They’re all still in their customized stage outfits, now sipping smoothies and reviewing their recorded live performance on their managers’ mobile devices before driving off to another scheduled appearance.
“I usually drink coffee, Americano with extra espresso shots, but I can use some sugar today,” Jiung, 19, says in his deep voice. His pleasant smile is seen through sips of an Oreo smoothie, the popular choice among the members (minus Keeho, who opted for chocolate, and Theo, who chose a strawberry flavor). “We definitely poured a lot of energy at Inkigayo.”
As seen on Inkigayo, the group’s collective ability to deliver pitch-perfect vocals through the intricate and hardcore choreography for “Siren” has been one of the key factors that led to early mainstream recognition.
With big puppy dog eyes and a lisp that occasionally slips in, Intak, 18 — who is largely considered to be the main dancer of the group by fans, despite P1H saying they would rather not define each members’ roles — further explains their efforts. “We are a little bit exhausted from putting in so much energy to our last performance,” he says. “I think we all wanted to make a lasting impression and give our fans everything.”
Pointing to his shoes, the group’s 19-year-old leader Keeho jokingly adds, “I think I danced too hard, my toe hurts!”
Keeho is Canadian-Korean, and is the most easygoing — as well as the wittiest — member of the group. His humor is unguarded, but his intentions are kind. His welcoming personality is often what seems to break the ice during interviews.
Youngest member Jongseob, 14, whose palpable maturity is both endearing and somewhat eerie, quietly adds that he, too, felt his moves were “much bigger and stronger” than usual. We later learn that behind his politeness, there is a super-talkative, introverted child prodigy with big ideas and a big smile.
Soon enough, the room inside FNC Entertainment headquarters starts bustling with staff members, which means it’s time to get ready for the next event. The group is rushed to get prepped and each member starts rotating into the makeup chair in an almost-robotic way, as a seasoned artist would, taking turns for their hair and foundation to be retouched.
“I have a big mosquito bite on the left side of my face,” Keeho reminds his two makeup artists, “Who gets bit by a mosquito during winter?” He turns to the group to laugh, “It is not a pimple, I promise!”
When asked if there are certain stage habits they’ve adopted since debut, Keeho quickly answers, “I make sure I have nothing in between or on my teeth and floss my teeth with a Q-tip so it doesn’t ruin my makeup.” Immediately, the whole room erupts in laughter. Keeho is clearly the funny one, but when you mention this to Keeho, he disagrees and says, “We all try to keep our moods up so we are constantly saying silly things. Theo is hilarious, too; he’s just shy.”
Soon, P1Harmony heads to the Lotte Theater located in Jamsil, Seoul, where they have been coming for weeks to have small fan-meetings of less than 50 people due to COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions. They arrive just in time at 7:00 p.m. when the movie ends and, minutes later, are ushered into a crowd of overly excited fans — all of whom are holding its gigantic cameras, ready to flash away.
They’re holding these meetups at the movie theaters because P1Harmony is the first K-pop group to ever have released a feature film prior to their debut. The new and unconventional strategy, created by P1Harmony’s management agency FNC Entertainment to help them stand out in a hyper-competitive industry, proved to be exceedingly effective. Not only did the full-length sci-fi movie help them gain traction in Korea thanks to co-stars that included some top names in entertainment, but it gave them the opportunity to be exposed on a global platform like Amazon Music when a 20-minute highlight version made its international debut.
Just a few feet from the front row of movie seats, the boys each take turns sharing their feelings about its promotional activities of “Siren” coming to end. They then do a short fan-focused skit (Jiung and Theo makes hearts and piggybacks each other upon fans requests randomly picked out from a box) and promise to come back with more music ASAP.
As a farewell gift, the boys go all out for a surprise performance of the Disharmony b-side track “Butterfly” and an encore performance of “Siren,” despite a less-than-ideal stage. Without any special lights or fancy backdrops, the narrow carpet strip between the first row of chairs and the movie screen was not the most flattering space for a boy-band performance, but turned out to be a supremely enjoyable moment of the night: P1Harmony’s in-sync step coordination, balance control, spatial awareness and general collective optimism helped them manage through their gesture-heavy choreography (without anyone getting punched in the face) in what’s a nearly impossible, vulnerable experience to see from any K-pop act.
Afterwards, Theo takes the mic, and asks the crowd their one last question: “Do you think we’ve improved since our first showcase?” The fans shriek, “YES!”
As we are walking to their cars, Jongseob says, “Soul is always wearing his ginormous skull rings — he’s a rockstar at heart — and they usually end up hurting someone during our dance practices.” He’s still out of breath and completely drenched in sweat. “But somehow, we managed to dodge getting hurt so I guess that was a success!”
Soul, the half-Japanese, half-Korean 14-year-old innocently looks up and nods. Soul rarely talks, but in his defense, it’s not because “he doesn’t care,” but because he’s an “observer.” According to Soul, he gets more thrilled by watching his members having fun. Keeho confirms, “Soul is so protective of us; very loving and compromising.”
“It’s always so satisfying when we can perform in front of an actual audience, because we rarely get to meet our fans in person due to the current situation,” Theo, 19, shares while speaking up for the first time during this interview. “It is unfortunate that we don’t get to do it as much as we would like to, although we have live online meet-ups almost every week.”
Despite his shyness, Theo is more comfortable being in an intimate setting with his fans, while also trying to be more outgoing and giving — his way of expressing his gratitude. While occasionally unreadable at times, Theo was one of the only members who consistently posed for the cameras throughout the one-hour fan session.
“Theo can come off the wrong way at first, kind of like Soul,” explains group leader Keeho. “But once you get to know him, which takes some time, he is probably one of the more detail-oriented and caring members. He remembers what you said or what you like, and will have it ready for you when you’re least expecting it.”
On their car ride back to FNC, the boys are understandably exhausted, but no one is complaining or expecting to rest. Instead, they light up at the idea of dancing more. Since COVID-19 has limited most of what would normally make them busier with appearances and concerts, Jiung says they usually cap the night off by either going to dance practice or making online content. Tonight, they are going to practice.
While it’s a typical K-pop rookie answer to say that their nights will be filled with rehearsing, our skepticism is proven wrong. Starting after dinner around 11:30 p.m., their dance practice is going to be an all-nighter. Jiung and Intak have been coordinating their moves for a short TikTok video for almost 50 minutes.
“We ended our debut promo but we are doing a follow-up promo for ‘Nemonade’ and have a number of special projects and collaborations coming up,” Jiung teases for his upcoming promos. “We seriously have so much to practice that we haven’t had much personal time. We only go back to our dorms to shower and sleep.”
“You’d be stunned if you saw our dorms right now,” Keeho tells us. “We have a group chat where our individual chores are listed, but that list hasn’t been updated since Oct. 14. Our moms help us out here and there but that’s a whole other conversation.” Jongseob chuckles and suggests that they should play a card game of BANG! tonight so the loser can clean what’s most urgent and in dire need of attention: the sink.
But besides chores, what does P1Harmony do during their off-hours?
The first to answer is Jiung, who carries himself with serene confidence on and off stage, and is perhaps one of the more collected and determined members of the group. He has very specific personal preferences (he loves raw garlic, can’t be cooked) and indulges in multiple hobbies (reading on a wide-range of subjects, sketching “to take things off his mind” that results in near-perfect replications) and gets consumed watching videos on “solo camping,” noting that one of his many goals is to go camping alone one day.
“Our personal needs and time are important, but all of that right now is secondary,” Jiung says. He stresses that he and his members are more focused on finessing their craft and is trying not to lose sight of their ultimate goal, which is to be recognized for their musicality. All the members have writing credits on their debut album.
They say their hard work ethic and long hours are purely driven by their excitement of finally being able to do what they’ve been dreaming of for years. The group’s debut didn’t go exactly as planned, getting postponed multiple times for several reasons, so one can only imagine their buildup of determination.
Jiung adds, “We love doing online meet-ups. It’s so much fun and it’s the only way we can interact with our fans right now, but at the same time we are kind of worried that we will be, or I will be, known as the ‘funny’ one, and wonder if we could ever be taken seriously as musicians.”
Nonetheless, he is flattered that people find him funny and enjoys watching fan-made memes of himself — some of which have earned hundreds of thousands of views on social media.
Now, in full-out leader mode, Keeho squarely shares, “The only reason why we are so motivated is because we just love singing and performing. I can confidently say, on the behalf of our members, is that the six of us are here because we want to be artists; we want to deliver our message and emotions through our music, and we don’t want any of that to be overshadowed by our other activities.”
So, what about P1Harmony’s music?
“Of course, we want to inspire and have a message that our fans can relate to,” Keeho says. “But what matters to us the most, is that we are genuine and make music that feels like ‘us’ at that very moment.” Jiung adds, “I want to make music that can remind us what mind state or what type of emotions we were feeling at the time.”
Keeho agrees. “Our music defines us. We want to be sincere, and hope that our sincerity translates to our fans worldwide. I think it’s important to make music that touches us first; music that feels true to ourselves,” he says. “We are all very opinionated, involved and talk to each other a lot about what we feel when we are writing our music.”
Although the group is at most times in high spirits, they admit they have concerns about their future. When asked if the idea of failure or self-doubt ever devours them, they are all remarkably positive and dedicated.
“I get worried about failure, but I try not to focus on our results right now,” Intak says earnestly. “I think it’s a process, and whatever the outcome may be, what matters to me the most is enjoying this [learning] process and being humble and grateful for every little achievement we establish as a group.” However, he is adamant to “to make an indelible mark in history.” “I want us to be remembered as a prominent musical figure in history. I want to touch the world; I want to move and impact people with what we do. I want to go on-record with Billboard for this!”
“I also worry,” continues Jiung gleefully, looking more ecstatic than ever despite the heavy subject. “I think about our failure, but I have this gut-feeling we are going to do well. We all have this crazy, enthusiastic vibe, and are pretty much convinced we are going to be awesome. I think we lift each other up and have high hopes because we have no doubt when we are making music.”
Jongseob jumps in to clarify: “We don’t think about failure at least when we are in our creative zones.”
“No offense to Intak,” Theo says peacefully, “but I don’t care for results. I don’t want to change the world. I don’t want to be pressured to make a difference, because we set our own standards and that’s what matters the most. I’m just happy to be singing and performing right now.”
“Yeah, you know what, I am not concerned [about failure] at all,” Keeho continues with his mischievous smirk. “I always say, ‘We are destined for greatness,’ and I truly believe it. We are going to be legends!”
And after spending a full, exhaustive day with them, at this point, we believe it too.
This article originally appeared on Billboard Korea.