On Jan. 7, K-pop boy band SF9 released their first Korean LP, fittingly titled First Collection, and held a showcase event for fans at Seoul’s Blue Square IMarket Hall. Fronted by the smooth “Good Guy,” the full-length album arrived three years after the release of the nonet’s first single, 2016’s “Fanfare,” and seven Korean EPs plus several releases in Japanese and Chinese. Backstage an hour before bringing their first live performance to fans both in Korea and beyond via the concert and a livestream, SF9’s members were surrounded by a sense of nervous chaos, with some members calmly getting hair and makeup done while streaming their new album and some practicing, whether it was dance moves in front of mirrors or singing vocal runs while making sure their stage outfits — classically-inspired suits — looked just right.
Though K-pop as an entity may be big, as an industry it is relatively small and for every act that gets their name spread across the globe there are many others still waiting for their big break. The members of SF9 try to play off the anxiety, but members admit that they feel like the release of their first LP after so many prior releases is a make or break it moment for them. “There’s a lot of pressure,” says Zuho. “Until now, we only did songs that we wanted to do but for ‘Good Guy’ we put a lot of thought into what the public, the general audience, would like. I’m happy that the album came out but because we’re still waiting for the results that we need to achieve, I’m feeling a bit nervous.”
A few minutes later — as Jaeyoon begins to discuss how “Good Guy” is a song that he feels “can easily be received by the public, as an approachable tune” — someone runs into the room shouting, “58!” to cheers. It’s the ranking that “Good Guy” debuted on the realtime Melon music chart in South Korea, based on listens an hour after the release of their song. It’s the highest-ever a SF9 single debuted at on the chart. It, plus their first — and later several other — win on one of South Korea’s weekly music shows a few days later, are some of the results the members were hoping for. “In the beginning, results didn’t really matter to us,” says Zuho. “Now that we’ve been around for a while, I feel that it’s time for us to achieve a concrete, solid result.”
Other members express similar determination when they come over to chat during free moments before going on stage. “It would be nice if more people got to know SF9 through this release because not that many people are familiar with us,” says Youngbin, who serves as the group’s leader and is one of their lyricists. He says that, while they aim to grow their presence with the release of First Collection, the song “Good Guy” is actually dedicated to their fanbase, known collectively as Fantasy. “‘Good Guy’ is a song through which we show our gratitude to our fans, and I really want people to pay attention to my verse’s meaning. The concept overall is that we’ve become good guys because of our fans, allowing us to release so many mini albums and now this album. I feel that everything about us has to do with our fans believing in us, so I feel like we’ve really matured this time around and that’s the concept of ‘Good Guy.’”
Though members have divergent ideas of what it means to be “Good Guy” — Zuho thinks it’s being someone who stands up for what they believe in while Dawon thinks it’s being a good mannered man — Hwiyoung, powering through despite suffering from a cold, ruminates on how the idea of what a “Good Guy” is someone who other people want to remember. “If you don’t like the person, you want to forget about them, but if you like them and they’re good in your perception they’re memorable.” Rowoon cheekily says that Chani is SF9’s resident “Good Guy” because he’s quiet.
Being memorable is the goal of the nine members with this release and, because it’s their first LP, they paid special attention to their craftsmanship, recognizing that this is the culmination of all their previous work. “I think our sound is more solidified with this album,” says Jaeyoon. “I think this album characterizes SF9. I feel like it’s a rebirth for us, a new beginning. That’s why we named it First Collection.”
“We definitely put more effort into this album, more thought and more opinions on this album,” says Dawon. “I asked to put in ad-libs and feel like I developed more as a singer through this process this time around. I want to show my hidden talents through this album. I would like listeners to pay special attention to the bridge part of ‘Like the Hands Held Tight’ and ‘Am I The Only One.'”
“It would be nice if more people got to know SF9 through this release because not that many people are familiar with us,” says Youngbin. “I also want to personally develop more, take on more responsibility and continue my path to becoming a better artist.”
“I want to be remembered as someone who defines music for my generation,” says Hwiyoung, while Zuho aims to inspire happiness in listeners. “I feel like anyone can make tracks that are sophisticated and cool, but making songs that actually make people happy is one of the biggest challenges. Because I feel that way, that’s my ultimate goal when I’m making music.”
The overall clean-cut, melodic and oftentimes funky style of electro-pop music that pervades First Collection may be the final evolution of SF9 and remain their style for the future of their career — or it may not. It just depends on who you ask.
“To be honest, we never really had a single color to our style since we played around with so many concepts. Sad songs to performance-based songs to Latin music, etc.,” says Zuho. “We played around with everything. I feel that this is what really fits us and it would be nice to keep moving forward with this.”
“Because we’ve tried out so many different concepts and albums, we’ve been able to see through trial and error what best suits us,” reflects Taeyang, who took a hand in rearranging the single’s choreography to make it a bit sexier to suit the mood they were aiming to achieve.
“We’re still trying to find our style,” says Dawon. “Our thoughts, our opinions may change down the road so I can’t say that this is our finalized concept, but I feel that this suits us even as we’re still trying to find ourselves.”
One thing the members agree on, though, is their aim to grow bigger and expand their reach as artists. SF9 want to perform at major international venues someday, and Inseong takes a quick moment to hint to an upcoming world tour.
As they prepare in their final moments to head out on-stage, Rowoon shares his hopes for their audience — and seemingly SF9 themselves — in 2020: “I hope that people have the ability to transfer small happiness into a larger one.”