I first caught wind of the 12 artists during their debut era, featuring title track “Boy”, in 2017; as they donned schoolboy uniforms with youthful smiles. While one may think school uniforms allude to a light melody, delicate on the ears for listeners, the Cre.ker Entertainment dozen offered more in their bass-bumping music, leaving the impression that they’re a group that explores the fluidity in sound, movement and expression.
Their debut was followed by a string of upbeat 2018 tracks such as “Giddy Up”, “Keeper”, “Right Here”, “No Air”, and their recent 2019 hit “Bloom Bloom.” The group has won various Rookie of the Year awards at the Asia Artist Awards (2018), Korean Popular Music Awards (2018) and Gaon Music Chart Awards (2019) while also snagging Best New Male Artist at the Melon Music Awards last year.
On a sunny Monday after a busy weekend at KCON 2019 New York in July, I met up with The Boyz in a conference room at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan; where they were casually chit-chatted amongst each other and others in the room. The mood was great, and it only got better when main vocalist and Vancouver-native Kevin quizzed me on my phone case that featured Ryan, the lion mascot of Kakao Friends. “Is he a lion or a bear?” he suddenly popped the question as the room went silent and the other 11 members focused their eyes on me. “A lion without a mane!” I replied. They cheered. Then we began.
“Best of the Boys! Hello, we’re the Boyz!” Sangyeon, Jacob, Younghoon, Hyunjae, Juyeon, Kevin, New, Q, Ju Haknyeon, Hwall, Sunwoo and Eric greeted in unison.
“The Boyz’s music is very youthful, fun and it’s full of endorphins, and we are going to continue to do a lot more different genres, so please look forward to them in the future,” Ju Haknyeon quickly explained when I challenged him to give me an 11-second elevator pitch on his group. “Rather than what makes us different, our strengths that set us apart are that we have a lot of great visuals, really strong performances, we’re young, and our team is very talented,” Sunwoo added on.
This was their first time performing in America, let alone the fact that it was at New York’s very own Madison Square Garden. All 12 agreed taking the stage at the iconic venue was unbelievable, even upon their arrival. “New York City’s the hub of pop culture; the leading city,” Kevin began. “And to have a giant performance at a prestigious venue, where we apparently trended on Twitter real-time charts, it’s crazy that our name and New York are linked together. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”
“I actually told my friends and bragged about it,” lead dancer Juyeon soon chimed in with a laugh.
However, for California-native Eric, coming back to the Big Apple was a whole different ball game compared to six years ago.
“I came here for a baseball game from Los Angeles,” the youngest member began to explain. “But coming back here after six years, not as a baseball player or student, but as part of The Boyz and as a K-pop star, it feels great. Having our fans cheer for us at the airport, and everywhere, and being recognised while we go shopping is overwhelming.”
Basking in the city air and embracing the culture within, The Boyz admit how much being inside MSG became a tipping point in influencing the group to work harder on their music. “Backstage, there were a lot of pictures of international world stars who’ve performed at Madison Square Garden, and I want the group to work hard so one day our faces will also be in one of those pictures,” Ju Haknyeon recalled.
For Sunwoo, a picture of Elton John playing the piano mid-air was a photo that stuck with him the most. “It really struck a chord because that’s what it must look like when they say that you’re flying when performing — because he was literally flying.”
Naming their senior artists such as BTS, Blackpink and EXO as pioneering acts that helped K-pop become a global phenomenon, Kevin expressed his amazement and hopes for the future of The Boyz. “Before I moved to Korea to become a trainee, whenever anyone heard K-pop they would automatically go to ‘Gangnam Style’ and just that alone — it’s crazy that one person from Korea went global like that — and to see BTS writing their songs and expressing themselves and empowering other people in a way in which is not native to them is just the most amazing thing; and gives us lots of hope for the future.”
Besides the synchronised choreography and charismatic stage presence, which also makes The Boyz attractive to those who don’t know them is how unapologetic they are when it comes to covering music. Especially for girl groups. While male idols usually playfully cover girl group songs, The Boyz do the choreography justice.
“We don’t try to be cute [when we do covers], we are cute,” Hyunjae joked.
“The definition of a cover is you keep the integrity of the art that is made and kind of interpret it as our own. I think that’s exactly what we try to do. No matter, even if we’re guys doing a feminine choreography, we stay true to the character of the song and make it more The Boyz. I think that’s why people like it so much. They see the best of both worlds come together,” Kevin explained while saying covers are also an opportunity to explore different genres.
Aware that they are becoming a group known for their covers, multi-faceted member Hwall emphasised that The Boyz puts their twist to each and every one of them. “We put ourselves into the shoes of the artists that we’re covering,” he said. “We actually record our voices [and we put our own twist on it], and we’re showing our performances. I think that’s the reason why people think that’s not just a copy of a song, so they’re thinking ‘Oh, this is The Boyz and not just a cover.’”
When asked what concepts they would like to tackle in the future, Sangyeon expressed his desire in showcasing an R&B sound while Younghoon — a sexy idea.
As the dozen voiced their answers, it made me wonder how the gang relieves their stress or copes with it. Jacob explained that the group huddles up together for a five-minute talk to reflect on their performances and work. “We take time to talk about what we can improve on, things we watch out for, so we don’t keep pent up anger,” the vocalist said. “It’s called ‘Five Minute Talk’ but, really, it usually takes an hour or two. It helps out a lot.”
Considering 2019 is more than halfway over, The Boyz emphasised their determination to make the year their own.
“There are so many things that I want to say, but if there is one thing I would say, it is that I want the general public to know that we are a team that has so much potential and to continue to look forward to that potential to see how we grow,” Sangyeon mentioned.
“‘The boy’ is already a common word, so our goal is that when the general public hears ‘The Boyz,’ they think of us,” Eric followed.
As The Boyz recently made their comeback last month with their fourth EP Dreamlike, and their lead single “D.D.D.”, the Cre. Ker’s dozen continues to prove their boundless potential. And it’s worth keeping an eye out for what they do next.