Walking through the ever-growing realm of Apink is perceiving an endearing brilliance and bewitching consistency. And perhaps, trying to condense it into a few sentences is a disservice.
When they debuted as a septet in 2011 – member Hong Yoo-kyung left two years later – Apink cemented a signature quality that encapsulated a bright pop sound infused with angelic visuals. It was a well-crafted direction that gave timeless gems like ‘NoNoNo’, ‘Mr. Chu’ and ‘My My’. As they soared through the ranks of the K-pop dominion, clinching several awards and headlining tours along the way, the group’s artistry broadened to include acting ventures (honorary mention to Reply 1997), solo music, variety shows appearances and much more.
But if there are some cardinal truths about the Korean music industry, it is that its nature encompasses a behemoth in constant motion, and innovation emerges as instrumental to continue thriving. In 2018, crossing the border of their seven years together – a triumph, considering the so-called “curse” that haunts this milestone – the group closed the chapter for their sugary image and embraced a revitalisation emblazoned by an irresistible elegance and boldness. Sonically spearheaded by renowned production duo Black Eyed Pilseung, the resulting trilogy (‘I’m So Sick’, ‘%% (Eung Eung)’ and ‘Dumhdurum’) became a statement that has been seamlessly woven into Apink’s DNA.
Nurturing this promenade, the arrival of their special album ‘Horn’ this February meant a celebration for a decade-long trajectory. Helmed by lead single ‘Dilemma’ (their fifth collaboration with BEP on a title track), the 11-song record conjures up a mélange of genres that gravitate around the texture of Apink’s lyricality. They evoke a push and pull of love, balancing out melancholy and complexity, but also with a touch of gratitude for those who have stayed throughout the years.
As the snow melts and the flowers bloom, the change of seasons brings new beginnings. The now-quintet – composed of Park Cho-rong, Yoon Bo-mi, Jeong Eun-ji, Kim Nam-joo and Oh Ha-young – will move forward in Apink’s evolution without Son Na-eun, who recently announced her departure from the group – but not without assuring her continued support for them. Though this interview took place prior to Na-eun’s departure, the singer “wasn’t available due to her schedule”, according to IST Entertainment.
NME caught up with Apink ahead of their 11th anniversary, unravelling their conceptual shift, the symbolic significance of ‘Horn’, the meaning of success and their journey so far.
Over the last four years, a lot has been said about the reinvention of Apink. The cute concepts were left behind and the group was able to showcase their growth. With this being said, what were the biggest doubts and challenges during this process of leaping towards a more mature concept?
Bo-mi: “Other than the fact that we were bringing new ideas and that we were excited and anxious about the public’s and our fan’s reactions, I don’t think we had any particular major challenges. What we wanted to show was just our naturally matured selves rather than something totally different.”
Nam-joo: “Since we, Apink, had been making music and dealing with concepts that fit our age, we didn’t have any problems in developing concept-wise. People are always going through some kind of growth and there is self-reflection and changes that follow, and I think Apink’s concepts changed in line with my growth, so there weren’t any big challenges.”
Can you please tell us more about the emotions behind ‘Dilemma’? What was your reaction when you first heard the demo?
Cho-rong: “When I first listened to the song, it felt very… mysterious? There was something mysterious and charismatic to it, yet, it also had Apink’s style to it for sure. I liked how the song was different and new but felt Apink-like.”
Nam-joo: “It was iffy when I listened to ‘Dilemma’ for the first time, but the song’s hook was stuck in my head! And above all, I think because we had a strong faith in the composers of this song [Black Eyed Pilseung], who we have worked with for a long time, we immediately decided on making this song our title track.”
What’s the importance of ‘Horn’ in Apink’s trajectory?
Bo-mi: “I think it’s a new start! When we debuted, we focused on what we had to do rather than having fun, but for this album, we were able to focus on what we wanted to do and I think we are able to enjoy it more, so it felt like a new start!”
Ha-young: “A lot of things were experimented with within the project, and I think we have learned a lot from this experience. It was also a chance for us to know what people want from us and realise our strengths and weaknesses.”
Cho-rong, you once said that Apink are “what gave me the greatest strength to keep holding on for a long period of time, and it’s what will help me to do so in the future”. As the leader, how would you consider your role has changed throughout the years? What’s your driving force or strategy to maintain Apink’s synergy?
Cho-rong: “I think I rely a lot on my members more than the other way around now. I’m trying to listen more to the members’ opinions and I’m silently watching them. Frankly, there is not much I am doing as a leader anymore since our members are doing such an excellent job on their own.”
Bo-mi, you recently mentioned during an interview that “being thankful for small things makes life happy”. Can you expand more on that? What’s your personal definition of happiness and how would you apply it to your trajectory with Apink?
Bo-mi: “If I think deeply about it, when I realise the things I took for granted weren’t a given and am grateful, my days become happier. I also think it’s a bit comforting, although it may not be easy, to not think too much about misfortunes and accept them with the thought of, ‘I guess it’s just that time’, and let them naturally pass by. I dream of a big successful future as Apink, however, I think things feel different when I am grateful for the small yet precious things such as being able to work as Apink to this day.”
Eun-ji, you are considered one of the most gifted vocalists in the K-pop industry. But going beyond your voice, what kind of artist would you like to be known as down the line?
Eun-ji: “I hope to continue to make precious memories with our fans and to become an artist with a memorable voice through my future works in music.”
Nam-joo, I know you were pivotal for the selection of ‘I’m So Sick’ as your title track. You even said that this song not only changed Apink, but it also changed you. In what sense did this song change you and how do you feel different from those moments to now?
Nam-joo: “Since the change in the group’s concept has to be decided very carefully, there was a lot of contemplation even when we were choosing ‘I’m So Sick’, which was our first concept transformation, to be the title track back then. Through the concept transformation for ‘I’m So Sick’, my musical colour as an artist changed, I gained more confidence and I was able to feel like I was taking a leap forward.”
Ha-young, during your time on Secret Unnie, you opened up about some regrets that you had at the beginning of your career. Can you please tell us how you overcame them and what’s your current perspective on dealing with situations? Are you feeling more happy these days?
Ha-young: “I have regrets that are like, ‘I should’ve made this kind of decision’ and ‘I should’ve said this’. It was only after time had passed that I learned how big the choices that followed every word I said were, and brutally so, there wasn’t anything I could do to overcome those feelings other than to allow time to solve it.
“It’s best to overcome sadness right away, but because that’s not for me to do with my personality, I cry as much as I need to and pour out my feelings as much as I need to in order to leave no regrets! I’m still in the process of overcoming it, so I think I’m still learning.”
How would you delineate the past eleven years with Apink if you were to compare them to a journey? What would you say has been the biggest turning point in your career and why?
Cho-rong: “Should I express it as a hiking trail…? There were winding roads, uphills, flat roads, and downhills. I think our turning point was when we took a long break after receiving so much love for the song, ‘Remember’. There was so much pressure for the next album, we were having a difficult time with the song, and our hiatus got longer, which made our members nervous.
“We were worried about needing to change things up but not too big of a change that it wouldn’t be what the public and fans want. It was a time for us to find the middle ground between the music we wanted to do and the music the public recognises as Apink’s music. Eventually, the album after that put us downhill, and in the process of accepting the reactions that were different from the reactions we received during our past albums, we learned to slowly let go.
“Honestly, at first, I was really upset and blamed myself, but afterward, the situation rather allowed me to feel less pressure. It also gave me the motivation to work harder on the next album and show them! So, we really did prove it in our following album! That we are still standing strong!”
Apink are also recognised for your participation in different reality shows. Even Nam-joo said that she liked to show “the real side of Apink”. You recently filmed Apinknation, where you lived together for the first time in years. How was this experience? What was your favourite moment during the filming?
Eun-ji: “It became harder to eat and sleep together as the years went by since members started getting busier with more individual schedules compared to group schedules. Through spending time together again on the reality show, I saw how our members are still the same as they were, [but also how they] have matured.”
Nam-joo: “I enjoyed every second of shooting the reality show, and it didn’t really feel like we were shooting. As it was our 10th anniversary, I was able to feel our members’ sincerity and warmth through the reality show.
“My favourite moment during the shoot was when I cooked for our members on the first day! I haven’t had a chance to since we came of age, and I think it was the first time I cooked a proper meal for them. I was even more thankful to see our members enjoy the food!”
Apink are the only girl group from the second generation of K-pop that remain regularly active. Frankly, I think you are iconic and your impact is undeniable. What is the legacy that you want to build with Apink?
Cho-rong: “I would like us to be able to show Apink’s colour in every album like we are doing now. We are now having fun and are excited to show people our diverse sides. I wish for us to bring music and performances to make people think, ‘I didn’t know Apink could express this kind of colour’ and ‘They’re amazing’.”
Ha-young: “As a girl group, I want us to have an aura of coolness and grandeur, but what I want the most is for us to be a group that is acknowledged for being down to earth, and to be acknowledged as individuals! Showing my charming side on stage, and being down to earth when I’m not performing, I wish to become the type of person who people wish to have by their side no matter what.”
What’s your definition of success and how is it connected to both your personal and group goals going forward?
Bo-mi: “I think success is self-satisfaction! Wouldn’t being satisfied and grateful in any given circumstance be more of a success than being at the top and feeling empty from the greed to want more? Life is self-satisfaction and it’s your own life!
“My personal goal is to try challenging myself to do everything and to jump in to start even if I think I am not enough to do so! As a group as well, I wish for us to have faith and take on challenges, and through that, show everyone that Apink is here to stay for a long time.”
Eun-ji: “I believe success is up to how you set your mindset. I think it’s up to you to decide which moments are successful moments, and I’m still trying to find my own definition of success at this time when I have succeeded in some things and am currently working towards other successes.”
Nam-joo: “I don’t think there is a standard for success. I believe that people have their own standards of success according to their personal goals and happiness, and what my success looks like to me is being able to do what I love for a long time. I love what I’m currently doing and there are so many things I wish to do in the future as a group and personally. I will always try my best and be awake in order to fulfill each of them.”
Apink’s latest album ‘Horn’ is out now.