It’s 10pm in Korea, and the first thing I think when Kep1er enters the Zoom meeting is, “Good gracious, they look exhausted.”
I can only guess the number of activities they’d had to complete before hopping on the call with me. Of course, one can expect nothing less from a rising idol group on a packed comeback schedule.
Barely two years into the industry, the nine-member group have just released a fourth EP titled LOVESTRUCK!. The music video for their single ‘Giddy’ has already racked up 18 million views, and I have been humming the song all day.
Now, in the wake of their EP release, I have the chance to sit down with members Yujin, Xiaoting, Mashiro, Dayeon, Hikaru, Bahiyyih, Youngeun and Yeseo to discuss their music, their bond, and our shared love for the 2016 hit drama Goblin .
The second we officially begin the interview, the tiredness vanishes from their faces. The girls are beautiful, polished, professional. They are idols.
“LOVESTRUCK! is about girls who have barely begun to feel the feeling of love,” begins 23-year-old Mashiro. “It’s a bit nuanced, and it tries to reflect a lot of the emotions that girls feel.”
“The signal in your eyes / Is it heading toward me? / I’m curious I wanna know,” gushes their title track ‘Giddy’. The EP has five songs, and is reminiscent of the breezy, bubblegum sound of their debut, FIRST IMPACT.
And where does the inspiration for all these love-themed performances come from? There is a beat as they contemplate the answer that will generate the least scandal. Finally, Youngeun pipes up with “I’ve always been a fan of romance movies, so that’s how I got inspired for this album.”
“I really like Twilight!” she beams.
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And do they watch any of the Korean romances that have taken the world by storm? “Dokkaebiiiii,” they chorus in unison, referring to Goblin, which also features a pretty girl and an eternal being – and is still a better love story than Twilight.
The LOVESTRUCK! brand teaser is the first of its kind for the group, and features the members speaking different phrases in Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, and English. “We’re used to shooting music videos, but this was a new experience,” says Bahiyyih. “I think our message resonated better with our global fans because we were speaking our languages, and we could show our true voices.”
Despite consisting of members from several nationalities, the group converses with each other mainly in Korean. Xiaoting admits that sometimes she slips into Mandarin when she’s excited, though. “When I’m feeling a lot of emotion, I keep saying ‘Oh my God!’ in Chinese,” she laughs.
One can only presume she has had plenty of opportunities to use that phrase in the last two years. Kep1er was formed in 2021 through reality competition Girls Planet 999, which pitted 99 contestants against each other till the final nine debuted as a girl group.
“Initially when we debuted, we had a lot of unique characters coming together,” says Yujin, who is the oldest at 26. “But over time we’ve become great at teamwork,” she adds, as her members nod enthusiastically.
In 2022, Kep1er officially joined the stream of powerful rookie girl groups that have entered the industry in the last two years.
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“I think 2022 was a great year for girl groups,” says Mashiro thoughtfully. “Everyone saw we have so much to offer, and it was very meaningful to collaborate with them for our MAMA (Mnet Asian Music Awards) stage.” The stage in question featured an iconic medley of performances by members of fourth generation groups IVE, Kep1er, Le Sseraffim, and NewJeans.
But what about collaborations with people from outside the genre? Bahiyyih has her answer ready immediately. “I love Stacey Ryan’s music. Her music is so unique, and her voice is so clear. I’ve already done a cover of her song, and I’d love to do a collaboration stage with her.”
The soft-spoken Hikaru has a more mainstream answer. “I did a lot of Doja Cat covers when I was training,” grins the 19-year-old. “I have huge respect for her rap skills, and I’m a big fan.”
Because of their schedules, sometimes the girls do not have time to listen to their favourite artists. “On long journeys, I’m usually so tired I just fall asleep straight away,” laughs Xiaoting.
I have the sudden urge to wrap everything up immediately and just let them rest.
“When our times get too hectic, reading fan letters is what keeps me going,” says Mashiro fondly.
Their fans (also called Kep1ians) have been a source of great strength for the group. Yeseo softens as she recounts an incident they witnessed during this comeback.
“We were putting on a stage for our fans. It was a brand-new song for them too, but they actually memorised all the choreography. It was amazing.”
Comebacks usually involve international activities as well, like when Kep1er visited London for Hallyu Pop Fest last year. Chaehyun, who was unable to attend the call due to an injury, tells me that she loved her time in London. “It was so beautiful, it made me think I should come back to meet our international Kep1ians, who greeted us with so much passion.”
It’s unclear whether the members will make it back to London as Kep1er, though. The sad truth of groups born out of reality shows is that their contracts are short-term. Members from iconic but now-defunct groups like IOI have had to find success elsewhere – either on their own or as part of other groups.
I look at the talented girls in front of me and cannot help but wonder where they will be a year from now, when their contract comes to an end as well.
“We just made a comeback today,” says Yujin, deftly sidestepping the question.
“So instead of worrying about the future, we’ve decided to focus on the moment that we have right now.”