Even though ENHYPEN prepared heartfelt remarks to share with fans at their Radio City Music Hall concert, a stream of tears and a group hug were not part of their plan. But the unexpected and, according to the boy band, uncharacteristic wave of emotion led to a collective epiphany.
While it’s standard for each member of a K-pop group to individually address the crowd throughout a concert, the final moments during an encore are usually the most sentimental, ENHYPEN member Sunoo couldn’t hold back tears as he spoke to the group’s teamwork “as seven” and “the amount of love I received from my members as well as the love from thousands of ENGENEs,” shouting out the group’s fandom name.
After group leader Jungwon quickly ran over to wrap Sunoo in a hug, the rest of the ENHYPEN members Jay, Heesung, Jake, Sunghoon swear Why? all huddled together with them, linking arms and patting each other on the back, as their band mate finished his speech.
With the sold-out crowd chanting their names, Jake told them, “Through our Seoul concert to the American tour, I feel like the seven of us have really grown stronger together because of all the incredible love and support you guys gave us.”
As ENHYPEN was showering one another with hugs and compliments while lending an occasional sleeve to wipe away tears, the K-pop act says they rarely open up to one another as they did in front of thousands on stage in NYC.
“It’s kind of cringey,” laughs the group’s oldest member Heeseung, who celebrated his “happiest” 21st birthday at their NY live debut that doubled as the final date in the US leg of the group’s Manifesto tour. “I think it’s cringey when you compliment each other a lot.”
“We’re just 20-year-old boys so it’s a bit awkward for us,” adds Jake, 20, the group’s affable Australian native who took the lead in conversations with audiences on tour and in this Billboard interview, partly from being the most comfortable member with English but also from a puppy-like energy of excitement. “We don’t really compliment; we just sort of give each other feedback…but I feel like the times that we do show our love for each other is why it’s so genuine.”
After wrapping seven concerts in six states for the US leg of their Manifesto world tour, the group notes their first time performing in multiple cities on the road together, highlighting the importance of all seven individuals that make up ENHYPEN.
“That’s really important for me because we started together as seven members and it has an absolute value for me,” Heeseung says of the multinational act with members representing Korea, America, Australia and Japan. “We spent a lot of time together and, each and every member, I hold them dearest to my heart. So, I think that after this tour I realized that it’s our golden time together. So, yeah, I really love my members” before, naturally, laughing as he adds a “cringe” to round out his thoughts.
ENHYPEN’s understated, soft-spoken leader Jungwon says private moments pointed out their compatibility to him. “The little things that I did with my members really cheered me up,” he explains. “We’d rehearse a lot, and saying things like, ‘Let’s go, together’ before we go on stage; those little things really lifted me up.”
Jake adds that the close quarters for concerts also created a natural camaraderie. “Between stages, we have like a little booth thing where we had to get changed really quickly but it’s really crowded and we can’t really move around,” he says. “But I can really sort of see our chemistry showing because we have to look out for each other—it’s always really messy in there.”
ENHYPEN was born out of the singing competition I-Land where 23 K-pop hopefuls fought for a spot in a new boy band with HYBE founder Bang Si-Hyuk overseeing the competition as Rain, BTS, Zico, SEVENTEEN and Tomorrow X Together guest mentored. Despite the high stakes of making the band, ENHYPEN never saw each other as rivals.
“I-Land was sort of a competition, but I don’t think any of us really felt like it was,” Jake explains. “I feel like to the viewers that watched the show, it might seem like that but we had this feeling that we all had to do well and make good performances.”
Jay adds that some members already had an established brotherhood from their early days in the K-pop system. “I had trained with Heeseung for about four years, it already feels like he’s family.”
After I-Land wrapped in September 2020, the septet told an unfolding story as growing superstars through albums. From their debut EP Border: Day One discussing their start in the industry (and peaking at No. 14 on Billboard‘s World Albums chart in early 2021) to this past July’s Manifesto: Day 1 soaring to No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and earning the group their first No. 1 on Top Album Sales with 69,000 album copies sold in its first three weeks, global fans are growing with the band. Earlier this year, ENHYPEN scored their first No. 1 single on the Japan Hot 100 as well with their electro-pop/rock hybrid “Tamed-Dashed,” no doubt with help from Japan-born member Ni-ki, who’s loudest when making his band mates laugh throughout the interview as much as they do him.
“I feel like every album and every song we put out sort of portrays what we’re feeling at that moment and what we’re going through,” Jake says. “Our first album was about moving on from I-Land, becoming an idol, and debuting as an idol. Our second one [Border: Carnival] was sort of saying what we felt while performing as an artist. Now, it’s been two years since we became an idol and now we’re sharing our story to the whole world. Every album has its own meaning and I think that’s one of our strongest points.” Jay calls it ENHYPEN’s “history.”
When it came to Sunoo, one of the younger members known by fans for his cute and sunny disposition that radiates even during an early Monday morning interview, his concerns about completing the career milestone in ENHYPEN’s first US tour were daunting. He says the tearful chat at the concert was more of a release of relief.
“Personally, I had a lot of concerns during the tour,” the 19-year-old says. “The main concern being, ‘Would I be able to successfully round up this concert?’ I think it would have been impossible to actually successfully wrap up this concert and tour without ENGENEs, members, and our staff members who always support me. So, I got teary-eyed because I was really touched by the fact that we really successfully ended this tour, but I also want to mention that I also got a lot of energy from this tour.”
Jake adds their tour experience played a big part in naturally rushing to Sunoo’s side: “We knew what he was going through. Before the last show, he would talk about being kind of tired and just not feeling 100 percent. We could all agree and sort of empathize.”
While Jay’s warm side comes through in concert and during this interview despite his deadpan delivery (he’s the first to say “never” when asked if the group opens up to each other), the Seattle-born star had his own worries about coming Stateside as well.
“I’ve been nervous because it was the first time I came back to the States as an artist,” he says. “I already went to almost every city we performed, but it really feels different since I was a little boy. I think I was just proud of all of us doing performances in my home country; it really touched me a lot.” Jay told his members “all of us did incredible, all of us did awesome” on stage at the end of the concert.
Looking ahead, the septet thinks and speaks excitedly about future directions after this first extensive tour.
The quieter but undeniably well-spoken Sunghoon, who gained fame in K-pop for his hosting abilities, says the tour experience opened his eyes to a new way of creating music. “Up till now, we’ve focused more on our music itself and the album itself,” he explains. “But after the US tour, I thought that it would be good if we can actually envision our concert and performance while we make the album and that would improve our delivery.”
Heeseung is curious about adding city pop into the group’s sound. At the same time, Jungwon wonders how the group could fare if they opted for songs that mix fewer genres after blending punk-rock and electronic production on “Drunk-Dazed” or swirling influences of Chicago drill with dance-pop buildups on “Future Perfect (Pass the MIC).” Ni-ki hints at embracing more freestyle freedom on stage, noting the rendition of “Future Perfect” the group did during its encore was his personal tour highlight. “We use the hand mics for the encore performance,” the skilled dancer shares, the mics allowing them to relax on the group’s synchronized choreography. “That made it for me and was my favorite performance.”
No matter what the performance, ENGENEs are sure to enjoy wherever the group’s story heads next which comforts the group and inspires them to look excitedly forward together.
“If we focus on our albums, concerts, and tours, the results will naturally follow,” Sunghoon believes. Jungwon says, “Charts and rankings are not something we can control, but what we can control is the focus on our performance and give a lot of happiness and entertainment.” Notably, no one has a funny comment or adds a “cringe” to their leader’s final words, perhaps because it’s an undeniable sentiment that they all feel comfortable and confident sharing with one another.