Pink Fantasy and The Rise of Korean Femme Rock
The emerging artists get candid about their journey, what ‘rock’ means to them, and share a special message for their Indian fans.
This story appears in Rolling Stone India’s K-Music Special Issue, on sale now. Buy your copy here.
South Korean girl group Pink Fantasy have been on my radar as the next up-and-coming group to watch out for ever since June 21st, 2021. That’s the date they dropped the rock-laced track “Poison” – the lead single off of their latest EP Alice in Wonderland. It’s been months since I wished to sit down with the group for an in-depth discussion centered around their stories, their music, and essentially, what drives their artistry. Hence, safe to say – I was exhilarated when their label MyDoll Entertainment’s CEO, idol-turned-business executive Lee Sohee, expressed her desire to have Pink Fantasy join our line-up of artists for the K-Music Special issue.
From several members taking hiatuses and eventually leaving the group because of health-related concerns, to numerous line-up changes, and ofcourse the trajectory-changing COVID-19 pandemic, since their very inception, the [currently] eight-member group has braved more storms than one and is admirably still going strong today, proving that they’re here to stay. The pandemic may have come and gone, wiping out all traces of idols and groups from smaller, non-’Big Four’ labels, yet there’s an observable formula to Pink Fantasy’s success, a method to why they’ve not merely survived, but managed to thrive in this fast-paced industry. Talking about this strategy, Lee says, “We’re not swayed by others’ stories, never have been and never shall be. We’ll continue to face any forthcoming challenges head-on in the future, just like we’ve braved the pandemic together.”
On camera, the group boasts incredible vocal and dance skills, enhanced by an electrifying stage presence and amazing chemistry. Off camera, their stories are simple, down-to-earth and highly relatable – stories of eight girls with humble roots, big dreams and a whole lot of passion and grit to leave an impact in the music space. According to Lee, “Rather than focusing my creative direction for this group solely on the extraneous traits of the members, over everything else, I wanted to create a girl group with a family-like structure by consolidating different heights, ages and charms into a single group.”
Pink Fantasy currently consists of members Daewang, SeeA, Yechan, Harin, Momoka, Arang, Miku and Heesun. Of them, ‘face of the group’ Daewang is a “hidden” member as she hasn’t revealed her face to the public since their debut, concealing her identity utilizing concept-driven masks for each of their stages and on-camera appearances. Which is why Daewang especially surprised me during the course of our interview with her unwavering confidence and enthusiasm when it came to answering a vast majority of my questions, far from the reticent, diffident image I’d preconceived of her in my mind.
In this exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India for our 2022 K-Music Special issue, the members talk to our journalist Oysmita Majumder about their concept-driven artistry, their role models within the industry, what they’re listening to in 2022, and more.
Firstly, can we hear a little bit about Pink Fantasy’s creative process as a group? How do you all generally approach new musical projects?
Arang: Since our debut, we’ve been working on new songs as reinterpretations of fairy-tale stories, like Alice in Wonderland and “Cinderella.”
Hence, I’d say that we will continue to reinterpret fairy tales as our source of inspiration for new music, or at least until we run out of stock for the same.
What are each of your official positions in the group?
Arang: Leader, main dancer.
SeeA: Main rapper, main vocalist.
Yechan: Main vocalist.
Harin: Sub-vocalist, sub-dancer.
Momoka: Main dancer, sub-vocalist.
Miku: Sub-vocalist, sub-dancer.
Heesun: Maknae, sub-vocalist, sub-dancer.
Daewang: It’s a mystery.
Arang, as the highly dedicated leader of Pink Fantasy, what factors do you think were helpful in enabling you to lead and coordinate the team successfully?
Arang: When I first became the leader, I studied how the leaders of various teams execute their duties and perform their roles better. I think I was able to approach the members seamlessly and made everyone feel comfortable because I was always accepting of different opinions, which in turn helped me to organize the team and align their thoughts properly. I think that is what helped me lead Pink Fantasy.
Last year you all released your debut EP Alice In Wonderland. I’d like to hear some backstory on the album-making process and the creative vision behind it.
SeeA: So for the Alice in Wonderland trilogy, “Iriwa (Come on),” “FANTASY” and “Poison” had all actually been produced and ready ever since our debut – it’s just that the release timelines were a little different!
Daewang: The storyline goes like this:
– The temptation of the clock rabbit.
– Alice falls victim to temptation.
– The clock rabbit featured alongside a regretful Alice.
What this essentially signifies is that it is easy for people to give in to temptation often, especially bad temptations that run rampant across the world; temptations that easily manipulate people. As a consequence of these sinful desires, at the end of their respective journeys, people’s lives are suffused with regret.
From your debut with the electro-pop dance anthem “Iriwa” to going down a more unique route with the rock-influenced, K-pop-meets-metal record “Poison,” and finally, your most recent release, the fan-dedicated adult contemporary track “Luv Is True” – what would you cite as the focal cause for this perpetual, sonic experimentation with regards to your artistry?
Harin: Ever since our debut, we, as a group, wanted to experiment with all kinds of sounds and concepts that are currently known in the K-pop space, so we’re going to continue to work hard and bring you new and different categories of music all the time.
Please show a lot of interest in Pink Fantasy and believe in us, until we’ve shown you all our versatile sides!
In continuation to my previous question, Pink Fantasy is renowned for possessing a diverse discography, but your concepts are equally versatile! Having tried and tested a lot of these different concepts and genres of music that Harin just mentioned, what would you now consider to be Pink Fantasy’s strongest suit?
Yechan: Talking about Pink Fantasy, I believe that the ‘dark’ concept comes to mind first.
I think that the fans really like our dark concepts and rock-based concepts, too.
I’d say it’s because these concepts are not mainstream, and quite different from that of most other girl groups, and hence this route enables us to stand out from the rest, via our performance and vocal strengths.
And what are some genres of music that the group would like to explore [sonically] in the near future?
Daewang: I want us to challenge various rock-centric genres such as heavy metal, death metal, and black metal. It fits our group’s worldview very well.
SeeA, you’re proclaimed as the “talent vending machine” of the group. Besides being the main rapper and lead vocalist, what one skill would you consider as your biggest strength, or rather, the most functional contributing asset to this group?
SeeA: I’d say that it’s the ability to interpret songs.
I consider it as my asset to understand and express our concept well, within the world that we have constructed via our artistry, up till now.
Some of your recent releases, including “Fantasy,” “Poison” and “Tales of the Unusual” have been heavily rock-influenced. Hence, I’d like to ask what does rock mean to Pink Fantasy? Also, what inspired the group to deep dive into this lesser-explored K-pop genre?
Daewang: Personally, I think that rock is a wonderful genre and a great medium of expression as well.
Rock allows you to express your emotions, voice social criticism and narrate entire stories.
And I also think that the performances of Pink Fantasy and the skills of our vocalists shine the most through this genre, hence the shift to rock.
Out of all the singles that Pink Fantasy has released so far, what track does each member feel reflects their artistic identities the best?
SeeA: “Shadow Play.”
Harin: It’s “12 o’clock.”
Arang: “Poison.” It’s a song that conveys a whole different feeling altogether, through its lyrics.
Momoka: “Merry Fantasy.”
Miku: The track that I’d like to name would be “Poison,” but to think of it as the one which encapsulates our image accurately – well, that’s actually an in-house joke! [laughs]
Heesun: I think “Poison!”
Daewang: “Poison.” I feel that it matches well with my sexy aura.
Yechan, nailing live vocals can definitely be a challenge, especially if the performance routine happens to be exertive and heavy on choreography-centric elements. So, being the group’s “honey vocal,” can you tell us which Pink Fantasy track so far has been the most challenging to perform live?
Yechan: Most parts of the choreography for “Poison” are extremely fast and high on energy, so it was the hardest to maintain steady vocals while executing it live. But at the same time, its choreography is extremely powerful, so I really enjoy performing the song on stage.
In recent years, rock music, which had previously been on the brink of dying out, is experiencing a renaissance phase. In the past, this movement was limited to groups like Dreamcatcher whose discography primarily incorporated rock, but today more and more groups are giving this genre a serious try, hence gradually contributing towards making rock mainstream. We have Loren and Younha who are doing a stellar job, indie artists like Glen Check, bands like Onewe, Rolling Quartz and the recently debuted Xdinary Heroes. Even pop groups like TXT on “OX1=Lovesong (I Know I Love You),” Enhypen on “Blessed-Cursed” and most recently (G)I-dle with “Tomboy” can be seen tapping into this genre. My question for you all is, what are your thoughts on this resurgence of the genre within the industry; why do you think this came to fruition?
Daewang: Although rock was a genre that was a little neglected in the K-pop industry until very recently, we gave the genre a serious attempt, and today, more and more cool rock-based concepts are being revived by groups and taking over the K-pop industry!
When Pink Fantasy first tried rock, very few challenged the genre, and now it’s really fun to see it becoming so popular. I think it’s all because more singers these days want to shatter different forms of prejudice and stereotypes, and accept new challenges for the sake of expanding plus diversifying their artistry.
Who are some of Pink Fantasy’s personal favorite rock influences in the industry?
Daewang: TraxX and X-japan!
Harin, you’re regarded as the “happy virus” of Pink Fantasy. Can you elaborate on the reason behind this alias, with regards to your role in the group?
Harin: The reason why I am named “Happy Virus” is because I want to be a singer who always spreads joy and makes fans happy. Because I’m only human, there are many conflicting emotions that course through my mind at different points of time, and numerous stressful moments as well, but I always try to keep my emotions well-balanced, to keep myself calm under all situations.
In order to stay happy, I engage myself in things that I personally enjoy and like doing, and most importantly, stay away from all forms of negative energy – hence this nickname [laughs].
Let’s discuss one of the fan-favorite Pink Fantasy releases, which also happens to be your current third-most viewed music video on YouTube, “Poison.” This particular track was lauded for traversing the hardcore, mainstream punk rock music route, even tapping into the screamo genre during the post-chorus; something not really seen before within the K-pop space. It helped me and countless others to discover and follow your music. Can you all tell me a little bit about the behind-the-scenes production process of the track? How was it breathed to life?
Daewang: I’ve always wanted for us to work with different genres and musical styles since our debut. For “Poison,” we decided to go with rock, as we felt it could best embody the message we wished to convey through the music.
JungMo [TraxX]: I thought that when you combine guitar riffs, which are an extremely important element of rock, with dance music, you get to experience a whole different world of performance. This facet about Pink Fantasy’s artistry was a freshness that was hard to see in other girl groups.
Hence, I worked on “Poison” because I felt it could be of great help in creating and adding a unique artistic color to Pink Fantasy.
Praised for its anime opening theme-like sound, the music video for “Poison” is fiercely intense and enigmatic, incorporating a lot of biblical references, satanic imagery and exquisite cinematography. What’s the underlying storyline that laces the music video?
SeeA: “Poison’s” music video is the third installment to the Alice in Wonderland series.
It consists of the stories of Satan’s bystander, Alice’s regret, and the subsequent changes occurring within her, as a consequence of experiencing all of those clashing emotions.
How was your experience working with seasoned guitarist and ex-member of the rock group TraxX, Kim Jung-mo, on this record? He delivered a breathtaking job in writing and composing the track!
Daewang: Well, I got to know and meet Jungmo in person. He is an artist who I have been an ardent fan of since I was young. I think very few composers in Korea can compose as well as he does.
As expected, he made a really good song! He is truly a creative genius and an amazing guitarist as well.
Any fun or memorable incidents that took place while shooting the music video, which come to your mind right off the bat?
Harin: The composer and guitarist, Jungmo, made a special appearance on our song, so when he was filming his parts, the shooting set actually turned into a concert hall!
Another one of your rock-laced tracks is “Tales of the Unusual.” What was the creative process behind this track like? Daewang, SeeA and Yechan were actively involved in penning the lyrics to it, so I’d like to hear the answer from any of them.
Yechan: “Tales of the Unusual” is a collaboration song with the popular webtoon Tale of the Unusual.
It is a song that connects to Pink Fantasy’s unique storytelling perspective.
This song’s lyrics emphasize the theme of ambivalence and contradictory stories. It expresses an individual self at war, where it is constantly torn apart, and under intense agony in reality. We also tried to express scenes reminiscent of profound emotions, unique sounds, and cruel fairy tales through our performances and facial expressions.
Like a lot of Pink Fantasy’s other music videos, “Tales of the Unusual” too, was accompanied by a dark and horror-themed visual concept; it even saw a Halloween release last year. Horror often happens to be the standard choice of visual aesthetic to accompany rock-centric concepts, as it seems to blend well with the genre, for whatever reason[s]. In sync with this idea, the “Tales of the Unusual” music video incorporated a lot of blood and gore [for its makeup], along with a bone-chilling choreography as seen in the ‘Zombie’ version clip. It definitely looked challenging from the outset, but can you tell us whether there were any behind-the-scenes challenges which the members faced, while preparing for/shooting the music video?
Arang: I practiced looking scarier than usual through my performance, facial expressions and exaggerated movements. I also took special interest in my makeup, and tried to make it look as perfect as possible.
Everyone as always enjoyed filming, and there were no other challenges that were encountered.
Momoka, you’re an exceptional performer. Not only are you the group’s main dancer, but you have also assisted in choreographing “Paeonia” by Busters. From what I’ve heard, you’ve, as a matter of fact, trained at the same dance studio as Hirai Hana [older sister of TWICE’s Momo]. It’s crystal clear to me from your profile, that you basically live and breathe dance. Can you hence tell me how important performance and choreography is to Pink Fantasy’s artistry? The group undeniably has some fantastic choreographies under their belt!
Momoka: Thank you so much for saying that!
I think Pink Fantasy’s choreography is an extremely crucial aspect of our artistry, because it expresses the concept of our songs really well.
Now, let’s discuss the meaning behind your group name. What does ‘Pink Fantasy’ strive to symbolize?
Momoka: ‘Pink’ means love and happiness, and ‘fantasy’ means a desired reality. When placed together as one, this means that we want to be a team that gives a lot of love and happiness to the numerous people who are seeking the same in their hapless realities.
We hope that by being with Pink Fantasy, people will get the chance to truly experience such emotions for themselves. That’s what Pink Fantasy aims to achieve via our music.
MyDoll Entertainment’s CEO Lee So-Hee created Pink Fantasy with the purpose of providing representation to idols of different personalities, backgrounds and age groups, by providing them a platform to showcase their talents and shine. Despite having one of the largest age gaps in a group within the industry [currently 12 years], the members’ bonds appear to be quite strong and endearing on screen. How has living and working together helped the bonding between the members to grow and evolve over time, as compared to when they first met each other?
So-Hee: Just like the varied genres which shape their versatile discography, all members have distinctly different personalities and auras. But rather than focusing my creative direction for this group solely on the extraneous traits of the members, over everything else, I wanted to create a girl group with a family-like structure by consolidating different heights, ages and charms into a single group – a group who’d spend their days living and working together under the same roof and hence, inevitably develop a family-like bond in tandem.
Incase of other labels, companies try to build groups with only young teenagers, but I like to believe that if one is passionate enough about what they do, then paltry, inconsequential barriers like that of age don’t make any difference whatsoever. Hence, I’m positive that in the future as well, I’ll continue to source and recruit more passionate people befitting of our brand spirit.
In conclusion, age doesn’t really matter, however, the members’ joints must be movable and in perfect condition [laughs].
Since the members of Pink Fantasy are all warm and caring, as time has gone by, they’ve ended up forging that close-knit, family-like bond, which I’d originally intended for them all along.
Miku, I’ve heard that you’re originally from the beautiful Wakayama prefecture of Japan. How was the experience of shifting to Korea, living away from your family and simultaneously growing up in the competitive trainee environment? How did you manage to persist?
Miku: To be very honest, I’ve never really thought or felt that practicing as a trainee was difficult, but there are days when I feel lonely and depressed about not being able to meet my family, as I’d meet them every single day back in Japan.
However, since we can’t meet each other in person as of now, the number of times we send love to each other through phone calls and text messages throughout the day has indefinitely increased.
Moreover, in Korea, the Pink Fantasy members are like my family. We communicate with each other often, so that none of us ever ends up feeling left out or lonely.
The COVID-19 pandemic has evidently crippled the functioning of newer artists in the industry. Pink Fantasy debuted on October 24, 2018, and the pandemic broke just a little over a year later. Surviving as creative artists under the pandemic-enforced limitations must have come with its own set of challenges. During this period, Pink Fantasy, as a group, have displayed remarkable resilience! Looking back, what would you say has been your biggest learning experience from the situation?
So-Hee: We’re not swayed by others’ stories, never have been and never shall be. We have endured this pandemic solely by virtue of caring a little more than others, sleeping a little less than others, staying a great deal stronger than others, and nursing more hope than the others. We’ve tirelessly tried our best to keep our staff and artists always unified together, by forging strong and lasting bonds between ourselves.
I think we’ll continue to face any forthcoming challenges head-on in the future, just like we’ve braved the pandemic together.
Who are each of your role models in the industry, and why?
Arang: My role model is HyunA. The reason behind this is that she always tries so many new and exciting things with regards to her performances, and it’s really cool that unlike the rest, she expresses her own, unique style or musical color through her body of work. Hence she’s always been my number one role model.
SeeA: CL, Jeon Soyeon, Taeyeon, and IU.
Why? Well it’s because these women are doing everything on their own. They are pioneering every field, every nook and cranny of the industry. They’re unbelievably charismatic both on and off stage, and just always shine so bright. I truly admire them.
Yechan: I really respect Park Hyo Shin.
Both her musical career and signature styles are extremely inspirational to me. I hope to follow in her footsteps, and to be more like her in the future.
Harin: [Red Velvet’s] Joy sunbaenim [a Korean term meaning ‘senior’]. Watching her performances always lifts my spirits and makes me feel good, because just like her, I too wish to be a person who spreads a lot of joy and positive energy.
Momoka: My motive for becoming a K-pop idol in Korea was [TWICE’s] Momo, Mina and Sana sunbae!
Miku: My role model is Roseanne Park of BlackPink.
Ever since the very first time I came across her and watched her perform, she has been my idol.
Heesun: It’s IU sunbae.
Whenever I listen to IU’s songs, I think of her as a strong, powerful and cool senior. I think that she’s really talented and hard-working, and deserves all the recognition that comes her way.
Daewang: Lady Gaga, I’m a huge fan of her art!
Heesun, you’re the ‘moodmaker’ and maknae [Korean word for ‘youngest’] of Pink Fantasy, so I thought you’d be the best person to ask a fun question to: if you had to introduce Pink Fantasy to a new listener with just one song from your entire discography, which song would you pick? You have to justify why as well.
Heesun: I would like to introduce us with the song called “Poison.” Out of all of our performances, I’m positive that it’s one of the best, hence the pick!
What are each of your current favorite songs?
Arang: It is “Party, Feel, Love” by HyunA.
SeeA: Taeyeon’s “Some Nights.”
Yechan: I listen to KiHyun sunbae’s “Voyager” a lot.
Harin: ”Walk” by Baek Yerin.
Momoka: It’s “Siren” by Taeyeon sunbae.
Miku: My favorite song right now is Hirai’s “Life is Beautiful.”
Heesun: Benson Boone’s “ROOM FOR 2.”
Daewang: It’s actually “Poison” by Pink Fantasy.
Can you all tell us one unknown fact about yourself?
Arang: In the past, I’ve often heard assumptions, like people’s remarks about me could affect my image and disrupt my mental health. With regards to this, I just want to let everyone know that they don’t have to worry about me, because I’m not the type of person who would be swayed or hurt by others’ words that easily.
SeeA: It may not seem so at first glance, but I am actually the tallest in the group!
Yechan: TMI, but my toes are longer than my thumb!
Harin: Maybe, the innate, sensual aura that I possess? That’s one fact about me which is not well known.
Momoka: I was actually 104-cm tall when I first entered elementary school.
Miku: I’m sure there are a lot of people who sleep while listening to music, but I sleep while listening to live games.
Heesun: I really like to read books, so I always read a book in bed, with my earphones on.
Daewang: I actually have camera phobia. So it isn’t all that weird for me to stand behind the rest of the members for different shoots and schedules. I’m quite happy and comfortable in my current position.
Daewang, as per your artist profile, can you tell me how your character ‘The Great King’ comes into play in the bigger picture – what role does it signify in Pink Fantasy’s storyline?
Daewang: Daewang shall play an extremely important role in the soon-to-be-revealed worldview of Pink Fantasy. I’m not at liberty to discuss anything more than this right now, so please stay tuned!
If Pink Fantasy could share a word of advice with their younger selves, what would it be?
Harin: If you keep persisting and trying without giving up on your dreams, you will surely get to see the light someday. Till then, let’s continue to work hard towards our dreams, together!
What are the larger goals each of you have set for yourselves in 2022?
SeeA: My goal is to work hard on myself, onwards and upwards towards becoming the best version of me.
Yechan: As a member of Pink Fantasy, I want to be loved not only by national, but also by international fans.
Besides my group activities, I’d personally like to challenge myself as a musical actor and also explore my abilities in the field of acting.
Harin: Pink Fantasy’s Dome Concert! We’ll show you various different charms of Pink Fantasy.
Arang: As the leader of my team right now, my biggest goal is to let more people discover Pink Fantasy. I want to show more of myself to the world.
On the personal side of things, I’d like to live a happy and healthy life. In order to do that, I have to stand before our audience with new and improved skills and visuals, and I’m really enjoying working on that aspect with Pink Fantasy, because we’re so different from other teams! I’m looking for happiness in the smallest of things.
Momoka: I want to let more people know about Pink Fantasy and my existence. For that, I will continue to work hard every day to show great performances that our viewers will enjoy.
Miku: The current goal is to become a full-fledged [permanent] member of Pink Fantasy. I will work hard on my singing, dancing and Korean, among other skills, for a brighter future.
Heesun: I want to be a person who enjoys what I do more than anything else, rather than having a specific goal of ‘I’m going to do this!’
Daewang: ‘Taking off the mask’ [a Korean proverb meaning ‘breaking out of one’s limit’].
That means my goal is to be able to hit Number One on the Billboard charts [Daewang has mentioned in the past that she’ll take off her mask and reveal her identity to the world, once their song reaches the top spot on the Billboard charts].
Are there any new projects that you all are currently working on? What can we expect to see from Pink Fantasy this year?
Miku: We’re working on a lot of new songs for our next comeback, and we’re going to come back with a fresh variety of new music. So please look forward to it!
To wrap up, Heesun, can we have a message for Pink Fantasy’s Indian fans?
Heesun: We hope that Pink Fantasy will be invited to India to perform someday, and get to meet all of our Indian fans in person. Till then, please give Pink Fantasy a lot of love and attention! We love you [smiles].
Check out Pink Fantasy’s special message for their Indian fans:
Watch “Poison” Choreography M/V [Temple Ver.] below: