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[Article] Hallyu Story Volume 53 (200109)

A Girl Group

That Took 2 Years Just to Debut

Recognized in the U.S. First

Interview with Loona

Girl groups such as Blackpink, Twice, and Momoland are highly popular abroad. Loona is also a group that is well known in the U.S. At this point Loona could still be called a rookie group, just a year and four months since their debut last August.

Loona is a large-scale rookie girl group, who took two years just to debut. That debut was a massive project involving 9.9 billion won. Beginning in October 2016, they underwent a distinctive debut promotion under the concept of 'We meet a new girl each month', revealing a total of twelve members (Heejin, Hyunjin, Haseul, Vivi, Yeojin, Kim Lip, Jinsoul, Choerry, Yves, Chuu, Go Won, Olivia Hye) in order.

Even before their formal debut, each member's music video surpassed 1 milion views. It's quite uncommon for music videos of members' solo singles to gain over 1 million views, and it serves as proof that Loona garnered heated attention from the public.

Loona is designed such that they reach full power when the terrestrial (Loona 1/3), the celestial (yyxy), the space between (Odd Eye Circle) and Yeojin combine. From the beginning, Loona were created with three independent team structures within one world. That is to say, it's not that one team splits into three units, but three teams create one world instead.

Loona debuted as a full group on August 20, 2018, with a debut mini album + + containing six tracks. Even before, they had promoted with solo or unit activities. They'd also appeared in variety shows and web dramas. The strongest suit of the mini album with all 12 members is sophistication. Among the songs, lead single "favOriTe" and debut single "Hi High" represent their identity well. Both are in the dance pop genre.

"favOriTe" masks the vocals somewhat with a powerful beat, charisma and swag, while "Hi High" shows off upbeat freshness, liveliness, and sexiness as the vocals do show through well. They showed off diverse charms in this manner by handling contrasting images.

Twelve girls, neatly dressed in a school look of white shirts and gray skirts in the "favOriTe" music video, strutted a powerful and girl-crush charm with extraordinary choreography. It goes without saying that they exponentially increased their fans both domestic and abroad with it.

Debut track "Hi High" radiated a bright energy, showing us imagery of climbing to the top. An addictive melody singing "Hi High" plays repeatedly. The part where main vocal Chuu sings "Show me yourself" in high notes left a strong impression as well.

At the time, the writer asked the members what Loona's strengths and distinguishing features were.

In response, Jinsoul said "We have more diverse genres than the average girl group. We're not limited to one thing. We use beats that aren't often attempted. You have to be perfect in order to handle contrasting concepts, and I'm confident that we have that." Yves answered "We have different members featuring in each song with a diverse concept. Each member has songs that fits her well." Olivia Hye said "We don't want to follow the trend like other groups, but we want to create trends." Haseul added that "I want to earn the descriptor of 'monster rookies'".

What's special about Loona is the huge reactions they've garnered abroad. They received praise from the U.K.'s Dazed as a distinctive and unnique girl group, and were selected as a "girl group to watch in 2018" by Billboard as they placed 10th in the Billboard World Album Chart. Well-known foreign outlets such as Hong Kong's Hypebeast, the U.S.'s Pitchfork, Spin, and Stereogum, and the U.K.'s nme covered the collaboration between Loona and global artist Grimes, proving their status as world class.

That's not the end. In 2019, Loona topped the overall album charts on iTunes, showing themselves to be a global phenomenon. Industry officials called it a reverse charting of historic levels.

On October 17, 2019 (US time), Loona's repackage album X X reversed the charts to hit #1 on iTunes' overall genres, K-pop genre, and pop genre charts. They were the third Korean girl group to top the overall album chart, behind Red Velvet and Twice. This #1 was made even more meaningful by the fact that Loona stood shoulder to shoulder with global pop artists Taylor Swift and Post Malone.

When X X released this past February, the album had already climbed to fourth place on the U.S. Billboard chart, while hitting #1 in the iTunes pop album charts of 26 countries including the U.S., Austria, Spain, and France, and earning the #2 spot in the iTunes US top album chart.

That reverse charting was a breakthrough earned nine months after the release of X X, and is considered proof of Loona's recognition as a global phenomenal idol rather than just a global rookie as the group surpassed its own limits. In particular, the music video of "Butterfly" became a much-discussed topic due to scenes of the members dancing across multiple countries and locations as they broke boundaries and took flight. Foreign observers also commented on the video's portrayal of a solidarity that transcends borders and races.

Not only this, but Loona's full-group and unit albums charted in at #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, and #9 on the iTunes US K-pop album chart, in a rare display of chart line-up.

At that time, well-known Billboard columnist Jeff Benjamin reported on the news live by writing on social media that "several albums and songs by Loona are currently shooting up U.S. iTunes. The Kpop girl group currently has the No. 1 album". In August 2019, the group also participated in KCON 2019 LA, an event that brings together K-culture with a K-pop concert, drawing the excitement of numerous fans.

The group plans to target even more countries in 2020. Loona is a "big group" that needs a single 15-seater van or three 7-seater vans to move around. We met with them at the Blockberry Creative offices, located next to Seonjeongneung in Gangnam, for an entertaining interview.

How are you feeling, and what is the musical color that Loona pursue?

(Heejin) It's been over a year since we debuted as a full group, so I'm getting greedy about future activities. We have lots of solo albums too so we can create lots of diverse images.

(Yves) Other girl groups make awesome and quality performances too, but what we pursue is to break out of the tame and standard image of a girl, towards a splendid and unimagined feminine image. We used a lot of falsetto in "Butterfly", but it's not a girly feel - it's got a gender-neutral feel, that is to say, a powerful girl crush.

(Jinsoul) We have many fans abroad, not only Korean fans. I've been realizing how much we are loved. It's amazing that we're getting on foreign music charts without even promoting. When we participated in KCON 2019 LA, Twitter searches for our track "Butterfly" climbed all the way to third place.

(Kim Lip) We haven't gone abroad very much, so I was surprised that the KCON audience still did our choreography with us. When we attended the 2019 Asia Artist Awards in Hanoi, Vietnam, we took a walk in the streets and a cover dance team recognized us. I think we have a high level of recognition overseas.

(Olivia Hye) Our team established the character of each member with solo songs, and now we approach fans as a full group.

(Vivi) We exist because our fan club, Orbit, exists. But we also grow too. Our relationship is one where we comfort each other and share happiness and hope with one another.

What might be the reason that Loona appeals overseas in particular, in addition to domestically?

(Director Nam Ahn-woo) I wonder if our message is just hitting right with people? (Laughs) Looking at the music video of "Butterfly", Loona is sending courage and hope to girls all across the world. They communicate with fans all around the world through songs and music videos. We filmed those videos in diverse countries such as the U.S., Hong Kong, Iceland, and France. We believe in the concentrated power of that message.

(Heejin) Our powerful performance could seem like we are challenging ourselves, and we've heard that people find that refreshing.

(Heejin again) We don't really discriminate between genres. I think another strength of ours is doing music in diverse genres like R&B soul, R&B ballad, and jazz.

What do you wish the public would concentrate on when they look towards Loona?

(Chuu) We're targeting music that catches your ear, but we really want to come out with music that the public is longing to hear. We will grow into a girl group that will never disappoint musically and live up to expectations. I hope people will look for that.

(Heejin) Prejudiced opinions against K-pop are beginning to change a lot. I hope the idea that K-pop isn't music can be set aside, and that the message in our music can be imparted well.

(Yves) Media is developing rapidly and platforms are diversifying too. You don't just listen to music anymore. We have to satisfy the eyes and the ears at the same time. I hope people will know that Loona isn't just a pretty girl group, but splendid artists instead.

The music video of "Butterfly", the title track of Loona's repackage album X X released in February 2019, surpassed 30 million views in early December to great attention.

The video, along with the message "For All Loonas Around the World", showed off a strength unlike that of rookies by containing the meaning that anyone who gains courage through Loona's music, finds identity, and rise up with a voice is a part of Loona too.

After confirming the growth potential of 'monster rookies' through outstanding performance, choreography and stage presence, Loona came back with the lead single "365" on December 13 to the excitement of fans worldwide. "365" is a fan song containing the message that Loona will shine on fans, who have waited for Loona for a long time, 365 days a year from the perspective of the Moon. Further, the group surprised global K-pop fans by immediately selling out the two performance showings of "Premier Greeting - Meet & Up", held at the Yes24 Live Hall in Seoul's Gwangjin-gu on December 14, as soon as ticketing opened.

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

(Choerry) In 2020 we want to go on music award shows and go on concert tour, spending happy days with fans.

(Jinsoul) I want each member to have opportunities to meet often with you as we begin promoting. And every member will participate in writing songs.

(Kim Lip) I feel regretful that difficult things have been happening around the music industry, during our hiatus. I want to hear people say that Loona is a group that you can trust when listening to. We'll try hard to do that.

(Vivi) It's only been a year and three months since we debuted as a full group, so we haven't even shown you 10% of ourselves. You'll be able to see us growing more and becoming more complete in the future.

(Go Won) I want to place on the music charts. I wish that you'll be able to hear lots of our music when you walk the streets or pass by shops and cafes.

(Yeojin) The reason we got to this point is thanks to you[fans]. We won't settle for where we are, but instead show you even more improvement.

(Hyunjin) The same way we worked hard from solo days to full group, I want us to become a group that provides good image and influence by gaining trust from the public.

(Chuu) I want us to become a group that does not miss a single thing between music and performance and visuals, never growing stale but showing you something different every day, mysterious yet accessible to the public. I wish juniors will mention us as role models someday.

(Yves) I want us to be artists that you can't help but recognize. Someone that you have no choice but to recognize, even if the music isn't to your tastes.

(Heejin) Thanks to senior K-pop artists who opened the path, it's become easier for juniors to reach out abroad. I want it said that Loona are Korean artists with a clear image.

(Haseul) I wish one day we'll be able to fill up the Gymnastics Arena and perform in Wembley Stadium.



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