Among K-pop fans, the year of 2022 will go down as the year of rookie girl groups. Whether they were busy putting real-life teen royalty to shame, promoting self-empowerment or just being the coolest girls-next-door in the world, fresh faces dominated both charts and conversation.
And just when it seemed like we’d hit saturation point, FIFTY FIFTY came along. This quartet entered the girl group landscape with their debut mini-album ‘The Fifty’. Filled with wispy, dreamy vocals and gently uplifting guitar, its aptly titled lead single ‘Higher’ swept fans off their feet across Twitter and TikTok, eventually reaching the ears and earning the praise of music critics both domestically and internationally.
Just three months after their debut, FIFTY FIFTY have returned with their new single album ‘The Beginning: Cupid’ today (February 24). Described by the group as the “prequel” to their story, title track ‘Cupid’ is about a young woman longing for love, only to regret ever opening her heart. Now out in both Korean and English, the synth-filled number takes the dreaminess of their first single and imbues it with the naive impudence of youth as they croon “Cupid is so dumb”.
Days before the release, NME caught up with Saena, Keena, Sio and Aran on Zoom to discuss their childhood role models, songwriting and production goals, along with their thoughts on being part of a massive new generation in K-pop.
Congratulations on your first comeback with ‘The Beginning’! Can you tell us more about your new single ‘Cupid’ and its special “twin” version?
Sio: “This upcoming album will be like a prequel to FIFTY FIFTY’s universe and story. So, we tried to show various sides of our inner selves through ‘Cupid’, which is about a pure, amateur love. We wanted to express love in the most direct and honest way, so that’s how the song came about.”
Aran: “We also thought a lot about delivering our message to people around the world through our music. So, we decided to release ‘Cupid’ in a different language too. We came up with the English version, which is very similar to [the original track], and that’s why we named it the ‘twin’ version.”
The Korean version of ‘Cupid’ also includes lyrics written by Keena. What ideas did you have while writing the song?
Keena: “When I was writing lyrics for the song, I was thinking about focusing on FIFTY FIFTY’s own interpretation of Cupid, rather than the generic perception of Cupid as a symbol. I wanted to shine a different light on that same symbol, so I tried to imagine a story behind that and put our own interpretation of Cupid into the song.”
It’s only been a few months since your debut with the mini-album ‘The Fifty’. The reception to ‘The Fifty’ has been great among both Korean and international fans, and that the record received one of the highest-ever ratings on Korean music review site IZM. How did you respond to that?
Sio: “We’re just very very thankful for all the great responses to our debut. It’s unbelievable, almost too good to be true. For me, even the fact that we’ve debuted still doesn’t feel real at this point. It’s such an honour to receive that much love for our debut album. We also haven’t had a lot of opportunities to actually meet our fans in person, so it hasn’t really come to our reality that we are getting that much love, but we’re still very thankful.”
Some fans have drawn similarities between your vocal tones and that of senior acts MAMAMOO and Brave Girls. What did you think of those comparisons?
Saena: “It’s such a great honour to be put in a similar line of comparison with such great senior idols. And I believe all of us, individually, have very specific, unique and different vocal tones. I think we will have more opportunities to really show how FIFTY FIFTY could build up our own unique vocal tones in the future as well.”
How would you introduce FIFTY FIFTY’s music to someone who has never heard it?
Keena: “Just like our team’s name, FIFTY FIFTY, our music is about duality. So I’ll say that to all future listeners: The more you listen to [our music], you will be able to hear and experience a variety of genres and unique sounds.”
Aran: “Because many people have said that our music felt comfortable to them, I think comfort is my biggest goal to deliver to people throughout our music. Also, that our vocal tones have their own colour, and our four individual charms are really special.”
“We tried to show various sides of our inner selves through ‘Cupid’, which is about a pure, amateur love”
Since you’ve brought up the four charms of FIFTY FIFTY, what would you say are the greatest charms of each member?
Aran: “Let’s answer this for each other! We can start with Sio – I think she has a very chic, quirky charm!”
Saena: “The first thing I think of when it comes to Sio is her vocal ability, especially as our main vocalist.”
Aran: “As for Saena, I think she’s really bright. She loves smiling.”
Sio: “She’s very lively, and very lovely.”
Saena: “Aran’s vocal colour really stands out to me.”
Keena: “I love her smile, her eyes go into this half-moon shape that makes you feel happy just seeing it!”
Aran: “I think Keena has the most charm, no matter the concept, but her strongest point is probably her charisma.”
Sio: “[Keena’s] voice is very unique, I especially love her rap tone, because it’s very very powerful.”
How did each of you start your musical journeys that landed you in FIFTY FIFTY?
Saena: “When I was younger, I watched this four-member girl group called BESTie performing on TV, and smiling brightly onstage. I absolutely fell for their performance and that inspired me to dream of becoming an artist and idol.”
Keena: “I had a similar experience as well. I had watched a video of APink’s concert and saw that they were having so much fun while performing together. It really impressed me and inspired me to become a great performer and to have fun on the stage like that.”
“It would be a lie if I said that we weren’t pressured at all to join this long list of groups debuting in 2022. We felt a great responsibility”
Aran: “We’ve got different backgrounds, so maybe we should all share [laughs]. I think for me, I’ve loved singing since I was young. It has always been my passion, and I thought that being on the stage was my destiny. Thankfully and very fortunately, the opportunities to sing naturally lined up for me and I ultimately ended up dreaming of becoming an idol.”
Sio: “I’ve always wanted to become a person who can express myself well, that was kind of the general thought I had. So I kept thinking, how could I do it best, and in what way? I’ve always been a music fan, so it naturally drove me to think of becoming an idol who can express herself through music and dance. And later, it made me want to become an artist who can also write and produce to truly express myself.”
Having a love for music is one thing, but we also know that the training period before becoming an idol can be gruelling. What got you through those difficult times?
Keena: “After becoming a trainee, there was a monthly evaluation performance that we had to do. We got to perform on the stage in front of a crowd, with our company’s staff and pretty much everyone I knew at the time. That thrill of performing in front of the audience, it was so huge and just excited me so much. I couldn’t let go of that thrill, I think, and that’s why I held on.”
FIFTY FIFTY debuted late in 2022, which was a huge, competitive year for rookie girl groups. Were you at all intimidated by the idea of joining this wave of powerhouse acts?
Saena: “It would be a lie if I said that we weren’t pressured at all to join this long list of groups debuting in 2022. We felt a great responsibility, because we wanted to show ourselves and stand out amongst them. But we tried to put down that pressure and anxiety, and focused as much as possible to be ourselves, to dance and sing on stage. [We believed] that if we worked harder, then we would naturally be able to stand out.”
Since you’re only at the beginning of your career, do you have any goals you would like to achieve in the months or years to come?
Keena: “For now, I want to continue writing lyrics for our albums. A bigger personal goal would be to produce an entire album for FIFTY FIFTY one day.”
Aran: “I’m already writing a few R&B songs on my own, so my special goal would be to release R&B and hip-hop music as FIFTY FIFTY and perform those songs as a group.”
Sio: “I would like to learn to play more instruments and compose songs for our group. I love playing guitar, and I want to write a band song for us, maybe with an electric guitar.”
Saena: “I agree with what the members said so far. Personally, I’m most confident in dancing, so I would like to choreograph for some of FIFTY FIFTY’s songs in the future. I also want to try having each member release her own song that’s written or produced by ourselves!”
Finally, what can fans look forward to from FIFTY FIFTY in 2023?
Sio: “Because this release features our first prequel songs, it’ll be an opportunity to tell our story further. We will keep expanding our whole background story behind our music, as well as us as a group, so I think that’ll be something that fans can look forward to moving on with us.”
FIFTY FIFTY’s new single album ‘The Beginning: Cupid’ is out now