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ENHYPEN are the new powerhouses of K-pop

We catch up with the septet just days before their blockbuster performance at KPOP.FLEX, Europe’s first-ever mega K-Pop festival. ‘We climbed this ladder maybe a bit too far,’ they tell writer Sara Delgado. ‘So I hope we don’t fall’

Since their debut, the members of K-pop group ENHYPEN – Jungwon, Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo, and Ni-ki – have learned to live in a purely virtual world. Formed in the summer of 2020, the group has celebrated all their firsts online, from album releases to trophy wins. Until now, of course.

On May 14, ENHYPEN made their official international debut at KPOP.FLEX, Europe’s first-ever mega K-Pop festival. Spanning two days, the festival took place in Frankfurt, Germany, and congregated over 65,000 fans from over 80 countries. A big chunk of those were “ENGENEs”, the official name given to ENHYPEN’s fans.

Though they only performed one of the two dates of KPOP.FLEX, thanks to lightsticks, banners and photocards, it wasn’t difficult to spot ENGENEs all over the German city throughout the weekend. But their presence really became watertight once the septet stepped on the stage.

ENHYPEN kicked off their 20-minute set with a mini group rendition of leader Jungwon and Ni-ki’s Mix & Max’s performance of “Bleeding Darkness,” followed by “Drunk-Dazed,” “Fever,” “Tamed-Dashed,” and “Blessed-Cursed.” Though ENHYPEN flew in from South Korea just hours before their set, you couldn’t tell from the raucous energy they brought to the stage. The epitome of short but sweet, the event marked their first big festival appearance. It was also one of the biggest venues that they’ve performed at in front of an actual audience.

Just a couple of days before their trek to Germany, Dazed spoke to the septet over Zoom from Seoul – and to say seven members were buzzing would be an understatement. “44,000 is a huge number so we really don’t know what to expect but we are very excited,” Jake said with a cheeky smile, referring to the number of fans in attendance at the Deutsche Bank Park during KPOP.FLEX’s sold-out night. “I am really happy that we're finally bringing performances in person to our fans overseas,” Sunoo added. “We are expecting to get a lot of energy from our fans. And I think that’s going to be a good experience.”

Of course, making your international debut in one of Europe’s most recognisable football stadiums is no small feat and, as we all know, excitement and nerves often go hand in hand. However, ENHYPEN had an infallible plan: “I think it is really important to practice a lot before you go on stage. If we have enough practice, we get less nervous and we trust each other more,” Sunghoon explains, listing stretches and vocal warmups as some of the members’ preferred pre-concert activities. “The more practice, the better. Before we go on stage we just trust how much we have practised and we just get ready to just enjoy.”

Of course, the group is more than used to nailbiting environments. Formed in the survival show I-Land, where 23 prospective trainees fought for a chance to debut, the members of ENHYPEN are the Lucky 7. After a fierce competition, which many online compared to The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner more than once, the group’s final lineup was unveiled in September after a 12-episode run. ENHYPEN then made their official debut in November 2020 with the release of the six-track EP Border: Day One. Since, they have followed it up with Border: Carnival, their first studio album Dimension: Dilemma in late 2021, and the repackage album Dimension: Answer in 2022.

A key element of the group’s identity is the hyphen as a unifying nexus. “Just like hyphens connect different words to make new meanings, members of ENHYPEN will connect, discover each other, and grow together,” was the official explanation given on the show. Aside from the clear-cut allegory, the hyphen has also become a key element in the group’s title tracks – “Given-Taken,” “Drunk-Dazed,” “Tamed-Dashed,” and “Blessed-Cursed” – highlighting a sense of duality.

Whatever you think of ENHYPEN’s concept, the fact that it works is no secret. In two short years, the septet has gone from K-pop starlets to K-pop powerhouses. During their debut year, they were crowned “Rookie of the Year” at the Asia Artist Awards, Seoul Music Awards, and Gaon Chart Music Awards. In late 2021, they landed the coveted title of “million-sellers” with Dimension: Dilemma. Their most recent Japanese release, Dimension: 閃光, released on May 2, is also smashing records on Oricon’s chart.

I think it is really important to practice a lot before you go on stage. If we have enough practice, we get less nervous and we trust each other more” – Sunghoon

In the west, ENHYPEN’s credentials are just as impressive. In 2021, they became the tenth K-pop boy group ever to enter Billboard’s 200 chart. They have also become the act with the most total hits on Billboard’s newly launched Hot Trending Songs list, where they have placed three tracks simultaneously for two consecutive weeks – a feat only surpassed by BTS.

“When we start on a new album or project, we don’t really think a lot about the records or the numbers. You can call it pressure, but I think all the members get a little bit more ambitious to do better and always try to work harder,” Jungwon says, looking back at all they have achieved. “When we first debuted we started off from almost nothing,” Heeseung adds. “But we grew up a little bit and we climbed this ladder maybe a bit too far, so I hope that we don’t fall. We should not forget where we first began. We should always be grateful and work hard.”

Aside from the traditional charts, viral metrics are also kind of records on their own these days and, of course, ENHYPEN has also racked up some, the most notable being “Polaroid Love.” Since its release in early January 2022 as part of Dimension: Answer, the song has been used in over 620K videos on TikTok – most featuring a fan-led dance challenge. But even non-ENGENEs are using the song to soundtrack snippets of their life, which, as Jay explains in English, “just feels wonderful.”

“We really didn't expect it to be as a huge song, we just, we knew it was a good song, but we really didn't expect it [to blow up the way it did],” Jake admits before opening up the floor for Sunoo, who adds: “I think the catchy ‘sweet side’ of the song was the reason it received so much love and I'm really proud of it. I hope we get opportunities to do more songs like this in the future.”

Since their formation on I-Land, ENHYPEN has lived together in a dorm, which means they have essentially spent two entire years literally side by side. There have many firsts throughout, but one moment clearly stands out to the members: their first-ever fan meet, dubbed EN-CONNECT, which took place in February 2021. “We are together 24/7,” Jungwon says. “If you [think back of] the time with your family, you can't really remember what you do in your everyday life unless you go on a trip or something. [But] I think the fact that we are always together will serve as a [good] memory in the future.” 

But that’s a long-term wish. For the near future, ENHYPEN has a much simpler ask. “I just want to live this year [happily],” Heeseung proclaims in English, swiftly changing to Korean to fully express the nuance of his words. “I just hope that we finish everything that we have planned safely without any incidents or accidents. I hope everything goes smoothly. That’s my goal, my personal goal.”

“We climbed this ladder maybe a bit too far, so I hope that we don’t fall. We should not forget where we first began” – Heeseung

At any given chance, the members show how grateful they are for the “many opportunities” they have already had to greet ENGENEs face to face this year. But, after two years of mainly online interactions, they are craving more. Their fan meet and the festival are but stepping stones. ENHYPEN are ready to take a leap.

“I hope we can have more opportunities to bring our performances to many fans all over the world,” Ni-ki, who has been observing the entire conversation unfold rather quietly, proclaims. Jay echoes the sentiment in English and quips: “I think a lot of work is kind of our goal this year.” Sonically, Jake teases they “really want to try different types of music.” (“We always want to try new stuff,” he adds, “that’s always a goal.”)

While ENHYPEN have not announced new upcoming performances yet, the second part of their plan is probably already underway as you read this. With the Border series having wrapped after two instalments and Dilemma getting its repackage, it’s only natural to wonder if the group is about to open another chapter. Jay points to their new hair colours as a potential teaser. (Right before KPOP.FLEX, Jay, Sunoo, Jungwon and Jake debuted new midnight blue, blonde, pink and smokey grey ‘dos. Ni-ki and Heesung are both back to black while Sunghoon is still sporting silver.) “We can’t really spoil too much right now but we are definitely working on the next thing, so I hope you guys are ready,” says Jake, finally. “It’s coming.”