SuperM are the Avengers of K-pop
Exclusive interview with Korea's star-studded new supergroup SuperM – featuring members of NCT 127, EXO, SHINee and WayV.
It’s a November evening at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Even though the house lights are still on, the excitement is palpable in the voices of twenty thousand fans singing along to every background track as though it were the main attraction. The reason for that enthusiasm is currently underneath the stage: in a few moments, K-pop supergroup SuperM will rise, veiled in smoke and clad in black and silver, to finish the first leg of their sold out We Are The Future Live tour.
Formed by SM Entertainment (one of the ‘Big 3’ record labels in K-pop) in partnership with Capitol Records, the group -- quickly dubbed ‘the Avengers of K-pop’ -- is made up of seven members from four other already wildly successful groups SHINee, EXO, NCT 127 and WayV. SuperM’s eponymous debut EP, with its lead single “Jopping”, dropped on October 4th, followed by a Los Angeles showcase that shut down Hollywood streets and was live streamed worldwide. Just a week later, they celebrated a historical no.1 on the Billboard 200 -- making them the first ever K-pop artists to hit the top spot with a debut release.
It’s worth noting that SM has experimented with supergroups and ‘special units’ before, but these are typically temporary and Korea-centric -- a live performance here, a special single there. SuperM, as you’ll likely have noticed, has been aimed directly at the international market since the very beginning. In harnessing their individual strengths and fandoms -- all members maintain their roles in their original groups as well as their solo careers -- SM have formed a group with effectively 14 million collective albums sales and almost four billion music video views to its name before it even started. United in this way, the artists bring a new kind of energy that fans are lapping up. Just two months on from release, the video for "Jopping" already has over 47 million views.
So who are these seven members?
Taemin, the 26-year-old industry veteran among them, debuted in 2008 with SHINee. Fans watched on as he grew from a shy teenager to a fearless artist who is now famously looked up to by his peers. Baekhyun, the eldest and designated leader of the team at 27, is one of EXO's lead vocalists, known for his cheekiness. Then there’s Kai, also from EXO, who happens to be spellbinding, ballet-trained performer. Taeyong, one of NCT's main rappers and lyricists, is something of an enigma. His full-time bandmate Mark, the youngest of the supergroup at 20 years old, also helps out on the rap front. Completing the line-up are two NCT members who are also part of their Chinese subunit, WayV: Ten, a multitalented Thai artist, and Lucas, a Hong-Kong born heartthrob.
We caught up with the group to discuss how they deal with nerves, feeling like rookies again, and the new releases they've got planned for 2020.
Hi SuperM! During your debut showcase back in October you mentioned being nervous. Has the US tour been less nerve-wracking?
Taeyong: First off, it’s been so great to be back as SuperM to perform in front of all our US fans! We’re having so much fun. It was less nerve-wracking because now we’re a lot more comfortable with each other and had much more time to practice and perform together than we did for the debut showcase.
How was the process of connecting with each other, since you come from different groups but have known each other for years?
Kai: I think all of us were very open to each other, wanting to get closer. Despite already having a senior-junior relationship, we were all open to teaching each other and we had a lot of great conversations. I personally tried to connect to the rest of the guys like an older brother from the neighbourhood. We joke around a lot and have fun together.
What's one thing you learned from each other so far?
Ten: We’ve been learning so much from each other in many different aspects, but if I had to choose one thing, it’s probably music. We all come from distinct music styles, so it’s cool to learn from each other when we’re together. It makes me look forward to every day.
Can you tell us how you prepared for this tour?
Mark: Our preparation time was more limited than we would have liked, so we were very committed those sparse days we got together. We rehearsed in various ways: for example, we built a replica of the stage at a gym to rehearse, and of course we rehearsed at the actual venue as well. The energy was always really good.
What was your first impression of "Jopping", both as a track and as a word?
Mark: The strong SMP [SM's signature genre, a blend of pop, rock, R&B and hip-hop with bold choreography] vibe struck me the most. I could feel how vast the track was just by listening to it, including the depth it held. I honestly believed that it was the right song for SuperM's debut. As for the word, I thought it was a good idea. It fits the energy we wanted to deliver as a message and it felt cool to be introducing the world to a new word of our own.
You all perform solo stages at the concert. Which is your favourite and why?
Ten: Everyone is obviously so amazing, so it’s hard to choose one. But if I really just had to choose, I’d choose Taemin’s solo stage. In just five minutes, he showcases his vocal abilities through “Danger”, then kills it for the choreography and overall performance aspect during “Goodbye”. As I watch him perform, I can’t help but to think that he is one of the most impressive all-around artists out there. I hope to be an artist like that someday.
You guys have clearly launched with a unique strategy. What other innovations do you want to make in the industry?
Taeyong: It’s been really cool to be given the opportunity to be part of something new and innovative like this. As a team and as individuals, we all want to showcase new and innovative stages and performances to our fans. It’s been a fun journey working together and figuring out how to showcase our styles within our performances on this tour, both as a group and individuals. We hope to continue to bring fresh new ideas as artists who perform on stage.
You all have years of experience behind you, but with SuperM you are technically rookies again. What advice would you give to your younger selves?
Baekhyun: I do think of us as rookies again as SuperM. And the synergy we’re able to create with this specific combination of members makes for a whole new set of charms. If I were able to give advice to my younger self, I’d definitely tell him to continue to work hard, because people will notice you as long as you try your best.
Can fans expect another official release from SuperM soon?
Mark: I don't want to give out any spoilers, but we did perform two new songs during the tour already. Fans may already be expecting another comeback and I want to assure them that we are currently working on new things to show our fans. We are trying our best to create something that will meet or maybe even exceed our fans' expectations. Hope they like it.
What are your expectations for 2020?
Taemin: Because we’ll be back in the U.S. promoting for the tour, I’m excited about experiencing all the different cultures and famous spots at the different regions we’re headed. And of course I’m so excited to see all our fans there!
Mark, in NCT 127's recent interview you jokingly said that you came from the future. Now SuperM's tour name is We Are the Future. What does this mean to you?
Mark: I believe that "future" is and has always been the motto and the mindset of everyone at our label. Whatever it may be, we all try to focus on the next step and make plans for what's ahead of us. Our aspiration is to lead the generation through our music and art.
SuperM have just announced their European 2020 tour, stopping off in Paris on 26 February and London on 28 February.