In the late ‘90s and early ’00s, UK garage hit its peak, with underground house beats and 2-steps soundtracking what it meant to be young and excitedly standing on the edge of adulthood. NewJeans, one of the most buzzed about K-pop groups in the world, were born long after UKG had passed its peak, but it hasn’t stopped the quintet—made up of Minji, 19; Hanni and Danielle, 18; Haerin, 17; and Hyein, 15—creating their innovative sound with references to pre-millennium music.
Their band’s 2022 debut “Attention” drips in late-’90s pop, while their viral sensation “Hype Boy” sounds like the kind of song you’d burn on a CD on the big home computer. One of the crowning jewels in their collection, “Ditto”, was their first dip into UKG, something they’ve now repeated in their latest EP Get Up, with “Cool With You” and “Super Shy” both airy odes to the kinetic experiences of first love.
The group have dropped videos for both tracks, the former boasting one of the most scintillating choreographies of the year, while the latter tells a cinematic fable of a cupid wanting to find her own love after a lifetime of matchmaking. If there’s any question of the kind of impact NewJeans are having only a year into their career, the films boast Squid Game‘s Hoyeon Jung and the Hong Kong cinema icon Tony Leung as its stars. “We were so surprised!” Danielle tells GQ over video call from Seoul about their reaction to seeing the videos for the first time. “We didn’t shoot a lot, so when we got to see it we all screamed. Minji cried!” she adds, her teammate across the room cradling her her head in faux embarrassment.
With their pared back sound, NewJeans have become symbols of a shift in K-pop, a music form that has traditionally been defined by its melting pot of pop, hip-hop and EDM. Every new generation of teenagers has the music that accompanies their youth, destined to forever transport them back to moments of the thrilling uncertainty of the future. In 2023, NewJeans are that kind of youthful backing track.
With Get Up boasting more than a million sales in its first day, the band spoke to GQ to reflect on being teenagers in the eye of a hurricane.
Hyein: We are still a little bit short of our first year anniversary, so it is hard to believe that people are paying us so much attention. There was the “Hype Boy” challenge on social media, and there’s also the “Super Shy” challenge where people dance to our song. Just watching those videos makes our hearts swell up.
Haerin: We feel like we can really feel the words that we are singing. And that has been the case for all of our past albums as well, but especially for Get Up and for tracks like “ETA” and “Super Shy”. The lyrics speak really to a wide range of emotions and are super relatable.
Minji: Personally, I feel that being a part of NewJeans is part of the teen experience, so it’s kind of hard to separate them apart from one another. However, I do feel those very simple pleasures in everyday life, like when I’m simply chatting and talking with my members. We are constantly teasing and playing around and laughing.
Danielle: Our music is for everyone, regardless of how old you are, where you come from, you can listen to it so easily and return to it whenever you like. I really hope that our music feels timeless to our listeners, like “Attention,” our debut song, is still on repeat even after a year.
Minji: It’s got to be the music video shooting (for “Attention” and “Hype Boy”) we did in Spain. It really left the mark on me because it was our first time overseas.
Hyein: I’d tell myself to really challenge yourself and enjoy the process rather than feel scared or pressured, as I’ve always done so far. But, also, I don’t want to spoil the future too much for my past self, so I’d just tell her, “There will be so many grateful, joyous things coming your way, so get ready!”
NewJeans’ EP Get Up is out now.
This story originally ran on British GQ with the title “NewJeans on mining ’90s garage for their massive new EP, Get Up!”