Original article from 10asia.
Last Wednesday’s episode of “Radio Star,” a segment of MBC “Golden Fishery,” raised the bar of TV viewers’ expectation with the star-studded guest list featuring the six members of K-pop group Shinhwa and the five emcees that have no fear of attacking their guests with uncomfortable questions. But when the show hit the airwaves, it turned out that the episode did not live up to what the viewers were expecting: the questions and answers being raw and harsh.
Shinhwa, who have been subjugating major variety shows with their distracted attitude and playful jokes in the past, were surprisingly calm and gentle during the whole interview. Being in an idol group that made its debut 14 years ago, the Shinhwa members have tasted the sweets and bitters of life and finished their two-year mandatory military service. What could possibly have happened to the six members in the past few years? Ahead of the tenth album’s release and the 14th anniversary concert on March 24, 10Asia visited Shinhwa’s rehearsal studio. Like Jun Jin commenting “We know each other too well and I don’t want to do what might get on the members’ nerves” or Kim Dong-wan saying “It’s no fun when we show our true friendship. But… we are close,” their relationship that has become ripe was “Shinhwa,” or legend, itself.
You must have had a lot of worries, making your comeback after long four year hiatus. The trend of music or the market has changed since 2008. What have you guys discussed before producing the new album with the unique color of Shinhwa?
Eric: We have discussed if we would follow the current trends of music or just keep Shinhwa’s style. We came to a conclusion that it was just like the beginning of everything like releasing a debut album. Unlike how we went right into recording process after our agency gave us the list of songs to sing, we went over around 300 songs to select ones for the album during a year during our preparation period. Sometimes we had some unexpected problems when a song we chose got sold to someone else in England. After so many twists and turns like that we had four candidates to choose for our title track and suffered from stress till the last minute whether it’d be “Red Carpet” or “Venus.”
Lee Min-woo: When we received the demo version of “Venus,” all members loved it with an addictive melody and thought it’d be suitable for the album’s title track. But because it’s an electronica genre, we had questioned if we could come up with choreography that still has the color of Shinhwa. When we watched the first draft of the choreography, we all thought that this was it. Just listening to the tune would make you wonder how we would pull this off but I’m quite confident with our dynamic group dance that goes well with the song and its scale. We also considered going easy with the basic dance moves but Shinhwa has the image of giving off great performances and we couldn’t let our fans down. We always remember the moment we first began.
Shinhwa’s dance is famous for its complexity. It would be difficult for vocalists like Shin Hye-sung and Kim Dong-wan to catch up.
Shin Hye-sung: Yes, compared to the other members we have some difficulties. While Minwoo or Jun Jin learn the new moves in just two days, it takes us over a week for to remember them (laugh).
You guys won huge success with the seventh album, “Brand New,” which was the first to release after departing from SM Entertainment. I guess you can call the tenth album the second version of “Brand New” since i is a new album in four years. What do you want to show your fans this time?
Eric: We would like to call it a modern edition of “Brand New.” Of course, we’d be more than excited to top charts and garner trophies. But this time, we just wanted to work together as Shinhwa.
Hyesung: People put grandiose titles before our group name such as “The only living first generation idol group,” “14-year veteran idols” or “The return of the original idol group.” We feel good when we hear such compliments but it’s a burden at the same time. We feel we need to show something that goes beyond their expectations. (laugh)
Jun Jin: People say “You remember that old singer?” when referring to artists in our generation. We don’t want to become “the old singers.” Time has passed but we want to prove that we can still do it.
”]Being in your early 30s could mean the golden days of life or the beginning of doing new things. It may feel awkward being called “the original” or “ancestors” just because you’re from the first generation of Korean idols.
Eric: I guess it’s quite inevitable because we are the first in this field. We’re making records every year. If we were actors in films, we’d be seen as matured men who got rid of our young actor image. But in most cases, idol groups break up even before reaching that age. Presenting awesome performances and songs is our job. If we see it from a perspective that we’re just like other people with a bit different jobs, people calling us “ancestors” could mean that they see us as the people who have succeeded in a very harsh environment like the entertainment industry. It’s quite gratifying in that sense.
After your eighth or ninth album, you all expanded solo careers and with the comeback this year, Shinhwa has the image of being able to “spread and gather” quite easily. What is the most enjoyable part when you are in a group?
Jun Jin: We tried doing things individually because we all had our own interests, though we enjoyed being in Shinhwa. But while pursuing solo careers, we realized that being with other members fill the parts that each of us lack in and make our work more satisfying. In fact, we have matured after turning 30, especially with the experience from the army. We are more considerate than before.
”]What is the most difficult part when coming to an agreement, even after 14 years of partnership?
Shin Hye-sung: We started this job because we liked doing it. But because this is a “job” after all, it would be a total lie if I say there were no conflicts between us. But conflicts are important, you know. They provide chances to share opinions and consider the other person’s thoughts more. And when it’s been 14 years with your friends, you know why they came up with that answer or answered in that way. So I guess having different opinions is acceptable and solving the problems that follow is not much of a big deal.
How do you communicate with each other to solve conflicts?
Jun Jin: Do you want us to show you in person?
Eric: As Minwoo and I have been handling the work related to Shinhwa as co-C.E.Os, there were many times when we had to face conflicts without the other members noticing them. Minwoo is the type of artist who wants to try new things while I’m more of a realistic type who would refute new ideas by asking why he’s doing that at the moment. Honestly, I can be quite mean sometimes when I say it. But how you communicate it is not so important but whether you talk with each other or not matters. When we were prepping for this year’s album, the other younger members raised their voices and threw in their ideas as well, really making things flow better.
But as you guys started off as group mates and not friends, it’s hard to imagine that you guys had the trust in the team’s longevity from the beginning. Andy, for an example, pulled himself out from the group during the fourth album and all your contracts with SM Entertainment ended on different dates. Was there a specific event that made you think that Shinhwa will last as a six-member group?
Andy: When we were living together in a house, Dong-wan always said “We’re the best. We look good when we’re all together in a group.” I guess that kind of brainwashed me to think that we’re always going to be as one. We were quite clumsy when we first made our debut but Eric, who’s the leader, constantly told us which parts we lack, Minwoo fixed our moves on stage and Hyesung held strong as the center with his vocals. As a result, I was able to think that it’s good to be together.
Lee Min-woo: Around that time, H.O.T announced their team’s breakup. It felt sad watching each member going his own way and made us realize that we shouldn’t let anything disband our team. So we swore that if we ever get to that point, we will work it out “together.” We knew that hearing rumors and making decision is not going to help at all.
Jun Jin: We topped plenty of music charts as Shinhwa, but the only award we haven’t received that time was KBS’ annual music awards. So I wanted to gain that reputation with the group members.
Eric: After our contracts ended, our goal became clear. We already laid the groundwork as an idol group while in SM and all we had to do was to harvest what we had done. We also considered settling with what we had at that time, but after deep conversations with the members, we came to a conclusion that Shinhwa will become independent from the agency.
So you received the grand award with the album “Brand New” at the 2004 Seoul Music Awards. This turning point to continue as a team could also be the result of trusting each other’s talent as entertainers, right?
Kim Dong-wan (Kim): Each member has a strong sense of pride in himself. That makes them look cool sometimes and being part of it makes me feel cool too. It’s a totally different feeling from doing solo activities. But when it comes to our relationship, we don’t stand on our pride, like being in front of our moms. That really touches me sometimes.
Minwoo: Aww, don’t cry. (laugh)
Following KBS’ talk show “Win Win,” you guys are making quite an impression to the viewers on variety shows with “Radio Star” being the latest. How does it feel?
Andy: I didn’t think much about what I said during interviews when I was younger. But now, being more mature and older than before, I think more than twice before I say something.
Jun Jin: The trend in variety shows these days is running other people down by revealing rumors or embarrassing situations. For us, because we know about what we like and dislike, I don’t want to do things that would hurt their feelings.
Dongwan: We need to be more playful and make jokes but we’re not immature anymore. It’s not so much fun and I’m worried that having a good atmosphere in the team would rather ruin our relationship later. We’re too considerate now. Ugh. (laugh)
However, it seems unlikely that Kim Gura would let it slide when recording “Radio Star.”
Lee: Jun Jin had his guard up. (laugh)
Jun Jin: I thought he was going to be much more harsh but he was being really nice on the show. (laugh)
Eric: Before our recording, the “Radio Star” hosts patted us on our backs and said, ‘We didn’t think you guys would come out together because it’s already been 14 years but it’s really great to see all of you here together.’ Most variety shows try to appeal to TV viewers by revealing gossips like plastic surgeries. They know that that’s going to sell, but tried to avoid talking about them because they care for us.
The group’s reality program “Shinhwa Show” on jTBC began airing last week, what is your evaluation?
Eric: There are two different kinds of shows; ones that are really fun to watch and ones that is still in the process of development. It is exactly when Andy appeared on MBC’s “We Got Married.” Instead of thinking that the show’s funny, it was a bit uneasy like walking on thin ice…(laugh) But he had the power of making the viewers focus on the show despite his awkward acting. As he adjusted to being on “We Got Married,” I think the viewers were getting used to his acting as well.
Andy: I knew how to push and pull (laugh).
Eric: In that sense, “Shinhwa Show” may lack in some areas but as the show goes on to next episodes, I’m sure that the viewers would feel a strong attachment to the show like MBC’s “Countryside Diaries”.
”]When it comes to Shinhwa’s activities in music and television shows, it’s quite extraordinary to see all the members participating and being part of it. As much as you guys have more responsibilities, it would also mean that there are more you can do as artists and entertainers.
Lee Min-woo: When we were teens, we did whatever our agency told us to do from singing to choreography. The things that we learned there helped us to figure out what each member is good at. I started off on a blank sheet and slowly learned how to write lyrics and pursued my solo career. Several years have passed and I realized that the success in solo careers could also go in line with the group’s success. In the process, Andy has become a producer, Eric is building up his image as an actor and Jun Jin is earning fame as a “dark horse” while being acknowledged by his sportsmanship and wit on variety shows.
Shinhwa: (laughs and coughs)
Lee Minwoo: And Shin Hye-sung is known for his image as an acoustic and ballad singer…
Lee Minwoo: (laugh) See how the members burst into laughter when I start to talk?
Shin Hye-sung: I have an acoustic image? And Jun Jin has the image of a sci-fi cartoon character. (laugh)
Lee Minwoo: Kim Dong-wan started his career in acting including musicals. I was blown away when I went to go see the last performance of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” I thought Dongwan did an amazing job in taking the overall control on the stage, with confidence, and pulling off all his lines. And I feel that we are the Shinhwa that we are now and are able to produce the show with our different talents .
Andy, you are the youngest member of Shinhwa and now you are known for producing the idol group Teen Top. What words of advice did you give them as their producer?
Andy: When choosing Teen Top members, I reflected on the things that I felt as a trainee before making my debut. I was able to figure out each members’ charm after observing them. The older members helped me out; Eric came to our office and talked to the members of Teen Top and Minwoo composed a song for them.
It seems that some of the younger singers want to follow the footsteps of Shinhwa. Being the senior singers who didn’t have a precedent to look up to, is there anything that you want to say to them?
Jun Jin: How are you doing?
Minwoo: For us, none of our parents told us to do something. There’s no one who loves you more than your parents but we figured that idols like us should make decisions and think for themselves, as they are putting their first step into the society much earlier than their friends in that age.
Hyesung: It was strange for us when just one member appeared in shows alone or doing something else away from the team. Now it’s pretty common to see members of idol groups branching out their careers into acting, radio DJ and releasing solo albums. And later, someone in the team would surpass the other members. And when that happens…
Minwoo: Were you really jealous?
Minwoo: It’s just a joke.
Hyesung: Just! Anyway, I would like to tell those people to always remember that they started as a team and they could not have pulled off such success without the other members’ support in the back.
Eric: And if you find the division of income is unfair, it means that you have to improve and work harder. Don’t be afraid to speak out and don’t let your age stop you from doing so. If it’s for the team, someone needs to come out front and lead the rest of the group or move as a group. Even though the agency tries to control the team, members have to stay as one no matter where they go. And the people who work in this industry know that they signed up for something much more difficult than any other jobs. Putting their passion and work in the center, they should try to get rid of things that block their way. And when you are young, you have plenty of time to fix your mistakes so you should try everything first and if it doesn’t work out just go back to the start.
Kim Dong-wan: To add to what Eric said, it’s best to trust one another and choose one person to speak up for themselves or do it altogether as a group. The message doesn’t really get through unless each of the member speaks out and there are many cases where the members fall out because of it. The members should talk about it together when it comes to work problems. It is sad to see groups break up because some misunderstanding between with their parents or people in the industry.
Hyesung: Honestly, we had some difficulties because of the same thing that Dongwan said…
”] I found it quite impressive when you thanked SM Entertainment’s C.E.O Lee Soo-man for bring together the six members, during the press conference for your 14th anniversary. Before you guys came together as a group, you were all just kids who enjoyed music and dancing. And now you have made it this far as Shinhwa. Thinking back to when you were 17, 18 and 19 years old, what kind of person were you back then before making your debut?
Dongwan: I’m a survivor.
Jun Jin: I really got that feeling that we had to do this from Kim. (laugh)
Minwoo: For me, it was a period where I gave up on my dreams because it was so hard. I didn’t actually give up and I became more intense and that was when my luck changed.
Eric: I think I was kind of immature and just too ambitious. I can honestly say it wasn’t a pure passion. And I realized after working in this industry that as much as this lifestyle looks extravagant, it is not easy. And there were many times where I felt that I didn’t belong here. And in the middle of all that, the reason why I thank Lee Soo-man is that I stayed in this industry till now because he introduced the members to me. I know that I might have given up becoming a singer thinking that this wasn’t the right path for me if I had made my debut as a solo artist. I’m glad that I was able to make friends of my life by joining Shinhwa and they cover up the areas where I’m not so great at. And I think this was when I knew that I didn’t have to give up my dream to become a singer.
Dongwan: We are just like parts of a built-up robot who complete each other. I am the right leg. (laugh)
Andy: I’m…the baby?
Hyesung: Is it possible for someone to talk cute like that?
Andy: Just like a baby because…
Eric kisses Andy on the cheek.
Andy: Ew!! Anyway, it’s like we were babies and he (Lee Soo-man) gave us clothes to wear and music to listen and taught us to perform and created Shinhwa. And because of Shinhwa, the name Andy was created.
Hyesung: For me…
Jun Jin: You are the little prince. (laugh)
Hyesung: I didn’t have any particular thoughts before we made our debut. I went in for the audition not because I wanted to. I was studying abroad in the United States back then. I was a rebellious kid at that time and I was going through some difficulties because of puberty, standing on the crossroad where I had to make a choice whether I was going to become a singer in Korea or continue my studies in the U.S. And so, I thought that if I stayed in the states, I wouldn’t be able to overcome my rebellious side. So I decided to return to Korea. I don’t know if you can call it a fate but I returned to Korea and we are where we at now because I learned and practiced how to dance and began recording once all the members came together. Honestly, we didn’t have such goals or dreams in wanting to become the best team, best singers or to win the grand prize> we were just starting off from a clean slate.
Jun Jin: As for me, I felt like the character Honey in the cartoon “Run Honey.” I learned how to dance and practiced it because I really enjoyed it but I didn’t have any particular dreams in wanting to become a singer. My dream was to become a dad just like what I said during an interview when I was in high school before I made my debut. I didn’t know who my mother was and I dreamed of going on one of those TV programs to find her. And one day after dance practice, I saw the debut performance of H.O.T and saw my high school senior Kangta. That was the first time I saw someone I knew on TV and I thought that if I became a singer I would be able to find my mother. I was lucky enough to become the last member to join Shinhwa.
Eric: It’s almost like a movie but the process of how we got together is quite dramatic. I remember that all of us used to cry and write in our journals when we first went into the dorms. I also remember how we followed Jun Jin when he said he was going out to find his mother.
Minwoo: That’s why I call it a fate. We all came from different backgrounds and we didn’t even know each other. But now we’ve become a group just like in a movie.