By Kristine Kwak
No one brightened up our year quite like NewJeans did with their debut this summer. Formed under ADOR, a new subsidiary of Hybe Corporation, the group brought nostalgic yet experimental and refreshing music, took Nineties and Y2K fashion to the next level, and gave us some truly addicting choreography. Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein did not come to play with their first EP, and the NewJeans “hype,” for lack of a better word, has no signs of slowing down.
If you’re not yet familiar with NewJeans, they are truly the group of the moment in K-pop. They’ve set new records for first-week sales numbers in the industry, and the list of peers who have covered their songs or spoken about their admiration for the group is endless. And now, five months after the release of their New Jeans EP, which Rolling Stone ranked as one of the best albums of 2022, the girls are returning in 2023 with their first single album, OMG. “Ditto,” the pre-release single from the new album, already has more than 10 million views on YouTube.
Despite all of this early success, Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin, and Hyein, with an average age of just 16, are normal girls who are taking their new superstardom day by day, trying to enjoy each and every moment. In a bubbly, yet at times shy, conversation full of laughter with Rolling Stone, NewJeans reflect on their success, dive into their new upcoming album OMG, and share insight into their signature style.
Congratulations on all of the success you’ve had already. I don’t know if you had a chance to see it, but we ranked “Hype Boy” as the 24th-best song of the year, and your debut EP as one of the 100 best albums of the year.
Minji: Of course. After reading the Rolling Stone article, I think we all couldn’t believe it. It was so surprising and it made me feel so thankful once more to everyone who loves our music.
So many of your seniors and peers in the industry are have covered and are still covering “Hype Boy” and “Attention.” Are there any that you were particularly surprised about?
Danielle: All of them, really. We have our chatting room, and when we see a senior doing another cover we just send it to each other.
Hanni: We share them all!
Danielle: And we’re like, “Oh my gosh! No way!” It would always be such a huge honor. And to have so many people enjoy our music and enjoy the dance as well. Because choreography is really special to us as well. It’s always a huge honor.
The members of your group participated in the writing process for “Ditto” and “OMG,” as you did for your first EP as well. Can you walk through your writing process a bit?
Hanni: So it was the same situation as when we all contributed in writing lyrics for our debut. We received songs and then all of us wrote lyrics and then with our label, we go through a picking process and pick the good lyrics. Me and Minji’s lyrics got picked. I think it was a pretty similar process. Listening to the demos, personally, I always try to think of a scenario, and paint a picture in my head, and then try to write lyrics that unpack that. I find nice, pretty words that are nice to listen to — like, good to the ear — and try to match the melody. Because we had the experience of doing it for our debut album, I think it was just a little bit easier, coming to writing lyrics.
Danielle: It came more naturally.
Is there a specific line that you’re proud of?
Danielle: I love your line, Hanni.
Hanni: [Laughs.] I really like the lyrics I wrote in “OMG.”
I love the song! Can you describe what the album OMG is about?
Danielle: Well, the album OMG has two songs, “Ditto” and… “OMG.” [Laughs.] “Ditto” is a more heartwarming song, I guess. It really goes well with the winter vibe and it has humming at the beginning… the humming immerses you into the song. And the members have said, like for Hyein, she described it as a tight hug from your mom. I think that description is right. “OMG” is a bit more trendy. I hope that everyone loves it and I’m really looking forward to the reaction. Both songs are so unique.
You recently revealed that you had been practicing “Attention ” for a long time before it was released, but you never got tired of it, which felt like a sign that it would do well. What was your reaction to first hearing “Ditto” and “OMG”?
Haerin: After hearing them each once, the first thought I had was “Ah, I want to listen to them again.” Rather than thinking of what parts of the songs I liked, the feeling I had right when I heard the songs was so good, and I wanted to feel that again. I think even with these two songs, no matter how much I listen to them, I won’t get tired of them. With each listen, I feel different emotions and and each listen feels new.
Are you all Team “Ditto” or Team “OMG”?
Danielle: That’s like asking to choose between your mom and dad! [Laughs.]
Hanni: I feel like I switch between them each day!
Danielle: I think it really changes every day.
Which song are you feeling today?
Minji: Today? For me today is “Ditto.”
Hanni: “Ditto” for me too.
Haerin: Me too
Minji: It’s snowing outside right now.
Danielle: I will choose “Ditto” too.
Minji: Ditto. [Smiles.]
Two videos were revealed for “Ditto” so far. So many of your fans are interpreting the videos and their plots in different ways, with various different theories. How do you interpret the videos?
Minji: Honestly, I don’t think there is a set plot or answer. We’re also looking up how our fans are interpreting the video, and that’s been so fun for us. I find the fact that you can be imaginative with the videos to be really cute, and rather than having a clear answer, I think leaving it open is part of the allure of the video.
Can you share any fun moments from the production process of the OMG album?
Hyein: When we practice dancing, we practice over and over again to get the best results. To be honest, there are times when it’s tough. Every now and then, there are hard moments, but when I listen to the songs when dancing, I get more energy and try to move along.
Hanni: When we first practiced the new songs, our bodies weren’t used to the dances, and we felt like we were losing strength [laughs]. But now we’ve practiced it a lot and it’s become really good now, so I’m proud.
Danielle: Also for the vocals, we tried to challenge ourselves more. We really wanted to bring the songs to life. We thought long and hard about it and were able to try different things when recording.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to with this round of promotions? You recently made your first variety show appearance… Anything else you’re excited to try out?
Minji: For me, I always look forward to performing the most. We put in a lot of energy into our choreography and vocals, as she mentioned, so I think we can show everyone new sides of ourselves.
I know you all are so busy right now, but when you do have some down time or personal time, what do you like to do?
Hyein: I like to call my mom.
Danielle: Cute! [Smiles.]
Haerin: For me, I tend to like to listen to music or leave videos on.
Any song or shows you’ve been into lately?
Haerin: I don’t think there’s a particular video…
Danielle: She’s really into “Ditto” right now. [Laughs.]
Haerin: There’s no particular song or video, but in general, I like songs and videos that help me relax and that I can listen to or watch comfortably.
Your fandom name was recently unveiled to be Bunnies. How did you all decide on that name?
Danielle: Oh yeah! Well, I think it’s such a cute name. We all adore bunnies. And I think it’s just the perfect name for them because it mirrors our relationship with our fans and, like, a close friendship, that type of feeling. We really cherish that friendship feeling. So we chose the name bunnies, and I feel now even more, it suits with the winter weather, a fluffy bunny. It’s so cute.
Hyein: It’s also like a friendship… like a cute nickname you would use with your friends. Also, since we write out the letters NJ in the shape of a rabbit, we wanted our fans to also be rabbits, so sometimes we will also call them “Tokki” in Korean. It’s so cute. We’re always sharing things and communicating with each other. Although we’re not physically nearby, we feel close to them, so we gave them a nickname as if they are our friends.
Fashion is a big element in K-Pop. NewJeans’ style is the top trend right now, right? For me, too, I always curl my hair, but recently, I got it permanently straightened.
Minji: [Gasps.] Oh!
Hanni: It suits you well!
As trendsetters, do you guys have fashion goals or inspirations to share?
Hanni: I think there’s a lot of places to get inspired from. All of us really like trying a big variety of clothes and styles. We really like to challenge that factor. Inspiration comes from anywhere, to be honest. Even just walking on the street, when we went overseas, and we were walking on the street. Everyone around us was so well-dressed. We kept people watching and would think, ‘Wow, they dress so well, I want to try that type of style when we go back to Korea. I want to replicate that style.’
Danielle: I feel like I get a lot of inspiration from our music, what we wear and our fashion, ’cause we’re always trying to have that free but natural vibe. And we also want to show off our own unique charms. So we like to try things out in a fun way.
Is there a must-have item or a staple in your everyday fashion?
Hyein: I like to try different things all the time, so I don’t think I have a staple. Like with the changes in the weather, maybe it’s sunglasses in the summer and now that it’s winter, maybe gloves, a hat, and a scarf. Things like that? …Oh! Actually I think I have a must-have item.
Hanni: [Laughs.] What?
Hyein: I like to hang keychains on my bags.
That’s right, you recently mentioned you spent approximately 90,000 KRW [about $70 USD] on keychains, right?
Hanni: [Claps and laughs.]
Danielle: Ah, you saw the video!
Was that one keychain or nine keychains?
Danielle: It was a variety.
Hanni: How many did you buy?
Hyein: I bought around five, but it came out to that amount. It’s because they are hand-stitched!
It’s year-end show and award show season in Korea and you’ve put on some special performances for those shows. Do any of them stand out to you as particularly special or memorable?
Haerin: I think all the performances had different vibes and key moments. I don’t think any of them stood out over another because each one had its own stories and memories. I feel proud and happy with the performances. And it was our first time participating in these events, so I was nervous, but I was also so thankful to be able to put on performances with so many cool people.
Is there any advice that you’ve gotten, from a peer or senior, from before your debut or even more recently?
Hyein: I don’t know if there was any specific advice from a senior, but our CEO always tells us to enjoy what we do and have fun. I think I’m always trying to enjoy what I’m doing.
Hyein: We are always trying.
What type of group do you want NewJeans to be known as?
Minji: Just as NewJeans.
Hyein: New. Jeans.
Danielle: A group that is always honest, and, always putting in effort. [Laughs.] I hope people can think of us as their friends. Someone close who you can relate to.
Minji: Yes, that type of NewJeans.
It’s now the end of 2022. Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
Hanni: We actually talked about this quite a lot. Because we debuted in the last half of this year, even though we did quite a lot in a very short amount of time, we had like five, six months of 2022. But next year, we have the full 12 months.
Hanni: I think that gives us the time and opportunity to explore a lot more as NewJeans and as ourselves as people. And gives us the opportunity to perform a lot more, release more content and music, as a goal, just for us to really enjoy ourselves and show the world more of NewJeans. There’s a lot more that we haven’t shared.
I’m hoping that in the new year, you can come to the U.S. too and participate in shows or events in person.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Minji: I think that was everything!
Minji: Anything else?
Danielle: I really want to thank our Bunnies who are over there [Laughs.]
Hyein: We want to tell them!
Hanni: We will meet them for sure!
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