Kicking off your music career must be stressful and intense no matter when it happens – but debuting in the midst of a worldwide pandemic has to present its own unique challenges. That certainly seems to have been the case for ENHYPEN, the seven-member Korean boy group who debuted in November 2020 after forming through reality survival series I-Land just two months earlier.
ENHYPEN is made up of four Korean-born members: Jungwon, Heeseung, Sunghoon, and Sunoo. Then there’s Jake, who is Australian (with dual citizenship in Korea), and Ni-ki, who is Japanese, both of whom moved to Korea in order to become K-Pop trainees. Rounding out the septet is Jay, who was born in the US but moved to Korea when he was in the second grade. They’re a global group with global fans; yet they’ve been performing, for the most part, in isolation — the only chance they’ve had to see their fans, known as ENGENEs, in real life was at their fan meeting in Seoul in February under strict COVID-safe restrictions.
It’s a strange, exciting, and challenging time for the band, and they explore these feelings in their latest mini-album BORDER : CARNIVAL. A follow up to their debut BORDER : DAY ONE, which delved into their emotions about being on the precipice of new lives and careers, BORDER : CARNIVAL – and particularly its title track “Drunk-Dazed” – unpacks some of the overwhelming experiences the group has had in the months since their debut.
As ENHYPEN prepared to release the second single from the album, “Fever”, they spoke to MTV Australia about the wild ride they’ve been on so far...
MTV: You’re a couple of weeks into your first comeback. What has the response to BORDER : CARNIVAL been like?
JUNGWON: We are truly feeling “dazed” these days after our comeback, not only because of our packed schedule, but also the huge love and support we’ve received from ENGENEs. Our new album seems to be doing well and it also brought us our very first music show win, so we’re thrilled and thankful that our fans are enjoying it. We’re just happy to feel like our hard work paid off.
How did the experience of your first comeback differ from your debut?
SUNOO: There were a lot of “firsts” during our debut. It was our first time working together as a team as well as working on our own music, so we felt awkward and nervous. However, I think we were able to ease up for this comeback and enjoy the process a lot more. We could also feel that our chemistry and teamwork had solidified while preparing for this album.
There have been many big firsts for you in the last six months, including, as Jungwon mentioned, your first music show win – congratulations! What has been the most meaningful moment for you, and why?
JAY: Thank you! Receiving our “Rookie of The Year” awards as well as our first music show win with our newest lead single “Drunk-Dazed” will remain as unforgettable moments in our career. However, if we had to choose the most meaningful moment, I would pick our first fan meet EN-CONNECT in February where we met our ENGENEs in person for the very first time. We didn’t have the opportunity to see our fans after our debut, so we received so much energy while interacting with them at EN-CONNECT. It was also a moment to remind ourselves that all of this was made possible because of them.
Your album uses the analogy of a carnival to describe your post-debut life, and the title track “Drunk-Dazed” talks about dizzying sensations of both excitement and fear. What have been the most exciting and challenging aspects of life after debut?
SUNGHOON: Getting through our tight day to day schedule as artists was fun and exciting, but we had to look after ourselves as they could be physically draining. Our members make sure to support one another to go into everything light-heartedly with joy.
How do you work through some of those huge and sometimes conflicting emotions?
NI-KI: Although each member may have different feelings and views about what we’ve experienced, we’ve been able to overcome these conflicting emotions and differences by communicating with and relating to one another. It was possible because we understand one another better than anyone else.
Was there anything about your debut or your first comeback that you found particularly surprising or unexpected? What “dazed” you the most?
SUNGHOON: It was so surprising and amazing to see so many fans all over the world show us their love and support even though we had never met them yet. Because we’re still in a situation where we can’t meet our ENGENEs face to face, we do our best to communicate with them through our social media channels. Whenever we see their excitement towards even our casual remarks, we realise our popularity and become even more determined to give back to their support.
You mentioned that your chemistry and teamwork has gotten stronger since debut – in what ways do you notice this when you’re working together or going through your daily lives?
JAKE: I think that our teamwork reveals itself especially during our dance / performance practices. Our choreography has a lot of movements and intricate details, and we’ve gotten so much better at moving together as one team. There are also moments when we practice without realising the time, which, I think, is a testament to how smoothly the practice is going.
Can you tell us a bit about the creative process when you’re working on new music? What are your conversations like in terms of deciding on concepts and the messages you want to convey? How did that work with BORDER : CARNIVAL?
JUNGWON: Before the official music production stage, we discuss with our label the concept and message we want to portray through our album. From our debut EP, our focus has been to find the optimal way to express ENHYPEN’s one-of-a-kind story, which is what makes our music so special. That’s why we expressed our emotions standing at the border of our debut through BORDER : DAY ONE, and as a sequel to our “BORDER” series, BORDER : CARNIVAL encompasses our emotions facing a completely new world past the border.
You talked recently about how you each tried songwriting for this album – what did you learn from this process? Is this something you’re focused on for the future, and are there any particular areas you’d each like to develop?
HEESEUNG: We’ve been trying our hand at songwriting even since we were trainees, and we practice on a regular basis, but it was harder than we expected to translate our story into lyrics. We all have huge interests in the music production process, including songwriting and producing. I personally want to improve my songwriting skills to have the songs that I participate in be included in ENHYPEN’s albums.
On your latest album, “Fever” explores yearning and wanting to be loved, “Not For Sale” talks about things coming at a cost, and “Mixed Up” is about unexpectedly becoming the centre of attention. Why did these themes resonate with you?
SUNOO: Through BORDER : CARNIVAL, we not only wanted to express the honest emotions that we felt after our debut, but also deliver a story that our peers can relate to through our music. The lead single “Drunk-Dazed” portrays the confusion we currently feel, but our B-side tracks cover a wider range of topics that can connect us to our listeners. For example, many teenagers these days generalise that everything has a price. As we too have heard this a lot, we naturally incorporated the idea in “Not For Sale.”
JAY: “Mixed Up” tells of a boy who all of a sudden becomes the center of attention in a digital world and we feel like this accurately falls in line with the virtual world we have become so used to due to the pandemic. We want to continue to capture our thoughts and relate to an even wider audience through our music.
You’ve all left home – and some of you moved countries – in order to become trainees and debut. Is there anything you get homesick for, and how do you manage those feelings?
NI-KI: We get homesick thinking about our family, of course. They’ve supported us since day one, and they truly are the most enthusiastic and supportive ENGENEs. There are moments when we miss them, but the members are each other’s second family now, so we make sure to support and take care of one another.
Australian fans want to know: has Jake taught the other members anything about Aussie culture?
HEESEUNG: I’m personally a big fan of Jake’s Aussie English, so I try to carefully watch and learn from him. Once he told us that many Australians use the word “mate” at the end of their sentences in conversation. It can be interpreted as “friend”, and I feel like it really does add a hint of friendliness to the conversation.
Finally, do you all have a message for your Australian fans?
JAKE: We want to deliver our sincerest gratitude to not only our fans in Australia, but also the many fans around the world who have supported us until now. ENHYPEN would not have existed without ENGENEs, so just saying thank you isn't enough. We can’t wait for the day this pandemic comes to an end and we’re able to meet our global ENGENEs in person on a world tour. Stick around ENGENEs, we’ll see you soon!
Words and interview by Jenna Guillaume, an entertainment journalist and author of YA rom-coms What I Like About Me and You Were Made For Me. Follow her at @jennaguillaume.