resonated with audiences across the globe, leading Jimin to become the first South Korean to top Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

Jisoo - "Flower"

After Jennie’s "Solo," Rosé’s R and Lisa’s Lalisa, BLACKPINK fans couldn’t be more eager for the quartet’s final member, Jisoo, to make her solo debut. Luckily, her single album Me came out in March, featuring lead single "Flower" and b-side "All Eyes on Me." At the time of release, Jisoo became the first K-pop female solo artist to become a million-seller, with Me exceeding 1.31 million pre-orders.

"Flower" is elegant and delicate, with pop synths that swirl around trap beats and lots of space. Traditional Korean music elements enhance its royal feel, while Jisoo’s husky vocals lament the loss of a relationship. Here, Jisoo proves her potential as a soloist, and opens the doors for BLACKPINK to begin a new era.

IVE - "I Am"

Another promising girl group to emerge in 2022, IVE are hitmakers with an empowering edge. From the meaning of their name ("I have") to their self-penned lyrics, the sextet aims to give the public as much confidence as they display on stage.

"I Am" spearheaded their first full album release in April, I’ve IVE, and quickly topped music charts in South Korea. With a disco flair reminiscent of ABBA, the single is a momentous celebration that reminds us to live life to the fullest. As they sing in the chorus: "That's my life, it’s a beautiful galaxy / Be a writer, the genre is fantasy / A big, big stage will open for me tomorrow / So that is who I am."

NCT DOJAEJUNG - "Perfume"

SM Entertainment’s decision to unite three of the smoothest vocalists under NCT into a subunit was one of 2023’s best decisions. Formed by Doyoung, Jaehyun and Jungwoo — or DOJAEJUNG — the trio released the unexpected but impeccable EP Perfume in April.

The eponymous title track encapsulates their vocal talents in a sultry R&B jam, overflowing with ‘90s nostalgia and heavenly harmonies. "I'll fill your day with heavenly scents / To remind you of my name at every step," they sing. Like the best perfumes, its notes spread and linger, creating a mesmerizing effect. Few songs flow so effortlessly.

Seventeen - "Super (손오공)"

Since their debut in 2015, one of K-pop’s most beloved acts, Seventeen, shows no signs of slowing down. The 13-member group continues to grow their fanbase and break records every year — 2023’s proof being their tenth EP released in April, FML. According to their agency, Pledis Entertainment, the EP sold 6.2 million copies — the highest sales ever in K-pop — and recently won Album of the Year at the 2023 MAMA Awards.

FML came with two lead singles, "F*ck My Life" and "Super," but it’s the latter’s grandiosity that stood out the most. Inspired by Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King of classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, the boisterous track blends Jersey club and bass drums into a larger-than-life celebration. "I love my team, I love my crew / We already made it this far," they sing, acknowledging what brought them to where they are.

Le Sserafim - "Unforgiven"

When the legendary Nile Rodgers chooses your song to be his first foray into K-pop, you must be doing something right. That is the case of Le Sserafim, the fearless girl group under Source Music (a sub-label of HYBE), and their May single "Unforgiven."

Off their debut studio album, also named Unforgiven, the track samples Ennio Morricone’s theme song from the 1966 film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, with Rodgers’ funky chords adding even more flair to a pop-country, hip-hop feast. "Never asked for forgiveness or anything / Gonna target taboos, watch me now," the quintet professes. Above all, "Unforgiven" is about freedom, and extends that concept to music creation as well.

aespa - "Spicy"

"Tell me what you see / When you look at me / ‘Cause I am a 10 out of 10, honestly," raps Giselle in the ultra-confident "Spicy." Off aespa’s third EP released in May, MY World, this gripping single provides the best of cheeky ‘90s pop mixed with rubbery synths and a revving pulse.

The SM Entertainment quartet gained attention upon their 2020 debut for incorporating avatars of themselves (æ-aespa) and an AI-inspired lore in their music. As their discography has grown, their concept and sound evolved to encompass new styles that reflect a bulletproof self-esteem. With "Spicy," aespa have proven to be more than just a hyper-tech fad, and entered main character territory.

(G)I-dle - "Queencard"

During a press conference for the release of their sixth EP in May, I Feel, the leader and producer of (G)I-dle, Soyeon, said that "the core message of 'Queencard' is that you can be a beautiful person if you adore yourself."   

If you aren’t there yet, "Queencard" might just be the antidote. Here, (G)I-dle employ their megawatt charisma to deliver an irreverent, unabashedly pop track with hints of rock and roll. Part satire, part girl power anthem, "Queencard, I’m hot / My boob and booty is hot," is one of the most iconic lines of 2023, and if that doesn’t boost your self-esteem just a little, you might be taking yourself too seriously.

ATEEZ - "Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers)"

ATEEZ are one of the most commanding boy groups in K-pop. Since debuting in 2018, they captivate the stage: their facial expressions, knife-sharp choreographies, and hard-hitting sounds make it impossible to do otherwise.

Cut to 2023, when they made everyone "slow it down" and "make it bouncy," as goes the chorus of their June single "Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers)." Aside from the name reference, this has nothing to do with the Red Hot Chili Peppers — ATEEZ just wanted to show the world "A different kind of spicy, Cheongyang chili pepper vibe." It works. "Bouncy" is a tour de force in their discography, making a wild spectacle out of distorted, dystopian chaos.

NewJeans - "Super Shy"

2023’s definite hit of the summer came by the hands of NewJeans — the trailblazing girl group from HYBE’s sub-label ADOR. Their 2022 debut EP, New Jeans, took K-pop by storm, but this year proved they’re global stars to watch: the quintet was nominated Time's Next Generation Leaders, landed high fashion ambassadorships with brands like Gucci and YSL, performed at Lollapalooza in August, and released their sophomore EP in July, Get Up.

"Super Shy" is the album’s effervescent first single. "I'm super shy, super shy / But wait a minute while I / Make you mine, make you mine," they sing in flirtatious lilts, underpinned by UK garage and Jersey club beats. The result is a shot of pure pop serotonin.

NCT Dream - "ISTJ"

July’s "ISTJ" brings soaring harmonies and a propulsive melody to shape one of this year’s most enthusiastic hits. Off NCT Dream’s third studio album of the same name, it was inspired by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test, which is widely popular in South Korea. Individuals with the ISTJ personality type are said to be quiet and practical — nothing to do with the high-energy hip hop that NCT Dream portray in their song.

However, that’s because "ISTJ" is written from the point of view of their opposite type: ENFPs, who are usually the life of the party. Such a creative concept reinforces why NCT Dream keep on rising — from the teen sub-group made up of the youngest members from the collective NCT, they have now matured into charismatic leaders of their own.

AKMU - "Love Lee"

The first release in two years from sibling duo AKMU — formed by Lee Su-hyun and Lee Chan-hyuk — "Love Lee" is as lovely as it sounds. Out in August along b-side "Fry’s Dream," the track swept Korean charts since day one, and stayed atop the Circle Digital Chart (one of the biggest music charts in the country) for six non-consecutive weeks.

Initially unassuming, this jaunty ballad reveals its charms slowly, like honey dripping from a spoon. Su-hyun’s crystalline voice would be enough to steal the show, but here it is paired with sweet production quirks from Chan-hyuk, making the track a simple, yet memorable highlight of 2023.

RIIZE - "Get a Guitar"

For the past seven years, all male trainees under SM Entertainment eventually debuted in NCT — a larger group which holds several units like NCT 127 and NCT Dream. 2023 marked a change in that dynamic: in September, fresh-faced RIIZE launched their first single album, Get a Guitar.

The groovy title track is anchored by guitar plucks and retro synths, providing a feel-good introduction to their charms and a bright, light vibe to follow. Preceded by the wistful "Memories," Get a Guitar was a commercial success, receiving over 1 million pre-order sales — a new record for debut albums under SM. In 2024, these young men are sure to rise even higher, starting with an upcoming comeback on January 5.

Jung Kook - "Standing Next to You"

BTS’s youngest member Jung Kook took his time to officially launch a solo career. Since the band announced a break in group activities last year, he carefully directed his efforts to the Western market, releasing a series of collaborative singles like "Left and Right" with Charlie Puth, 2022 FIFA World Cup’s "Dreamers,"  "Seven" with rapper Latto and "3D" featuring Jack Harlow.

While all these songs are hits on their own, it turns out Jung Kook was saving the best for last. In November, he finally dropped his debut solo album, Golden, and title track "Standing Next to You." Inspired by the best of Michael Jackson, he moves through the song with conviction and poise, delivering a timeless hit for years to come.

2023 In Review: 5 Trends That Defined K-Pop