There are inevitable psychological scars that all people need to address once they reach adulthood. Whether tackled through therapy, medication, meditation, music, exercise, supplements or any other means, The Rose came to learn that they could address trauma as private individuals and members of their chart-topping Korean rock band. The quartet says their new, record-breaking album Heal is not just words of wisdom to share with fans but nightly mantras for themselves, too, while touring the album throughout the globe.
After more than two years apart to settle drama with their previous Korean label and take care of South Korea’s mandatory military enlistment, The Rose reemerged in August last year with a new partnership alongside Transparent Arts (the entertainment agency founded by Billboard Hot 100 hitmakers Far East Movement) to release their first full-length album Heal. Preceded by the singles “Childhood” and “Sour,” Heal landed in the Top 20 of both the Top Album Sales and Top Current Album Sales charts, while peaking at No. 4 on the Heatseekers Albums too. Since its release, Heal has earned 12,000 equivalent album units, according to Luminate while their 2018 EP Void is their biggest release in the U.S. with 25,000 units earned to date.
After The Rose’s 2017 debut with “Sorry” led to the band earning a breakout K-pop artist to watch honor by Billboard, these career highs nearly five years after their mainstream introduction mark the band’s all-encapsulating dedication to what initially brought them together.
“The main message of The Rose when we first created the band was ‘healing together with music,'” explains the group’s Korean-American leader Woosung, who built up his solo pop career alongside Transparent during the band hiatus. “Coming into this new chapter of The Rose, we really wanted to remind ourselves and also remind our listeners.”
Those reminders came via Heal‘s creative process (The Rose handles nearly everything on this LP with contributions from pop and K-pop songwriter-producer Brian Lee on the stadium-sized anthem “Cure” and vocals from Transparent labelmate James Reid on the euphoric collaboration “Yes”), plus singing their lyrics back to themselves throughout their ongoing Heal Together world tour (that’s already played North and South America, Asia, and is currently in its final leg in Europe).
“We try to keep connecting with what we write and what we sing, trying to remind ourselves that life can be beautiful,” Woosung adds before vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Dojoon adds how often a “lyric comes to us and it hits different every time. That’s a really good thing to have as a musician.” Bassist-singer Jaehyeong admits certain songs on the road make him tear up, while drummer-singer Hajoon lets the setlist take him back to moments in time.
Speaking with Billboard during some downtime amid touring, go on The Rose’s healing journey to dig deeper into Heal, reflections from tour, future music plans and more.
Congratulations on the chart success of Heal. You set new records for Korean-rock groups; how did that feel?
Woosung: We’re just very thankful and blessed, to be honest; that’s what we’ve been feeling. We don’t feel overly excited honestly, because our fans have been pushing so hard for us that the numbers made sense for us. All we want to do is just thank them. And we’ve been trying to give our best show and keep our conditions strong so that we could, at least, have that time be enjoyable for fans—that’s how we give back.
Dojoon: It might be a more common Korean expression but we “don’t feel it in our skin yet.” It doesn’t feel real, but we’re so thankful.
This is your first album in partnership with Transparent Arts, which Billboard broke the news about in August. What was different with this album behind the scenes?
Woosung: The biggest difference is, now, we have our partners that trust our visions. We are creating visions together and we trust their vision. The biggest thing is just the openness and the honesty that makes us who we are and makes Transparent who Transparent is. It’s funny because Kev [Nishimura, Transparent Arts co-CEO] came up with this phrase, “We’re the guns to the Roses.” We’re learning so much with James Roh [COO/Management at Transparent] and Daniel “Dpd” Park being part of our team.
Dojoon: We learned a lot and we’re learning all the time, but the most important lesson and thing has been teamwork.
Woosung: There’s a phrase we always say, right? [Transparent co-CEO] Kirby [Lee]’s son says…
All: “Teamwork makes the dream work.” [Laughs]
Dojoon: It could be a cliché, but we really mean it and believe in that phrase. They have different personalities and different thoughts, and, likewise, we have different personalities and different thoughts. We know how to pay respect; every time we see them and they see us, we learn a lot from each other. I think it’s a really good synergy.
Did Transparent Arts bring James Reid onto “Yes”? He’s such a perfect vocal fit.
Woosung: No, James brought himself. [Laughs] We were finishing up the album in Joshua Tree, and James was there just hanging out with us…
Dojoon: James even said, “I want to go. I really want to come! Can I come?”
Woosung: We’re like, “Yeah, of course, you’re always welcome.” He came, hung out with us, and then he was hearing what we had made so far and he’s like, “I like this one, I want to be on this one.” We thought, “Yeah, it makes sense. You’re on it.” [Laughs] And he knew he was a perfect fit too. James was like, “This is my sh-t right here.”
Dojoon: And, naturally, there was a trade. Sammy [Woosung] got to be on James’ song [“Hold on Tight” off Reid’s Lovescene: album released in October 2022].
Heal is The Rose’s first full project since your break to handle military enlistment and other projects. What did you learn on your own that you brought to this project?
Dojoon: Individually, we got to spend time on our own, and we had a lot of time thinking about ourselves and the team individually, which made us realize how taking this time isn’t a bad thing. So, we got more peace of mind. We really got to learn more about how to stay calm and keep going—I think that’s the best lesson we learned from that hiatus.
Woosung: Honestly, we matured in our own way, which is very helpful for our group. Now, I think there’s peace of mind where we can think more about what others feel and truly try to understand how each other feels which grows us as a team because we couldn’t always really understand where the other person is coming from. We’re bringing that into our album, our daily lives, everything.
Jaehyeong: I met new people, so they influenced me in terms of music. There were a lot of things; some of the people I met during that time played classical or traditional music, so they influenced me.
I can hear some of that in “See-Saw.” I want to get into some of the topics in the album and songs. The title is simple but very powerful. When did you decide that Heal was the name of the album?
Woosung: It was just random, we were just talking.
Dojoon: Oh, but it was a four-letter word: H-E-A-L.
Woosung: Our albums have only been four letter words: Void, Dawn, Heal. That’s on purpose but when we first got together, all four of us were just catching up, sharing our stories of what we went through and how we had kind of gone through life without each others’ presence. And we really felt how that the main message of The Rose when we first created the band was “healing together with music.” Coming into this new chapter of The Rose, we really wanted to remind ourselves and also remind our listeners. And just in general, we felt like people had a lot of healing to do in terms of little things or big things in this life: it can be childhood trauma, traumas that you don’t even remember that you need to heal from, a recent incident that you want to heal from. We honestly believe that music is a universal language that does a lot of healing so we just wanted to create this tool for everybody that listens to the music to kind of guide them, and guide us as well, through this healing journey.
Why is that world “heal” so important to you guys, whether it’s as a band or independently?
Woosung: Well, I learned over the past two or three years of my traumas, the childhood traumas that I had which brought out certain behaviors, certain thinking, certain actions, certain way of talking, certain way of handling things. I think, really, the root of it was from a childhood trauma that I had even forgotten. I didn’t really understand it until I thought about it so, that was a big turning point for me for sure; how to conversate and how to really handle things.
Dojoon: I had a little difficulty expressing my feelings to friends or people who I love. By talking a lot with our members and going through that, I’m trying more to express myself a little more. And that’s my task from now on, but I’m on a healing journey as we go.
It sounds like you guys can help one another in your healing journeys.
Woosung: For sure. We’re in it together.
Dojoon: We have a song called “See-Saw” and writing it was a very healing experience. It’s a story of its own, there’s a part in the lyrics where we reply back to Jaehyeong. I think that’s a great thing to have as a band where we actually can heal by performing it every time.
Jaehyeong: We just had a concert in Toronto where we sang “See-Saw,” it was only our fifth concert on tour. I didn’t cry at the show, but I don’t know, our fans grabbing their phones, turning on their flashlight, our members singing, and that part that made me so emotional. I was crying, and I think that crying helps me find more clarity and overcome my own trauma. That’s my healing time.
So “See-Saw” is the song that makes The Rose cry?
Dojoon: One of them, yeah! [Laughs]
Everything I’m hearing makes it clear that “Childhood” was the perfect single to begin this album and these topics. Was that on purpose?
Woosung: That’s correct. Because everything starts from our childhood, right?
Dojoon: We were all a child once, every person.
The lyrics of “Childhood” say, “Don’t forget when you were a child…/ Let it stay in your mind.” How do you guys live that lyric?
Woosung: Well, that’s the thing: when we write the songs, it’s not us saying that we’re better and already know how to do it—it’s also reminding ourselves. We’re just like the listeners; there’s nothing more special between listener and performer. The music is what’s special and we’re trying to live and remember these messages through music. So, we try but we’re human as well—we forget. It’s hard to chase those childhood dreams sometimes and reality makes it hard. But we try to keep connecting with what we write and what we sing, trying to remind ourselves that life can be beautiful, life is beautiful, and we want to live it beautifully.
Dojoon: Speaking of forgetting, we tend to forget our songs. Then when we listen back, after a few months or a few years, we’ll realize, “Oh yeah, we talked about this.” And this lyric comes to us and it hits different every time. That’s a really good thing to have as a musician.
I also really want to give you props for the “Childhood” music video too. It’s so well done and not like anything I feel like I’ve seen from a pop group based in Korea. I loved how you showed so many different bodies, you showed your bodies, tell me about conceptualizing the video.
Woosung: The main message behind that visual was just that we’re all born naked, we’re all equal, we’re all children once, we’re all humans. That was what we want to showcase. You don’t have to be perfect—as you can see, we don’t even have perfect bodies. We got a little gut. Hajoon had a pretty nice body, he’s been working out. [Laughs] But me, I just hang out. But we wanted to showcase the naturalness of just human beings and the beauty of being natural. And also showcase nature because that’s as natural as it could get.
What’s the best song to perform on tour?
Woosung: My favorite performance is “Definition of Ugly Is,” the first song on the setlist. I think it really sets the mood. I really love the messaging behind the song, which is like the Ugly Duckling: you’re a swan, you don’t know yet, but everybody thinks you’re special, they pick on you, but you become a swan, you were just in the wrong group…that’s my favorite song to play.
Dojoon: I think, “Sour.” “Definition of Ugly Is” is the leading, first song for the show but “Sour” is the very last song. Well, when the audience is really into the concert and really, feeling it, that’s the time when “Sour” comes out. I feel like everybody can relate to the melody, they sing along with us really well, and I have so much fun doing that song.
Jaehyeong: For me, the first one is “See-Saw” but the second one is “Black Rose.” You know, it is our first time to sing this song to our [fans known as] Black Roses. We’re not playing our instruments; we only sing and sing together to our fans. It feels like very special and so emotional. I love it. A lot of fans come up to us to say, “I really loved the ‘Black Rose’ out of the whole setlist.”
Hajoon: For me, “Sorry” is my favorite to perform because the song is our first song. So, when I play that, I feel like when we started the band, it’s like coming back to the beginning. I think our fans feel the same too. They know the lyrics very well because it’s been out there for almost six years.
Looking ahead, what’s coming next as the new year starts?
Woosung: We have the world tour and everything wraps around March-ish. We’re really excited to just be on the road, see our fans, really perform. Between those times, we’re visiting these cities and doing publicity. We’re even doing news platforms in new cities, it’s been great. We’re excited to finish that up strong, give a good performance to each city. Then after that, it’s start over. We’re going to get ready for another album, talk about where we want to take that album and get back into it.
Dojoon: Yeah, we’re really excited for the next production.
Any hints you can give? Or influences you guys have been feeling lately?
Woosung: The album’s going to be four letters.
I guess we could expect that.
Dojoon: We’re going to make something very…
Dojoon: A cool, city-ish vibe?
Woosung: Yes, city vibes. You know how Heal was our Joshua Tree vibe? In nature?
Dojoon: It’s going to be the opposite now—maybe.
That’s a good tease. Anything else to add for the fans?
Woosung: We honestly just want to thank our Black Roses. They’ve been amazing, making us trend on Twitter for like every day on tour. They’ve been doing fan events together. We’re very thankful just to be building this community and being a part of this community. We want to share our experiences as well, and we’re happy that we have a community that we can engage in and talk with, even keeping up with them on Discord. So, thank you, Black Roses, we “Rose” you. We Rose all of you. And we hope to see you very soon.