ONF Talks ‘Goosebumps,’ Its Last Comeback Before Group Enlistment
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ONF Talks ‘Goosebumps,’ Its Last Comeback Before Group Enlistment

ONF made headlines in November when the K-pop group announced that it had made the unprecedented decision to embark on its compulsory enlistment en masse, with all five Korean members (the sixth, U, is Japanese) entering the military by the end of this year.

The news came as a shock, considering that although a few have come close, no other group has ever before enlisted all at once, preferring instead to parcel out military duty over several years in order to avoid a total hiatus like ONF will now take for the next 18 months. “We wanted to present ourselves as a full group as quickly as possible,” co-leader Hyojin tells Billboard of the decision, which his fellow leader J-Us wrote in his announcement letter to fans was made “after many, many conversations.”

The members have subsequently revealed that they reached their decision a while ago, which explains why ONF and its label, WM Entertainment, packed the past year with an unusual amount of activity for the group (in an industry where idols tend to release new music every four to six months, ONF’s albums were typically spaced eight to 10 months apart). To maximize their time with fans and tide them over with as much content as possible, ONF made four comebacks in 2021, starting in February with its first studio album, ONF: My Name, whose title track, “Beautiful Beautiful,” also netted the four-year-old group its long-awaited first music show win and first Top 10 single on Korea’s Gaon Music Chart. Other milestones this year included the group’s first reality show, Dive Into ONF, and its first solo concert, which took place over four consecutive nights in Seoul last week.

As a final parting gift for its fanbase, called FUSE, the group released Goosebumps on Dec. 3, a mini-album of five tracks that are characterized by longtime collaborator Hwang Hyun’s daring production and span the musical gamut, from the stuttering synths of the titular single to the sweet ballad “Alarm” to closer “Show Must Go On,” which (like many ONF tracks) begs to be set against an anime montage. Despite the propulsive tempo, the song is meant to be the opener of the group’s next chapter.

“It sounded like the opening theme song of an animation,” member E-Tion says of the first time he heard the track, adding, “It felt strongly like a new beginning, so I thought the song would signal a turning point and the beginning of a more mature ONF.”

ONF’s Billboard interview, conducted over email, has been edited for length and clarity.

Which track from this new mini-album are you most excited to share with your fans?

U: We’ve worked hard on this album so I wanted to reach out to a wider audience with all the songs, but I’ve got to say it’s the title, “Goosebumps.” It sports a different aura from the genre of music we’ve been doing so far, so I’m curious how the fans would feel about it and I can’t wait to show our performance.

MK, once again you helped compose this album. What is one of the most valuable pieces of advice you have learned from Hwang Hyun about songwriting?

MK: I’ve always been interested in composing and I’ve been continuously working on it with a lot of guidance from producer Hwang Hyun. And thankfully, he gave me this exciting opportunity to help compose this album. The most memorable advice I’ve learned from him was to always try to take a new approach, and I feel it led to significant growth in my composing skills.

“Fat and Sugar” is about all the “bad things” that we like. What is your version of “fat and sugar” – something that is bad for you but oh so good?

E-Tion: Since it’s a food-related song, I think it’s high-calorie food. We’re always on a strict diet during our promotion activities. This means no high-calorie foods, especially those made of carbs, are allowed. However, as much as you gain weight from the high calories, they’re so good and addictive that you can’t help but like it despite how harmful it is.

Wyatt: I find it hard to resist sweet and sour fruit-flavored caramel. I know they’re bad for my health, but the sweet taste always boosts up energy so it’s not easy to give up on that.

“Show Must Go On” is the last song of the mini-album, but also the first song for your next chapter. How did you feel when you heard the track for the first time?

MK: I felt overwhelmed all throughout working on this song. It first reminded me of our FUSE, who always wait for us and give us generous support.

Hyojin: It felt the same as when I heard [our 2020 release] “New World” for the first time. I was thrilled, with my heart growing full and grand, and I couldn’t wait to record the song.

E-Tion: It sounded like the opening theme song of an animation, season two at that. It felt strongly like marking a new beginning, so I thought the song would signal a turning point and the beginning of a more mature ONF.

J-Us: I felt my heart beating to the beat. The unique mood of the song resonates with excitement and passion, and I thought it would go along with our color. The song exudes vibrant energy when you listen to it.

Wyatt: This song really felt like embellishing altogether the beginning as well as wrapping up at the end. I think the feeling of hope that the show is not over and we will keep running forward is portrayed well in the song. My favorite rap verse [that I’ve ever written for ONF] is in the second verse here. I thought a lot about how to describe “dream” and give hope in my lyrics.

U: I loved it as soon as I heard the song. Hopeful lyrics and the beat that makes you move to the rhythm were impressive. My favorite part is where all the members sing “show must go on” together at the end. It was fun recording it and cheered me up while singing.

No other K-pop group has enlisted all at once. Why was this the right decision for ONF?

Hyojin: Mostly, we wanted to present ourselves with music as a full group as quickly as possible. We were together from when we were trainees until our debut as ONF and grew together. Since we were like-minded, we all agreed to the decision.

J-Us: The decision was made by summing up the overall opinions of each member. We wanted to promote altogether by appearing as a full group as quickly as possible for FUSE. We believed in enlisting together and moving forward together, which made the decision possible.

E-Tion, I love your Pat and Mat series with SF9 Jaeyoon. How has your friendship with him grown through the show?

E-Tion: I enjoyed every moment! We made our effort to get to know each other and talk a lot. We are both shy but we’ve become quite close. (Laughs.) I remember the first day we met, and I was feeling so nervous and excited. We got connected through our fans, so I value our friendship even more.

ONF’s comebacks this year, such as “Ugly Dance,” all featured especially kinetic choreography. U, as someone who has helped choreograph the group’s routines, is there another performance style or concept you’d like to try in the future?

U: The choreography of “Goosebumps” was the style I’ve been wanting to try. It is a slightly different style from our past ones, so it was difficult, but that also made the practice more fun. I used to like a neat style of choreography, but these days I’ve come to like hip-style dance moves and I’m trying those styles of choreography.

“Alarm” is a continuation of “If We Dream” from your first album. When you think back over the past four years, what’s one of the biggest ways in which you’ve grown or changed?

Wyatt: I think we all have become more relaxed. Each member has created their own definite color, making the most of their tone, emotion and strengths. I think this shows a level of four years of experience and maturity.

MK: I think the balance of the team has improved much more than in the early days of our debut. As we’ve been working together for four years, our teamwork seems to have improved a lot. And I feel that our styling has changed a lot, too.

U: I think our mindset has changed a lot. We’ve become more responsible and affectionate for the team over time, which led to better teamwork. Moreover, I think we’ve improved in our vocal and performance skills.

J-Us: Most of all, I think we all grew in our sense of performance onstage. We’ve all become clearer in our idea of music and our style of music. And of course, we grew in our teamwork from many years together.

As a group, you all experienced a lot of firsts this year: First full album, first music show win, first reality show and your first solo concert. What was your favorite first-time experience from this past year, and why?

J-Us: It is hard to choose, as all first-time experiences become a part of our memory and good experiences. But our first music show win comes to mind as the first thing. The award was valuable, as it came from the support of FUSE and since our debut I really wanted to receive an award from a music show. I was grateful for so many people congratulating us on our winning, and now we want to share the joy with FUSE in person.

Wyatt: It was an exciting year with first-time experiences. I’m feeling thankful for FUSE for making this year so special for ONF. The first music show win is my favorite first-time experience from this year. It’s what we’ve all been dreaming of since the debut, so it was surreal when the dream came true. The only thing we missed was being with FUSE at that moment. I hope for our next win, we will be able to share the joy with FUSE.

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