It’s truly been a magnificent year for the K-pop group ONF, with three new uniquely designed releases under the band members’ belts. ONF formed in 2017 and was conceptualized with two essential units (titled ON and OFF), that’s currently comprised of Hyojin, E-Tion, J-US, Wyatt, MK, and U, who entered 2021 with a revamped energy by dropping their first full studio album, ONF: My Name.
The group’s lead single on the album, “Beautiful Beautiful,” brought them to new heights in their respective careers, becoming their highest-charting single on South Korea’s Gaon Album Chart at No. 7. To find that sweet spot of growth after four years of industry devotion is something that many rookie artists work towards, and it’s certainly important to ONF as a whole. The group’s ON leader Hyojinacknowledges its significance to the group, explaining, “The most memorable moment so far was when the title track ‘Beautiful Beautiful’ received much love and support during our promotions, and our first win with ‘Beautiful Beautiful’ on a music show was the biggest highlight.”
That feeling is then reinforced by ONF’s main dancer U, who adds, “Our first win on a music show with ‘Beautiful Beautiful’ was the high point of 2021 for me also!” Despite the fact that the highs of ONF: My Name are still fresh, ONF’s U wants to take that momentum into their next era. He tells us, “[POPPING] is now our third release this year and I’m glad that we can present our songs so frequently. I hope you will enjoy listening to our cool summer songs!”
When an artist’s platform shows signs of a broader reach and potential for evolution, the stakes only get higher. Each single, B-side, music video, or even a melody can help shift that pendulum even more, and the group’s new summer EP walks that fine line between maintaining this refined reputation and stripping away all expectations in favor of making memories. Initiating the serenity of summertime, ONF leads this comeback with their single “Popping,” which very well might be the group’s bubbliest pop track to date.
The combination of an uptempo throwback and its underlying fresh summer ‘21 spin feels like it evokes comparison to groups of the early ‘00s. J-US, who leads the group’s OFF unit, details that experience, explaining, “The first sing-along part [in ‘Popping’] is very impressive. It’s an addictive melody that I think anyone can sing along to easily. I remember singing this part with excitement and feeling free when we were recording it and I think that would be the most interesting part that stands out in the song.”
Main rapper Wyatt, who also is credited on multiple songs, adds, “The intro part is the most memorable for me too. The refreshing sound flowing with voices in harmony feels like opening the door to fall in love with summer.” ON team lead vocalist MK makes sure to point out, “There’s a flute sound in the track, which I think is refreshing for the summer, also adding fun to the song. I hope you can listen closely to the flute sound. I heard that producer Hwang Hyun recorded the flute himself!”
The second track on the EP, “Summer Poem,” pulls from a new-wave-esque style, building up to a powerful final chorus and a cool factor that feels natural to ONF. “I think MK had the best time connecting with the song,” Hyojin divulges, adding, “It’s a song with a difficult melody line and rhythm and I think he pulled it off the best. If you listen to the song, I think his voice actually matches this song the most.” MK on the other hand notes that there’s more than one member who stands out on the track. “I think ‘Summer Poem’ goes really well with ONF members’ vocal tone.” He continues, “Personally, I think Wyatt really suits the song and his rap part especially brings out the mood of the song even better.”
After getting to build up the EP with two fast-paced summer moods that play on our desires to let loose, ONF pivots on their track “Summer Shape” giving us a full-fledged jazz sound. The song shows the group’s strengths outside of carefree pop music, painting a mental picture of a dimly lit piano bar where you’re watching natural performers. Though it might not be your traditional radio-friendly single, “Summer Shape” fulfills that instrumental dedication they’ve displayed in past work — but nothing as brilliant as “Summer Shape” comes without struggle. U discusses the obstacles associated with the track, explaining, “This was the hardest song to record in this album. It took us a long time to record details by bringing emotions to each word and so we could sing the song with more emotion. I find slow-tempo songs more difficult than dance songs, but I was proud and satisfied to have finished recording this song.” E-Tion, lead vocalist of the ONteam, also notes, “It was hard to express and bring out the emotions of the song. We recorded one part over and over and as a result of many tries, we were able to finish recording the song successfully to evoke the feeling of the song.”
After getting an artsy reprieve from dance music on POPPING, “Dry Ice” turns the energy back up, because nothing about the sound of ONF feels remotely pigeonholed. The group takes a dip into a new style for ONF with an EDM reggae fusion that ignites at its chorus, with a drop that you can discern is meant to be appreciated in a live atmosphere. Much like the song “Dry Ice,” the group has their own polar opposites that help create a brilliant synergy for their sound, and multiple duos could be said to have achieved that creative balance.
Regarding the idea of that duality of “Dry Ice” within the group, E-Tion admits, “I think it’s myself and U! I’m bubbly and outgoing, but U is calm and quiet. We’re opposite from each other but U laughs at my jokes the most!” J-Us agrees that U has that uniqueness to his artistic persona, but a different opposite personality, noting, “I think it’s MK and U. These two have opposite personalities. MK likes singing more and U enjoys dancing more. Although their preferences are very different, they both have a similar sense of humor and have fun with each other like little kids!” After having his name tossed around, U concludes the debate about polar opposites and states, “It’s J-US and MK! They often have different opinions and think oppositely from each other. So, it’s interesting to see when they click with each other when they have conversations.”
Rounding out the tracklist for POPPING is the appropriately titled song “Summer End” that tends to add real finality to this particular summer endeavor. With a mid-tempo production and softer sides to their vocal range, it really does feel like a bittersweet seasonal farewell for a comfy, versatile summer. Reflecting on the culmination of summer and POPPING, Wyatt expresses his hopes by telling us, “I hope that summer will remind people of ONF and that many people will anticipate our songs. I also want things to get better and have a concert in front of many people as soon as possible.” MK continues his bandmate’s feelings, adding, “I want more people to know about us. We will continue to work hard to present to you many good songs to let people know that ONF is a group with various colors and charms.”
Since ONF has been a name that has gained traction over the years, they have started to see their names recognized as K-pop icons. From their participation in Mnet’s superstar lineup on Road to Kingdom (placing second overall) or more recently having their songs recognized by Girls Generation legend Taeyeon and SHINee’s Key during Amazing Saturday, ONF is entering a new tier in the industry that they couldn’t be more grateful for. Hyojin professes, “I feel proud of ONF when I hear other people say that they like our songs. I feel all the hard work we’ve put in so far is worth it, and that I should work harder to be loved by my peers and the public.” Wyatt adds, “As we hear about our fans and when we receive so much love from them, I think it enables us to continue to work harder to let more people know about us.”
No matter how many award wins, album sales, or successes are in store for ONF, a big piece of who they’ve transformed into is a result of the confidence they’ve acquired within themselves over the years. E-Tion describes his very relatable hurdles with confidence, sharing, “I’ve gained more confidence than when I was a trainee, but I still feel a lot of pressure and get nervous. This seems to be something I always have to work on, so I’m trying to think positively and work things out in a good way.”
J-US opens up that from his perspective, overcoming one’s own weaknesses can create new challenges. “When I was a trainee, I tried my best to get good results,” he says. “After debuting, I’ve improved by refining myself and making up for my shortcomings.” He continues, “When I achieve what I want to get by making these efforts, that’s when I gain confidence.” MK takes a retrospective stance somewhere in between both ideas and admits, “I had a lot of time to look back on myself after making my debut and I think I’ve become stronger and more composed from various experiences. From now on, I’m trying to be more confident about myself and trying to improve myself.”
As important as confidence can be, real success is marked by the ability to stay humble, and it’s not something that’s always authentically represented in the industry. For ONF, the six members try not to relish in those aspects of stardom, opting to focus on perfecting their future art to keep themselves grounded. Hyojin sets the tone for the group, noting, “I think we still have a long way to go to reach our goal. Instead of setting one goal, we want to achieve one goal at a time and grow step by step to be loved by many people from all over the world.” Wyatt expresses his agreement with Hyojin, sharing, “Rather than being satisfied with the present, we work hard to improve what we need to work on to show better songs and better performances. We’re thankful that our fans recognize this and like it about us.” E-Tion then adds, “We know that we can’t always be perfect. We still have a lot of shortcomings, and we’re still trying to work to make it better!”
When analyzing the career of ONF so far, it’s inspiring to see how far they’ve come and how perseverance has proven to be a backbone of their place within the industry. They’ve amassed over 300,000 album sales, millions of streams, an ever-expanding fandom, and an even bigger platform, all culminating in a career-defining year in the midst of a pandemic.
With their new era preparing to launch, the group will have several performances and promotional endeavors in the near future — but some well-earned relaxation is something that feels inevitable. J-US expresses his desire for adventure, sharing, “I like getting around alone. When I have time, I want to go somewhere where I can enjoy nature like smelling the scent of grass and fresh air!”
Obviously, COVID-19 has created roadblocks when it comes to travel in any scope, but U is also eager about reaching that exciting time where things will (hopefully) change. He states, “It may be difficult due to corona right now, but when things get better and we have time, I want to travel with my members! I really want to have a great time with them!” Considering the fact that ONF has curated both studious music alongside refined instrumental perfection, and more recently, summertime anthems in the name of living life to the fullest, the group has surely warranted some exploratory free time when the opportunity presents itself.
Make sure to check out POPPING, the sixth EP by ONF, when it drops on Aug. 9, for a little summertime splash!