Nine is a magical number for K-pop acts: Girls’ Generation, the most popular Korean girl group of this generation, had nine members for the majority of their career. EXO, an extremely popular boy band, currently has nine members. TWICE, the group of the moment, is also a nonet. And now there’s SF9.
One of four rookie boy bands at this year’s KCON 2017 NY — along with NCT 127, KNK and UP10TION — SF9 isn’t yet a household name in the K-pop world. But they are produced by FNC Entertainment, the home to popular acts like pop-rock bands FTISLAND and CNBLUE and girl group AOA. The first dance-oriented boy band under FNC, SF9 is made up of nine members with diverse skill sets. “Nine people, nine colors” is their motto, and they’ve been showcasing these different elements over the past year through a variety of singles and EPs.
“Beginning with our earlier singles, particularly our track ‘Fanfare,’ we wanted to express the big ambition that we had towards our debut and SF9 ourselves,” bandleader Youngbin told Billboard, referring to their swaggering debut track, one of three songs that the group performed later that day at the first concert of this year’s East Coast KCON event.
But while there were cheers aplenty as the band performed “Fanfare” and the similarly boisterous “Roar” with their powerful choreography, it was SF9’s most recent single, “Easy Love,” that proved to be the true crowd-pleaser. For their latest, the boy band switched up their sound, favoring emotive, melodic pop over the bangers they had previously put out when they returned in April with their Breaking Sensation EP.
“We were trying to go for a more masculine feel with a sci-fi twist,” Youngbin said, before grinning, shrugging and adding that the overall feedback they heard was that “Easy Love,” and band itself, seems a bit more boyish than their past singles.
Though they may have expected one response and received another, the change in style worked and the group began to shift ahead of the increasingly crowded pack of rookie K-pop boy bands. Breaking Sensation, peaked at No. 5 on the World Albums chart, revealing their growing attention from American K-pop listeners.
The song’s warm embrace by fans, known as Fantasy, was a pleasant surprise to the group, and English-speaking member Inseong joked that, “Maybe next time we’ll come back with ‘Easy Love’ once more.”
Like “Easy Love,” SF9 is a bit different than expected, even in their clothing choice. For their first New York City-area event, the band opted for casual gray suits that emphasized the mature vibe they wanted to show through the single. But lime-green detailing and a few suits that looked more suitable for Korean high school students than office workers hinted at a more playful side to the boy band. The members showed that throughout the day on Friday, as they greeted their American fans for the first time with smiles, immense energy and personal serenades.
KING. OF. FAN. SERVICE. = #ROWOON
— KCON USA (@kconusa) June 26, 2017
“It was so exciting to meet foreign fans,” Hwiyoung said, eyes bright as he referenced the meet-and-greet SF9 held earlier in the day, where he had shown off some of the group’s choreography. “I really thought, ‘Oh gosh, we should work a lot harder to meet many of our overseas fans.’”
— KCON USA (@kconusa) June 27, 2017
Though they’re still new and have a long way to go to gain recognition back at home in Korea and overseas, SF9 isn’t slacking when it comes to meeting their international fans. Prior to KCON NY, the team performed at KCON Japan in May, just weeks before their first Japanese-language single hit No. 14 on the Japan Hot 100. They will also head to Los Angeles in August for this year’s KCON LA and get a chance to meet even more American fans.
And it’s not only music and performance where SF9 is excelling: The multi-talented members live up to their motto. Chani, the group’s youngest member at 17, garnered attention last year after playing a memorable role in the 2016 breakout Korean TV show Signal. Meanwhile, Rowoon had all eyes on him at Seoul Fashion Week in March, where he walked the runway. “As a group, as a whole, we each have our own unique qualities that come together,” said Dawon, gesturing to the rest of the members sitting beside him.
SF9 will keep coming together in the future to create music with one aim in mind: to be on top. “We want to keep on developing so that we can become a K-pop group that people will watch,” deep-voice rapper Zuho said with a determined nod of the head.