The date is the 22nd of July, 2022, and to most music fans, or at least fans of a music genre called K-Pop, it is a slow Friday. No artists have any music out, bar a few smaller releases by a couple of well-known artists. So far, so quiet. Then, out of the blue, on the HYBE Labels YouTube channel, a music video drops. The group name: NewJeans. The song title: Attention.
The reactions are almost instant. In an industry where group members, names and details are often teased for months - sometimes years - in order to generate buzz and hype, this new music video is gaining as much attention (no pun intended) for being an anomaly as anything else. No-one knows anything about these five girls. Names? Nope. Backgrounds? Nope.
377 days later, Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin and Hyein, came out at Lollapalooza Chicago to cheering crowds that carried the their lightstick and knew the words to all their songs.
Being in the industry for merely just over a year didn't phase them: the quintet put on a stellar performance that seemed as if they’ve been in the industry for years. The virality of the group not only propelled their careers in South Korea, but they quickly gained popularity internationally with clips of 'Hype Boy' blowing up on TikTok, followed quickly by subsequent title tracks 'OMG' and 'Super Shy' ensuring they stayed on everyone's radar (and TikTok feeds). Beyond their music, the group's nostalgic, Y2K grounded concept, the group's endearing personalities and their raw talent have captivated audiences everywhere.
From the outset their company clearly wished to double down on the 'fresh yet familiar' vibe that is encapsulated in the group's name. Back in 2022, following 'Attention', came another music video, 'Hype Boy', with both videos quickly racking up views and teasing what would be the group's first record, before the album itself came out. When album pre-orders opened, a version in a zip-up cloth handbag had more and more people wondering what this brand new group were going to unleash. The strategy worked: by the time 1st of August 2022 finally arrived, hype (again, no pun intended) for the group's first EP is through the roof. Almost 444,000 stock pre-orders were made, a record for the debut of any K-Pop girl group in history, and the EP earned 2.06 million streams on Spotify Korea, a record for any 2022 girl group debut.
The group's fans - Bunnies - devotedly wait for much more than the group's music these days. Prior to their Lollapalooza set, fans and casual listeners could take a trip to Bunnyland, the Spotify activation installation dedicated to the group. Bracelets, playlist stations and more fun activities awaited all those who wanted to surround themselves with NewJeans vibes before their festival debut. However, the activation was near impossible to attend as queues were so long; even after the group's concert, queues persisted until late into the night, and even with daily restocks of the group's merchandise, it consistently sold out.
Part of what has easily drawn in listeners from all over the world to the group's music is their frequent mixing of English and Korean in their songs. Back in Chicago, as the crowd waited in anticipation for NewJeans to come out on stage, a short VCR played and you could hear the crowd singing along with the snippet of 'New Jeans' – from their latest EP Get Up – that played in the background.
Two of the group's members also reflect the international outlook of the group, despite their firm roots in the genre. Hanni, full name Hanni Pham, Vietnamese name Ngọc Hân, hails from Melbourne, Australia and speaks English, Vietnamese and Korean. Even though she is now making waves as part of NewJeans, she still studies online courses at an Australian high school and made history as the first Vietnamese idol to debut under HYBE. She also is an ambassador for Gucci and Armani Beauty. Danielle, full name Danielle Marsh, Korean name Jihye, was born in New South Wales in Australia before living in South Korea between the ages of three and twelve. Fluent in English and Korean, this year she found herself introduced to a whole new audience outside of K-Pop when she became the voice for the Korean dub of Ariel in Disney's live action adaptation of The Little Mermaid, as well as when she became an ambassador for Burberry and YSL Beauty.
Not that expecting foreign groups to speak English fluently should be the norm, but having members that are bilingual and with the other members learning English, have consistently endeared NewJeans to fans and casual consumers alike, and it was certainly the case at Lollapalooza. Even when the girls would prompt the crowd to sing along with them, it proved to be no problem for the audience to respond by singing both the English and Korean lyrics back to the group and in breaks when the group chose to interact with the crowd, all five members spoke in English confidently throughout, much to the appreciation of those watching at the festival and streaming from around the world. Just like many other acts from South Korea that have succeeded in international markets, NewJeans' willingness to engage in languages beyond Korean without sacrificing their K-Pop heritage has only enhanced their global appeal.
Oldest member Minji (Kim Min-ji) from Gangwon in South Korea, might have been familiar to eagle eyed viewers of other HYBE output since 2019, having appeared in audition advert videos (one of which encouraged Hanni to audition for the company), as well as BTS' Permission to Dance video, alongside Hanni. In February of this year, Chanel chose her to be their global ambassador. Haerin, (Kang Hae-rin, English name Vanessa,) comes from Seoul in South Korea and like Minji, Hanni and Danielle, already has a writing credit to her name, having contributed to the lyrics for the group's song "New Jeans'. Outside of group activities she can be seen as a Dior ambassador for jewellery, fashion and beauty. Hyein, (Lee Hyein, English name Grace), from Incheon in South Korea, had plenty of experience in front of the camera before NewJeans as she had modelled since the age of eight. As the youngest member of the group, she also became the youngest ever brand ambassador for Louis Vuitton when they appointed her to the position at the end of 2022.
Whilst EP NewJeans and subsequent single album OMG cemented the group's swift rise, it has been their newest release, Get Up, that has affirmed their status as more than just a moment. Their Lollapalooza set reflected the division from the group's 'before' and the group's 'now'. It was broken up into two distinct sections, with the first half - comprised only of songs from NewJeans and OMG - being supported by a live band and the second half, which was the entirety of Get Up, sung in order, exactly as it is laid out in the album.
The group are well known for their fun and exuberant dances, ones that seem to pop and bubble with the energy of five friends who have just come up with the choreographies themselves. Such energy has not only been latched onto by younger demographics, but also older listeners that find within the group's performances either memories of their own youth, or what they wished their youth could have been. However, the group also have delightful vocal tones that can be better heard when watching or listening to their behind the scenes recording sessions or when watching them perform live.
Within the first few seconds of their Lolla set, which began with a jazzy rendition of ‘Hype Boy’, the listener was instantly reminded that NewJeans is still a young group: the nervousness in their early vocals quickly melted away and grew throughout their performances, as they realised that the enormous crowd of seventy thousand people in front of them were truly, genuinely there just for them. Hanni reflected on this after their performance when she took to the group's app Phoning to say "... not sure if I looked nervous on stage, but I had like jitters in my body beforehand and I kept practising in my head but funny enough... as soon as I stepped on stage I felt so like relaxed." The many hours of care and mental and physical preparation provided by the staff for the group paid off as viewers could see how well they took to the biggest stage they have performed on so far.
Until now, NewJeans have enjoyed continually presenting their fans and listeners with the new and the fun, whether that be through a collaboration with the Powerpuff Girls, using side As and Bs with their music videos, making a beach bag part of the release of Get Up, or introducing elements of UK Garage to some of their new songs.
This is even reflected in the Lollapalooza live band renditions of their older songs: ‘Cookie’ became a rock version heavy on guitars and drums and fun to jam to, whereas the '250 Remix' of ‘Hurt’ saw the ballad set to a dreamy country-esque instrumental complete with tambourine and walking bass. Such live versions of their already popular songs breathed new life into the tracks and rewarded dedicated fans with another side to songs they already knew word for word.
Throughout their time in Chicago, the crowd matched the group's energy and vice versa, something that can be seen throughout all the group's performances, whether on music shows, as part of Weverse Con, or at their own fanmeeting. When the group were announced to perform Lollapalooza, skeptics wondered how a group so new - and thus, with a justifiably short discography - would be able to perform at a large festival, especially given the more relaxed and gentle nature that has endeared their music to many. They need not have worried: everything felt well balanced and the use of every single song in their discography made the concert seem like the perfect introduction to the group for new listeners, whilst giving Bunnies the chance to appreciate all NewJeans have done so far.
Get Up has been another record breaking release for the group. 1.72 million stock pre-orders of the album, 1,194,623 sold on the first day, 1.65 million sold in the album's first week, and the second highest for a female K-Pop act in history. The album topped the Billboard 200, beating out the Barbie soundtrack and being the first K-Pop girl group to do so since 3rd Generation superstars BLACKPINK. Whilst we all know the worth of an artist is not summed up purely by their sales, the success of Get Up has still been nothing short of breathtaking to witness and a sign that for NewJeans, their upward trajectory shows no sign of slowing down.
Partnerships such as the 'Super Shy' videos with YouTube Shorts have helped to keep the group's hold in the public consciousness this album cycle. The song's catchy hooks and eye-catching waacking (also known as whacking) inspired choreo have seen the song stay firm on global charts, as well as get posted on social media by American singer The Weeknd and Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds. Its popularity could be seen at Lollapalooza too: the crowd erupted when the song began, singing and even dancing along with the girls. It was easy to tell which songs might garner the most excitement, such as ‘Super Shy’ and ‘Cool with you’, because when the members played a game with the crowd, singing snippets to have the audience guess what song was next, the audience would sometimes sing-along a little louder (depending on how popular the song was in question), to finish the lyric. Even so, every single track seemed to garner the same amount of loud cheers and enthusiasm at the very end.
Get Up has also seen the group put out six music videos to partner the album release, and the music video for 'Cool with You' (Side A and B) in particular caught public attention due to its feature of SAG Award-winning and Emmy-nominated actress and model Hoyeon, as well as multi-award winning Hong Kong acting royalty and Marvel star, Tony Leung Chiu-wai. It was only the second music video the latter has appeared in during his successful career spanning over four decades, and the first he has done in over twenty years. 'ASAP', the final track on the album, was also the final music video the group released to partner the album and, all the way in Chicago, was the final track NewJeans performed that sunny day.
Right before they announced that it would be their last song, the crowd groaned in disappointment, not having realized that 45 minutes had already sped by. Though it was their closing song, both NewJeans and the crowd kept the energy light and breezy for a wonderful and positive note to end the set on. It summed up their impressive performance, especially considering that not only are they a very young group in terms of their time together, but also given that the average age of the group is sixteen. Whilst age shouldn’t necessarily be a factor, the professionalism of NewJeans during their set, as well as their upbeat energy, were amazing things to witness and made it such a pleasure to be able to experience history in the making for the group, and the festival.
NewJeans are a group to keep an eye on, and if following their first year in the industry is any indication, there will be much, much more from them to look forward to. As member Minji said during the group's Special Interview: The First Year, "I'm just so excited for the future."
NewJeans can be found on Instagram and on all major streaming platforms. Get Up is out now.
14/08/23: an error concerning member Minji's English name has been corrected.