A hyphen is a bridge between words. It doesn’t let them clash against their will, forming entirely new compositions like “football”, “rainbow”, “passport;” or allow for daunting spaces, as in “high school”, “ice cream”, “full moon.” Rather, a hyphen gracefully links, assuring that meaning can flow from one side to another, and yet maintain individuality: ‘Given-Taken’, ‘Drunk-Dazed’, ‘Blessed-Cursed’.
The song titles above belong to ENHYPEN, a K-pop boyband whose name was inspired by the symbol and who aim for a similar connective trajectory. “Music, in general, has a really powerful message,” says Brisbane-raised member Jake, whose charming accent and soothing voice fill up the room whenever he speaks – or sings. “Not even just K-pop, but I believe a lot of people around the world can relate to others and can become one through music. I think we’re trying to send that message.”
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In a Zoom call with NME, the seven members of ENHYPEN huddle together to talk about another metaphorical bridge they are about to cross. In less than 48 hours, the group will be hopping on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany, to attend Europe’s first K-pop mega-festival, KPOP.FLEX. The event, which took place on May 14 and 15 at the Deutsche Bank Park stadium, represented a major threshold for the group: it was their first overseas, large-scale and in-person showcase.
“We’re really excited because we’re doing our first performance for [our fans] ENGENEs abroad,” said the bewitching performer and devoted leader Jungwon. “It’s actually my first time going abroad,” added the soft-featured Sunoo, who captivates audiences with a mischievous gaze on stage. “The biggest difference I expect is the languages. I’m sure they will speak diverse languages, so I think that will feel very new.”
Sunoo was right: across its two days, over 65,000 people from more than 80 countries attended the festival. While ENHYPEN only performed on the first one, they were one of the most awaited acts, and their charisma dominated the venue. After an arresting entrance to the sound of Mix & Match’s ‘Bleeding Darkness’, they performed their latest hits ‘Drunk-Dazed’, ‘Fever’, ‘Tamed-Dashed’ and ‘Blessed-Cursed’. In between songs, the septet also interacted with the audience through screen prompts and sang together some verses of ‘Polaroid Love’, their recent TikTok viral hit.
The experience was momentous, but it also came with a taxing schedule: ENHYPEN arrived in Frankfurt only a few hours before rehearsals on May 14, and went straight back to Seoul the next day. As the schedule was so rushed, they all hope to explore the country better in the future, when they return with more time. “Especially because we want to watch some soccer. There are lots of soccer fans in here,” added Jay, whose sleek, stylish aura hides a caring and effortlessly funny personality.
K-pop idols invariably get used to tough routines, but how does ENHYPEN get in the right mindset to perform, even after flying for 13 hours? “I try to stay calm and go through all the stuff I need to focus on,” says Jake. The all-rounder and known homebody Heeseung, on the other hand, shares that “we do a round of music shows when we make our comebacks, and if you go to these broadcast stations, there’s a lot of mirrors. So I look into them, do some warm-ups, some dances. I drink a lot of water [too].”
During their brief 25-minute set, it became clear that KPOP.FLEX was a mere teaser of what ENHYPEN are truly capable of. Heeseung, snuggling in his grey hoodie, mentions that one of the team’s biggest strengths is their versatility, in which they are “good at artful performances, but also at songs that are soft and lovely” like ‘Polaroid Love’ – his favourite track to perform live.
At this moment, the former figure skater and princely singer Sunghoon takes some time to think about his track of choice too. Not missing any chances, Jay looks at him and snaps: “‘Hey Tayo’?” Making the whole group burst into laughter. (‘Hey Tayo’ is the theme song to the Korean children’s animation show Tayo the Little Bus, for which ENHYPEN did a remake MV that is both delightful and hilarious to watch).
“Personally, I would choose ‘Go Big or Go Home’,” Sunghoon finally decides. “We performed it during our fan meeting [in Korea] and I got a lot of energy from it, because there is a dance break in the middle of the song,” he explains, referring to the moment when ENGENEs chant their names to cheer them up. “I forget that I’m tired, I forget that the choreo is really hard, and I just enjoy the performance.”
“When it comes to ENHYPEN’s music, we cannot go on without speaking about our perfectly synchronised choreography,” adds Ni-ki, the Japanese dance prodigy and youngest member at 16. “Every time we make a comeback, we have such cool choreography, and I think that ENGENEs like it a lot too.” But according to Jay, ENHYPEN’s true treasure lies in their lyrics: “We have a point of [delivering] deep messages in our songs. We show things that we want to say” – a statement that Jake completes with “all the songs we put out are related to us and show what we have been going through”.
Since their debut in late-2020, ENHYPEN have sought to bridge life’s inherent dichotomies, often handing meta insights into their lives as rising K-pop idols. “But I go now, I follow my dreams / Drive through the question for life / Between giving and taking / It’s time for my proving,” they sing on the sibylline ‘Given-Taken’.
2021’s single ‘Drunk-Dazed’ explored the intoxicating carnival of fame, where they discover that all that glitters is not gold; the summery ‘Tamed-Dashed’ was about “putting actions before words,” as explained by Jay in an interview with Weverse Magazine; and January’s ‘Blessed-Cursed’ saw them shouting “to hell with your rules” over electrifying guitar riffs, reminding us that curses can be blessings in disguise.
Now, with KPOP.FLEX and all its landmarks behind them, they are ready for the next bridge to cross. As new hair colours suggest, a comeback is already on its way (“Maybe, maybe not,” quips Jake, but Sunoo, who is sitting behind him, vehemently points his thumbs up). With each release, ENHYPEN find new ways to integrate these dualities, and consequently to become more confident in themselves. Sunoo says he feels the difference as they “improved skill-wise” since debut, while Jake says that they’re “able to be more relaxed now” when on stage.
This is visible throughout the interview, too. They comfortably joke with each other – poke one’s back here, grab another’s thumb there. The most talkative members encourage the quiet ones to talk, but take the lead when necessary. A gentle brotherhood prevails between them; an optimistic knowledge that, no matter what comes ahead, they can rely on each other.
Often referred to as “the new K-pop destination”, a title that suggests their music as a leading vehicle, ENHYPEN travel from border to border, experience to experience, connecting worlds between them. And if you place a series of hyphens one after the other, eventually they will become a line – a solid path sustaining those who walk upon it. A map that reminds us of life’s multiple dimensions.
“We can’t have everything, but I think that there are more things that we gain rather than we lose. So, let’s say in exchange for [doing what we do], we lose some time, but we gain more [love] from our fans,” says Jungwon, endearingly puffing his cheeks and blowing up his pink fringe while the interpreter relays his words. “I believe there are two sides to everything. If there is light, there’s got to be a shadow.”
ENHYPEN’s latest release ‘Dimension: Answer’ is out now