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Looking for Attention: Step Into the World of NewJeans

Highsnobiety Magazine presents a special, limited edition issue starring NewJeans. In their first international print cover story, Minji, Danielle, Hanni, Haerin, and Hyein open up on their year of ascendance. Order a copy now while supplies last. Read this story in Korean here.

On July 21, 2022, the face of K-pop changed without warning. “You got me looking for attention,” sang five youthful girls, dancing on an impossibly green soccer field as they whipped their jet black hair against the crisp breeze. ADOR, a sub-label of BTS’ agency HYBE, had surprise-dropped the music video for “Attention” by NewJeans, a fresh team of super-rookie female idols.

In an unprecedented move for a newly debuting K-pop group, NewJeans released three title tracks and music videos without teasers. Their second title track, “Hype Boy,” became an instant viral sensation, spawning countless dance cover videos on social media and Korean popular television. On the first day of their album sales, they set the local record as the best-selling debut album by a female group. This was less than a year ago, before the 8 million Instagram followers and multiple high-fashion campaigns.

Fans of K-pop immediately knew who they were. They were the creation of Min Hee-jin, who’s responsible for successfully branding veteran groups such as Girls Generation, SHINee, f(x), EXO, and Red Velvet. There were clues relating to her new secret project, and stans had been patiently waiting for years. Fans continue to speculate that NewJeans is a play on Min’s first name, pronounced hee-jeen. Others, myself included, guessed NewJeans was a play on “new genes” — a resolute declaration or promise that they’ll breathe new life into what’s been boxed in as “K-pop.” This might not have been the intention behind the name, but that’s certainly what NewJeans seems to be doing.

NewJeans stand out for what they aren’t. In an industry laden with fantastical, out-of-reach idols veiled in mystery, NewJeans is nostalgic, familiar, and tender, like a childhood friend or little sister. Instead of buttoned-up stage costumes, they wear Chrome Hearts T-shirts and Louis Vuitton basketball shorts. Instead of gimmicky, overly synthed falsettos, they sing in whispers, as if speaking directly to the listener. They are free of the over-the-top conventions that have come to define Korean idols, both visually and sonically.

Almost a year into their debut, the five members of NewJeans answer questions about their creative process, personal style, and the inspirations that continue to shape their future.

MINJI, how was the Highsnobiety shoot?

It was shot in a new atmosphere! Taking on a new challenge was fun, and I was happy to see that the results seemed to capture a fresh look, a little different from our previous projects.

The name NewJeans is an interesting juxtaposition of the new and the classic. How do you think your music and style reflect this dual meaning?

Our name NewJeans refers to a “new” pair of jeans, but at the same time, jeans are also a timeless fashion staple adored by people of all ages. We are constantly striving and working hard to present music that can embrace both the new and the classic, just like what our name NewJeans suggests.

How important is it for NewJeans to experiment with style?

Not just in style, but challenging ourselves to try something new across various fields is what NewJeans does best, and I think it’s something I want to do steadily going forward. I’m trying to not be afraid of facing new things!

What is the last line you wrote in your journal?

“I’ll be here in the summer in the blink of an eye.”

DANIELLE, you debuted with three songs. How grueling and challenging was the preparation process?

It was more exciting and refreshing to share three title tracks from [our] debut. The process never felt grueling or daunting at all. Being with the members who I share the passion and love for music with was enough to overcome anything.

Who is the most different from you in the group in terms of personality? What have you learned from this member?

At first, I felt that HAERIN was the most different from me in terms of personality. But now, I think we have so much in common! I learn so much from each member every day.

What is the one dish or bakery item you are most proud of making?

Growing up, my sister and I always loved to cook and bake for our family. We experimented by trying to make healthy dishes and desserts. I think the brownies turned out really well. I remember using avocado and oatmeal as alternative ingredients, and it tasted just as yummy!!

HANNI, which NewJeans song gave you the most goosebumps when you heard it for the first time?

I remember listening to “Hurt” for the first time. The feeling that the verse gave me was so sweet and delicate, it really stuck out. The special remix version that was released last year gave me goosebumps when I first heard it. The small bell and chime-like sounds in that version of “Hurt” made it so addictive to listen to!

What thoughts ran through your mind as you heard the music and sat down to write the lyrics?

It differs depending on the song because each song gives a unique feel that reminds me of distinct things. I think something that always runs through my mind when I try to write lyrics is what memory and emotion I can connect to this song. It takes a lot of time and more effort than I expect, but if I manage to create vivid imagery first, like a dream that I can visit when I think of the song, it’s easier to delve deeper into the imagination and pen the lyrics.

What is your favorite newly learned Korean word or phrase, its meaning, and why?

My favorite Korean phrase would have to be “설레다.” There is no direct translation of the word in English, so it’s difficult to explain. “설레다” is like the word for the butterflies you get when you’re nervous because of the anticipation and thrilling excitement. There is a fluttering, innocent feel to the word that makes [it] feel extra sentimental.

What is your favorite makeup look these days?

As the weather is warming up, I’m into the orangey and sun-kissed makeup looks, although I haven’t been able to try it out a lot. The Armani Melting Color Balm is something I carry around all the time because it’s very compact, easy to apply. The colors are all so cute and natural, too. I really love the burnt orange and purple shades!

HAERIN, which of your singing parts is your favorite?

There’s a part that goes, “I’ll run into you like serendipity.” I like the line since it’s cute and you also feel that sense of excitement when you listen to it. I can visualize the situation when I read the lyrics, which makes it feel so real.

You have the most internally thoughtful personality type (MBTI) out of the NewJeans members. Any secrets you are keeping?

I do tend to think a lot on my own, but primarily these are just thoughts about myself. Since the members and I spend every day together, we communicate frequently and talk through any worries we might have. We are reliant on one another.

What kind of artists is NewJeans evolving into? What kind of member do you want to be?

The direction of what NewJeans will evolve into has not yet been decided, and I find that exciting. The future of NewJeans will be built by NewJeans, and [in] that journey, I will contemplate about how I would like to grow as an artist.

HYEIN, why did you name your fanclub Bunnies? What were the other name options?

We think of our fans as our best friends, and the cute name “Bunnies” also has an alternative nickname, tto-kki, which means “bunny” in Korean!

What is the last song you listened to? Or the song/artist you listen to the most these days, and why?

I listen to Astrud Gilberto’s songs often. And the song I’ve been into lately would have to be Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know the Better.”

What is your must-have item in your micro minibag?

I usually carry around my hand cream, airpods, and cellphone charger!

What is NewJeans’ ultimate goal?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one goal that we strive to achieve, especially because it has only been around a year since our debut. There is so much to do and to learn. For now, we hope to explore the uncharted, and along the path, I think NewJeans will be able to experience a lot of things and achieve many goals!

  • Words:YJ Lee
  • Photography:Park Sangjun
  • Styling:Yumi Choi
  • Hair:Seoha Yoon
  • Local Producers:Seungyeon Lee, Nam Hoon Lee, and Jong Un Lee
  • Makeup:Young Lee
  • Production:Seungyeon Lee
  • Photography Assistants:Jaewon Kim, Sungjae Kim, Namhoon Lee
  • Styling Assistant:Woori Lim, Sharon Park, Yoona Kim
  • Hair Assistant:Dayoung Lee, Minseo Kang
  • Make-up Assistant:Yuri Choi, Hyundo Jeon
  • Production Assistant:Chongun Lee
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