“We want to be a girl group that takes the road that hasn’t been taken,” Kim Chaewon told NME last year, when LE SSERAFIM first stepped onto the K-pop scene. Now, almost exactly a year later, the girl group have returned with their debut studio record ‘Unforgiven’ – and a lot has changed. The quintet – yes, they’re no longer a sextet – have established their place at the forefront of K-pop’s formidable fourth generation, evident through their performance on the charts, record-breaking album sales and the sheer scale of their fervent, fast-growing fandom (named ‘Fearnot’).
Outside of the group, the members of LE SSERAFIM have also made their mark as individuals. Between Huh Yunjin’s string of self-composed solo tracks, Hong Eunchae’s gig as the new host of Music Bank and Kazuha’s countless brand ambassadorships, LE SSERAFIM’s explosive success is undeniable. As they say, success begets success, and that much is obvious when NME caught up with the girl group over Zoom just days before the release of ‘Unforgiven’, their passion further set ablaze by all they have achieved.
“We want to empower people to walk their own path, even if you might become the villain in other people’s eyes”
“We’re going to pave our own path and do what we want. And we don’t need your permission to do it,” says Yunjin as she shares the core message that drives their fiery new single, echoing Chaewon’s words from a year ago. While previous title tracks ‘Fearless’ and ‘Antifragile’ had been all about showing their strength, the Western-inspired ‘Unforgiven’ speaks to their unflinching determination never to compromise their values: “Oh you’ll see, what I’m made of / Oh my voice is kinda loud / Oh I don’t care, just shout it out.”
“Every decision we make and every choice that we make is subject to people’s judgement. There are certain standards that are expected. While walking your path and going your way, there will be those who point fingers and make judgments about you, say things about you that aren’t true,” Yunjin continues. “We want to empower people to walk their own path, even if you might become the villain in other people’s eyes.”
From the ashes of bridges burnt, LE SSERAFIM have also forged new connections, including with Nile Rodgers of Chic, who’s already raring to work with the girl group again after supplying ‘Unforgiven’ its blazing guitar riffs. “I immediately thought: ‘Oh, our song is going to be really, really good. It’s going to be a hit,’” Chaewon says, recounting the moment they met Rodgers over video call for the first time. For Rodgers to take his first venture into K-pop with LE SSERAFIM, a group who – at the time – weren’t even a year old, was “surreal” for the quintet, Yunjin says. “It just doesn’t feel real, that we were given such an amazing opportunity.”
While having a legend like Rodgers in their corner certainly helps, make no mistake, LE SSERAFIM are a tremendous force in their own right. Take their ferocious performance at the 2022 Melon Music Awards, one that cemented their position as world-class artists in the minds of many. In it, the girl group transform into the immortal Hydra of Greek myth. And just like the mythological serpentine beast that regenerates two heads for each one it loses, the group have sworn time and again to rise stronger than ever, even from the hottest of infernos.
“A big part of our identity is self-acceptance and just showing ourselves as honestly and transparently as we can”
From ‘The Great Mermaid’ to ‘The Hydra’, LE SSERAFIM’s storytelling has always been steeped in folklore and mythology. Carrying the torch forward in their latest record is ‘Eve, Psyche and The Bluebeard’s Wife’, a fan-favourite Jersey club tune that’s aptly named after women who fearlessly reached out to seize what had been expressly made forbidden to them. Described by Yunjin as “shocking, but in a good way”, the alluring track is the group’s most daring to date, offering a glimpse into the uncharted territory of K-pop that the quintet are hellbent on breaching.
Its message is also one that resonates deeply with the members, whose individual journeys as artists have been rife with criticism and obstacles. “Whenever I mentioned my goals in my life, my big dreams, there were people who told me that [those goals] were only achievable by others in the past because of who they were,” Sakura says, looking back on her extensive career. From her start as a J-pop idol at age 14 to her debut in LE SSERAFIM a decade later – which some had deemed the singer “too old” for – she’s no stranger to being told what she can and cannot do. “But I was like: ‘Why would I give up even before trying, even before starting?’ And so, I have decided to pursue my goals and dreams however I want.”
“A big part of our identity is self-acceptance and just showing ourselves as honestly and transparently as we can. When we first debuted, it was a challenge, because we didn’t know how people would take that in,” Yunjin adds. In a sense, each member of LE SSERAFIM has her own Bluebeard, taking form through the setbacks they’ve faced to get to where they are today and the cruel criticism they’ve endured, both in and out of the public eye. Still, like Ariadne freeing herself from the shackles he’d placed on her, LE SSERAFIM continue to forge forward on their glorious journey.
The story of LE SSERAFIM and their whirlwind path to the top is one that often finds its way into their music. “It’s scary but it’s so exciting / Yes we ride, yes we ride,” sings Eunchae on the cheery disco-pop of ‘No-Return (Into the Unknown)’, while the Latin-inspired ‘Fire in the Belly’ borrows from the tale of Pinocchio and his explosive escape from the belly of a whale (“Deep in the belly of a sleeping monster / So dark that even dreams disappear / Make it bright with our fire, fire, fire / That was hiding in our hearts”), their passion and verve acting as the torch lighting their way.
Their adventure has been anything but smooth sailing, but their ability to inspire others, Eunchae says, has been a powerful motivator every step of the way. “It’s really meaningful that a lot of people actually relate to our music […] and you know, I think this is just the beginning.” In the grand scheme of things, though, LE SSERAFIM also admit that they are essentially still rookies. “We’re basically newborns,” Chaewon says with a laugh, as her bandmates smile and nod in agreement. “We’ve just started, but we’re holding each other’s hands and marching forward.”
But LE SSERAFIM are not the only ones on this journey. K-pop has seen an incredible wave of new K-pop girl groups over the past two years – fellow HYBE rookies NewJeans, Starship Entertainment’s IVE (where two of Chaewon and Sakura’s former IZ*ONE bandmates continue to thrive), viral sensations FIFTY FIFTY – powerhouse acts that have found unique ways to tell their own stories, heralding an inspiring new era for female groups.
“There are so many other teams [doing well], so we get good motivation by just watching them too,” says Kazuha. “I think each team has very different and unique colours, which makes the whole industry very fun.” She also welcomes the friendly competition, adding that this has only driven LE SSERAFIM to become more focused: “We shouldn’t lose our own colour and uniqueness in this wave, and try to showcase that confidently.”
While we await our next meeting with LE SSERAFIM – same time, same place, next year? – the girl group are eagerly manifesting their goals for the future. “We would love to do a world tour,” Yunjin exclaims, eyes widening at the idea while the rest of the group fidget excitedly in their seats. “When we go on a world tour, we’re going to meet a lot of Fearnots all over the world and we’re going to go on a lot of stages,” Chaewon chimes in, already envisioning their 2024: “If that happens, I think we’re gonna grow – both performance and skill-wise – I’m really excited to see us grow next year.”
LE SSERAFIM’s debut studio album ‘Unforgiven’ is out now