“I was drawn to how I can express my own thoughts and emotions through the lyrics or the melody”, says Jaechan, a 19-year-old member of a South Korean group, DONGKIZ, when asked if music was his future. While not all of the members thought of starting their adult lives as a part of a K-pop group, Wondae, Kyoungyoon, Munik, Jaechan and Jonghyeong decided to work hard towards that goal.
DONGKIZ officially debuted in 2019 with a single album, DONGKIZ on the Block. Moreover, they released a mini-album, DONGKY TOWN, and a single, BlockBuster. Their hard work didn’t go unnoticed as, in the same year, they won the Focus Award at the Asia Artist Awards – awards that honour outstanding achievements and international contribution of Asian artists in television, film and music. The group’s successful launch was decelerated when the pandemic hit the world, however, the young men did not stop recording music even during these arduous times. The group bestowed their fans with a few singles, including Lupin, Beautiful and The Conscious, and participated in MU:CON [online performance], during which they not only wowed their fans, but also impressed the audience with their singing and charismatic choreography.
In our recent interview, DONGKIZ shared their thoughts on what it means to be in an emerging K-pop group and how much work they have to put in to be able to perform. They also shed a light on their favourite artists, inspirations and gave a message to their UK fans.
Music Video © Dongyo Entertainemnt
First of all, let’s talk about how it all started. Do you remember the first moment when you felt that music was your future?
Wondae: I liked dancing and singing ever since I was young. I would sing or dance along to singers I saw on TV, who are now my seniors, and that naturally led to my dream of becoming a singer. I even led our family talent shows on holidays at my grandma’s house.
Kyoungyoon: Of course, I do! When I was in middle school, I made a band club because our school didn’t have one. Then, there was a time when I was having a really difficult time personally. I heard a song by chance, but it made me cry and was such a huge consolation for me. I decided then, ‘I’ll also become a singer who gives encouragement to a lot of people’. I think that’s what kept me running hard after my dream up to now.
Munik: I was just an ordinary student before with no particular goals. I somehow came across dancing, and in that moment, I felt for the first time that this was something that I wanted to do and that I truly enjoyed. I thought about how I would never regret it if I went down this path. That’s how I started.
Jaechan: I decided to pursue music because it’s a job that allows you to express so much. Other jobs don’t. I was drawn to how I can express my own thoughts and emotions through the lyrics or the melody.
Jonghyeong: I enjoyed watching music shows ever since I was young. Watching those shows, I gradually sang and danced along, and I came to like singing and dancing. So, I joined the dance club in school. I loved the cheering and the view you get from the stage, and I liked how music comforts me when I’m having a hard time, so I decided to pursue music.
You successfully promoted your pre-debut song, Nom, in November 2018 and officially debuted in 2019 with a single album called Dongkiz on the Block. After working hard to debut, you finally ‘entered’ the world of K-pop and received lots of attention. How did it feel when you performed for the first time as a K-pop group?
Wondae: I don’t remember the first stage because I was so nervous. I guess one thing I do remember is that I cried really hard after getting off stage? Tears just automatically came out because I was so relieved thinking ‘I’ve really debuted’, ‘I’ve finally taken my first step towards my dream’. I know there’s still a long way to go, but I think our debut was quite successful.
Kyoungyoon: That memory is so fresh in my mind. I think I was more excited than nervous. I thought, ‘How much of what I’ve prepared will I actually show on stage?’. But once I got on stage, our fans were cheering for us so much that thanks to them, I got to enjoy our first stage and finish it well.
Munik: The word ‘debut’ itself felt so much like a dream. Nom, the title track of Dongkiz on the Block, was a song we had been preparing for a really long time. So, I was confident, and I think that made me enjoy the stage instead of being nervous.
Jaechan: To be honest, I was so nervous I couldn’t even remember how I performed on stage once I got off stage.
Jonghyeong: I actually cried after our debut stage. I thought about how the fruit of what I’d been working towards has finally been revealed and how I went through so much to get here. So, I cried and it all felt like a dream. It also motivated me to work even harder!
Photo of Jonghyeong © Dongyo Entertainemnt
After releasing Dongkiz on the Block, you recorded another single album, BlockBuster, a mini-album called Dongky Town, and this year you gifted your fans with singles All I Need is You and Lupin. In addition, in August, you released The Conscious. What was the creative process behind the last three releases?
Wondae: Lupin is a song we especially practiced a lot when compared to our other songs. The choreography felt so unfamiliar because we used props. I got really stressed because I wasn’t able to handle the props very smoothly. That song was probably the hardest part of my DONGKIZ career, but I think that makes it memorable. The song was perfect in both the song itself, performance, and the members’ visuals.
You also released music videos for All I Need is You, Lupin and Beautiful (The Conscious). Each music video gives different vibes, what are your feelings about each video?
Jonghyeong: We actually filmed the video for All I Need Is You as our debut song before we debuted. Because of that, you can still see baby fat on our cheeks and our slightly awkward, pure selves. That makes me so fond of it. The video for Lupin was filmed on Jejudo Island. So, I know it’s domestic, but we still got on a plane for it. It was the first time for me to go to Jejudo Island, [the place] left a big impression on me. DONGKIZ’s members acted in the video with each person taking two roles. I like the video because it came out so well. Beautiful was DONGKIZ taking on the challenge of manliness and I think its music video has the most storytelling out of them all. So, you can enjoy our acting skills, well-built muscles, and cooler looks. I’m proud of the video because it was a successful image transformation.
In July 2020, you made a music video for Y.O.U, a song that does not represent K-pop as we know it. Y.O.U has an old American pop vibe, almost like a New Kids on the Block’s vibe [NKOTB was one of the biggest American boy groups between 1985 and 1994). What was behind the song and the video itself?
Munik: We put a lot of the 90’s retro feeling into the whole song. That’s why we added a separate dance break. We also made it refreshing since it was released in the summer. One of the reference songs for Y.O.U was Jump by Kriss Kross, so maybe that’s why you got a 90’s American boy band feeling from it.
Jaechan: We also tried to put in a lot of the retro feel to the music video. We carefully watched a lot of Korean singers from the 80’s and 90’s and worked hard to incorporate much of our grand seniors’ stages, gestures, and sensibilities into our song.
What’s the hardest thing about being in a group? As there are five of you, there must also be five different personalities. How do you work as a team?
Wondae: Ever since we were trainees, our team had a lot of ‘Weekly Meetings’. It’s a time in which we talk honestly about what we are grateful for or would like others to fix. It may seem a bit cheesy, but I’m thankful for our ‘Weekly Meetings’ because we get to understand each other well.
Kyoungyoon: Uniting our opinions was hard at first because each of us had different opinions. But now, I think we are much more understanding and considerate of each other. I think the important things are ‘to understand’ and ‘to be considerate’.
Munik: I think we naturally pick up on what the other members like or dislike and that makes us become considerate and adjust to each other. But fundamentally, all the members are such nice guys and I think that’s why we can have fun and get along well.
Jaechan: I’m someone who really enjoys being alone, so I think it can be a bit difficult that there isn’t much time to be alone. But by living together for a long time, we’ve learned a lot about what each of us are uncomfortable with, etc. I think we are continuously learning and being considerate to each other bit by bit!
Jonghyeong: There’s nothing that’s particularly hard. We do usually decide through a majority vote, but we still express our opinions and communicate a lot to make sure no one feels hurt or uncomfortable.
Photo of Wondae © Dongyo Entertainemnt
On which of your songs do you think you delivered your personal best performance so far, from an emotional and technical point of view?
Wondae: All our songs are difficult, so it’s hard to choose one, but I’ll choose Beautiful, if I must. Even from the recording session, I thought, ‘Wow… this song is so hard. It’s no joke.’ But thanks to that song, I improved a lot, so I’m always grateful for that song.
Kyoungyoon: It’s our most recent release, Beautiful! I’ve worked hard preparing for other songs too, of course, but I especially worked hard on dancing for Beautiful because I always feel I’m lacking in that area.
Munik: Personally, it’s Y.O.U because the overall mood, choreography, styling, etc. came out well and that made me feel at ease on stage. Our stages for Lupin also came out well because the concept and choreography are so interesting and fun.
Jaechan: I think it’s Beautiful, the title track of our album. We were trying a ‘cool’ concept for the first time, and it also helped us improve in our vocals and dancing.
Jonghyeong: I personally think our emotional best and technical best are separate, but if I must choose one song, Lupin is the song we worked hard on to achieve both. The song had a lot of high notes and ad lib for me, so I felt like there was a lot to bear. My part was also intense. So, that made me practice a lot and improve, which is why I chose this song. If I could separate the two ‘bests’, I would choose our digital single and track from our DONGKY TOWN album, You in Imagination. It’s an inherently sentimental song. We worked really hard to bring out its own unique sentimentality. The song that is our technical best is the song Beautiful. There are parts in which we have to weave in and out of the chest voice and head voice, and even ad libs in high range.
In 2019, you won the Focus Award at the Asia Artist Awards – awards that honour outstanding achievements and international contribution of Asian artists in television, film and music. How did it feel when you received the award?
Wondae: I was stunned. I was thinking, ‘Am I really at an awards show right now?’ And then our group’s name was called out, and my mind went blank. I don’t even remember what I said in our speech. It was a huge honour to receive an award.
Kyoungyoon: I had something personal come up back then, so I couldn’t go to the awards show, but I was overjoyed when I heard that we received the Focus Award. I was so grateful to our Aris, our families, and our Dongyo Entertainment family. Oh! And I was sincerely touched because our members called out my name when they were receiving the award!
Munik: Since it was a year-end show, it felt like an award for all the effort we’ve put in for a year, which I liked. It became a source of motivation for me to continue working hard.
Jaechan: I feel like the award was a way of telling us to work even harder, so I want us to work even harder and become a team that receives a grand award one day.
Jonghyeong: I was really sad that it was DONGKIZ’s first-ever awards show and our member, Kyoungyoon, couldn’t be there. After we got the award, I was in such a daze. I never imagined we’d get an award, and I was putting all the significance of that night on attending it with many of our senior singers. I was so happy that we got an award. I thought of it as a reward for all the hard work of 2019 and it made me work even harder in 2020.
Photo of Kyoungyoon © Dongyo Entertainemnt
Looking at your current life, to what extent do you think your surroundings have shaped you, creatively speaking, and in what way?
Wondae: Thankfully, I feel like I’m surrounded by inspiration everywhere. That makes me often think about making my own work, some day. I’ve recently gotten interested in making melodies and lyrics, so I’m busy with song writing.
Kyoungyoon: Because of COVID-19, it’s hard to have events or performances, which means we can’t communicate with our fans up close. That makes me so sad, but I’m very thankful we can at least communicate with our fans online.
Munik: When we are in our promotion period, we get to see a lot of groups’ stages. I think that makes our view on performance a lot more diverse. That’s one of my sources of inspiration.
Jaechan: I do incorporate my own stories when I write songs or lyrics, but I also incorporate a lot from the movies and drama shows I’ve seen. So, whenever I watch a movie or a drama series, I really try to take on the main character’s point of view, the thoughts and feelings.
Jonghyeong: Since music is inherently influenced by emotions, if I’m experiencing a depressing situation or environment, my work also becomes more centred on sad songs, and then the same for fun and exciting situations. I tend to get inspiration from music, choreography, or stage gestures, based on how I’m feeling.
When you are not working and making music, what do you do to get away from it all and relax?
Wondae: Even when I take a break, I try to take it in a practice room. If I suddenly want to record something, or if I get a great idea, I can’t remember it afterwards unless I immediately record it somewhere. When I rest, I do games here and there, or shop online. Shopping is a huge de-stressing pastime for me.
Kyoungyoon: On my days off, I watch movies or dramas, listen to songs I like, write lyrics, and work out.
Munik: I usually sleep plentifully and spend time somewhere I feel comfortable in. I don’t make big plans for such days.
Jonghyeong: I like taking walks, so I walk around a lot while listening to music. I go sightseeing at nearby places and people-watch. Or I sometimes watch dramas or movies at home!
Photo of Munik © Dongyo Entertainemnt
Looking at the Korean music industry right now, where do you aspire to fit in? Do you want to play strictly K-pop or would you like to make music of a different genre someday?
Wondae: This may be a little cliche, but I want us to be ‘one of a kind’. I don’t want us to be ‘The Second So-and-so’. I want to be the first in being ‘Dongkiz’. DONGKIZ is doing a variety of genres even now. I hope you look forward to the new music we’ll show every time we release something.
Kyoungyoon: I want us to be like a friend and a source of strength to the audience. I really like K-pop, but I also really want to try the R&B and Soul genre sometime.
Munik: I want us to be a group that makes it interesting and exciting for both those watching the stage and those on the stage. If possible, I want us to go for a lot of different things instead of sticking to just one thing.
Jonghyeong: I want us to be a group that tries various genres and also excels at them. An artist who isn’t restricted to one genre but has a wide spectrum, you know?
As you officially debuted last year, as a new player on the horizon, what are your main challenges as artists?
Kyoungyoon: For me, I tend to put a lot of care into the vocals. Since there are so many talented vocalists nowadays, what I find difficult is finding my own unique edge.
Is there music you like, which never fails to make you feel good? Who really inspires you as singers? And who motivates you to work hard and stay on track?
Wondae: Ariana Grande! She’s my favourite artist. She always does her best on stage and tries new things. I think there’s so much to learn from her.
Kyoungyoon: I mentioned a song I heard by chance during a difficult time in my school days, right? That song is Beautiful Tomorrow by Park Hyoshin. I still play that song whenever I’m having a hard time. There are so many singers who’ve been inspirational to me, but my biggest inspiration has been senior Park Hyoshin. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that my dream of becoming a singer was born because I heard that song. That’s how much of an influence he has been in my life.
Munik: I think our song, Fever, is a timeless song that makes you get excited no matter what when you listen to it. In terms of groups, I like our senior group BTS because they do some really incredible things in performance. And our fan club Dong-Ari always gives us a lot of love and cheers us on. They are my motivation for wanting to be better and for being able to be better no matter what it is.
Jaechan: The artist who influences me the most is Justin Bieber. When he’s on stage, his every move seems like art and music, not just when he’s singing or dancing. The people who keep me on my path are my family!
Jonghyeong: There’s a song called A Paper Star’s Dream by Haeri Lee. The lyrics are so comforting and encouraging, so I feel strengthened every time I listen to it. There are many different singers who inspire me, some of them are DEAN, MONSTA X, ASH ISLAND, and Troye Sivan. The people who keep me working hard are our fandom Dong-Ari, my DONGKIZ members, and my family.
Photo of Jaechan © Dongyo Entertainemnt
Is there a message you would like to send to the UK audience?
Wondae: Thank you for cheering on us even from far away. We can’t meet you frequently, but still please keep looking forward to what we do. I hope we can meet you guys at the Wembley Stadium someday. Till then, stay healthy, everyone. I love you guys.
Kyoungyoon: Thank you for always cheering for us. We can’t meet face to face right now because of COVID-19, but we’ll work harder to meet you Aris in the UK as soon as we can! Let’s all cheer up till then!
Munik: I’m sad we don’t have a lot of opportunities to say hello to our fans in the UK. But we’ll work really hard and meet you soon in the UK, so stay healthy until then! Wait just a little longer for us!
Jaechan: Hello, our fans in the UK!!! I hope there comes a day when we can perform in front of you in the UK. See you then!!
Jonghyeong: Hello, everyone! Thank you for cheering on us and loving us. I hope the situation improves soon so that we can communicate within the same space. Things may be tough for now, but let’s cheer up till then! Thank you.
The world has been consumed by Covid-19 and made it very hard for musicians, and other creative professionals out there, to organise tours, meet fans, etc. Looking at the current situation, what’s your wider vision? What do you hope to achieve within the next year or so?
Wondae: We want to do a lot of things with our fans soon. Due to the current situation, there isn’t much we can do in person, but my first priority after things calm down is to have fan meetings and to perform on a music show stage while listening to our fans’ cheers.
Music Video © Dongyo Entertainemnt
Written and interviewed by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Julia Litwinowicz
Translation by Esther Kim
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.