“We need to be separated,” lead singer Howon remarked, followed by several laughs. The idea that the trio (at present) were too close for their own good was obviously unserious, but there was truth laced in it; sitting across from the three boys in the dimly lit green room at Manchester’s Factory 251, enables anyone to see just how fond and comfortable the band members are with one another.
Since entering the music scene in 2018, Korean band W24 has proved that a good relationship with your teammates goes a long way when it comes to surviving the industry. The band is made up of leader Yunsoo on guitar, Jonggil on drums, Howon on keyboard and Aaron on keyboard, although Aaron has been absent as he is currently on military service.
“The journey that we are going through is not easy at this age,” admitted Howon and when asked what was the experience they were most grateful for as a band, Jonggil mentioned being thankful for being able to work together with three guys who “have the same heart and goal as one”. A heartfelt sentiment for a group that have been quietly grinding away to connect with listeners not just in Korea, but also globally, one release at a time.
For those unaware of the sort of sound W24 brings to the table, their ‘Born again’ EP (that preceded the tour of the same name), might be a good place to start. While ‘Drive’ is an uplifting tune with a chorus even non-Korean speakers could follow along to, ‘Coupon Man’ is a delightful story written by Jonggil about a man who, though low in cash, gives all his coupons to the person he loves.
Half an hour after chatting to them, the boys popped out on stage to the small but beaming pit of fans that awaited them. Some performers embody new personas through captivating dance routines, some musicians sink themselves into the music entirely; when on stage, W24 are narrators of their own stories. Amidst fervently throwing themselves around with their instruments, the boys interacted earnestly with the audience when each sang their parts, with Howon in particular expressing himself very animatedly as he told his tales. This was especially visible during the tracks ‘Coupon man’, ‘Over the Rainbow’ and opening song ‘Drive’, which the boys had earlier mentioned they were most excited to perform to the Mancunians. “We haven’t actually had the chance to perform such [a] style to our fans yet here in the UK,” shared Howon. “I think especially our UK fans will like the live version of the song.”
The boys have a wonderfully happy aura around them, both on and off stage. Their relaxed interactions with the audience reminds one of local bands from the UK and it is easy to see how they have built up a dedicated following over here: no barriers, just banter. The intimate setting gave the boys the chance to present endearingly terrible British accents, fulfil fans’ wishes of doing the NewJeans Super Shy Challenge, and share their experiences trying top UK delicacies such as Lucozade, Greggs yum yums, and beans with cheese. Amongst the laughter, Howon added on a sentimental note that he feels at home in the country. Before stepping out on stage, guitarist Yunsoo had shared his utmost dream with me: “Like Bob Dylan, [I] want to be able to not just have us remembered by our music but also remembered by our ethics, by our positive energy, our vibes. Our culture.”
W24’s set in Manchester was full of such vibes, and Howon’s earlier words became very true: “According to like our lyrics, melodies and types of songs we do, one of the things we want to influence [in] other people is our positive energy. Because lots and lots of songs these days are sometimes, kind of too depressing and sad… But our style and our message is usually more positive.”
Besides bringing good vibes and making people smile beneath the murky lights of club venues, W24 are constantly working on refining their craft and opening up new directions in genre. Case in point: a Lenny Kravitz cover halfway through the show, as well as a performance of their heavier song ‘RUAH’, showcasing their rock ‘n’ roll side they’ve been exploring more since pianist Aaron’s absence to complete military service. Howon delivered power in his vocals, Jonggil smashed down on the drums for his epic moments, and Yunsoo was just as hypnotised by his stunning guitar solos as the crowd.
When they aren't on stage, their dedication to their craft is evident: Howon shared that he has been trying to practise the acoustic guitar three minutes per day. “But it’s not been going well,” he admitted with a laugh. Yunsoo wanted to play more of the trumpet, while Jonggil chimed in that he’d like to play the taepyeongso, a traditional Korean folk instrument, to which the members all laughed. The members light-heartedly argued over its similarity to the trumpet, and as the discussion went on, Jonggil comically mimicked its sound multiple times. He nails it, and their love of music for the sake of music is fun and heartwarming to behold.
W24 came to be when Jonggil, who was attending Seoul Institute of the Arts, had the great fortune to come across Aaron, Yunsoo, and Jiwon, the latter being a bassist that left the band in 2020. Years of practice followed, that saw the group add Howon before debuting as an idol band. Korean idol bands stand in their own unique position in the industry: rarely quite as mainstream or popular as their group counterparts, but still possessing the flair and polish that many associate with Korean idol music. However, the fact that Korean idol band members play their own instruments, means that they are more often than not involved in writing their songs from the ground up, and hearing more about W24's process grants some great insight into the artists they are.
While the members have gained inspiration from a variety of musicians such as Zion. T and AKMU, Yunsoo suggested that ‘J♡B = LOVE’ might be their most meaningful song they’ve ever written, due to it being the most personal. “The lyrics of the song really portrays our daily lives and personalities and all we’ve lived, and so we can actually connect to the song more easily than other songs.”
Thus, the band draws power from their authenticity, and influence and inspire those who listen to them. For the fans who might want to follow in their footsteps, Howon offered, “First of all, are you ready to go to war?” The question was met with laughs and a little confusion from the members (and myself), and Howon took a careful pause before elaborating on a more serious note.
“You have your ups and downs, your bumps… I just wanna encourage them a lot. I know that music is really hard. And it’s not an easy career. [It is] not easy to make music. Not easy to get fans. Not easy to get listeners. But just to keep on going, I think that’s the best phrase that I can say - just keep on going.”
Their fun side shone out once more when they contemplated what one song they’d choose to perform for the rest of their life. Jonggil suggested a piano version of ‘Song of Songs’, in which he wouldn’t have to do anything but listen, and the puckish member also called Howon a bed bug after the latter admitted he loves to stay in bed during his free time on tour.
It’s not hard to see why the band is so beloved by their fans. They possess character, engaging performances, and musical brilliance. Furthermore, the UK isn’t the only place W24 are most adored: the band is also popular in Latin America due to Howon’s upbringing in Chile, thus the boys have released many songs in Spanish as well as Korean.
“We were really excited to see our Latin American fans,” Howon explained, “And so we decided, why don't we just make our own songs and translate them into Spanish? As like a surprise, like a gift to our fans.”
Their songs are like little moments of joy, with the group appearing to always endeavour to find these moments: for themselves and their fans. W24 can’t stay gloomy for long, encapsulated by Howon spontaneously singing 'just keep going' to the tune of Dory from Finding Nemo’s famous ‘Just Keep Swimming’.
W24 have already got everything they need to ignite their blaze in front of even larger crowds than the one that saw them that shining Manchester evening. However, the band certainly isn’t lacking in a supply of love from fans. They ended their time in the city with a highly demanded "one more slay" via encore. Perhaps that ending sums up the band well with their hearts on sleeves, never holding back, whether that be when on stage, when creating songs, or merely when laughing and joking with each other. They'll 'just keep going', and surely growing their artistry and their fanbase as they do so.
To watch the crowd enjoying the fruits of their labour makes one thing clear: all who know W24, love W24.