South Korean boy band ONF—pronounced “on and off”—isn’t your typical K-pop group. Since their debut in 2017, Hyojin, Wyatt, E-Tion, MK, J-Us and U have been marching to the beat of their own drums, steering away from archetypes often associated with artists from the region. Case in point: Unlike their contemporaries whose performances are generally meticulously choreographed, and executed with precision, ONF’s live shows often feature spontaneity like ad-libs and improvisations.
Their rise to fame has been quick, and anyone who has paid attention to them can see why. The group is dedicated to continuously evolve their craft, offering fans something new from the genre. A perfect example of this is their newly-released summer song ‘POPPING’ from their SUMMER POP-UP album comprising a total of five songs. The music video for the single showcasing the artists’ smooth dance moves and impressive fashion has garnered over 14 million views on YouTube.
Ahead, ONF speaks to BAZAAR about their new song, dream collaborators, guilty pleasures and more.
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Tell us about your new single ‘POPPING’ and what it was like working on the music video and album.
Hyojin: ‘POPPING’ is a song about falling in love with summer, and the album includes songs that show multiple sides and stories of summer.
J-Us: This is ONF’s first special summer album. The songs aren’t just hyper-energetic; they also have emotional sentiments from our own summer stories.
E-Tion: We filmed the music video mainly outdoors and it was really hot. That said, there were scenes where we were sprayed with cold water and played with guns which made me feel like a child again so it was a lot of fun. I’m so happy that the music video came out so pretty.
U: It was a lot of fun working on this album and we couldn’t wait to share it with our fans. I thought that the idea of having the word “summer” in each title of the songs was fun and fresh. We really wanted to show multiple sides and stories of summer in one album, and I’m confident that the listeners will be able to enjoy it.
What keeps you motivated, especially now that we’re all living in pandemic times?
E-Tion: The pandemic has caused a lot of people to feel tired, and I want to make more music that will uplift them from the stresses of daily life. I always think about how to deliver positive energy through our music, and performances.
J-Us: I practiced singing and dancing daily—even on my off days—in preparation for when we can perform live in front of our fans again. I want to show our fans just how much we’ve improved.
Wyatt: The longer we can’t meet with our fans in person, the more I miss them. So I think that it’s especially important now to convey our feelings through our music and lyrics.
Hyojin: While I do think that we have a lot of things to improve on before calling ourselves successful, I’m very proud of our music. The more people are interested in our music, the more confident we become.
Wyatt: I also think that we still have a long way to go. But with the help from our behind-the-scene team and the strong bond among the members, I believe that we’ll get there. Whenever I think about all the fans and staff who worked tirelessly with us, it motivates us to work harder as well.
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Did you always wanted to become a singer?
E-Tion: Growing up, I listened to music and dreamed of becoming a singer while watching artists perform on television. I auditioned a lot [with different labels] and eventually became a trainee at my company [WM Entertainment]. After all that training, I finally realised my dream by debuting as part of ONF.
Wyatt: I had a dream of becoming a singer when I saw Rain’s ‘It’s Raining’ performance back in the early ‘00s. Since then, I’ve been learning how to dance on my own while living in Kazakhstan. When I moved back to South Korea, my desire to become a K-pop idol grew stronger and so I started my life as a trainee which lasted about eight years. Training was tough, but then I met these guys and my dream came true when we debuted as ONF.
U: When I was younger, I was a backup dancer at a large concert hall in Japan. It was really fun and I was so happy to be able to dance in front of a large crowd. It was also when I realised that I want to become a singer. Later, I was scouted on the streets of Japan and moved to Korea where I fell more in love with K-pop and debuted as part of ONF.
What is your relationship with music like?
MK: I feel like music is an extension of myself. I’m usually always joking around and shy away from talking about serious topics. But through music, I get to express myself honestly.
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If you could collaborate with any artist—dead or alive—who would they be?
Hyojin: I like the emotional and powerful vocals of Shawn Mendes. I love listening to his music, and I’d be so happy if I ever have the chance to collaborate with him.
MK: I like The Weeknd. I’d like to make R&B music together.
U: I really like Justin Bieber. These days, I’m really into his single ‘Stay’. He’s an artist that I would love to collaborate with someday.
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What are your guilty pleasures?
E-Tion: I love food. I often crave instant noodles and sweets. But I need to stay away from them to stay slim and fit. Eating what I’ve been craving after our album promotion is a small, guilty pleasure of mine.
J-Us: I play games whenever I need to destress and reset my mind. I try not to do it too often, but it’s my small way of changing things up.
Wyatt: I like to play games too.
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What do you hope to work on in the future?
Hyojin: I don’t know when it’ll be, but I personally want to challenge myself to try out music with a more emotional and dreamier vibe. Personally, I like this genre and would like to someday pioneer a genre of K-pop unique to ONF.
U: Most of the title tracks that we’ve released so far are quite dance-focused, so working on slow tempo music for our next album would be a great challenge. Also, to work on a choreography for the new music will be fun.
What would you like to say to your fans in Singapore?
E-Tion: It’s a shame that we can’t see you in person because of the pandemic. I hope that things will get better so that we can meet our fans in Singapore and perform for them. Thank you for always supporting us all the way from Singapore! Someday, we’ll be there with great performances so please stay healthy and wait for us!
Wyatt: Thank you so much for your love, Singapore. We’re always encouraged by your support and we really hope that our music and performances will give you strength during this difficult time. Please wait [for us] a bit more, and always take care of yourself!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.