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[Herald Interview] Onewe still adapting to idol system, but have never been happier to do music

Many popular bands tell a story of how childhood friends from a same block or classmates who shared musical passion started out as an underground band.

Onewe, a five-piece band under RBW Entertainment, also evolved from years of friendship, playing music together since middle school. After busking in streets and playing gigs on small stages countless times, the bandmates found a new musical nest at their current agency, which is also home to acts like Mamamoo and Oneus.

“We always talk about how fortunate we’ve been to have good people around us, how we’ve ended up in a such a supportive company,” said band leader and vocalist Yonghoon during a recent interview with The Korea Herald. 

Onewe (RBW Entertainment)
Onewe (RBW Entertainment)
Although the band only recently released its first full-length album, the bandmates have been around the showbiz industry for quite a while. Made up of Yonghoon, drummer Harin, guitarist Kanghyun, vocalist and keyboardist Dongmyeong and rapper and bassist CyA, Onewe originally debuted as M.A.S 0094 in August 2015 under Modern Music. In 2017, they moved to RBW, where they re-debuted under the current band name and dropped the single album “1/4” in May 2019.

Having made music together for years, the bandmates’ rather toned-down styles are perfectly in sync. The band’s previous hit “Regulus,” for instance, is a soft-rock song inspired by the children’s book “The Little Prince.” However, on its latest single “End of Spring,” assisted by RBW chief producer Kim Do-hoon, Onewe made a dramatic shift and attempted a totally new punk rock genre.

“Kim always tells us to do whatever we want to do. And the result was ‘End of Spring,’ and honestly, I paid a price for following his advice. It was really hard to try something completely new,” said CyA.

Unlike some idol acts that are strictly in the hands of agencies, Onewe was given plenty of leeway to pursue their own styles.

“Some might worry that we would have to compromise our musical style since we are now at an idol agency. But it’s actually the opposite. As many of RBW producers and staff, including Kim, had played in bands in the past, they understand our identity and give us full-support,” said Harin. “We are making the exact music we’ve dreamed of.”

All five bandmates also channel their own thoughts and feelings into lyrics. Yonghoon, who had a fear of dogs, talked about his experience of touching an adorable dog for the first time in “Love Me,” while “Ring on My Ears,” crafted by CyA, is about how his earrings smashed his face as he passionately jumped around onstage and his hope to be able to continue such energy.

“One day, I was working with Kim on our new album, and I was kind of shocked to see that he, a veteran producer, was going through the same hardships that come from creative process. He wasn’t reluctant to share all of the hands-on know-hows and struggles. I was deeply touched by his sincerity,” shared Yonghoon. 

Onewe (RBW Entertainment)
Onewe (RBW Entertainment)
But being a band didn’t mean ditching every aspect of a K-pop system. The boys, who’ve never gone through rigorous idol training system, candidly shared that they were still struggling to adapt to the regulations and norms expected from idols, such as living in a dorm, showcasing aegyo (cute expressions) and even winking at a camera.

“Before debuting, we had absolutely no idea about idol-like characteristics and flairs. But after seeing other idols from music programs, we felt the need for them,” said Dongmyeong.

“Some might downgrade us for being an idol band, but we aren’t boxed in the idea of, ‘We can’t do aegyo. We are a band.’ I think that kind of thinking deepens the prejudice.”

As a band that directly exchanges energy with audiences, Onewe hopes to become influential enough to freely speak their own minds.

When promoting as M.A.S 0094 in 2015, the band released “Butterfly, Find a Flower,” a song dedicated to Korean victims of Japan‘s wartime sexual slavery. The boys said that they plan to continue voicing their beliefs, which may come across as sensitive to some.

“We will keep raising our voices on topics that we think are meaningful,” said Yonghoon.

“In order to make this kind of music, I think we should work harder to become a group powerful enough to make changes,” Dongmyeong added.

By Hong Dam-young (lotus@heraldcorp.com)
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