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NewJeans Minji Danielle Haerin Hanni Hyein K-pop girl group

‘We were surprised and flattered’: NewJeans on becoming K-pop game-changers

As NewJeans release their new album Get Up and celebrate their first anniversary as a group, Minji, Danielle, Haerin, Hanni and Hyein open up to Taylor Glasby about trying to capture memories in a hectic year and what their future holds

On “New Jeans” – their recent collaboration track to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Powerpuff Girls – NewJeans’ Minji, Danielle, Haerin, Hanni and Hyein sing “Look at us, we go on and on again / We'll go on to the end”. Since debuting in late July last year, NewJeans have never been far from the spotlight, with all eyes – both industry and public – fixed upon unarguably one of the most talked about female pop groups in the past ten years.

Their overnight success wasn’t just because they eschewed the traditional K-pop route of debuting (months of image teasers, member introductions, multiple video trailers to build hype amongst audiences) and chose instead to drop three singles completely unannounced (“Attention”, “Hype Boy”, Cookie”) and half a dozen videos within a span of a week.

It was down to the Y2K-ness of their aesthetic – from their styling to the videos’ graphic renders to the look of Phoning, the band’s subscription app for their fans (named Bunnies) – and the members themselves, who emanate an enviable, unconscious cool, buffered by a very loud, wholly positive and welcoming sense of inclusion. It was that their songs feel so minutely tailored to them, with most of the members holding writing credits, and that their choreography leaned towards naturalistic rather than highly stylised, a refined version of a bunch of friends recording their moves at home on their phones.

And it was the music itself, of course, the way in which the retro vibes of Baltimore club, Jersey club, 90s and 00s R&B and electronica coursed through NewJeans’ eponymously named debut EP and last winter’s two singles – “OMG” and “Ditto” – counteracted by their unhurried vocals (airy, casual but also deeply moving and, at times, melancholic) that gave their songs a glowy freshness.

No one in K-pop was doing anything like how NewJeans were doing it. It was akin to pushing a giant balloon into a crowded room and sticking it with a pin. One year on, they’re still industry outliers, creatively, and their achievements, numerically, are eye-watering. They’re the fastest K-pop act ever to reach one billion Spotify streams. Their new EP, Get Up, sold 1.2 million copies on its first day. All the members are now individual ambassadors to luxury brands (Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Burberry, to name just some). Their songs have gone viral one after the other, particularly “OMG”, the choreography of which even Rina Sawayama incorporated into her set.

But NewJeans haven’t gotten comfortable in their success. Their signature music style is present but it’s urged forward on Get Up; for instance, there are new, rough edges in the skittering snares and bass on “Super Shy” or the lyrics of “ETA” (“My heart hurts when you can't let him go / Trust me you deserve better than that, I'll give you a hand, he's just playin’, Boys be always lying, yeah). What began on the New Jeans EP – the exploration of girlhood’s complexities, the watchful and carefully constructed exterior that hides the maelstrom of emotions within – bares just a little more fang on Get Up.

But, as 18-year-old Hanni says, sat alongside her bandmates in their pristine label offices in Seoul, Get Up is, at heart, an album born for the hottest months. “I think it’s very much packed with how we would, kind of, represent NewJeans’ summer. The album itself is just full of really fun, exciting summer vibes,” she says. It runs, like a good anthology, across a gamut of situations and feelings. “There’s a large variety of emotion and stories in the songs,” she adds. “We have songs that are a good vibe to party with your friends, we have some songs about nostalgic feelings and farewells, and also falling in love. It’s just a full package so I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we do.”

With their new record and their first-year anniversary as a group fresh in hand, NewJeans talk with Dazed about trying to capture memories in a hectic year, what their future holds, and how they feel about being seen as serious game-changers in the K-pop industry.

Which track on Get Up does each member feel most affinity with, and why?

Haerin: Of course all the tracks on this EP tug at my heartstrings but one song that comes to my mind at the moment is ‘Super Shy’ probably because I relate to its lyrics a lot, to the feeling of wanting to express the feelings you have for another person, and being very proactive on the inside but the inside only.

Danielle: It changes every day according to my mood. I love each and every one of the six songs but I would have to choose ‘New Jeans’ because from the moment I heard it, it just screams our name. The energy portrayed in the song and how natural the choreography fits with us, it felt so much like us and I enjoy dancing to it so much. 

Hanni: I’d have to say, currently, right this moment, ‘Cool With You’. The lyrics are just… they’re just a lot deeper than what people would expect them to be and I love the flow and sound of the song. And the music video came out last night, so it’s still lingering on my mind very strongly.

Minji: I think ‘ASAP’, because I really love the lyrics, I love that song.

Hyein: As for me, it would be ‘Cool With You’ because the lyrics really resonated with me. The music video was released just last night and if you listen closely to the lyrics it sounds like something that my closest people, the people that I love, would say to me if they were trying to comfort or console me.

With a year’s experience now under your belts, can you see or feel the difference between making this EP and your debut record?

Minji: Compared to when we were putting together our debut album, we certainly have more experience now so we have a broader perspective in how we take in the feedback that we receive and how we apply that feedback into what we do. However, the contemplation as to how we are going to really bring the best version of ourselves to our audience is always there and while we are more used to the overall process now, we still are eager to show better sides of ourselves.

Do you still get nervous, like that nervous excitement, when you’re heading into the studio?

Minji: Yes

Danielle: Always!

There’s a punchier edge to some of your new works, such as on ‘ETA’ and ‘Super Shy’, both sonically and visually. What were your initial reactions to hearing these tracks and then incorporating dance disciplines like waacking into the choreography?

Haerin: In this EP, we try to tailor the choreography to each song to suit that song’s specific mood and vibes. We tried out waacking and we really thought it was a fun challenge and we had a lot of fun doing it. It wasn’t easy but I think it was perfect for bringing out that excitement that ‘Super Shy’ is all about. I really think it was a visual spectacle in a way and when we do the choreography with all of our dancers, it almost looks like a huge flash mob, so we were really amazed when we were looking at the final result.

How do NewJeans feel about being seen as game-changers?

Hanni: I think we were shocked, very surprised.

Danielle: Very flattered.

Hanni: And also very flattered. Because, you know, the term game-changer is very big, very strong, for people to see us in that way…. And we only debuted just a year ago, so to already be perceived like that in such a short amount of time really shocked us. It’s just amazing to know that there a lot of people have a lot of interest in what we do and what we’re putting out as well. I think that’s what also helps push us to work harder and enjoy ourselves more so more people can enjoy what we do. It’s a very big thing.

Hyein: We are extremely grateful that people perceive us to be game-changers. It’s not much of a pressure that we feel but just an amazing amount of gratitude, and there are so many staffs and people behind the camera(s) who support who we are and what we do. With their efforts combined with ours, we’re able to put out great work. So I’m very grateful for their input, and, more than anything, we are grateful for our Bunnies, they are really valuable to us members.

How do the members record all the memories – the ‘firsts’ – that you’ve been making? For instance, a Polaroid camera, a journal, taking photos on your personal phones?

Danielle: I personally take a lot of photos because I like to really capture all those special moments, and we’ve gone through so many. We got to travel to different places with such beautiful surroundings. I want to capture every single one, which is probably why I have so many photos on my phone. Besides taking photos, I like to draw, like my experiences, what I felt that day, my emotions, another way is, as you mention, we have NewJeans’ PHONING app. There’s a calendar-type app so we can record what we did that day and share that with Bunnies, as if we were talking to a friend.

Is Danielle a good photographer?

Danielle: I’ll let them answer that…[laughs]

Hanni: We can say she’s the mum of the group when it comes to documenting [our days]. Even when we eat, [she’s like], you must taste this!

Danielle: Because those are the moments where we’re so happy and like, I don’t care how this comes out, I just wanna get [capture] it. Like, when there’s flowers… ‘Oh my god, look at those flowers!’

Finally, how do you think about the future of NewJeans? Do you think about far-off goals even though so much is happening right now that requires your attention?

Hyein: I want NewJeans to continue to be perceived as a group that’s always innovating, always taking on new challenges, and bringing a fresh sound to the listeners, and I believe, as a group, our biggest strength, musically speaking, is that our music will always make you feel good, put you in a better mood and suits many different occasions. So I want to continue putting out music like that.