K-pop Special: Getting IN2IT
The South Korean boy group on why they chose to tour India, their journey thus far as artists and their aspirations for the future of K-pop
It’s always a thing of excitement for Indian K-pop fans when a new Korean artist announces a tour here. It’s a step closer to the big dream of having regular shows in a country way too starved, and the idols who visit bring with them a sense of hope that fuels fans in their journey to connect to the artists they love so much.
South Korean boy band IN2IT are the latest to be passed this baton of hope and understand the responsibility it entails. “IN2IT is still a rookie group, but since we are so lucky to have been given a great opportunity to promote K-pop in India, we want to repay the favor by putting on a great show,” says Inpyo, the group’s leader. The 23-year-old vocalist explains he and his fellow members were inspired by K-pop megastars BTS’ belief that the genre’s boundaries lie beyond South Korea. “I became keenly aware of their message that K-pop can affect anyone, and even more, the people of many different countries around the world.”
The group first debuted in October 2017 as the final product of Mnet’s popular reality survival show Boys24, but it wasn’t until April 2018 that they really took off. IN2IT garnered a significant amount of attention with the release of their single “Snapshot,” a sleek electro-pop number with choreography inspired by Madonna’s 1990 mega-hit “Vogue.” In the video, Inpyo Inho, Isaac, Jiahn, Yeontae, Hyunuk and Sunghyun don poker-faces as they model-walk down runways with cool, confident expressions. It’s a stunning visual that portrays sophistication and adulthood; combined with who they are off-camera (fun, easy-going 20-some – thing-year-olds) and their own take on the contrasting facets of growing up.
I meet IN2IT for the first time in Seoul during the cover shoot for our K-pop Special Supplementary, and the contrast is the first thing I see; they’re tall and regal in dark emerald suits, gazes sharp as they look into the camera, but between takes I discover they’re experts in recreating dramatic poses from the movie Titanic, cracking pun-infused jokes, and keeping the crew on their toes when they wander off to explore the abandoned amusement park we’re shooting at.
IN2IT’s work ethic is built on a core of professionalism, but without compromising on fun; it’s a coming-of-age journey we’re all pretty familiar with, and they tell me touring India is an integral step in their evolution as global artists and individuals. The group made their big India debut at the Korea Tourism Organization’s K-Fest in Mumbai on April 13th and 14th, and are currently on their India tour (titled ‘IN2ITxION’.) In this exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, IN2IT open up about their feelings around the upcoming tour, their personal goals as as artists, meeting their Indian fans and making an impact in global music.
How did each of you choose music as a career path?
Inpyo: First of all, I want to say that it’s an absolute honor to be meeting with Rolling Stone India. When I was little, I loved going to noraebang (Korean karaoke rooms) with my mom–those times were really happy. Bit by bit, I naturally began listening to music of many different genres, and after singing along, I discovered that I had a talent for singing. That talent went from being just something I did for fun, to becoming a dream. It’s hard for people to turn their hobby into their job, but I worked hard and before I knew what was happening, I was able to become a singer. I hope I can become someone that everyone will like and root for.
Jiahn: When I was younger and still going to school, there were a lot of occasions where I would sing in front of the other students. I found that I had a heart for music and that I loved being onstage. I wanted to stand up on the stage and be able to communicate a variety of messages and emotions through my music to the audience. That’s why I wanted to become a singer.
Yeontae: I wanted to become a singer so that I could give different people hope and strength. I loved singing and music, so I wanted to become a singer. The deciding factor was when I saw [veteran artist] Mr. In Sunyi [performing]. I wanted to give to others the same feeling he gave to me as I watched him perform.
Inho: When I first saw the musical theater actors Cha Jiyeon and Park Euntae, I thought that I had to become a singer. I was fascinated by the charisma, the rich facial expressions, and complete stability and control they emanated while onstage, and thought that I also wanted to become such an artist.
Hyunuk: I used to be an engineering student, but I had a dream of becoming a singer from a young age. I kept working hard [at singing], and I had the amazing luck of such a great opportunity arising, so I was able to become a singer!
Isaac: I can’t live without music. I realized that music is very important in my life. Music can help me release stress and it helped me make a lot of friends as well. Actually, I had a dream to become a singer in Korea since I was 14. When I watched (veteran group) TVXQ’s “Mirotic” music video on TV, I decided to become an artist in Korea to be like TVXQ.
Do you guys work or want to work on songwriting and production as well? What are some genres you still want to try in the future?
Hyunuk: On our first single album Snapshot, I wrote the lyrics to the track “2U”! Since I wrote it with our fans in mind, it was a truly special experience.
Yeontae: These days, I am learning a little recording. I recently did a cover of “Snowman” with Jiahn, and we did all the recording and polishing ourselves. I am interested in songwriting as well, and am slowly trying to ease myself into it.
How are you feeling about your upcoming India tour? Why did you think India was the right place to do this show?
Inpyo: India has a population of 1.37 billion people, with a diverse array of cultures all coexisting in one place. K-pop might still be unfamiliar [to many Indians], but thanks to our seniors BTS who have made K-pop known all over the world, more and more people are becoming interested. IN2IT is still a rookie group, but since we are so lucky to have been given a great opportunity to promote K-pop in India, we want to repay the favor by putting on a great show.
What are some things you’ve heard about our country that you’re very curious about or want to see?
Jiahn: I know that Indians are very interested in culture. The quantity and quality of Indian films is amazing, and I heard that people have such an affinity for watching films that they go to the movies something like twice a week on average. Bollywood films especially are famous all around the world. I especially like (2009 Aamir Khan-starrer) Three Idiots. So when I’m in India, I want to go to the cinema and watch some movies if I get the chance!
Inho: I would like to try some Indian food, because I heard that there’s a lot of delicious and famous food such naan, biryani, samosa, idli and more.
You have a lot of fans in India who love you and are waiting for you to come. How does it feel to know your music has influenced so many people from different countries?
Inpyo: Korea is a small country of just 55 million people. But our country’s music, K-pop, is known and loved by people from other countries. I am still bewildered by the affection it has received [from its fans around the world]. My heart skipped a beat when I heard about BTS’ UN speech. At that time, I became keenly aware of their message that K-pop can affect anyone, and even more, the people of many different countries around the world. IN2IT is still a rookie group, but someday, we want to become artists with that big of an influence. And in order to do that, we are going to continue feeling a sense of responsibility towards the music we make and keep working hard.
Over the past two years K-pop has become a powerful global music phenomenon. Why do you think people connect to it so much, even with the language barrier? What makes K-pop different from music from other countries?
Jiahn: As far as I know, the majority of K-pop fans are in their teens and twenties. This generation, which includes me, is the ‘video generation.’ This generation is more used to images and videos than plain text. K-pop has been influenced by the music market powerhouses in America and Japan, but due to unique persistence and effort from the Koreans, the phenomenon of “Kalgunmoo” (knife dance, when an idol group or group of dancers dance ‘sharp as a knife’, or perfectly in sync. I think this mix of [perfectly in-sync] performance mixed with beat and lyrics is K-pop’s biggest strength. There are so many groups that debut as K-pop artists every year and every year that number keeps growing.
How do you guys make sure you stand out from everyone else?
Inho: Since we were originally formed on the Mnet audition program Boys24, we had 240 performances before our official debut. So compared to other groups, we have more confidence when giving live performances. Each one of our members has a unique talent and charm that is different from the others and this makes it possible for us to make diverse songs. Additionally, since we have Isaac from Malaysia who can speak five languages, we have an advantage when it comes to communicating with fans from different countries. Therefore, I hope that you’ll be able to come to our Indian tour and experience what makes our group special for yourselves!
What’s the best part about being a member of IN2IT?
Jiahn: The other members always make up for any weak points that I may have, which enables me to keep going even stronger. Thanks to the other members, there is always lots of laughter, and we are able to make our performance better and better by consulting with each other.
How many hours a day do you guys usually practice on your choreography and performance?
Yeontae: During seasons where we are preparing for a tour or a performance, like right now? When we aren’t asleep, we are in the studio striving and practicing. On most days it’s over 10 hours per day. Other than that, we sneak in some practice when we have free time, and spend a lot of time rehearsing alone in our personal practice rooms.
Who are some of your personal musical influences and what artists would you love to collaborate with?
Inho: Two overseas artists I have been influenced a lot by lately are Sia and Shawn Mendes. I’m learning a lot about music from people who have reached their apex through their videos. I think about why they are so beloved by people from all over the world, and how I can become a better performer onstage like these artists.
Inpyo: There are so many people that have impacted me musically. Personally, I like to listen to senior artists that debuted before us. I do this to experience and learn about the emotions of times that I wasn’t able to experience myself. I think that their music has been a big contributor to the growth of K-pop. On the same note, there are so many people that I want to do a collaboration with. Instead of just giving you names, I’ll tell you a bit more abstractly: I want to collaborate with someone who has both pain and sentiment in their voice. When you listen to these kinds of songs, I can empathize, and the pain that I feel inside feels a kind of healing. I want to become a singer who can help heal the pain of others through my music, just like the artists who have that ability
There are a lot of audiences in India that are just going to be discovering you. Which track of yours would you say is ideal for a first-time listener?
Inpyo: “Snapshot.” It’s a reinterpretation of the song “Vogue” by Madonna. [In it], we do the ‘Voguing’ dance and embody fashion models on the runway. We learned to walk [like models] professionally for this song. If you listen to the interpretation of the song before watching the performance, you will enjoy it much more.
What is one thing you hope your fans learn from you and from your music?
Jiahn: In Korea, we have a word called “Huiroaerak.” It means ‘joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure’. Just like in this one word, in a single day people experience a range of emotions. No matter what they are feeling, we hope that our music can help them to enjoy the feeling of that moment, or to overcome it, or to experience empathy. We hope that IN2IT’s music can become everyone’s hope and joy in their lives. My personal motto is, ‘Let’s not give up.’ IN2IT came into being through a survival audition. From that experience, I learned that sometimes life will test us harshly, and sometimes the result that we want isn’t going to come about right away. But in spite of that, I want to send my fans a message of “never give up”. If they keep working hard and challenging ourselves, I hope that they can eventually get the results they want and keep moving forward.
Finally, what are some of your plans for 2019?
Inpyo: I am eager to start our world tour in India. Because we are a team of performers, we get energy from the audience while performing. Last year, we did an Asian showcase tour, and during that time I was happier than I have ever been. Sanding on the big stage at K-Con in Japan and the United States [last year] I felt so energized and strengthened by the audience