Hyein just turned 15, but her birthday wish is unusually purposeful for a teenager: “I want to show more of my skills and different sides of me that I haven’t shown yet,” she says. This youthful drive to keep growing is a common denominator among Hyein and her NewJeans bandmates: Minji, Haerin, Hanni, and Danielle, who are all under 20.
A year ago, no one knew who NewJeans was. But since it dropped its first music video in August 2022, the nascent K-pop girl group—managed by the record label ADOR, a subsidiary of the South Korean entertainment behemoth HYBE, which launched boy band BTS to international acclaim—has already reached global milestones even faster than its more senior counterparts in the industry. Two of NewJeans’ singles stayed on the Billboard 100 for five weeks this year, and in March the band became the fastest Korean act ever to hit 1 billion streams on Spotify in just 219 days, despite having released only a handful of songs. This August, NewJeans will become the first K-pop girl group to perform at Lollapalooza.
NewJeans’ popularity isn’t exactly surprising. ADOR CEO Min Hee-jin was once responsible for the branding of many enduring names in the K-pop world like Shinee, EXO, and Girls’ Generation. Now helming her own label, Min has spoken of breaking established industry expectations, which resonated with NewJeans members. (The band’s name is a wordplay on “new genes”—as in the next generation of K-pop—and the timeless style of denim.)
“We’re always trying to create a fresh vibe,” says Danielle of NewJeans’ distinctive style. Clear Y2K influences appear in their fashion and their songs, produced by musicians known for their experimental, more underground discography. “This is new, but it’s also bringing back all these memories from the past.”
As cutthroat as the K-pop industry is said to be, the members of NewJeans are happy to take things in stride. They’re focused on enjoying the process and just making music that they want to hear. “K-pop is such a big thing,” Hanni says. “I don’t know if you could really even predict what it’s going to be in the future.”
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