With K-pop’s growing footprint led by a heavy international touring circuit, acts big and small have mad their way to tour in America with the latest coming via 24K. Debuting in 2012 alongside now-powerhouse acts like EXO, NU’EST and VIXX, the long-running boy band has weathered a slew of membership changes, hiatuses and even a stint on second-chance singing competition Mix Nine, and kept a loyal fanbase intact largely in part due to tracks they write and produce themselves.
That self-sufficiency was vividly clear backstage in the Williamsburg Hall of Music in Brooklyn show as the members were mostly left to themselves backstage, leader Cory speaking freely and translating between members from English and Korean, while rapper-dancer Jeonguk watched his members rehearse to make sure the stage was properly prepared. With new music on the way — which the band’s Choeun Entertainment agency confirms to Billboard is coming in May — the group is clear in their intention to continue together and reach new levels of success they previously thought unobtainable.
How are you feeling at the end of the tour?
Jeonguk: I never really imagined us coming here, we never thought we’d come to the States.
Cory: Because we never knew K-pop would congregate like this, right? And we didn’t know it would translate like this. We didn’t think there would be a following or anything, but look at how it worked. It’s kind of surreal for us to be here right now. So even this whole wrapping up the tour, It hasn’t hit us yet that we’re done with it already.
I remember your debut from 2012, K-pop was at a very different time then. How have you personally seen it change?
Cory: I always go to this first, just as the Internet grows and evolves, so does K-pop, so does all music, so does all content, right? To me, as somebody who grew up in the States who wasn’t exposed to K-pop at first either, it was just like a phenomenon. When I saw it I was like, “What’s going on?” Whether it’s music and choreography, the music video, the visuals. All the stuff that, like the creative control that went into one project is so overwhelming.
If you look at it in a bad way, it’s not organic. But, in another way, I think it’s really cool. Especially for me and this group, I make the whole production, as far as music goes. Like from mixing, mastering, writing all the lyrics, with all the choreography. We direct everything, so to us it’s like fitting our own puzzle pieces together and trying to find what translates the best to all audiences while understanding what music is popping. I think it’s an art of its own at this point. Without the language barrier, just for people to listen to K-pop and kind of accept it and get it, is really cool for us.
Looking back on even just what you’ve created, are there any certain songs stand out to you?
Cory: I’m always trying to make music that I like, you know? But our most recent comeback, the song called “Only You,” was so different from what we used to do. I actually think we were at a point where we’re kind of aiming to get more into our Korean audiences. There’s like a two-way answer. On my part “Hey You” and “Super Fly” earned us support internationally, but we started losing interest in the Korean industry, right?
Jeonguk: We wanted to bring that back. “Only You” was a real gamble on our part; we thought we’d lose a lot of international fans. But just trying it out was just a real good moment in our careers, for all of us. Because I saw a lot of fans still love the choreography and things like that.
Cory: How many songs was it? It’s “Hey You,” “Super Fly,” “Still 24K,” “Bingo” and then “Only You.” Prior to that song, four of those songs are very heavy EDM. And then we kind of went over to future-bass, poppy aesthetic right? Even the music video was different. So that was a huge, huge venture on our part.
You spoke about this a bit, I think a big reason why you have such a particularly big international following is that you have always put yourselves into your careers. Whether it’s the music or social music, it always feels like you. Is it rare to have that freedom?
Kisu: Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram or whatever, I just makes sure to keep that dialogue going. I know these days with K-pop, [agencies] have been a lot more lenient about it, and they’re a lot more loose about letting their artists, or their products, be free about being more organic with their fans.
Cory: But, for us, I think because we’re from a smaller company we’ve always had the freedom to just kind of…like, we had a little give and take, even with the boss. Just like, “This is what we think we should do.” They don’t allow us to do this, but then we say we should do this.
Jeonguk: The bigger companies, or certain companies, don’t allow their artists to either have their own freedom through their own accounts. I guess they’re kind of limited because everything is being filtered. But for us, we know what we shouldn’t say. And it is rare, but I think more people are taking that approach to be more personable with the fans.
You said you wanted to connect more with your Korean fans in particular on Mix Nine.
Changsun: We don’t regret going on Mix Nine. Why the word “regret” even comes up, is [because] we were actually really on the fence about doing it because it could really make or break our image. It was something of a necessity on our part because we are always either abroad or doing the circuit for an international tour. We promote in Korea and immediately go somewhere else. So it was an opportunity for us to get closer with our Korean fans, because we had a lot more events together.
I saw in an interview, you were kind of saying how the show could make or break the group. Is there any chance of that still?
Cory: I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk about this, but this is the thing, what we’ve got out of this…unfortunately, it’s not that he even got dropped, they pulled him out, right? Because [members Jinhong and Changsun] were both doing really well, and we really revamped the image that we had over a lot of shenanigans that aren’t even true — there were so many rumors that have been tagged to the name 24K in Korea. That’s why, to be honest, the international fans are onboard; just because of the content. But in Korea it’s kind of more about what’s going on behind the scenes, rather than the music, which is really upsetting on my part because that’s not what I signed up for. But it is what it is. But through this show, they saw how genuine we were and what was real and what was fake. That’s why it kind of cleaned up our image. In Korea, in fact, it helped us out a lot, because a lot more Korean supporters started jumping on our ship.
So, no chance of disbandment?
That’s not even something we’re thinking about right now. In fact, I’ve already made the song and we’re working on it.
Glad to hear it. Anything else to add?
Kisu: I was just really encouraged by going abroad and seeing how many people actually came [to the concerts]. It’s not easy for people to actually come out, right? So thank you.
Hongseob: It was amazing to see how many people actually came out, and it was, again, very encouraging on our part. Don’t forget us when we leave, just look out for us because we’re preparing again for another comeback.
Jeonguk: So we heard, “Hey, we have an interview with somebody from Billboard.” And I was like, “What?” I can’t believe it. It’s like, “What Billboard? There’s got to be some catch, it must not be Billboard.” [Laughs] So, thank you very much.