Just six days after their 2020 debut as ENHYPEN, Jungwon, Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo, and Ni-ki took the stage at the Melon Music Awards, South Korea’s biggest end-of-year music awards show. Shortly after that, they dropped an EP that became the highest-selling debut album by a K-pop group in 2020. It’s ironic that the fan name for the emerging septet is ENGENES — the boys arrived with noticeable propulsion, an already well-oiled machine that refuses to slow. Ahead of the release of their latest project, Border: Carnival, ENHYPEN sat down to (virtually) discuss the whirlwind of post-debut life and the pieces of the EP they hope resonate with listeners.
In conversation, it’s striking how collected and poised the members are — it’s rare for newer groups, typically referred to as “rookies” within the K-Pop world, to already be so polished. “Each member has his own versatile charms,” says Ni-ki, the youngest, just 15 years old. He’s right: even beyond how the group was formed (a reality-style project spearheaded by BELIFT LAB, a joint venture between HYBE, formerly Big Hit Entertainment, and CJ ENM), there’s a fascinating makeup of areas of expertise among the members. Sunghoon was an award-winning figure skater before jumping into the idol world; Heeseung, the oldest, has both a remarkable voice and perfect pitch; Australian-born Jake plays violin and often shoulders the responsibility of English-speaking duties for the group … and that’s just three of the seven.
Together, the members of ENHYPEN have delivered six cohesive new tracks that comprise Border: Carnival: an intro and outro, the lead single “Drunk-Dazed”, and three B-sides. The members seem equally excited about all the songs when asked about a favorite, unable to choose as they chat through the themes of “Not for Sale”, “Fever”, and even the intro. “A good intro track on an album isn’t all that common,” says the group’s young leader, Jungwon (just seventeen!), with a playful smile. “But our intros have been great.”
The group’s first EP, Border: Day One, did indeed have a great intro, followed by five bops. Looking forward, though, the members are excited to diversify with tracks that feature “more of a fun, rocking sound” (like lead single “Drunk-Dazed”) and “groovy, pop/R&B” (“Fever”). There’s also the hip-hop infused “Mixed Up”, which captures the energy of ‘90s boy groups in all the best ways. How strange it must be to have formed, debuted, and begun making music as a team all during the course of an unprecedented pandemic — but if the strain of the unusual circumstances is affecting their work, it hasn’t shown. The group are honest in their lyrics about their fears, the expectations set on their young shoulders, and the mirroring excitement of this new world in which they’ve found themselves.
The members collectively also have a fun, distinctly gen-Z sense of energy that surrounds them, frequently appearing in the tags of the latest TikTok trends. When asked which member has the best fashion sense, I couldn’t help but laugh seeing Jay point to himself — because I think he’s right. (Is this what it is to choose a bias?)
The groups that immediately preceded ENHYPEN are generally referred to as fourth-generation; this group seems to be on their own wave, though, leaders of whatever “generation” is coming next. The circumstances that have led to exponentially more global attention on Korean entertainment are impossible to ignore, but this team seems up for the challenge of stepping into that spotlight — a blinding, overwhelming, but ultimately exciting carnival.
Sunoo mentions some advice passed along from label-mates Seventeen: “While performing, there are moments where we’re not at the center, but on standby … this, too, is part of the performance, and we need to give it our all.”
This is ENHYPEN: not wasting a moment.
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