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ONF: “This Is Only The Beginning Of Our New Chapter”

The K-pop sextet discuss their latest release, plans for the future, and why the Korean members decided to enlist together

Divyansha Dongre Jan 17, 2022

K-pop boy group ONF. Photo: Courtesy of WN Entertainment

Too many cooks spoil the broth, or we’ve been forced to believe that. However, in the case of ONF, the K-pop sextet defy the order of nature by having two leaders take hold of the steering wheel. While this may not new in the world of K-pop, it’s refreshing to see how seamlessly a group with diverse artists functions when put together: “I think it is the most beautiful when the six of us are together as ONF,” leader Hyojin expresses in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India

Composed of six members: Hyojin, E-Tion, J-Us, Wyatt, MK, and U, ONF have remarkably grown since their debut in 2017. With the help of carefully curated discography and iconic stages, the sextet are at the peak of their artistic potential, cruising through creative risks and varying artistic expressions with ease. Take, for instance, the group’s performances during Mnet’s Road To Kingdom (a qualifying prequel to the K-pop reality show Kingdom: Legendary War). Though the group didn’t qualify for the sequel (they did make it to the finals though), their performances enthralled both national and international viewers, and was a testament of the group’s sincerity and commitment to their art form.

Undeniably, the group’s second performance on the reality show was a paragon of boundless drama and grandeur. Performing alongside Oh My Girls’ YooA, ONF presented a rearranged version of their sleeper hit “We Must Love” blended with “Moscow Moscow” from their October 2019 EP Go Live. This version reimagines the track’s through the world of waltz, with an orchestral texture, befitting the stage’s concept. 

Singing about a tragic love affair between a marionette (played by YooA) and her master, ONF explores the tightest corners of their artistry with a spectacular theatrical narration of the star-crossed lovers. The reimagined composition brings forth a hauntingly beautiful concoction of dark synth and celestial orchestral instrumentalization resulting in a manic-like atmosphere; perfect for the higher degree of urgency and drama a concept of this caliber demands. 

Donned in red and black ensembles, the stage is an absolute treat for viewers who grew up mesmerized by the world of Broadways and drama. There’s an element of finesse and precision that’s evident in ONF’s choreography; it takes your breath away, leaving you wanting more. Sharp, expressive, and emotionally charged, the dance routine is best defined as poetry in motion, seamlessly narrating the doomed fate of the protagonists.

Despite the dexterous dance routine, ONF exhibits a deep, hypnotic vocal performance, making you feel every single word (irrespective of whether you have an exceptional grasp of the Korean language). The concluding segment sees the group sample “Moscow, Moscow” suggesting an even more dramatic finale: “Tell me the reason why you are so familiar when our eyes met/ Perhaps we have been possessed by magic for a long time and lost our memories.” While the marionette and her master may have succumbed to their doomed fate, the ending suggests a hopeful tomorrow, where the paths of the protagonists meet again-this time in the new lifetime. 

While 2020 was primarily defined by their appearance on Road To Kingdom and three musical projects, including an OST and collaborative single with OH MY GIRL and B1A4, 2021 saw ONF expand their sonic realm with their first full-length album (ONF: My Name), a repackaged album (City Of ONF), an EP (Goosebumps) and a Summer pop-up EP (Popping). 

“Popping” is the lead single in the group’s Summer EP and was a great addition to Summer 2021 anthems. Written by the group’s rapper Wyatt, the track evokes a sense of excitement and buzz with an Eighties-inspired disco sound weaved with an addictive flute-like melody. Switching between the interiors of a school auditorium, lush playing field to the polished floors of a space station, ONF keeps the mood cheerful and energetic with smooth rap verses and no-sweat choreography.

Their sixth EP, Goosebumps, was released roughly a month after the group announced all five Korean members will be enrolling for their mandatory military enlistment in December 2021. Reported on November 2nd, group leaders, Hyojin and J-Us elaborated on their decision through handwritten notes: “Although I think our FUSE will be very sad, we made the decision to enlist together because we wanted to stay together as six members and because we wanted to sing together for a longer time,” expressed J-Us. Hyojin, meanwhile, expressed his best wishes for FUSE (ONF Fans); “While we go on this brief hiatus, FUSE, please stay healthy without getting sick, and let’s promise to meet again as better versions of ourselves, ONF and FUSE both!”

For FUSE, Goosebumps was an early Christmas present. Brimming with multi-genre records, the EP opens with the title track of the same title. Fusing alternative punk with dance, ONF plays with an addictive soundscape, keeping the listeners hooked until the very end. Matching the unique vocal color of the group, the track periodically cues in a sensual R&B section driven by lo-fi synth sound. The multi-layered approach ensures a captivating listening experience, whilst also displaying the group’s musical capabilities. 

The cyberpunk concept positions each member as a unique character overcoming time and space to come face to face with their biggest nightmares. The CGI-heavy video contains action-packed sequences as well as sleek choreographed segments, highlighting their multi-faceted artistry. The sequencing and pacing of frames run parallel to the track’s booming soundscape, resulting in a captivating viewing experience.

Rich in concepts, Goosebumps proceeds to tell the person who is under a curse of turning into a cat in a fairytale-like mood with the pop-synth number “Whistle.” The story continues with the punk hip-hop track “Fat and Sugar,” which goes against the laws of nature, convincing us that sometimes bad things in life are actually good for us. “Alarm” brings the soothing ballad quotient to balance the high-powered synths from the previous tracks. An extended track of “If We Dream” from their debut album ON/OFF, the track focuses on the vocal melodies the group has to offer. The EP ends on a sentimental note with “Show Must Go On.” While the messaging may be hopeful and personal, the soundscape is anything but similar. Depicting how the group will continue to press forward, “Show Must Go On” beautifully utilizes upbeat synth and percussion sounds to weave an ebullient soundscape, welcoming the next chapter of their career.

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In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, ONF sits down to discuss their December 2021 EP Goosebumps, the decision to enlist together and what lies ahead.

Your previous EP came out in August, and in just four months the group is back with Goosebumps. How did you prepare for this? Any particular reason for having another comeback in a short period?

Hyojin: First of all, we wanted to come back with good music for our fans as soon as we could. With the enlistment of the Korean members ahead of us, we felt sorry and excited at the same time, looking forward to showing a very different side of us to our fans while we were preparing for this album. As this will be the last album of this year and the one before our enlistment, we worked harder to show greater performances.    

E-Tion: We worked on a tight schedule by carrying out activities, preparing for our comeback and concert at the same time. To provide the best quality music and performance, we tried to prepare thoroughly and make use of the time efficiently. As much as we’ve prepared, we will do our best with the promotion activities and show more various charms along with great performances.    

What is your favorite track from this EP? Could you also elaborate why it holds a special place in your heart?

MK: Mine is “Show Must Go On.” I had the chance to take part in composing this song and it made me think about FUSE the most while working on it. I’m more drawn to the song as the song is about our aspiration and a hopeful message between our fans and ONF that we will continue to stay together. 

U: My favorite track is ‘Whistle.’ The lyrics tell an intriguing story about a man who is under a curse of turning into a cat and to lift the curse, he has to listen to the sound of a whistle coming from his ex-lover. Also, the unique melody and outpouring of the rhythm in the chorus are very charming. That makes it my favorite track from this EP.  

How was the time the group spent recording this EP? Are there any stories from the studio you’d like to share? Anything humorous or surprising?

Wyatt: U, the youngest member surprised me the most with his significantly improved singing skills. Knowing that he was a great singer, I had high anticipation for him for this album. But his singing was beyond my expectation and I was impressed. He did an excellent job especially with the track “ALARM” in this album by bringing out the mood of the song well. I hope you will enjoy the song. 

J-Us: We had a lot of black-bean sauce noodles for our meal whenever we were recording in the studio for this album. There was no specific reason but we simply always agreed on the food choice, so we had the black-bean sauce noodles quite often. I think that whenever I see the black-bean-sauce noodles from now on, I would associate them with the Goosebumps album.   

What are your expectations from the EP? What is the take away message for your fans?

Hyojin: A lot of songs in this album are a new sound for us that we have tried. We wanted to show that ONF is a group with no limits to the new genre and mood of the music. We also wanted to convey our message that our music will continue despite our brief farewell.

MK: We wanted to give great energy to FUSE above all. It would make me happy and proud if our music can make FUSE smile even a little and give strength. This album reveals ONF’s worldview more in-depth so we highly anticipate that more people will come to learn about our worldview and identity.   

Let’s talk about the music video and choreography. How long did it take to master the choreography? Are there any scenes from the music video fans should closely pay attention to?

J-Us: We had to go through a lot of changes in our choreography until the very last minute of our comeback; so we had to practice harder. It was more difficult so it took us longer than usual to master the choreography. Also, in this music video, we used the wire a lot while shooting on the set, so we ask our fans to pay close attention to us flying around in the air and enjoy more of the dynamic side of the music video. (laugh)     

Wyatt: It took a longer time to learn the choreography, than I had thought. We memorized the moves over a longer course of time. The moves are very fast-paced and there are many details, so we practiced more thoroughly. The choreography in the chorus part is on point in expressing “Goosebumps” as it is literally, so I want you to look out for the part.     

From 2017 to 2021, how would you describe your growth as individuals, and as a group? What was the most challenging project you’ve worked on in the past four years?

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E-Tion: I think we’ve grown by every year since our debut. Our attitude for going on stage and feelings for our fans have grown bigger as well. Looking back on our albums in the past four years, I can say that Goosebumps has been the most challenging album we have worked on thus far. It seems to me that both in musical and performance aspects, the level of difficulty went up a bit more compared to the prior albums. I think working on this album has been a stepping stone for the growth of ONF.    

U: I have become more relaxed and I have more sense of pride in ‘ONF.’ Throughout the time the six of us lived together, sharing our thoughts and working hard together, we developed a stronger bond and heart for the team. Every album has been a challenge and I worried about whether we’d be able to pull off the concept of each album. But we saw ourselves growing steadily with good results, and it drives us to try to keep working harder.  

To Wyatt, MK, J-US, E-Tion, and Hyojin: You’re enlisting towards the end of the year. Why did the five of you decide to enlist together? Have you made a list of activities you want to do before your enlistment? What would you recommend your fans to do during your time away? 

Hyojin: I think it is the most beautiful when the six of us are together as ONF. So our wish to show all of us together led to the decision to enlist altogether. I hope that FUSE will remember the times we’ve enjoyed spending together and stay happy and healthy every day.  

J-Us: The reason why we decided to join the military together was that we wanted to show the entire ONF to FUSE as soon as possible. We wanted to hold a concert before the enlistment and it felt like a dream when we finally had the Reverse concert. I hope that the fans will stay happy by enjoying listening to our songs while we are gone. Our music won’t stop even when ONF will be on a short break.

In just four years you’ve formed a strong identity for yourselves and have performed remarkably well on both domestic and international charts. Where does ONF go from here? What can we expect to see from the group in the future?

E-Tion: We will continue to bring the music of our color. As we received lots of love for our distinct path and identity, we will stick firmly to telling our very own story continuously through music, so please stay tuned.   

U: I’m happy that our music seems to be giving positive energy to many people and it feels surreal whenever I think about it. I want to do activities with gratitude every day, always reminding ourselves of our original intention. This is only the beginning of our new chapter, so I hope the fans will be with us until the end.

From your debut to up until now, what is that one memory that manages to stand out from the rest? 

Wyatt: The most memorable one has to be our first concert. It was so much fun and most of all, I was so happy to perform in person in front of FUSE for almost two years. I was worried but we managed to finish it well and made a lot of great memories of the most unforgettable moment.

MK: For me also, the first concert with FUSE is the most memorable. Every moment we were interacting with FUSE felt so surreal. Also, the moment when we debuted is still vivid in my memory. The first debut stage that we’ve dreamed of for so long and worked so hard to put together with the members will be the most unforgettable memory. 

In these four years, what role have your fans played in your journey as artists? Do you look to them for inspiration or motivation? 

Hyojin: We were able to come this far with the support of FUSE. They are an essential and the most precious present for us. We’re inseparable as they are the one and only who can complete ONF.

E-Tion: To me, FUSE is my muse. I put FUSE first when considering the direction for our music as well as performance and other various contents. Then I come up with ideas in ways FUSE will like them and practice. Our fans are my inspiration and motivation all around in my life.  

Are there any concepts or genres you’d like to experiment with in the future?

J-Us: I wish to experiment with sentimental and dreamy concepts. I think that we could pull it off well and showcase our different charms if we had the opportunity. I’d love to promote the song accompanied by sentimental choreography.

U: I want to experiment with dance music with a slightly slower tempo than that of our past concepts. I wish to do more of the energy-packed concepts like “Ugly Dance” and “Goosebumps” and show more of our different sides. 

Do you have a message for your Indian fans?

Wyatt: I’m truly sorry and sad that we can’t meet you in person for so long. But we will work harder to come to you with greater performances. Let’s make precious memories on the day we will finally meet. Thank you for always loving us.  

MK: I can’t wait to meet with FUSE from India when the situation gets better. Please stay healthy until the day we can meet. We love you so much.

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