Pentagon: ‘We Want to Give People Hope and Strength’
The South Korean group discuss their strong work ethic, Bollywood films, garlic naan and future plans to visit India
I meet Pentagon on a chilly day in Seoul in April. It’s barely 1 p.m in the afternoon and the South Korean group have already had a taxing day–promotions for a new album will do that to you. They make the time to meet me because they’re especially keen to reach out to their Indian fans.
They’ve just performed at a weekly broadcast show and I’m ushered through a maze of corridors in the building to their green room. (We pass several other famous idols on the way, all in various states of relaxation, and it’s terribly hard not to gawk.) I’m shown into a rather large dressing room and there stand eight of the nine members of Pentagon, barefaced and exhausted but cheerful, greeting me with big smiles and polite bows. Leader Hui steps forward to apologize for rapper Kino’s absence (an injury has him out of commission) and there’s a beat of awkward silence before we all burst out laughing and sit down for our chat.
We’re meeting during one of the brief intervals in their day during which they can switch off from being Pentagon and just be a group of twenty-somethings, and it’s a space not many fans get to see. They’re quieter than what you would expect, but it doesn’t take away from their friendliness and positive energy.
Pentagon debuted in 2016 after being formed via a reality show called Pentagon Maker by the South Korean television network Mnet. They originally comprised 10 members and continued as nine after rapper E’Dawn’s departure in 2018. They’ve released a whopping nine EPs (12 if you count their Japanese releases) but it was their 2018 mega-hit single “Shine” which gained them global popularity thanks to its upbeat, catchy chorus and genius use of the viral dance move ‘The Shoot.’ They’d just dropped their multi-genre EP Genie:us when this interview took place and in the few months since, have embarked on a 24-date world tour (currently ongoing,) dropped yet another EP titled Sum(me:r) on July 17th and are already planning what comes next. There’s not a moment to rest and a direction to go other than up.
They have a certain quirkiness to them; it’s been a staple of their artistry and helps them stand out in K-pop’s diverse array of artists. Their latest single “Humph!”, produced by prominent hip-hop artist Giriboy, keeps this alive. According to the members, all their singles and EPs are a product of intensive group discussions and adapting new sounds to each individual’s style. “We listen to a lot of artists and see what they’re doing. Then we look at our strengths as Pentagon and what kind of things we can do. Then we put it together,” explains Hui. He says whether it’s global trends or sounds within the K-pop industry, it’s about how they interpret and present it in their own ways. It explains the clever incorporation of viral dance moves, global sounds and Asian culture in all their artistry. “We look at what Pentagon is and what Pentagon can do.” Summed up, Pentagon’s process is teamwork, teamwork and more teamwork.
In this exclusive conversation with Rolling Stone India, Hui, Jinho, Hongseok, Shinwon, Yeo One, Yanan, Yuto and Wooseok discuss their strong work ethic, a surprising love for Bollywood films, garlic naan and future plans to visit India.
I wanted to know a little bit about your album production process. How do you go about planning a comeback?
Hui: At first, we think of what kind of a theme we want for the album. Many of us are songwriters here, so from the start we gather as members and discuss how the concept for the album will be. After that we come up with the tracks, the concept, the outfits and what the concert will look like.
I personally really liked Genie:Us because you experimented with a lot of different genres. There was even some early-2000s rock. What influenced the sounds?
Hui: First I listened to the work of other senior artists and kind of how they were doing it. After that, we kind of figured out how Pentagon can interpret it, what we can do as individuals and then put it together. We then sit and make our own [tracks.]
I also wanted to ask about how would you describe the central theme of the album?
Wooseok: It has two meanings. One is that we are all genius, we just don’t know about it, and then we wanted to tell people that artists can become your genie. So, it’s us, ‘the genie is us.’ Like we want to give people hope about not to be so frustrated about what they’re doing.
Hui, Wooseok, Yuto and Kino, you are all very involved with song writing and production. What are some of the genres that you guys haven’t tried yet that you want to work on?
Yuto: I’m a rapper, but don’t really draw a line between wanting to rap and wanting to sing. So I would really like to try going into the singing direction more, try a rock sound and maybe something very like tragic… like a very sad ballad.
Hui: In this album, on the beat track, we have one song called “Lost Paradise” and it’s hip-hop style. I enjoy hip-hop a lot so I would like to go into that direction more often.
What are some of the things that inspire you while you’re writing songs?
Yuto: Life, my life.
Hui: So, sometimes it happens that I have to write but I can’t come up with something right away. I get influences from various things. I might be watching a movie or looking at pictures and sometimes it’s not even like influences from outside… Sometimes it’s thoughts that I wrote down. So, I have a habit of making notes of my momentary thoughts.
Wooseok: There are a lot of song writing members and each of us have different styles. So, rather than focusing on the album color, I usually want to write something that kind of connects us in the album.
Do you guys all want to also try doing solo projects?
Wooseok: We don’t have solo activity plans at the moment, but not too long ago I was in a sub unit called Wooseok x Kuanlin with another artist called Lai Kuanlin (former Wanna One member) and it was a very valuable experience. It was really cool.
You have fans all over the world. How do you deal with not just the pressure of fame, but also the pressure of dropping frequent and consistently good releases?
Hongseok: We would love to feel those kinds of pressure, fame actually! [laughs] None of us are actually the kind who suffers about the fame because we all have a kind of…. like we don’t make fences between people. We’re not those kinds of individuals [to separate ourselves from our fans.] So, we don’t feel a lot of pressure about that.
How does it feel that your music is spreading to so many different countries and influencing the lifestyle and culture there?
Yeo One: We’ve been to a lot of countries as a group and we appreciate how they support us and they love us. So, we would like to know more about it and we would like to [visit more places] for example, India. We have never been here before. So, we would love to be there. We appreciate and see how they do the cover contest stuff. And we love the way that our music influences people.
Do you have any questions about India? Like what is your impression of our country?
Yuto: Naan, garlic naan? [laughs]. That’s my favorite! And tandoori chicken… we want to be in India for a lot of foods.
Hongseok: We’ve never been to India before, but we assume that there are a lot of Universe [their fandom] in India, but then they haven’t seen our live stage before, only heard the music. So we would like to show our Indian fans how we perform and we would like to give them an unforgettable experience, face to face.
Have you guys watched any Indian movies? Do you know any Indian musicians?
Shinwon: Yeah! My Name Is Khan (2010), 3 idiots (2009), Slumdog Millionaire (2008)… There’s a lot of singing in Bollywood movies… [laughs] I liked it!
When someone listens to one of your songs for the first time and they discover you as an artist, what is the message that you want them to get?
Hui: So, the album is like the core institute [of Pentagon.] We want to give hope and strength to those–especially young people–who feel like everything is tiring or who have failed at some point. We want to give them the strength to get back up and try to reach their dreams
Do you guys have any message for your Indian fans?
Yanan: We haven’t been to India yet, so we are very curious and we would really like to go. So, we promise our fans that we will come, we will make more good music and find ways to meet them and give them more strength to do what they’re doing.
This interview was made possible thanks to Namas-K and ZanyBros.