From a profane, punk-rock single to a modernized opera aria inspired by Marilyn Monroe — not to mention, a world tour in between — (G)I-DLE has made 2022 their year to show the ways they are shaking up norms in the K-pop scene with the perspective to refresh everything they previously knew.
While more than a year without new music in the fast-moving K-pop scene is risky for a younger group like (G)I-DLE, the outfit spent most of 2021 focusing on their individual careers with solo albums, acting, TV work, overseas trips and more. When they returned in March this year, the group could have opted for something safe—this comeback made all the more complicated following member Soojin’s departure in August 2021—and rehashed an easy return to the top of the charts. Their electro-pop collab with Madison Beer “Pop/Stars” was (G)I-DLE’s first No. 1 on World Digital Song Sales, plus all five of their past EPs have charted on World Albums since their first appearance in 2018—they knew what worked.
Instead, (G)I-DLE looked in a new direction with bolder messages and sounds and, as they say, begin “starting from scratch” again.
Full-length album I Never Die from March was centered around songs meant to inspire confidence to break prejudices. (G)I-DLE leader Soyeon spoke to the heart of the LP’s message like the the hard-hitting rock-pop single “Tomboy” (with its “Yeah I’m f—ing tomboy” hook) alongside tracks like “Never Stop Me.” At the same time, members Yuqi and Minnie contributed in production and songwriting across other tracks. “Tomboy” resulted in the group’s biggest hit in Korea to date, helped them reconnect with fans across the world during their Just Me ( )I-dle World Tour that ran from June to October, and attempt to break records again with their next step.
For the newly released I Love EP, Soyeon, Minnie and Yuqi are once again all over the album credits that explore the concept of love by being, literally, stripped down to one’s most genuine self, and incorporating inspiration from Kurt Cobain’s famous quote, “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not.”
Ahead of the release of I Love, (G)I-DLE opened up more the honesty that comes from such punk inspirations. “‘Nxde’ uses the word ‘nude’ metaphorically to explain the genuine and confident side,” Soyeon explained. “The word ‘nude’ can be perceived as a provocative word, and people may think, ‘Why is it ‘nude’? Isn’t it too explicit?’ But when I thought of the word ‘nude,’ I thought of my true self, not an undressed version of me…your true self isn’t you with makeup on but your bare face is. You don’t call it ‘makeup-less face.’ It’s just a face. I think that’s how I saw ‘nude,’ wearing the real version of yourself.”
Miyeon added, “Just like the name itself, this album is an album that only talks about love. And the one who receives love can be our family, friends, or one of the many kinds of love out there. So we left the object blank [in I Love] on purpose because we respect all those kinds of love.”
(G)I-DLE also pointed to starlets like Marilyn Monroe as another point of inspiration. “When Marilyn Monroe was active as a star, she was the blonde beauty, being consumed as a sex symbol,” Soyeon says of the Hollywood icon. “I heard that she was actually very intelligent and into books, especially philosophical ones. The standards change with time. Nowadays, if you carry designer-brand bags, then people would judge you by your looks. Each era has a different stereotype.” While Miyeon added, “Regardless of positive or negative stereotypes, you can’t judge a book by the cover.”
The group’s messages are connecting more than ever: I Love became (G)I-DLE’s first album to enter the Billboard 200, debuting at No. 71, after nearly four-and-a-half years into their careers. The six-song also starts at No. 9 on Top Album Sales (dated Nov. 5) with 10,000 copies sold, according to Luminate.
Read on for more reflections from Soyeon, Minnie, Yuqi, Miyeon and Shuhua on their rebuilding process, reuniting with worldwide fans, and continuously pushing each other to the next big step.
First, I want to congratulate you on how successful things have been since the I Never Die album. Have you had a moment to think about why you’re connecting so well with the audiences?
Soyeon: I think what we presented with this album was very bold and audacious for a K-pop group, which is why a lot of people loved it. It was very honest too.
Minnie: I Never Die was the first full album—many fans were waiting for this album for so long because we hadn’t made a comeback in a year and a few months.
Do you feel a sense of relief about the fact that it did well? You’ve shared that it was a tumultuous journey to get here. What’s your mindset these days?
Soyeon: I’d have to say “no” right away. Because now that we’ve brought ourselves back to this position, we want to make sure what we present next is also just as amazing, just as fresh and surprising to the audience.
Yuqi: No one knew how pressured we were at the time because (G)I-DLE always looks like we are strong and really stable in our team, but we were apart for about a year. We separated to our countries to do personal activities. So when we came back to Korea, we got together and just said, “Wow.” We didn’t realize how strained we were at the time. We came back thinking this was our last time together—that’s how strained we were at that time.
Minnie: We put everything into it.
Yuqi: No one knew it because we always look so strong and like nothing happened, but it actually wasn’t like that. And life is like that! [Laughs] Life is about challenges, life has ups and downs, but if you give up, everything will just end. Actually, our fans were our kind of energy at that time too because everyone was waiting for us and we couldn’t just give up. So, we just put everything into it and just didn’t want to let down the people loving and supporting us.
What does that look like when you say you put everything into it? Lots of rehearsing? Late nights in the studio?
Yuqi: It’s not only about the physical practicing, but a collective feeling. We were apart for a long time, but when we just gathered up again, I could feel the vibe and strength everyone gave. That’s teamwork. That’s just called teamwork because everyone has the same goal, they have the same dream they are trying to achieve, so I just feel “That’s (G)I-DLE.” It’s our teamwork, right? It’s mental, not physical. I think the mental had to be super different.
Minnie: But even the choreography, we’re always brainstorming, like, “Oh, should we do this or that?” We want to pick best version of everything.
Soyeon: And “Tomboy” has the censored beep, right? But there were many different versions of the beep. And also, aside from “Tomboy,” there were a lot of other candidates, many other candidates for the lead single. I had a lot of thoughts on how should we approach this single and what kind of song do we do for this type of track? I worked on the songs with the mindset, “Oh, maybe I should try this genre for the type of music. Maybe I should talk about this or try this kind of concept.” We also did additional recordings a thousand times; we were very careful when making a decision.
The sound of “Tomboy” was striking. This harder, punk sound wasn’t expected and I’m curious how you decided to go that way to make such a long-awaited comeback?
Soyeon: I grew up listening to a lot of punk rock, I liked Avril Lavigne a lot too. I had always thought that I want to try pop-punk, or like teen rock, kind of music at some point. With this group comeback, I wanted to do something that no one else has done so I thought this was the time to give that genre and that kind of sound a try.
Yuqi: I’m a super fan of rockers and in my solo album, I did a rock too so I was super excited about the track the first time.
Minnie: I think we all love “Tomboy” and its style. It’s very challenging for us to try a new style too, but we enjoyed preparing for it.
How was the U.S. leg of your Just Me ( )I-dle tour?
Soyeon: Since this is our first U.S. tour, we’re really happy and grateful to meet our Neverland, our fans, in the U.S. for the first time. Although this is our first time touring the U.S., we’re amazed by how the fans will sing along to everything and enjoy everything. It’s been just great for us to feel all our fans’ excitement and passion.
Minnie: We went to cities like Dallas, Houston, Chicago and, except for New York and San Francisco, it was the first time we visited these cities so it was all very new.
Miyeon: I like to capture my own moments in each of the cities because all the cities are so different and I want to enjoy all the different vibes. That’s why fans saw so many of my updates through social media every day.
You describe the “Tomboy” single as taking on a new persona. Do you embrace different personas on tour?
Yuqi: Before, we just attended KCON or joined another concert with the other artists, but this is the first time for us to have a full concert. So, we can show the title track [singles], b-side tracks, and other genres. We’re doing rock, ballads or hip-hop for the first time and I think our fans will feel, “Oh, it’s so fresh for seeing idols in this kind of music genre.” We all do the raps in “My Bag,” you know? It’s the first time we’re doing something like that and it’s very fresh. But we can also have an emotional mood like when we sing a lot of ballads whenever we hold a concert in Seoul. I think it’s a good to show a lot of different sides to our fans.
Soyeon: I think rather than seeing it as a new persona of us, I think that the lyric “just me I-DLE” [from “Tomboy”] is real. We had never shown people this side of (G)I-DLE before, but it’s our true selves, and we’re just being honest with what we’re doing.
I also liked how you spoke about how you want to be “I-DLE,” with not as much focus on the “G.” There’s your lyric, too: “It’s neither man nor woman, just me I-DLE.” I’d like to hear more about the inspiration behind that.
Soyeon: As you know, the “G” represents yeoja, or “girl” [in Korean], right? We came from a mindset that we do not want to conform to any kind of social boundary or prejudice. It doesn’t just have to do with gender but that was one of the easiest ways of showing that mindset, especially since we have the “G” in our names. That’s just one of our ways of showing that we don’t want to be stuck in any boundaries, regardless of gender—and not just gender but prejudices in general.
Artists are opening up when they’re more comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns for themselves and in their lyrics. When there can be certain expectations of girl groups, is this a related idea?
Soyeon: We’re very aware of gender-neutral terminology, but what we’re doing now isn’t primarily because we want to find a gender-neutral term but it’s more of trying to make a genre of our own. We want (G)I-DLE to be a genre of our own, regardless of gender, age, anything.
Minnie: And we respect everything.
Does being on tour help you find more of the (G)I-DLE genre?
Soyeon: We are fascinated by how we can still interact and communicate with their audience when we’re singing in Korean so we’ve felt that music does not have any language boundaries.
Yuqi: When I do the concerts, I receive a lot of different responses from our fans. Different countries have different cultures, as we know, so maybe when I do it in Korea, the Korean fans have certain kinds of responses for us. But when we do this in America, I can get to a part like, “Oh, they are more excited about this part.” So I can get inspiration actually to make my music more fun and have more of those “killing” parts.
Miyeon: The hotel that we were staying in New York is right in front of where we did our flash mob a few years ago. So, we looked back at that moment and thought a lot. That was a big motivation for us to come back to New York, see that spot, and think back to our rookie days.
Minnie: Because at that time, we were a very new group with only one single and one mini album. But now we are having a world tour, which is like, “This is crazy.” It’s a big dream come true.
We met for Billboard then. Can you think back to that time and remember your mindset?
Minnie: We were such rookies and so young.
Yuqi: Yeah, we were such rookies but super excited to be here for the first time in New York City. We had our very first flash mob, I think we did a cover “Fake Love”? We had the BTS cover and we didn’t perform “Hann,” right? Because we were preparing for our “Hann” comeback.
Minnie: But we’re happy to be back.
This tour is about old material, new material, everything, including “Hann.” How was it been preparing specifically all these songs as five now?
Soyeon: We had to practice our blocking—all the movements, transitions, and everything—from scratch. So our mindset was, “Okay, we’re starting from scratch…again.” That’s how hard we worked for it and we wanted to show a new side of (G)I-DLE by preparing this way.
Shuhua, I’ve seen you taking up many more lines now too, specifically. How has your experience been?
Shuhua: Aside from all the group practices, I also dedicated a lot of my time doing individual practice. I would have private lessons with our teachers and share ideas to think, like, “How can I put my style into this? What kind of gesture should I do to make this my style?” I practiced a lot with that mindset for this tour.
You’ve all worked on your own in 2021. How does that contribute to your group work as (G)I-DLE this year?
Minnie: I went to Thailand where I had some time promoting solo and I started to realize again how important and how precious that I have my members by my side. When I have to do everything on my own, it’s hard and tiring. I think it was a good experience to try things on my own, but when I came back to Korea and I met them, I was like, “Oh yeah. I feel like I’m home.”
Soyeon: There is no time where we are not working on new music so we’re always thinking about the next album and the new music. We want to present a new kind of fun and new message with I Love and “Nxde.”
Anything else to add right now?
Yuqi: (G)I-DLE never die.
Minnie: We’re back! We’re all back. We were so happy to have a world tour finally and very touched and happy to meet our fans in the States in person. Thank you for always waiting and supporting us. We will never let you down, and we’re back again with a new album, so please continue to stay tuned.