The youngest of THE BOYZ, Korean-American member Eric, is assigning what each of his teammates would be in an amusement park. “Sangyeon is a safari zookeeper, because he looks like one. And because he takes care of all the animals here,” he jokes, a finger circling the conference table where the 11-member group is sitting for a Zoom call with NME. Sangyeon, the leader and eldest among them, calmly accepts – true to his zookeeper nature, he prefers to laugh and let his cubs take the spotlight today. “Ju Haknyeon is a snack bar,” Eric continues, rising from his seat to grab some of the assorted snacks spread over the table. “And Sunwoo is a bumper car,” he finalises with cheers of approval from the other members.
THE BOYZ are known for exploring the concept of a “boy” and its many facets. Since debuting in 2017 under Cre.Ker Entertainment, they have shown up as school boys, sports boys, flower boys, wolf boys, stealthy boys, vampire boys, the list goes on. As much as they mature, an inherent boyishness keeps their discography fresh and fizzy. It reflects on today’s call – dressed in comfy attire, with a slew of drinks and phones and paper sheets covering the table in an orderly chaos, THE BOYZ aren’t trying to be anyone else. “Regardless of what the concept is, we adjust it to our own style and colour. That’s our charm,” says blue-haired vocalist New.
Going back to the amusement park banter, main dancer Juyeon jumps in. “Eric is the fastest rollercoaster in the world. He speaks very fast,” he says, while he and vocalist Hyunjae mimic the blabber with their hands. “And the name of the rollercoaster would be Quick Mouth.” As the other members laugh, Eric teases back, saying that Juyeon is a merry-go-round. “I like merry-go-rounds,” Juyeon replies, unbothered. Hyunjae claims the ride for him as well, saying that it’s because “I’m always solid in one spot, securing myself”.
“Kevin is a ‘Gyro Drop’,” New says, raising his hand. In his characteristic sharpness, Kevin quips back: “Drop it like it’s hot!” He then adds that New would be a house of mirrors, “Because he takes care of his external appearance very well.” Mesmerising dancer Q, who is extra smiley today, says that the soft-spoken Jacob would be a log flume. “When you get splashed with water, it has a cooling effect,” he says. “What I mean is that Jacob is a cool guy.”
His statement makes the members burst in laughter once again, as New affectionately plays with Jacob’s elbow skin. But don’t be mistaken by Q’s dimpled cheekiness. To THE BOYZ, he would be a haunted house. “He’s always wearing a Chucky T-shirt, and he has an Annabelle doll too,” Juyeon says (it’s true). Summarising it all, Younghoon, who is also a burgeoning actor, says that he would rather be a whole park than a specific ride. “I want to become suitable for any sort of ride.”
In a little over 24 hours, their sixth and most pre-ordered mini-album so far, ‘Thrill-ing’, will be out in the world. As the title suggests, an amusement park is the concept behind it all. “There’s so many emotions that we associate with it and that we feel while going to one, it’s an emotional rollercoaster,” says Kevin. “We had our share of bright and bubbly [concepts] and we had our share of dark and conceptual. I think this album is very bright, but at the same time very witty and tongue-in-cheek.”
His words summarise the album’s journey through its six tracks – from the groovy ‘Dance Till We Drop’ to the haunting ‘Nightmares’ to the refreshing yearning of ‘Merry Bad Ending’. It also marks THE BOYZ’s growth into new creative territories. “It was my first time writing my own lyrics,” says Q, referring to the B-side ‘Out Of Control’. Ju Haknyeon adds that he “got the chance to try rapping for this album, and that was definitely a different experience”.
The title track ‘Thrill Ride’ best encompasses these bright and twisty emotions. It compares a romantic encounter to an electrifying journey, underlined by a cheerful loop beat that entrances the listener. The MV furthers the double entendre – THE BOYZ aren’t at an amusement park, they are the amusement park (and its lifeguards, bellhops, UTV drivers, handsome guys enjoying the summer). As Eric points out, “It’s very colourful, and has a lot of meme-able moments.”
Most of these come from their carefree choreography, flecked with jumps, dabs and winks. If in 2020’s ‘The Stealer’ they engaged in what could be called a barre workout, ‘Thrill Ride’ is “more like cardio” ,says Eric. “To be honest, it’s more tiring than ‘The Stealer’, and it’s also more hip-hop-based, which we never tried before. We had a difficult time practicing, but with time I think we figured it out.” Jacob, who struggled with dancing during his trainee days but has grown into a unique performer, says they had to go back to foundations for this comeback. “Our teacher always tells us, ‘It’s back to the basics if you want to grow’. In dancing, that means the basic moves, rhythms and waves. And in singing, it’s vocal warm ups and making sure you take care of your voice.”
THE BOYZ’s year so far has included the release of their first Japanese album ‘Breaking Dawn’, the special single ‘Drink It’ for mobile app Universe and a strenuous participation in the Mnet reality TV series Kingdom: Legendary War – the sequel to last year’s Road To Kingdom, where THE BOYZ placed first. “Being on Road To Kingdom and Kingdom was very worthwhile, but it wasn’t easy,” says Eric. “Because it was an opportunity to try out a lot of different stages and concepts, it was a stepping stone… We’re in that spot where we can be more confident and try new things that we have never done before.”
“The pressure was very intense,” Kevin adds. “In Road To Kingdom, everyone was going into it blind, no one really knew what to expect, so we just showed everything that we had. With Kingdom coming up, we were trying to think of ways to go further, to aim higher, given the fact that we were teaming against bigger groups with more experience than us. But I think that the outcome was very satisfactory.” And thanks to their performances in the shows, “We have become more natural,” Juyeon reflects. “We have been able to digest the stage better and everything that goes on at that moment.”
The pandemic has also posed an opportunity for them to face performances and idol life in a different manner. “After you’re on stage, for example, when you’re at a concert and you have all the fan chants supporting you, the moment you come back to your dorm or to the hotel, there’s suddenly an emptiness that clashes in,” says Ju Haknyeon. “The difference in temperature – from everyone cheering your name to this quietness – is a little emotional, and can be difficult to handle.”
Younghoon agrees, adding that “the fact that we can’t meet our fans face-to-face is a really difficult part of being an idol right now”. Sunwoo, who had been quietly observing until then, chimes in. “In times like these, it’s a little ironic, but we don’t have to put much effort into handling these negative emotions. Like Younghoon said, we’re all stuck in a pandemic and we have to perform without an audience anyway.” It’s all a lesson for THE BOYZ, who are committed to self-knowledge and growth. “There’s a lot of things that we want to develop and mature,” says Hyunjae, who would like to improve his physique and “build a better body” – although fans would vehemently disagree with that need.
Last year, THE BOYZ released a series called Generation Z Identity Films, where each member was introduced through an astonishing video and short interviews about themselves. In the same vein, this year’s Be Your Own King video and merchandise aims to show their individuality even more. “We want each member to shine as a person,” says Kevin. “It would be great for the viewers to realise that we are relatable human beings, and for them to ask questions to us as a next-door neighbour or as a friend, instead of a K-pop idol who is always having a perfect image.”
“When you get to know yourself, you know your own strengths and you know your own weaknesses,” adds Younghoon. “When you are lacking something, it’s good to realise, ‘These are the points that I need to improve on, that I should be putting more effort into to become a better person’.” The boyband hope fans will lead with the same curious mindset.
“When you ask yourself ‘Who am I?’ it will open up a door to realise, ‘Oh, I’m this kind of person,’ and that will be a valuable opportunity for self-realisation,” says Q. “We want to encourage our fans to ask themselves about who they are.”