It’s hard to believe that (G)I-DLE has only had a four-year hold on the K-pop industry. Perhaps it has to do with the phenomenal success the South Korean idol group initially came into when they stepped into the limelight with ‘Latata’, a song that rose to top music charts when it was first released in 2018. Yet unusual as it was for a debut song, Soyeon, Miyeon, Minnie, Yuqi and Shuhua seem to have no qualms about pushing themselves to their limits, giving their all over the past few years since.
But as the quintet dials in for their Zoom call with me from Seoul casually clad and assuredly seated, it’s clear that this no-holds- barred approach lends a necessary precursor to standing up for what they believe in most: remaining true to their present selves. “It’s hard to define or give (G)I-DLE a specific identity because every year, the message that we want to share changes with us. But we still want to be able to enjoy doing what we do,” leader Soyeon muses.
And it’s a sentiment that has triumphantly taken the throne with each comeback the group has had: unapologetic in nature and memorialised as a vivacious expression of themselves. There was that shattering ‘Lion’ performance on reality show Queendom. There was the liberating message of ‘Oh my god’. And then there was the rebellious energy of ‘Tomboy’.
The bona-fide hit from earlier this year was the title track to (G)I-DLE’s first album I Never Die, a showing of their resolve to return after the tumultuous post-departure of one of their members, Soojin. Their tenacious message ruptured through the confident anthem; the girls belted out explosive lyrics that tore apart stereotypes which would otherwise confine them.
But ‘Tomboy’ was what set the pretext for the success of their latest titillating release, ‘Nxde’. Despite its provocative nuances, the actual meaning of the song reveals itself through the lyrics: “I’m born nude/And you’re the pervert”. Referring to Marilyn Monroe as muse, Soyeon divulges her truth through this addictive outro: there is a naked, unfiltered version of her that exists. And it is one that you do not see.
With ‘Nxde’, they’re peeling the layers to reveal the often-concealed sides in an inherently cutthroat industry that forces the public eye onto them. With ‘Nxde’, the intimations imply an even heavier scrutiny, simply due to their sex. And with ‘Nxde’, (G)I-DLE gives the power back to the female—consequently giving agency back to themselves.
While they may have successfully pressed the reset button on their group activities, it’s clear that each member is slowly finding their footing as individuals too. Yuqi and Minnie have set a new standard for themselves—bagging producer credits on various tracks across the board. Elsewhere, Miyeon has made her solo debut while their maknae (Korean for youngest) Shuhua has been increasingly praised for her arresting onstage confidence.
Determined to barrel through the noise, the members each seem to be more comfortable in this open admission to being the raw, work-in-progress versions of themselves. Should you ask the fans, it’s a known fact that (G)I-DLE’s strength comes from their individuality; their unique traits inflecting the music that Soyeon writes for the group as a whole, carving out the space for Yuqi’s soulful voice or giving breath to Miyeon’s lilting vocals.
And after nearly half a decade of being together constantly, they’re visibly cognisant of one another’s role in the team. During the course of our conversation, their informal tells begin to break through; I catch the quieter moments, like when the older members gesture towards Shuhua, prioritising the maknae’s time to speak. Through our back-and-forth, it’s clear just how much it’s taken for them to rise again, to stand tall in a relentless entertainment industry. But as I witness them share knowing glances, it becomes enormously plain to me where (G)I-DLE draws their true power from: each other’s presence. Here, they open up about ‘Nxde’, their musical versatility and what they deem worth celebrating in 2022.
ESQ: Congratulations on your second comeback of the year with ‘Nxde’. How has the year been for you so far?
Shuhua: We had two comebacks this year and also did a world tour. It was delightful to see our fans from all around the world, especially after the Covid-19 period. It meant a lot to us.
ESQ: Could you share more about the message of ‘Nxde’?
Soyeon: Ultimately, we wanted to talk about the stereotypes and biases that have lasted through the generations. These stereotypes have consistently prevailed over the years, yet we can’t seem to get rid of them. ‘Nxde’ is a song that wishes to rebel, and speak out against these prejudices.
ESQ: (G)I-DLE is known for versatility when it comes to musical concepts. Was there a concept that you felt really represented the group really well?
Soyeon: For us, it would probably be ‘Latata’. Coupled with the unexpected reception to the song, we think the track had a very unique colour that stood out on its own. As a group, we’re always looking to remain on the pulse of things and stay ahead of the current trends in music. We want to bring a distinctive sound to the music of our generation—which ‘Latata’ did in many ways.
ESQ: Minnie and Yuqi, you both have even more producer credits in this EP. Was there anything new that you tried in the studio?
Yuqi: So for ‘Dark (X-File)’, I was just going with the flow in my studio: drinking a beer whilst I came up with the melody. Usually I would attempt something that I think the audience might like, but this time I decided to just follow my gut. I was definitely a little drunk putting it together but it felt liberating, and I thought the melody that emerged was pretty cool.
Minnie: I love trying new things. So I think for this album, I was trying to produce something different entirely, instead of just ballads. I don’t want to stick to just one style so I’m hoping to produce a wider variety of songs across genres.
ESQ: Soyeon, how do you usually decide on which parts of a song would be better suited to different members?
Soyeon: It’s really about prioritising the message and understanding each of the members’ individual strengths. These days, I’m focusing on how particular lyrics of a song might be better delivered by certain members because they each have a unique charm.
ESQ: How has your personal style evolved over the years and who is the most experimental?
Soyeon: Over the years, we developed our own tastes because we really wanted to make sure that our style would reflect more of our individual personalities. I think Shuhua developed her personal style the most and her style is the easiest to distinguish when you’re walking down the streets. She has a very distinctive colour palette of earthy tones.
ESQ: Miyeon, you’ve released your solo debut, My, this year with ‘Drive’. How was it different from your usual time in the studio?
Miyeon: With the group, I usually prioritise our collective message. But when it came to my solo, the most important thing to me was making sure that the fans who listened to it would be able to just enjoy my music, whilst feeling at ease.
ESQ: Shuhua, you’re known for your fiery stage presence. How do you build up your confidence before you get onto the stage?
Shuhua: Being well-prepared helps. But being able to take compliments and feedback from the other members is important too. The fans’ presence, however, is the best encouragement and really hypes me up before a performance.
ESQ: Between your endless schedules, how do all of you take the time to unwind?
Minnie: I think because we’re always very busy with our promotions, being able to just sit alone in a room with a lit candle and good music helps me relax. Not doing anything at all, is how I think most of us unwind.
ESQ: It’s been four years since you’ve debuted. Is there a particular (G)I-DLE identity that you’ve found?
Soyeon: It’s hard to define or give (G)I-DLE a specific identity because every year, the message that we want to convey to our audience and fans changes with us. We gain more experiences as we get older and these experiences inform and impact our message as a group. But ultimately, we still want to be able to enjoy doing what we do, just as how we’ve been doing so far. It’s very challenging to do, but it’s an approach that suits us best.
ESQ: And finally, this is our ‘Celebration’ issue. What are you celebrating in 2022?
Minnie: Obviously, the most impactful part of this year was finally meeting the fans in person. We haven’t seen everyone in such a long time and it’s definitely worth celebrating. Next year, we hope to visit even more cities we haven’t gone to yet—to meet more fans from around the world.
This story was first published in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Esquire Singapore.
Creative Director & ProducerVanessa Caitlin
Fashion EditorGordon Ng
Executive ProducerKelly Suh
On-set stylingKim Jaewook and Choi Bora/KNC Studios
Production AssistantIndigo Choi