K-Pop Group Oneus on Aspirations & Musical Color

Oneus
Jean Chung/Getty Images

Oneus attends the 2019 Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) at Nagoya Dome on Dec. 4, 2019 in Nagoya, Japan. 

It's been just over a year since K-pop boy band Oneus released their first EP, Light Us, in January 2019. Since then, they’ve steadily grown their audience and showed the world what they have to offer, eventually resulting in their appearance on the Next Big Sound chart last month, where they debuted at No. 9 on the chart dated Jan. 11.

As one of two recently debuted counterpart acts -- along with band-oriented Onewe -- under RBW, the company known best for Mamamoo, Oneus has spent the last year showing its versatility through their Us album series: January's Light Us fronted by their dramatic, rock and trap-infused debut single "Valkyrie"; May's Raise Us with the groovy propulsive vibes of "Twilight"; and September's Fly with Us featuring "Lit," which blended traditional Korean instrumental melodies and hip-hop. That last album saw them debut on the World Albums chart at No. 15.

While in New York City during their tour in November, Oneus sat down with Billboard to discuss their career and what they hope to show the world as their career progresses.

How are you feeling today after performing last night for the first time in New York? 

Keonhee: It was our first show in New York. We were so surprised to see so many fans here. It really honors us. Since we have five more shows left, we’ll try our best throughout the tour.

Hwanwoong: So, last night, before the show when we were in the hotel we were trying to bring up the energy together, so that we could give the fans great energy, but then we got to the venue and the fans had even higher energy than us. So in the future we hope that we could prepare more, so that we could meet at the same place with our fans.

How did it feel to adjust because Seoho is not here and you're performing with only five members for this tour? How do you compensate for that? I saw last night you “performed” with a Seoho doll and hand fan peoplpe in the audience handed you.

Keonhee: Sadly, it's unfortunate that Seoho couldn't make it today or make it to the tour. Vocally and choreography-wise, we just had a lot to cover. We tried our best so that it looked like there wasn't anyone missing, but of course, we did feel the missing presence of him, so we tried to cover with the dolls to present the energy that he is still here in the same place. With the doll, we felt like his presence was there.

Do you guys have any favorite moments from last night that stand out to you?

Ravn: The fans' cheers were the best for us. We threw our in-ear monitors off so we could hear everything.

Hwanwoong: Specifically for the chant of “?? ?? (eolssu eolssu)” [a call-and-response utilized in traditional Korean performances] during the “Lit” performance, I could hear everybody do it. I got goosebumps all over and just in general had a great time. During the intro, we walk in and I’m supposed to hear the song through my in-ear, but I only heard the cheers and felt a little flustered. It was my first time experiencing that feeling.

Keonhee: I’m really thankful that I saw all the fans dancing to our songs. I just felt like that was very cool. They’re our songs, but they're the ones dancing.

You mentioned the traditional elements of “Lit." How do you guys feel showing this sort of artistry to the American fans and an international audience in general?

Keonhee: Just as you said, “Lit” does have components of Korean traditions. I’m pretty proud and thankful, and I’m amazed that we can actually show this to a lot of people internationally. I hope that we can represent our culture internationally.

Why did you decide to promote “Lit” as your most recent single, blending eastern and western musical components? 

Keonhee: At first when our CEO actually gave us this song, we were a little worried about whether we could actually do this song. But we started putting more ideas to it. We thought about how this is the Korean tradition, and blended it with our own color.

Where do you get inspiration from in general when it comes to approaching your music? 

Leedo: For me, it’s my everyday life. Just the small details that come out of anywhere, be it what I eat or just walking in the street.

Ravn: I get influenced by a variety of things: new artists, new fashion, new shows, new movies. From that variety I get inspired for my artistry. 

You said last night that it was your 300th day since you started, so you're still pretty new on the scene. How do you feel you've grown since your debut?

Hwanwoong: So, we’re a little embarrassed and shy to say it ourselves, but during our debut time it was a bit of a struggle seeing what cameras were where, how to interact with the audience, what way we should do gestures, and create our own stage, production-wise. But as we’ve come along, we felt like, oh, “This is better than last time. This is our way of doing it.” And that's kind of the way that we flow, and we’re proud of that.

What was something that you didn't expect before your debut that you've had to face?

Leedo: Coming to the United States.

Keonhee:  Before I never thought that there would be so many individual fans that would like me, and in my everyday life and when I’m on stage, I think about them. 

What is an artistic concept that you want to try out in the future? Since you incorporate a lot of dramatic storylines into your music videos?

Leedo: Something powerful, tough, strong. [Roars] A song, video, that comes out in that kind of way. Something that incorporates the way we dance, maybe crumps.

Hwanwoong: Leedo is really good at crumping. I realized when we were performing our song “Level Up,” because it was very similar to what Leedo wants- I thought, “Oh, Oneus could do this in the future.”  

Beyond your performances, you have a lot of storytelling and fantasy moments to your music videos. Why is that something that you wanted to put out to the world? How do you feel about creating these little fantasy films for everyone?

Keonhee: So, we started with a three-part series, and through that we’re actually trying to represent the light of the sun, tenets of Earth, and the space of the moon. Through that we wanted to represent our story, communicate with our fans through this three part series. This is our true color and we’re going to express more from here. This series is just our starting point.

That's exciting. Are you guys working on anything now?

Ravn: We’re concentrating on the U.S. tour right now.

Keonhee: And do have a lot of ideas right now, so after the U.S. tour ends, we’re going to have a meeting, and we feel like we have plans for a good thing to come together.

Singing along at K-pop concerts isn't popular in Korea, but here in the U.S. it is. How do you guys feel about that experience?

Xion: It was very exciting and an amazing experience for us. In Korea, it's typically just fan chants. We come here, and they sing from star to finish, even though there are Korean lyrics within. I just kind of felt like I was almost at karaoke with everybody.

Hwanwoong: A really lasting scene for us was during the song “Zigzag.” Usually, in Korea, we just have a slow dance and they just cheer like this. [Imitates.] But as I was doing the choreography, and I looked over at the fans, they were just grooving to the song. [Imitates dancing.] I felt like, “Oh, it's not just this specific choreography. It's just grooving along to it.” It was a lasting image for me.

Ravn: This is another thing that I get influenced by, so kind of back to my influences again… [Hwanwoong exclaims, “Ah, yeah,” and gives Ravn a high five as other members laugh.] 

What do you guys want to do while you're here in the U.S.? I know you're mostly focused on the tour and fan signings, but is there anything you're looking forward to in particular?

Keonhee: So, back in Korea, one of the things that I lke to do is take walks. That's how I get a lot of inspiration too, so I actually just want to, in every city, just take a walk. Take in the experience, pick up the culture, see any characteristics that are different. That's what I want to do. Times Square too.

Ravn: I want to go to Disneyland because it’s the original. All the members together want to go.

Leedo: I actually saw this in a video, like in the streets there's gym equipment sometimes, and I want to go in and participate together, and workout. Like how in TV show there are basketball courts and stuff, and you can just join.

You're pretty young in your careers, but is there anything that individual members want to try in the future? 

Keonhee: Before I answer that question, I think that, just generally, individually all the members have their specific characteristics, and I hope that we have opportunities to bring that out. For now, what's in our heads is what will we look like all together, six members. And whenever I think about this, it's just all the different stuff that we can do as a group. I haven’t really put much thought into individual stuff. Of course, if the opportunity comes, I would love to go for some solo opportunities, but for right now what out main topic is is just Oneus. Of course, if the opportunity comes, I think that all the members will do well whatever comes.

Ravn: Of course, as he said, individual members have specific characteristics, and I think we’d be hardworking if we do take those opportunities. But as we have promised to our fans, we want to show our different elements to our fans because we have such a good synergy when all these different characteristics come together.

Back to the albums, which we were discussing from before, aside from the singles, what are some songs that you really want fans to take a listen to or people who maybe don't know a lot?

Keonhee: I think from the second album, “BingBing.” I wish that more people wanted to know [it]. It was actually considered to become one of our title tracks, but didn't. I wish that more people knew that song.

That song is very fun and a little bit less dramatic than your actual singles. Is that a side of Oneus you want more of the world to see?

Hwanwoong: Of course, one of our main goals, actually, is to make a Oneus' color, no matter what kind of genre, what kind of themes. Happy, sexy, cute, it just is portrayed in that Oneus color. Of course, right now it is a little more dark and a little sexy, and stuff, but like our song “Lit,” it does portray more bright characteristics to it. In the future, we wish to flesh out that Oneus color and style, maybe try out cute concepts, or something bright.

If you had to describe what you wanted people to think of when they thought of Oneus, like this idea of the color of Oneus, what would that be?

Keonhee: We want people to be able to say, “Oh, this is very Oneus.” Kind of like, for an example, when we see BTS, "Oh, that's very BTS." We wish to make a very specific Oneus color.

What are some artists that you guys looked up to that made you want to pursue this career?

Keonhee: Undeniably, our company seniors Mamamoo would have to be one of our biggest influences. Just like how we said we have individual traits, in Mamamoo, the members, you can see clear styles and when they come all together, the synergy. You can just clearly see that's Mamamoo so we look up to that, and would like to be like that.

Hwanwoong: Seeing Mamamoo on music shows and their end-of-year music performances we feel like, “Wow, they just killed that stage.” We wish to become juniors who live up to their name, and we always get positive energy from their seniors.

Keonhee: I think that since individual members have such a dynamic characteristic to them, something a little cute, something a little weird, something a little fun, a bit sexy… No matter what kind of performance style that we’re given, we can always fulfill that since we have a variety of members.

So, if you were to pick one member that fits those kind of performance styles, who's the sexiest, or the weirdest?

[All laugh.] 

Keonhee: I think Seoho and Ravn kind of, where they have their own clear imaginations, their own varied thoughts to them, just their clear own style for themselves. Xion is someone very cute, bright. Hwanwoong has a characteristic where he can show his charisma just on stage.

Hwanwoong, fanning himself: Oh, it’s so hot.

Keonhee: Leedo always shows a powerful, charismatic stage.

Hwanwoong: Keonhee, of course, compliments his members and makes a good synergy around for us.

The life of K-pop stars are really hectic, so how has it been adjusting to your current lifestyle since releasing your first album at the start of 2019? 

Keonhee: I’m kind of amazed. I don’t sleep that much, but I’m still very functional. I actually used to regularly sleep more than 10 hours a day. I’m someone who needs a lot of sleep, but now with this busy schedule, even with a small amount of sleep, with the energy that the members and the fans give, the positive experiences and happy experiences, I think it's equal enough to let go of that sleep to have all this experience.

Hwanwoong: Even during this hectic schedule I feel that vocally and choreography-wise there's things that have improved a lot compared to my old videos, and I actually feel very satisfied about it. 

Are there any artists who you have dreams of collaborating with? Anyone who has really inspired? 

Leedo: Sik-K and Travis Scott

Ravn: I have two, DJ Mustard and DJ Khaled. Hitmakers. 

Keonhee: For me, it would be IU. She was one of the artists that inspired me to start music. She’s such a great artist, I’d love to work with her.

Hwanwoong: Since Seoho isn’t here, I’ll say his pick. Bruno Mars. Since before our debut, we watched Bruno Mars’ performances, covered them. We’ve talked about how it would be such an honor to meet him in person.

What do you want people to think of when they hear the name “Oneus” in the future?

Leedo: Oneus is Oneus.

Keonhee: Something clear for us is that we want to be people who give positive influences to other people, whether it's up on stage making people happy, or that our songs are relatable and it feels good for fans.

Hwanwoong: Just like how we viewed other artists as their idols and they inspired our dreams, we hope we can become role models and artists that someone can grow their dreams on.
 

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