The K-pop girl group's new album '#' represents them going mainstream with a message: "Don't be afraid to feel the fear."
While the phrase "stan LOONA" may come across Twitter feed countless times in past years, there's a place in Korea that full-heartedly embraces the concept in real life. Naturally, it's K-pop girl group's label home of BlockBerry Creative in Seoul's Gangnam neighborhood, but the understated, multi-floor building feels less like a business hub and more like a fanclub headquarters.
Inside the main office, photos of the 12 different LOONA members are posted on desks and computers with a central wall boasting one large poster of each girl -- some with handwritten notes from the star herself. Conference rooms have shelves lined with the group's different solo albums almost like a library archive of the K-pop girl group's releases (LOONA had the ambitious, never-before-attempted strategy to have each member release her own solo music in a multi-month lead up to the full group's official debut) and supportive, LOONA-specific messages plastered throughout.
Downstairs in the studio basement where the group films their dance-practice videos, a simple piece of white paper has the message "Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the successes," written in magenta-colored ink with "#LOONA Fighting!!" scrawled below.
The supportive environment pushing both the importance of both teamwork and individual responsibility also transfers to the actual group itself. At first glance, the members of LOONA come together as 11 remarkably different people from one another (BlockBerry shared in early January that LOONA's leader HaSeul was on a hiatus to receive treatment for recurring anxiety). But even amid the different auras exuded from the girls — Chuu's unbreakable smile and eye contact, Go Won's timid-yet-adorable stare, Yves' warm affability, HeeJin's It Girl energy — there's a general collectiveness even with their individualized introductions to the world.
The group even collectively sighs and cheers in unison. New single "So What" sees LOONA embracing a much more aggressive and bold tone compared to the saccharine, synth-pop sweetness of their debut that evolved into an inspiring, lush-dance single "Butterfly." Now with "So What," the outfit is delivering even stronger, empowering message ("Open up your possibilities so that no one can stop you") but seemingly with an eye on the global-pop market (a heavy EDM production that doesn't sound out of place among today's harder electronic-pop cuts).
LOONA's affection for international fans is duly noted in this interview, with all signs indicating the group is aiming for maximum takeover with a mainstream sound that, of course, includes LOONA's encouraging sparkle. Billboard sat down with LOONA to get all the secrets about their new album #, reflections on their chart successes, their increasingly international fanbase and more.
Billboard: How's everyone feeling in the midst of this new album promotions?
Choerry: Since it's our first release since last year, we were very nervous but at same time we're really feeling like we're in a perfect vibe with each other. We're practicing really hard and just want to tell people to keep watching out.
New single "So What" is a very powerful changeup for the group but still feels like LOONA to me. How were you anticipating the fans would react?
Go Won: Not only me, but everybody has been very curious about the fans' reactions. But what we're going to do onstage, that's where we all have confidence. We are very confidence in what we're bringing to the stage this time.
HeeJin: I watch a lot of videos before I go to sleep and honestly I was really surprised. There were a lot of reaction videos to our music video. I felt that even though we are all apart, we are one as together. I'm hoping for more of them.
Many fans saw the word "b#rn" and "burn" in lead up to the album. Does "So What" have a relation to this?
HyunJin: The word "burn" actually refers to passion in your mind. So, burn your passion. And through this album, LOONA wants to deliver the message of don't be afraid to go over the line, don't be afraid to embrace the fear. That's the message.
Kim Lip: The word "burn" itself is very important, it's a keyword for this new album and the most important word to it. And fans are catching on to our reasoning behind it like releasing the "#" image on Jan. 1st, New Year's Day, and the order of teaser images that we've released -- first with Olivia Hye, HeeJin, Go Won and so on -- there's a a reason for that. We have intentions and hints behind everything.
LOONA has always used symbols in their album title, but can you explain # a bit more?
Chuu: So, the hash is useless on its own, right? "#" doesn't mean anything. There has to be a number or key word next to the hashtag. So, the actual meaning of the hash is that it can give special abilities to a word or number. We want to sort of use this idea of a # and help the idea spread and connect it to more people.
The album also features "365," your first ballad single and your first song to go No. 1 on a Billboard chart. I'm curious if you saw that news and what was your reaction?
ViVi: We saw the news, thank you. We couldn't believe what we saw. We just realized, again, international fans are really there for us. We hope this [song] will be our way to try and get better and get better, and it acts as our inspiration.
HeeJin: That really is a song is for the fans, for the Orbits. That's our sincere feeling and sentiments to the fans. Even though it was our first time trying a ballad, we also had a great reaction and people liked that.
Do you guys have more Billboard-chart dreams?
Choerry: Take over every chart! [Members yell] Sorry, sorry, sorry...I'm just kidding, but we want to always be better as LOONA. We want to achieve goals in different ways. It may not be hitting No. 1 on every chart, but just achieving success in different ways is part of our dream. And the dream is big.
What other songs are special to you? Can you talk about the album's hidden track "Day&Night"?
Kim Lip: If I were to choose one, I would say "Number 1," it's got a dreamy-tune vibe, really different if you compare it to "So What."
ViVi: I would say "Ding Ding Dong," it has really fun lyrics. If you listen for the first time, it’s addictive so you listen to it more.
JinSoul: "Day&Night" is a CD-only song for limited versions of the new album. If you have listened to it, that means you guys have bought the limited version, so thank you for that. It's a bonus track, and we wanted to give it to the fans as a gift for waiting for us. And I think it fits perfectly well [with the album]. We really want people to listen to it.
Something I love about LOONA is your diverse following. I feel a big part of that is all the different kinds of people shown in your visuals. You've done it again with "So What," so thank you for that. Who is LOONA speaking to with this new album?
Yves: For all listeners, including you, Jeff. For the people who listen to "So What," I want to deliver a message about all the worries in your head: don't let thinking overwhelm or overtake you. You can overcome that. Embrace that message of "So What." Don't worry, just go forward and don't be afraid to feel the fear. That's the message.
When people talk about LOONA's music, visuals and concepts, many times a larger "Loonaverse" is mentioned. How is the Loonaverse expanding now?
Olivia Hye: So, actually, we can't really decide if it's expanding or not. It's all about the fans and all the people. They are actually the ones who decide if it's expanding or not. The Loonaverse is obviously difficult to explain, we're the ones presenting it. We know fans have been studying the teaser movies, and on "#2," you see the moon and the moonlight. What we intended to do was to reference a lunar corona [optical phenomenon] and that connects to the word "burn." The key point is that the universe has not really expanded, but rather it's up to the fans to decide.
What else might we see from LOONA in 2020?
YeoJin: We want to meet international Orbits all around the world and deliver our most sincere performances. When we perform, we want to deliver a truth and our meaningful selves to those international Orbits. It's not a secret that we are preparing a world tour for this year. We'll let you know when it's all decided. If we ever go to New York, let's have an interview again, OK?
What other messages do fans need to know for this next era?
HeeJin: LOONA is twelve people, not eleven, so even though HaSeul won't be in the # era, I want people to be understanding about the situation and, please, don't worry about HaSeul. LOONA is ready to do well and HaSeul will be with us on the stage even if she isn't physically on the stage with us.
HyunJin: And we're still with her.
HeeJin: I want to add that I really want people to trust LOONA too.
To wrap up, since the album is called # and you've said there is no meaning without a word attached to it. Can each member assign a hashtag to one of her fellow members?
YeoJin to HeeJin: Heejin's hashtag is #WarmPerson. That's because she cares a lot about me. Even though she looks like she doesn't care about anything and has a really cool vibe about her, she's a very detailed person. Even though she may not look like it, she's a very detailed person. She gives a lot of care to me, but also to a lot of people in general.
Choerry to ViVi: #SweetPotato. She is always eating. Or more specifically, she's always eating sweet potatoes!
Olivia Hye on HyunJin: Um…#QuestionMark. That's because I don't fully understand what she's doing or thinking lots of times, but as we get to know each other, I am curious about her. And as we interact with each other, we do get closer with each other so that's why she's a #QuestionMark to me. [Group start wooing]
Go Won on YeoJin: #Bean. She's very, very small and so cute.
JinSoul on Kim Lip: #Friend. We're really friendly and even though I'm older than Kim Lip, I feel like she's an older sister unnie, but also a younger sister at the same time. So the best word I can think of is friend for her.
Yves on JinSoul: #Puppy. She always says that she is like a baby member and I think so because she has a lot of cute, aegyo moments. She's has sooo many cute moments.
Kim Lip on Go Won: I think Go Won is #Grandmother. [Group laughs] Well, she does have gray hair right now, and grandmothers' hairs are usually gray, but at the place that we live, she always calls to us in this weak voice [Imitates her calling for members]. Also, what she wears at home is basically a grandmother outfit. The type of floral-print pajamas that grandmothers wear.
ViVi on Olivia Hye: #CoolLove. She is cool, but she has a warm heart to every one.
Chuu on Yves: I think she's #ColorPens because she sometimes is like a baby and sometimes like a hot girl. She's like all kinds of different styles and colors. So, color pens. Not color pets, not hot pants, color pens.
HeeJin on Choerry: #Energizer. She's always telling us things like, "Let's go!!! Keep going, keep going!"
And can we decide one for HaSeul who's not with us today?
Yves: I think HaSeul is #Pistachio because she's always eating pistachios. Also her official color [green] matches pistachios. And her face shape is the same as a pistachio. She is pistachio.