KARD on Being a Co-Ed K-Pop Group & Where They Want Their Sound to Go

Kard sxsw 2018
 Steve Rogers Photography/Getty Images for SXSW

KARD perform onstage at KOCCA during SXSW at The Belmont on March 16, 2018 in Austin, Texas. 

Two years in, KARD’s career looks a lot like that of many other popular K-pop acts: they've released two EPs and a handful of singles, toured a bit, and have done pretty solidly on the World Albums chart. The one thing that isn’t so typical of KARD is their lineup, which features two female and two male members.

Co-ed acts are a rarity in South Korea, and KARD is one of the most successful co-ed K-pop acts to ever exist. Early on into their career they picked up a strong following internationally, particularly in the Americas where their dancehall-infused songs like “Oh NaNa” and “Don’t Recall” made them fan favorites even before their official K-pop debut with Hola Hola last year; the album peaked at No. 3 on the World Albums chart.

It’s been about four months since their last music video, for “You in Me,” came out in November, and ahead of their performance at SXSW during the Korea Spotlight showcase on March 16 the quartet were unable to say much about what direction they’ll be going in for their next release. But according to member BM, it’ll be something fans should prepare to be surprised by. “There’s going to be a lot of new feels this year,” the Cali-raised rapper told Billboard. “We don’t want to be tied down or categorized as just a dancehall group. I think in the future that there will be a lot of different sounds from the albums.”

A popular act that thrives off of its chemistry, KARD has toured throughout North and South Americas, holding even bigger tours than more established K-pop acts. According to Jiwoo, their distinct co-ed nature may be the reason why they’ve received a lot of love from international K-pop fans. “Within our music we have different ranges of vocal tones and diverse sounds, that makes us stand out from among other K-pop groups,” said Jiwoo, one of the group’s female vocalists.

Being co-ed in an industry where artists regularly suffer career lags when romantic relationships go public, it may seem like there would be some antipathy to a group like KARD. But according to its members, there’s none of that. “I think it just wasn’t in mind for people to start a co-ed group,” said BM. “But our CEO," referring to DSP Media's Choi Mi-kyung, "She’s been wanting to do a co-ed group for a while.”  

Though they describe themselves as friends, familial even, now, J.Seph, the group’s other male member, recalls being unsure how the act would be received. “Honestly, at first when I was told that I was going to be in a co-ed group I was against the idea because of stigma and the difficulties that we’d have to overcome,” he said. “But from the moment I began facing the idea, I decided to overcome those thoughts and I instead became eager to show people that a co-ed group can exist as a team and there are no differences to any other bands.”

KARD uses their unique makeup not only to distinguish itself sonically from other K-pop groups, but also visually; many of their performances and music videos feature the members pairing off for suggestively choreographed duets. But the members laugh at the idea that fans may misunderstand the reality of their relationships. “We get asked that all the time, but for us we’re just friends and it’s nothing romantic,” said Jiwoo. “We’re a group. We’re a team.”