ONEUS fly from Seoul to Sydney on a Friday, chasing the last supermoon of the year over the ocean. By Sunday evening, they’re performing ‘月下美人 : LUNA’, the lead single of their EP ‘Blood Moon’, yearning for a beloved who is like a fleeting dream. And come Monday, they’re on their way home.
A dream that disappears the same night – that’s the life of a touring artist in a nutshell. When the six members of ONEUS debuted in 2019, they had never contemplated such a whirlwind existence. “We questioned whether we’d even be able to expand to nearby Japan,” Hwanwoong tells NME in an exclusive interview at HallyuPopFest Sydney. “We agreed to try, but we didn’t make it a goal for ourselves.”
But the K-pop landscape was changing: in 2019, BTS won “Favourite Duo or Group” at the American Music Awards for the very first time, and SM Entertainment partnered with Capitol Music Group to form SuperM and had them promote in both America and Korea. America was firmly on the K-pop map, and many groups began to capitalise on burgeoning interest to tour its major cities. ONEUS benefited from this wave, and made sure they took full advantage, as Hwanwoong says: “Thankfully after debut, we received a lot of love internationally as well. We’ve been able to [learn] hurriedly, hurriedly, diligently, diligently.”
Rounded out by rappers Ravn and Leedo, and vocalists Seoho, Keonhee and Xion, ONEUS have certainly kept busy. In four years, they’ve released seven mini-albums, one full-length album, and multiple singles. They’ve held a string of concerts in Korea and Japan, as well as US tours in 2019 and 2022. Their efforts have paid off in the form of strengthening album sales and more opportunities overseas.
HallyuPopFest is one of them. A celebration of Korean culture and music, it began with two K-Pop concerts in Singapore in 2018 and 2019, before moving across to London and Sydney in 2022. In Sydney, 10 artists participate in one of the two days of the festival. Within 12 hours, they’re to complete a slew of activities culminating in a half-hour set to overjoyed fans at the Qudos Bank Arena.
Keonhee sees the benefits of a festival like this: “We’re able to show something that only we can show to people who aren’t our fans.” ONEUS also relish the opportunity to observe other acts on the line-up. “Last time [in London], I watched the stages of all the artists from the back, without differentiating between sunhoobaes [seniors and rookies]. I was able to learn, ‘Oh, they have this sort of charm’, and ‘Oh, this sort of thing would be good to do.’”
“We’re able to experience the feeling of being one [with our international fans] even through just our music”
ONEUS may be the studious sort, but they enjoy downtime, too. The members have a bit of free time on Saturday after their arrival from Seoul via Singapore, and briefly wander the city. Ravn takes pictures with his film camera, which he likes to do at every tour stop. They also make sure to eat well – the most important way to maintain a healthy body and mindset while busy on tour, Seoho believes. That’s not too difficult to do, because travelling means they can enjoy a variety of cuisines.
Before long, it’s Sunday morning and ONEUS have to prepare for HallyuPopFest. They soundcheck and get made up to face the cameras. Just past 1pm, they’re ready to play games with fans as the ambassador for HallyuTown, a satellite event of the festival that focuses on Korean food, beauty and lifestyle products in partnership with MBC and the Korean Ministry of SMEs and Startups.
When ONEUS step onto the stage of HallyuTown, Ravn has an opening comment ready about the wild parrot he saw this morning, and the wondrous things he’s heard about the natural landscape of Australia. It’s translated by the MC on stage, and everyone laughs in giddy delight.
Keonhee reflects on such moments in NME’s interview. “In working through how to become closer to our fans, we hope to do so by getting to know and experience their area, culture, and food. So every time we embark on tour, we do try to study and get to know such things… and the fans look fondly on our little efforts, so we feel warm and thankful each time.”
Other HallyuTown activities include quizzing the audience and ONEUS struggling with jegichagi, a traditional Korean game where players try to keep a paper jegi in the air by kicking it. Xion is especially exuberant, ready to react with his whole body. They also choose raffle winners, the top prize being an iPad. Keonhee proactively says he’ll sign the box, but the others point out – what if the winner doesn’t want that? It turns out she does – and the audience calls out that Keonhee should go one step further and sign the iPad itself.
Then onward to a meet & greet for VIP ticketholders, and then the red carpet, where they greet 300 lucky fans. ONEUS take 15 minutes for an interview with NME with Hwanwoong and Keonhee as the spokesmen, though the others occasionally chip in. Leedo delivers in his trademark low tone a couple of quiet, wry comments that make his bandmates laugh.
Two points come through clearly in their answers: their humble appreciation for their fans, and their serious love for music. These two aspects combine in the climax two hours later, when they stride confidently onto the HallyuPopFest stage. They open with ‘Intro: Who Got The Joker’ from their latest EP ‘Trickster’, then follow it up with its title track ‘Bring It On’.
When NME asks about a key line in that second track – “Don’t block my path / for in the end, I’m going to prove myself” – Seoho responds. It’s his line, after all. “Every time I sing it, I feel that proving one’s self requires another’s acknowledgement of you… I’ve continued to say to my fans since debut, ‘I’m going to keep growing. Please watch over me.’ Because the fans recognise my growth, little by little, it’s become a sort of proof.”
After they greet the audience and catch their breath, ONEUS move onto ‘月下美人 : LUNA’ and their Road To Kingdom version of ‘LIT’. The buchae, or Korean fans, snap open and shut throughout the choreography, while traditional instruments vibrate behind their voices. ONEUS stand out in the K-pop field with the way they incorporate traditional Korean sounds and culture into their art. “We began with a desire to show the things inherent in us that are beautiful,” Keonhee says. “Then, as people began to feel something of Korea’s beauty through us, it did lead to a sense of responsibility and pride.”
ONEUS then show other sides of themselves through the final three tracks, ‘Life is Beautiful’, a remix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘No Diggity’. The cheers in the arena don’t ever die down, but definitely crescendo for the dance breaks. To Moon – or ONEUS fans – in the room share a collective moment of euphoria, which makes a remark from Keonhee in the interview hit home: “We’re able to experience the feeling of being one [with our international fans] even through just our music.”
As ONEUS’ outing at HallyuPopFest draws to a close, so does the dream for their fans in Sydney – for the moment. There’s one more on the way, as ONEUS have a comeback scheduled for September 5. Keonhee asks us to await a “sexy concept” in the new mini-album ‘MALUS’, while Seoho promises we’ll be able to “experience the scent of ONEUS through it”. The idea of “sexy” can be found in maturity, ONEUS say, promising to show not just their outer maturity, but their inner growth, too.
ONEUS’ new mini-album ‘MALUS’ is out September 5