Jong-up, Young-jae, Him-chan, Bang Yong-guk, Dae-hyun and Zelo pose in this promotional photo. The group will perform in four cities in North America and two in Japan. / Courtesy of TS Entertainment
By Kim Ji-soo
Bang Yong-guk, 23-year-old leader of the fast-rising K-pop group B.A.P, is seeking to conquer the world with music.
Barely a year after debuting in Korea, the six-member boy group will soon embark on a four-city North American tour with two dates in Japan as well. B.A.P, standing for "best, absolute, perfect," brings together Bang, 23; Him-chan, 23; Dae-hyun, 20; Young-jae, 20; Jong-up, 19; and Zelo, 16. Bang the leader and Zelo the youngest rap; and Dae-hyun, Young-jae and Him-chan sing while Jong-up concentrates on dance.
"We're feeling the pressure, yes, but we are working hard and preparing for the concerts. I think fans can expect good performances," said Bang, in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times.
"I was surprised by the response from Japan. We have never been to Japan or performed there, but we had to add one more date because the tickets for the first date were sold out," said Dae-hyun, 19.
The group will start their American tour May 7 in Los Angeles, and then perform in San Francisco May 10, Washington May 14 and New York on May 17. Then the six will go on for two dates — May 24 and 25 — at the Pacifico Yokohama Hall in Japan.
These multiple dates are rare for a beginner's group.
The six members debuted in January 2012 with "Warrior." They then followed it up with a mix of singles ("Power," "Stop It") and EPs ("No Mercy" and "One Shot"). The EP "One Shot" rose to the top of Billboard's World Albums Chart in February.
The namesake song is popular, often used by other youngsters when auditioning to become K-pop stars.
Since late 2012, the group has been sweeping up "new artists" awards in Asia and in Germany and France. It recently won the Best Korean new group artist award at the V-chart awards held by China's biggest MV site Yinyue Tai on April 13.
The six are stunned with their fast rise.But they are not overnight stars. Like many of their peers in the K-pop industry, the six spent a considerable time as trainees. Before they joined TS Entertainment, Bang and Jong-up spent six years as trainees, Zelo five years, Him-chan and Young-jae, two years and Dae-hyun, six months. After joining their talent agency, TS Entertainment, the six practiced together for six months before their debut.
They are however definitely among the handful of groups that are riding on the crest of the Korean wave or "hallyu." K-pop remains the main driver behind this wave, as demonstrated with Psy and other K-pop groups' performances in 2012.
"I remember how we used to listen to the music of our ‘seonbae' (senior) so it's a bit strange to know that those auditioning are performing with our song," said Him-chan.
"We're really grateful that people recognize us when it's only been a year since our debut, and we feel that we are receiving overflowing love," said Bang.
"Of course, we have a long way to go," said Dae-hyun.
Living, practicing and performing together for these teens must be a challenge. How do they work at it?
"Because we have three sets of two members who are close in age, we work well as a team under the leadership of the oldest ‘hyeong,'" said Dae-hyun.
The word "hyeong" means older brother, and that means the leader Bang lays down the rules as they live and practice together.
The youngest Zelo said he learns a lot just by paying attention to the older members, and that he is in charge of the team's laundry as he happens to be the youngest.
While their music is mostly powerful hip-hop, the six members feature the staple K-pop group traits of blond hair, hip-grinding moves and baby-faced good looks. Their mascot is a "warrior" bunny.
These common traits are logical for a starting group. For members, they consider themselves as a white sheet, with the world of music, a future that is theirs to write.
Zelo the youngest wants to continue studying music and lyrical composition so that he can create songs for a B.A.P album. Jong-up has his eyes set on becoming a "sophisticated" performer; Him-chan wants to be someone who can positively influence others; Bang, wants to meet people of the world with B.A.P music.
"What we do to live up to our name, ‘best, absolute, perfect,' I think will decide our present and future," Young-jae said.