This is the eighth in a 15-part series on the stars and trends of “hallyu” or the Korean wave, which is gaining popularity in Southeast Asia and Latin America. The Korea Times is producing this special project in cooperation with the Korea Foundation and CJ E&M. — ED.
By Kim Ji-soo
when someone is in hot-pursuit of their dream, the hunger, the ardor, the positive energy of pursuit they emanate are undeniable.
These qualities can work like magnets for success — and that’s what is happening for the relatively new K-pop group Infinite. The seven members — Lee Sung-jong, 19, Hoya, 21, Lee Sung-yeol, 20, Nam Woo-hyun, 21, L, 20, Kim Sung-kyu, 23, and Chang Dong-woo, 21, — are feeling their popularity rise.
Having debuted in 2010, Infinite have hit the ground running. Mixing a strategy of releasing songs both in Japan and in Korea, they hit No. 1 with “Be Mine” in 2011, which was part of their first full-length album “Over the Top.” The song “Be Mine” has hints of European pop that used to prevail in dance houses in the late 1980s. Then this year, “The Chaser” hit No. 1 again. This song, “The Chaser,” is part of their third mini-album “Infinitize,” an album that carries seven songs that uniquely demonstrate the vocals of the five singers including main vocal Sung-kyu and Woo-hyun as well as the strong beat raps of Hoya and Dong-woo.
Sitting at a restaurant in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul earlier this month, the young men were clad in everyday clothes of their preference and fresh-faced without makeup, jibing and jabbing at each other as they dove into some fruits and donuts on the table. Yes, makeup. For Korean pop singers are usually known for their well-made “kkotminam” or flower beauty looks or the dark eye-lined sexy looks of an urbanite.
Enjoying a few hours of free time, the young singers were jovial yet humble about their recent success.
“We really have a great team work and we worked hard. I think it was the combination of all things coming together. Our producers, stylists and us, our company came together and united” said Sung-kyu.
“If I didn’t have a brother, I would consider Sung-kyu my real brother,” said Woo-hyun.
Formed and trained by Woollim Entertainment, they are practically “family.” Like the myriad of K-pop groups, they have been living and singing together for about four years. Success has come relatively early for Infinite, which means they can now live in a nicer abode. It has also meant performing at various stages and existing on two hours of sleep a day.
There is no big income achieved by their superstar predecessor such as Rain and the group g.o.d, but Infinite is well-positioned to succeed the booming popularity of K-pop paved by BoA, Super Junior and 2PM.
Their schedules are a testament. Following a fan meeting in Thailand this week, the group will perform at AX KOREA Hall in Gwangjang-dong, Seoul, from Aug. 8 to 12. The group will then star in the Japan Arena Tour 2012 in Yokohama from Oct. 27-28, moving onto Nagoya on Nov. 1, Kobe, Nov. 3-4, and Fukuoka on Nov. 11.
Not all of them started out wanting to be a member of a so-called “idol groups” that K-pop groups are commonly known as in Korea. Some like L and Hoya aspired to be actors, and others members were and are into rock or R&B. They remain popular in the Japanese market, where they are still active there. “Unlike the J-pop singers, I think we are more approachable, like the guys next door,” Sung-kyu said.
Asked to describe what sets them apart, “J-pop is quite attractive. They are stars, to be adored from afar and I think girls would dream about J-pop male singers. But K-pop groups have more dynamism, more performance on stage, yet we’re ‘shabang shabang.’” The colloquial Korean word ¡°shabang shabang¡± would roughly translate into "cute."
Having mostly performed in Japan, Infinite members are amazed that they have fans from various parts of the country via Facebook or twitter.
“It’s astounding. I heard that they are learning Korean language now because of their interest in our music,“ said Sung-kyu.
Driven by curiosity, the members would like to go anywhere, North America, South America and Europe and convey the varying colors and essence of their musical ability. The nascent stars also dream of talking about music with other world stars. Hoya’s dream is to work musically with Usher. Sung-kyu would like to at least talk about music with members of Radiohead or at least a chance to ask them what their favorite Korean dish is so that he can treat them.
Their confidence was aggressive, almost like a blind faith. But then again, that’s what must have driven them so far.
“Once we start not thinking confident, we cannot do what we do. Confidence is all we’ve got,” said Hoya.
The response from the fans and the audience is however the wellspring of their energy.
“There is no feeling like that,” said Woo-hyun, of the concert they’ve recently held in June. “For singers, I think concerts are the best boost.”
But above all, the members, like anyone their age, dream about freedom.
“Last time, we’ve went to Thailand for a performance, we sneaked out after and went to Phuket. Sung-jung went bicycling at night wearing a hotel gown. It was great,” both Hoya, and Sung-kyu remarked.
The group will hold their first overseas fan meeting in Thailand July 27-28. If you ever happen to be in Thailand around that time, keep your eyes open for the lone cyclist at night. He might just be your star.
For more, visit enewsworld.com.
Who are Infinite?
K-pop group Infinite seemingly came out nowhere to top the charts in both Korea and Japan. The seven members, barely over 20, call themselves INFINITIZE in Japan, while they are known as Infinite to Korean fans and much of the world.
They made their debut in Korea in 2010 after four years of training and performing together with agency Woolim Entertainment, which is also home to Korean band Nell. Their first EP “First Invasion” in 2010 didn’t quite take off but it was with their second EP “Evolution” and the song “Before the Dawn” that gave them their launch platform. They ascended to the top of the charts in 2011 with “Be Mine,” from their first full-length album “Over the Top.” Their song “The Chaser” from third EP “Infinitize” again topped Korean charts this month. Their earlier songs including “Be Mine” began to climb Japanese charts after their official debut there in 2011.
The group, which likes to promote itself as presenting perfect choreography features synthesized pop music, written mostly by the hit-making team of Han Jae-ho and Kim Seung-soo. The secret of their success is the “hard work and complete unity” of the members, their producers and stylists and other staff.