The Korea Herald


[Grace Kao] Trendz ‘glows’ toward global stage

By Korea Herald

Published : June 18, 2024 - 05:31

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I first saw Trendz -- Havit, Leon, Yoonwoo, Hankook, ra.L, Eunil, and Yechan -- outside of “Music Bank” and then “Show! Music Core” during their fan meetings in April 2023. I vividly remember their stage performances of “New Dayz.” They wore baseball uniforms at "Music Bank," so Yechan’s slide at the beginning of the song was especially cute. Besides, I loved the song. However, what was most remarkable was that all seven members not only spoke with fans before each of the TV broadcasts, they even danced parts of “New Dayz” live. I saw how hard they worked even hours before their actual performance on these shows.

However, my first real interpersonal interaction with them was when I was watching them perform live outside of MBC before “Show! Music Core.” I was standing behind their videographer, and leader Hankook almost ran into me at the end of the clip because I was in the way. Instead of being annoyed, he bowed and apologized to me while I apologized to him. So, they are not only talented and hardworking, but also kind.

Newer K-pop groups from small companies are disadvantaged and have to rely on sheer grit to accomplish their goals. Preparing for a world tour is especially challenging for them, but obstacles can spark creativity.

I stayed in touch with the staff, and in October 2023, Trendz visited my first-year seminar on British New Wave Music and K-pop at Yale University (via Zoom). My students and I adored them -- their enthusiasm for their music and meeting my students was exhilarating. Newer groups like Trendz do not take a single fan for granted.

I wanted to catch up with the members about their recent European tour as well as their preparations for their upcoming US tour. I visited them in Seoul and my collaborator, Dr. Wonseok Lee, served as an interpreter. They were preparing for the release of their 4th Single Album “Dreamlike.” The album and disco-inspired single “Glow” were just released last week and now that I’ve listened to the album, I’m even more excited to see them perform live!

So, how does an idol group from a small company manage to survive in the K-pop world? It sounds corny, but for Trendz, besides their talent, it’s by the determination, hard work and positive attitudes of its members. Of course, their staff are also incredibly dedicated.

In March 2024, Trendz performed in Casablanca (Morocco), Sofia (Bulgaria), Bucharest (Romania), Paris and Rome. I asked them how they prepared for their concerts. Yoonwoo explained that “The most important part at that time was to create a stage where we could communicate with the audience so we could enjoy it together. During the European tour, we showed the choreography of ‘Ven Conmigo’ and ‘Be My Love’ for the first time.” I learned that Leon, the lead dancer of the group, choreographed these songs along with “Glow.”

Because Trendz aspires to showcase their talents while also entertaining their audience, they also have to perform covers of songs by other artists. For example, Eunil told me that he prepared Ed Sheeran’s “Supermarket Flowers” for the concert, while members Yoonwoo, Havit and Leon performed the song “Rewrite the Stars” from the official soundtrack of “The Greatest Showman.”

While there are K-pop fans everywhere, K-pop groups do not often make it to Europe -- especially to countries like Bulgaria and Romania. Thus, it makes sense for many K-pop groups to also perform a medley of K-pop songs. In Trendz‘s case, these included songs like BTS’ “Run BTS” and “Permission to Dance,” NCT U’s “Baggy Jeans” and Ateez’s “Crazy Form.” Moreover, Trendz could not rely on any special effects or sets other than a banner. Instead, they have to charm the audience with their performances and personality.

When I asked them what worried them during the preparations, ra.L said that “Because Trendz is a strong performance group, the choreographies are strenuous and we worried about exhaustion during a 90-minute concert.” However, because they could feel the warm support and cheers from the fans, they were able to overcome these challenges. Hankook explained that “there was a true camaraderie between the group and the fans and we are all friends.” Friendz is also the name of their fandom.

We then talked about the difference between Korean, European and American fans. Hankook said that “Since we are a K-pop idol group, we thought more people would come as individuals or with friends rather than as a family.” The members thought it was really interesting to see an entire family watching their concert. Leon felt that the European concerts felt more interactive with the fans. He then mentioned that European fans who signed up for the “high touch” events were extremely polite and some were fine without any physical contact with the members.

Finally, I asked them what they were doing to prepare for their US tour. They said that their main priority was thinking about how to communicate with the audience. Only some of the members are comfortable speaking in English, so this does not come easily for them. They also explained, “There are many K-pop artists who tour in the US, so we are preparing hard so that American audiences can see our uniqueness.” They then added, “We hope many of you will come!”

When I first heard about Trendz‘s European tour, I worried that it was too ambitious. I have seen a number of K-pop concerts in the US (either in New Haven or New York City), and with the exception of groups like BTS, Seventeen, Blackpink, Twice or Stray Kids, shows generally do not sell out. How would a group like Trendz fare? What I learned was that groups like them also serve as ambassadors for K-pop -- even if people are not familiar with Trendz, they can still go and enjoy a great K-pop concert and hear some familiar songs. Of course, Trendz’s performances of their own singles “Glow,” “Go Up,” “My Way,” “New Dayz,” “Vagabond” and “Clique” will be fun and unforgettable.

Meanwhile, I will look forward to seeing them interact with old and new fans in the US, and I hope Yechan does his slide at the beginning of “New Dayz!”

Grace Kao

Grace Kao is an IBM professor of sociology and professor of ethnicity, race and migration at Yale University. The views expressed here are the writer‘s own. -- Ed.