OnlyOneOf: Pushing Forth An Art Pop Dream
How a South Korean rookie septet plan on evolving the storytelling landscape of K-pop
There are times when I come across certain artists and wonder how I’ve lived my entire life without their music. These artists have discographies that are experimental and unique, which can often be a double-edged sword; there’s a lot of appreciation from music critics, but the complexities are lost on mainstream audiences who aren’t easily ready to dive into the unknown. Last year, I found a South Korean group that embodied this phenomenon perfectly. They are called OnlyOneOf.
Spearheaded by creative director Jaden Jeong (who is also the genius behind K-pop girl group LOONA’s intricate ‘Loonaverse’ series) OnlyOneOf’s artistry is elegant, symbolic, dark and sexy–not something you often see in a rookie group. Their debut single “Savanna,” a gorgeous R&B-deep house offering which dropped in May 2019, landed them a spot on Billboard‘s ‘Top 5 New K-pop Acts to Watch in 2020’ list, as well as the attention of several music journalists around the globe–of which I was one. Subsequent releases like the deeply symbolic and spiritual “Sage” (November 2019) and sleek but emotional “Dora Maar” (January 2020) were examples of their fearlessness and thirst for experimentation with heady, mature blends of genres like dark synth pop, lounge, R&B and house. The music production is crisp on every track and often paired with smooth choreography or cinematic visuals that experiment with hidden messages. Considering they’ve only been around for a year and hail from a smaller label (8D Creative), it’s certainly impressive how intricately each and every release is crafted.
The music video for “Sage” in particular stands out, the whole group draped in red as they deal with futuristic imagery that represents various aspects of redemption, temptation and religion. The video’s description on YouTube explains that “the music video solidified the ‘structural universe’ that OnlyOneOf has been building through the consequences of the content releases, which fortified the concept of progressions/evolution of OnlyOneOf’s ego throughout their artistic career, that is represented by ‘dot – line – surface.'” In addition to their own intriguing universe of music videos, the group further showcased their skills through impeccable dance covers and remixes on their YouTube channel, covering artists like pop queen Dua Lipa and South Korean rapper DAWN, before going viral thanks to their creative and explosive dance cover of Latin pop artist Rosalía’s “Malamente.” As more fans began flocking to the septet’s channel, they began sharing more casual moments via vlogs, daily livestreams and creative individual content for their fans, winning hearts with their cheerful and hilarious dispositions. I have yet to find any other group that makes the effort to conduct a livestream every single day on their YouTube channel.
It took several months to find a way to contact them, but the wait was worth it. We connect over video call and all seven members of OnlyOneOf appear on my screen. They’re dressed in pastel pinks and blues with big smiles on their faces and it’s quite the contrast to their sexier, broody, black-clad avatars in music videos. We break the ice with some casual conversation and each of the members introduces themselves; OnlyOneOf comprises leader and vocalist Love, rapper and producer KB, vocalist and dancer Rie, main dancer and vocalist Yoojung, vocalist and dancer Junji, rapper Mill and vocalist Nine. I ask about some of their influences and they cite a plethora of R&B and hip-hop artists including Jhené Aiko, Lauv, Ruel, Tyga, Justin Bieber and DPR Live. They’re easy to get along with and we talk about everything from DPR Live’s recently released LP Is Anybody Out There? to the infamous 2009 Bollywood movie 3 Idiots (which I’m told almost every Korean student watches in school.)
When we begin on the topic of their artistry, OnlyOneOf tell me that the art of storytelling plays a huge part in their core mission as musicians, living in both their visuals and lyrics. One of the most stand-out bodies of work from them is the pair of tracks “Picasso” and “Dora Maar.” Based on the relationship between renowned Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and his muse, photographer and artist Dora Maar, the tracks are two different perspectives of the same partnership. “Picasso” is a more aggressive angle on the story while “Dora Maar” channels angst. “We were aware of the fact that the relationship between Picasso and Dora Maar was quite desperate, as their relationship was very fierce and a very sticky,” explains KB. “You know there was a paradoxical feature of their situation, because they’re very serious lovers but it was also a very desperate relationship. That’s kind of a source of inspiration for us to work on the tracks. So, we brought up that topic to multiple producers in the company and then we developed a very specific musical output around it.” He explains that first they told one side of the turbulent story with the track “Picasso,” which appeared on the 2019 album dot point jump Vol.2. Dora Maar’s side made an appearance on the 2020 EP unknown art pop 2.1. “For the second album, we wanted to approach from the opposite perspective, because that’s an idea we really enjoyed creating.”
Most of their records are divided into volumes, each one connecting to the other as they dive deeper into an artistic space they have created solely for themselves and their listeners. Their latest release for example is an EP titled Produced by , Pt.1, the first in a series of records that sees them collaborate with various prominent Korean R&B producers, starting with GRAY (“Angel”), BOYCOLD (“Designer”) and Cha Cha Malone (“Heartbreak Theatre”). The EP as a whole is more upbeat and funky, allowing OnlyOneOf to display a brand new vibe with the celebrity producers’ fresher blends of EDM, hip-hop, funk, R&B and pop.
In this interview with Rolling Stone India, OnlyOneOf opened up about their dreams of evolving the storytelling landscape of K-pop, their intricate production process and plans for the rest of 2020. Excerpts:
What is the process like when you make a new album? In addition to the sound, how do you decide what path you want to take with the visual artistry of it all?
Rie: So first we discuss with our producers about the overarching topic about the album and music. And then we have specific topics we come up with, very specific auditory or visual concepts. We also hide various visual elements and put a lot of meanings to it all. But the key of our music videos and musical output is that we don’t want all the meaning to be interpreted as a single meaning, but we wanted to make it open so that fans can exchange theories and stuff and keep building on it.
There are so many groups that debut every year–it’s kind of crazy the amount of artists we see coming in. What was your plan to make yourself stand out from everybody else in the scene?
Love: We put relevancy between certain tracks and between albums. If you look at “Dora Maar” and “Picasso,” the story actually continues on within those two tracks. We wanted to give a more unique user experience in terms of listening to multiple track and storytelling in the characteristics of each album. So that’s something we think they can differentiate us from other groups.
You’re very involved in a lot of your own songwriting and production, so do you feel like this makes a big difference to your fans?
KB: We are very enthusiastic about developing our own colors and own identity around our music and around the albums. Of course, it’s a very early stage of our career. So to be honest it’s not our expertise to produce the whole album. But yes, as long as we develop our career, we really want to turn out to be good musicians and producers.
You’re definitely on the right track! What are some of your inspirations when you are writing lyrics?
Mill: We get inspired by people around us, of course. While we actually interact with them, we get a lot of learnings and messages from them. And we get a lot of inspiration from ourselves, how we actually change over time by interacting with each other.
Another thing I love is your YouTube channel where you have such fantastic intimate vlogs. For fans this connection is really important, but is it equally important for you to put out content like this? What does it mean for you to be able to show your everyday life offstage to your fans?
Love: We get a lot of feedback from the fans that there’s like huge differences between how we are while performing onstage and what we’re like offstage–and not in a negative way! So we wanted to get closer to our fans by showing them very trivial and very casual sides of us so they can get a human touch out of it, connect with us. We get a lot of energy when we see our fans enjoying this content.
Junji, tell me about your solo livestream series–you just sit in complete silence while you do various kinds craftwork and I found that so interesting and comforting. What made you want to start that series?
Junji: First of all, thank you for noticing! We discussed within ourselves, like what’s going to be a good idea to develop individual contents and I have a very strong personal interest in building some small crafts. So we thought it would be a very good idea [to showcase that creative side] and we started the series.
I also want to talk to you about your dance covers, especially Rosalía’s “Malamente.” It’s gotten you so much attention worldwide. I understand that it was a kind of tribute to her–how did her work in particular inspire you?
KB: We are very interested in Latin music in general because we think it shares a lot of our common emotion with Korean music in terms of enthusiasm and endeavor–we can feel the same thing from Latin music. Rosalía was an inspiration because she actually reinterpreted traditional Flamenco music into a modern pop song which we thought was very sensational. We wanted to do choreography on it so that we can actually reinvent it once again.
Rie, I heard you are in charge of making a lot of the choreography for OnlyOneOf. What is the most difficult one that you have worked on so far?
Rie: So, not only me, actually Yoojung and Junji are also very active participants and we discuss very frequently about making choreography. I cannot actually pick one single track that was really challenging for me to develop choreography for, because each member has different attractions in each track and has a different type of emotion they want to focus on expressing. So we always focus on how to maximise that and how to reach the maximum attraction point of each member.
K-pop is such a global movement right now, it’s the most famous it’s ever been. Even in India, it’s one of the biggest music trends. Why do you think so many international fans like K-pop? And also what do you hope to bring to the table as OnlyOneOf or what is your vision for your group?
Junji: First of all, we want to thank all our predecessors in K-pop, groups who actually built this podium for us internationally. As for the K-pop content itself, I think it’s the combination of musical and visual elements and that’s kind of a unique perspective for the global audiences. Our vision and aspiration is that we want to build the storytelling side of K-pop in addition to elevating the visual and musical elements, so that it can actually be perceived as art and while also fitting the commercial side of the media content business.
What do you hope that your fans learn from you as an artist when they see your music videos or they hear your songs?
KB: We want to give our fans a kind of exit from their everyday lives so that they can feel a kind of escape with our content. So that’s the purpose that we want to deliver.
What are your plans for 2020? I know the world is in chaos now because of COVID-19, but what do you have in mind in terms of new music and albums?
Love: Yes, we are preparing on our new release which is scheduled in the second half of 2020. This time we are working on our track production more intensely, so that we can develop our own colors as musicians. For the collaboration, we really want to work with a lot of global artists but I think first we need to develop our own individual styles and then have a lot of interaction with other artists.
Watch OnlyOneOf’s music video for “Angel” below: