The Boyz Are Looking to the Future as a Rising K-Pop Act

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Courtesy of KCON USA/CJ E&M
The Boyz perform at Day 2 of KCON Festival on July 7, 2019 in New York City. 

It’s been just under two years since 12-member boy band The Boyz arrived on the K-pop scene, and they’re eager to show the world what they have to offer. Since then, they’ve released a series of bright and vivacious singles, including April’s “Bloom Bloom,” and are set to release their new song “D.D.D” later this month.  

The act’s first-ever performance in the States took place at the start of July at KCON 2019 New York, where they took the stage at Madison Square Garden to perform not only their own ebullient music but also covers of Billie Eilish and BTS songs. Showing off these diverse sonic and performance styles, The Boyz saw a lot of love from the KCON crowd, and hope to one day soon be able to hold their own tour in the States. 

The day after KCON, the members of the group -- several of whom hail from North America -- sat down to discuss their career, hopes and dreams, and more. Though a relative burgeoning act in the K-pop world, they were kept busy and their stop at Billboard was one of many. Their eighth interview of the day, it made one member declare “Lord have mercy” while another clarified that it’s a “good thing,” but understandably tiring. Read what the men of the Boyz had had to say below.  

How are you feeling today? You just performed a KCON New York, and now you’re spending a few days in the U.S, filming a music video I hear. 

Juyeon: Honestly, speaking to all these media outlets that we’ve looked up to and have seen before, being able to come and do real interviews with them feels like a dream. We still can’t believe it’s happening. It’s a dream come true. 

How do you feel that KCON went? 

Kevin: It was actually insane. We honestly didn’t expect this big of a response because it is our first time outside of Asia. Having such an energetic crowd, especially considering we did two cover songs, genres that are kind of outside of our comfort zone and usual repertoire. But to see such a great crowd really sending us a lot of love and support was absolutely amazing. We’ll come back! With an actual concert of our own. 

Eric: To be honest, we were kind of worried about our stage a KCON because it was our first time ever being on stage outside of Asia. So we were all nervous and very excited at the same time. But worried the most. Like Kevin said, we didn’t expect that much of a big response. Even after KCON, I was walking around shopping and a few people, time to time, they recognized us and asked for autographs, and told us that they enjoyed our performances [at KCON]. Which was pretty nice to hear. Yea, I hope I can come back again next year for KCON, or maybe a world tour if we get to have one. 

Hwall: Madison Square Garden was so big, right? So we’re really proud of performing in Madison Square Garden. I feel like I’m dreaming. I can’t believe it. 

Juyeon: I really like basketball. I realized when I got there that MSG is the home for the New York Knicks. When I saw the Hall of Fame jerseys, I was really floored. 

Did you go to the locker room?

Juyeon: No.

Kevin: For me, there were pictures of all the past performers at MSG. Our dressing room was right next to P!ink and Shakira and Elton John, all these famous people that I have only ever seen in videos. To have stood where they have sweated was absolutely amazing. And to have my sweat mix into their sweat. Sorry, it’s getting kind of gross.   

How did it feel to be spotted like Eric mentioned?

Various members: Amazing! So cool! 

Sangyeon: Well, we also got mistaken for BTS so…  [Laughs]

Q: We went to the supermarket, and met someone who said, “I saw your performance at KCON the other night and I’m really a fan.” The fact that someone from so far away from Korea recognizes me, that’s something so amazing. At times, it’s made me think “Ah, I am really a celebrity.” 

Younghoon: New and I were shopping, and someone recognized us and we were really surprised. That person was sort of following us around. As we were leaving, this male fan came up to us and asked for an autograph on his pants. We kept saying, “Oh no, it’s okay, it’s okay,” but he kept requesting the signature. We did try to sign it, but the pen didn’t work so we ended up signing a receipt. But the fact that people recognized us is something we’re really grateful for. 

Kevin mentioned some other singers who performed at MSG earlier, so, individually, who has inspired members of The Boyz?

Eric: I remember exactly what inspired me to become a K-pop star. EXO, it was the time when “Growl” came out [in 2013]. I was just an [elementary school] baseball player back in LA. Just a normal student. But my sister was watching the music video for that in the car, and she was forcing me to watch this music video. I was so annoyed at that time. But then I had to watch it because the song was pretty nice, to be honest. I checked out their music videos, the dancing and singing things were really nice. So I thought, “Oh, I have to try this out.” That’s when I began to practice dancing and singing, and I auditioned with my sister.  

Hwall: For me, when I was young, I was dreaming of becoming an entertainer. But I thought that was just a dream for youth. So I forgot and I just studied. But when I was in grade 8 or 9, I came back to Korea to achieve my dream. I watched BTS’ first [music show] win when they performed “I Need U” [in 2015] and I tried to practice that song, and I auditioned with that song. I saw BTS and studied everything because of them. Thanks to BTS.  

Kevin: [Several members say it simultaneously with him, and then laugh.] Beyoncé. I’ve been a huge fan since I was young. The fact that she has such a strong stage presence and that she uses her platform to to do so much more han music, she brings attention to issues that matter. I just think she’s a really cool personality. And a crazy musician. 

Sangyeon: John Legend, Brian McKnight, Bruno Mars, and Eric Benét.  

Jacob: For me, back in Toronto I didn’t really start music other thanI played for my church, but other than that I wasn’t really thinking of picking up music as my career. But then I started just playing the guitar, listening to Ed Sheeran, Tori Kelly, a lot of acoustic artists. I started getting lessons and he told me to go audition for a K-pop audition. I auditioned with an Ed Sheeran song, and I still play that song from time to time. “Thinking Out Loud.” That song has taken me from a little Toronto boy to the K-pop idol world. 

It sounds like some of you didn’t necessarily get into K-pop because of the “pop” factor, but The Boyz’ style is very pop-ish. How do you rectify your taste as individuals with the music you’re putting out as a group?

Kevin: All 12 of us, we all like dance music. We like to listen to beats. But each of us having our own taste in music kind of helps us create a diverse range. We always, when we’re doing interviews, we have 12 different charismas, 12 different personalities, and we have that idol base but we have that extra layer of our individual personalities. Like a rainbow. A prism. 

Sunwoo: For me, I personally like hip-hop. But if you listen to The Boyz, it’s definitely not hip-hop. But if not for The Boyz, the music that I’m doing right now is music that I wouldn’t have been able to come up with at all. I feel like as I perform as a member of this group, I’m able to widen my musical spectrum and get to know a lot of different genres. 

Sangyeon: If you listen to our B-side tracks, we like to add a lot of different genres to our albums that show a lot of variety in our musical color.

I saw on the Bloom Bloom album you all co-wrote “Clover.” What’s your songwriting process like? 

Eric: When I’m taking a part in writing the lyrics for a song, if it’s a fan song [like “Clover”] I think about what I want to tell our fans. If it’s not a fan song, I think about what I just want to tell the world or what I want to say. I want to share my thoughts through my lyrics. But for “Clover,” that was a fan song so all 12 of us took part of it and we just thought about how thankful we are to have our fans always be so supportive. We just wrote the lyrics as a letter to our fans, to say thank you and we love you. 

Who likes songwriting the most?

Various members: Sunwoo and Sangyeon. 

Does anyone else want to get more involved in songwriting?

Kevin: There are a couple of us that are writing songs. But we have yet to release them. 

As you progress in your career, are there any new sonic styles you want to lean into as The Boyz? 

Kevin: I think we’re a group that doesn’t want to be tied down by one certain genre. Because there are 12 of us with 12 different charms, we wan to be able to showcase that. I guess it’s going to be an open, up in the air kind of thing. But conceptually for our next album, we want to go a little bit more mature than “Bloom Bloom.” But still fun nonetheless. And boyish, because at the end of the day we are still The Boyz.

How do you feel about that? You’re not going to be boys forever. [The members of The Boyz were born between 1996 and 2000.] 

Various members, shouting out: The Manz. The Grandfatherz. 

Eric: Even when we become older and grow up to become men-

Kevin: Kids at heart.

Eric: We still want to be remembered as The Boyz, one and only The Boyz to our fans and all around the world. The Boyz forever. 

Are there any particular hardships you feel about working and living with 12 other Boyz? How do you deal with issues that come up in between members? 

Sunwoo (Born April 12, 2000): I’m one of the youngest, so I’m able to give the point of view from the younger members. First off, all the older members are just so nice. Because they’re nice, there’s a very peaceful atmosphere. I was on a soccer team when I was younger, and the elder members on the team would always make a very scary atmosphere. But, on the flip side, in The Boyz the older members will listen to what the younger ones have to say and make a really good feel among the group. 

How do the older members feel about that? 

Sangyeon (Eldest member, born Nov. 4, 1996): Age hierarchy is very much a part of South Korean culture where there’s a line between older and younger people. But for The Boyz, it just feels like we’re all friends. There’s not so much of a separation between the elder and younger members, and that’s probably one of the reasons why we can have this peaceful environment. 

Kevin: I think we all have a sense of taking initiative. Kind of like a game of Whack-a-Mole, there are different members that pop up and step up and lead in different situations, so that’s how we take care of each other as a 12-member group. 

Jacob: I wouldn’t say these are hardships, but because there are 12 of us showering takes a lot longer, ordering food takes a lot longer. Those things. Elevators are cramped. 

Prior to debuting with The Boyz, several members appeared on South Korean television programs where they competed with others in the industry. What did you take away from those experiences, and how have you applied them to The Boyz? 

Sunwoo: I actually entered the company for singing, but the company asked if I wanted to try to rap as well. Even though I hadn’t been rapping too long I appeared on the first season of the show High School Rapper. At that time, I hadn’t seen so many rappers’ performances, so I thought I was number one. I thought I was the best. Then I went on the show and I realized that there are a lot of great rappers from all over the world, and from then I was more diligent in practicing, from sundown to sun-up. Eventually, that led to my debuting under The Boyz as a rapper. That kind of experience has led to my better understanding of rap, to write raps better, and just generally expand my creative input into The Boyz’ work. It was through that program that I was able to be like a frog jumping out of my little pond and get to explore the wider world. 

How did you feel when the company suggest you focus on rap rather than singing?

Sunwoo: I was glad because I had listened to hip-hop ever since I was young and I’d rap along whenever I went to karaoke anyways, so it was something good for me. 

You recently held your first Asia tour and have mentioned you’d like to have a worldwide tour. What are some things you like about touring?

Eric: It was nice seeing different ways how fans show love in different countries but the same, common factor that they gave us so much energy and strength.  

Kevin: It’s really cool to see just how much people knew us outside of Korea. There were lots of venues that we didn’t expect to fill up, but they were filled with fans that were carrying slogan [banners] that they made, and they were all cheering during the fanchants in Korean, which was the coolest part I think. The fact that they made the effort to memorize all twelve members names and our lyrics, and sing along in Korean, which is absolutely amazing. 

Jacob: We got to actually meet each fan up close, one on one, a hi-touch. Just being able to see their smiles gave us another reason to just keep doing what we do.  

Kevin: It just confirmed the fact that music is universal.

As you mention, music is universal and right now K-pop is definitely proving that with its global rise. How do you feel to be part of that?

Juyeon: First off, we are very grateful to all the seniors in the K-pop industry that have worked very hard to get it known internationally. We are super honored that we’re given the chance to get it further known. We’re going to try our hardest to do our part.

What’s something The Boyz would like to achieve in the future? 

Hwall: This is a time to work hard and get recognized as world stars.

Haknyeon: Charting on Billboard

Kevin: The word “The Boyz” sounds common enough, so we want that when people hear the term they imagine us singing and dancing. We want to become a household name. 

Eric: It’s funny, because my friend’s sister asked her, “What’s your brother’s group name?” And she said, “Oh, it’s The Boyz.” And she was like, “What boys?” “The team name is called ‘The Boyz!’” 

Kevin: We’ve also had issues too at the airport with our staff. They were asking what our group name was. “The Boyz.” “What boys?” 

Eric: We want to do what we love to do and be happy.

Kevin: And collab with Beyoncé. 

Eric: No, Kevin’s goal. 

Aside from Beyoncé, who would you like to collaborate with?

Juyeon: Billie Eilish!

Haknyeon: Oh, yas, really! 

Eric: BTS. 

Jacob: Ed Sheeran. 

What’s something you’ve never told your fans before? 

Haknyeon: I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones

How did you feel about the ending? 

[A staff member jumped in and shouted "No spoilers!"] 

Haknyeon: I haven’t watched the last season yet because I haven’t had time.

Kevin: I really enjoy watching Bon Appetit on YouTube, and today I met Brad. We were in that building for a different interview. He’s probably very confused and didn’t know who we were, but I hope he’ll read this interview. The first video I watched was him making pickles. I love me my pickles so…  

Jacob: I watch dog videos everyday. They make me smile so much. I love dogs.

Sunwoo: My laundry disappeared today. I put it in the dryer and other people’s clothes were drying too, but only mine disappeared. It was Kevin… 

Kevin: I put mine in and I put the clothes in the basket next to the machine, but apparently the basket’s empty. 

Sangyeon: I don’t really watch American TV shows, but I like zombies so I watched The Walking Dead from start to finish. I hope there are more zombie-related shows in Korea. 

Isn't there Kingdom, which aired on Netflix in the U.S.?

Sangyeon: I saw it all. 

What are The Boyz looking forward to in the rest of 2019?

Haknyeon: Billboard

Eric: For the rest of 2019, I hope that we can release as many music as possible. Just stay healthy and try to go the year-end award shows. 

Didn’t you win a few rookie awards last year in Korea? 

Kevin: Yea, it felt very special but it put a bit of pressure to perform well in the coming year. As much as we had all that hype in the beginning, we don’t want it to dwindle away. So yea, it was a great big honor but also a bit of pressure. 

Juyeon: Because the rookie award is only something you can get once in your lifetime, we felt really proud about that. As for moving forward, we want to have our own concerts. Madison Square Garden…?

Younghoon: Next year. [All cheer] 

Good luck! So far, The Boyz has released really vibrant, upbeat music. Do you want to explore any other musical directions moving forward? 

Multiple members: Of course! Definitely. Yes! 

Hwall: We want to do various genres. 

Jacob: For upcoming albums as well, we want to show us maturing more and more. So as we mature more and more, so will our music. Next year it will be two years for us, so maybe we’ll go sexy and pull off that kind of concept. 

Hwall: We don’t have a single concept or genre specific to The Boyz, but we want to do various concepts and songs so that people keep having high expectations for us and keep looking towards us for new and fresh sounds.  

Sangyeon: Like EXO, I’d like if we could do a seasonal album like Miracles in December and their other winter albums. Something that’s like a special album. 

Who would fit a sexy concept best? 

Various members: Juyeon. Hwall.  

Hwall: I love sexy. You should watch our Billie Eilish performance. The killing part? I killed it. 

It sounds like Sangyeon wants to do more ballads. Do others want to try that?

[The Boyz’ vocalists raise their hands.] 

Sunwoo: And don’t forget hip-hop. 

Eric: Powerful dance. Something like Seventeen. But I wanted to say… It’s kind of fun jumping back and forth between this concept and this concept, and this concept and this concept. The fans don’t know what will come up next. Keeping them on their toes, it’s kind of fun to experience. It gets us excited too. 

Kevin: Even with cover stages that we’ve done, we’ve done feminine girl group songs as opposed to “Fire” by BTS and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” I think exploring all these different sides of the spectrum helps us grow and develop different personalities on stage so that’s pretty cool. 

So next time will there maybe be something different? Can you give us a teaser? 

Eric: I don’t think fans will catch on to any hints we give because we do many concepts. 

Do you drop hints?

Eric and Kevin, simultaneously: I just did. / Well, not yet. 

Is there anything that didn’t come up yet in the eight interviews you did that you want to say? 

Kevin: I’d like to give a shout-out to CJ [Kim], our translator. The best translator in the world. 

Haknyeon: I want to tell you my favorite sentence is “I can do it, you can do it, we can do it.” Please write that, please! 

Sunwoo: It’s our first time in the U.S. so we’d love it if people grew to love us more and pay attention.  They are going to be really surprised when they do pay attention. 

Kevin: Watch out world!

Q: Despite the fact that it was our first time in the States, we were able to do eight interviews and I’m just so thankful and honored that we were able to do this. We’re going to continue to grow as a group so next time I hope that we can repay that with our growth. Please continue to look to the team with a lot of love and support. 

Kevin: Maybe just not all on the same day. [Members laugh]

Jacob: To our New York fans, I just want to say thank you so much for your love and support. We’re going to try and come back as fast as we can, so please continue to support us. We really just can’t wait to grow more and show more and more of our personality, and come back with a concert of our own someday. And to all of the fans not in New York, watch out because we’re going to come to you guys as well and find you guys. 

All: Watch out world! 

The Boyz's fourth EP Dreamlike will drop on August 19. 

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