Debuting last November after being chosen by fans on I-LAND, a Making the Band-style reality show, the seven-member group took home “New Artist of the Year” honors less than two months later at the Gaon Chart Music Awards (the Korean equivalent of the Billboard Music Awards). They took home additional “Rookie of the Year” titles at three other major award shows in Asia — all before even releasing a full LP.
If their sudden rise to fame seems surprising, it helps to understand the team behind them. ENHYPEN is the first group created by BELIFT LAB, the new joint venture between HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment) and CJ ENM. HYBE is home to groups like BTS and Seventeen. But the guys in ENHYPEN say they’re not resting on their laurels, despite their A-list connections.
“Being a BELIFT LAB artist means that we have been able to receive the support and expertise of both HYBE and CJ ENM from the start,” says Heeseung. “There are also many great HYBE artists, such as BTS, Tomorrow x Together and Seventeen, who we really look up to, so we believe we can get to the next level by continuing to be inspired by them.”
Positioned as a “global boyband,” with members from South Korea, Australia, Japan and the U.S., the group’s name is a play on the word “hyphen,” signifying their connection to each other, while showing that the group is more than just one note. Their fans have similarly tapped into the group from around the world as well.
“ENHYPEN means that seven different boys from various backgrounds came together to connect as one,” explains Jungwon, the leader of the group. “As our team name also includes the idea of growth, we’re doing our best to continuously put that into practice and move forward together.”
For ENHYPEN, it’s about pushing K-pop forward too, shedding the slick production and manufactured beats for a casual swagger that feels more honest — and a lot more fun. The group’s music is preppy and poppy, weaving in and out of laidback melodies, sing-along lyrics and head-bopping beats. While other groups come across as intense and studied, you get the sense that the guys in ENHYPEN just want to have a good time, whether in front of their fans, or with each other.
Their debut single, “Given-Taken,” was a rollicking mid-tempo jam that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Weeknd’s album, while fan favorite, “Let Me In (20 Cube),” harks back to nineties boy bands, with a hands-in-the-air chorus and swaying drum beat. The guys have worked hard to not only capture a more organic sound, but to find lyrics that their fans (known as “ENGENEs”) can relate to as well.
“Our music captures our personal stories,” says Heeseung, described by the other members as the “trustworthy eldest brother” of the group (even though he “sometimes acts like the youngest,” quips Jay). “‘Given-Taken’ covered uncertainties about whether our debut was something that was ‘given’ to us, or ‘taken’ by us,” Heeseung explains, “while the lead single of our second album, ‘Drunk-Dazed,’ captures our candid emotions about our unfamiliar post-debut life, as well as our determination to enjoy it.”
Though they’ve already achieved a lot in such a short time, the guys say they don’t feel any pressure to live up to groups that have come before them. “Rather than feeling pressured, we feel great respect when we see the successful artists who have come before us,” Jungwon says. “We are learning a lot from their journey, and we’re doing our best to carve out a path of our own as well.”
Still, as part of BELIFT LAB, they do have a great example to follow. “There are many international as well as K-pop artists and groups that we look up to,” says Sunghoon. “Among them, however, we’ve always admired BTS most, who have created their own path to become global superstars. We’re inspired by them and determined to become artists like them one day.”