Photo courtesy of Belift Lab.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped ENHYPEN, the first seven-member K-pop boy group under Belift Lab, from debuting and making K-pop history as the first group to host an in-person and online fanmeet.
Formed from the K-pop survival show “I-Land” that ran from late June to Sept. 18, 2020, the group consists of Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo, Jungwon and Ni-ki. Despite being the second youngest in the group, Jungwon, 17, is the leader of ENHYPEN. He is currently the youngest leader in the K-pop industry, coming after TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s 20 year-old leader Soobin.
ENHYPEN’s history-making fanmeet, EN-CONNECT, ran from Feb. 5 to Feb. 6, and the first day was held in-person with COVID-19 guidelines—such as spaced out seats and masks—at the Blue Square Mastercard Hall in Seoul, South Korea. The second day had been planned to be both in-person and a live online broadcast, but the in-person event was canceled due to a Korean executive order that banned the usage of the venue. Instead, the fanmeet was broadcast globally through VenewLive, a digital live performance streaming platform.
A fanmeet differs from a concert since a group interacts with fans during the fanmeet by playing games, answering questions and performing fewer songs than they would at a concert.
When I logged-on to the website half an hour before the digital fanmeet, the right side of my laptop screen had a live chat where ENGENEs, the group’s fandom name, communicated with each other. As ENGENEs commented on the states and countries they are from, I felt like I was in the same venue as them despite us living in different parts of the world.
The online fanmeet commenced with a wholesome VCR—a pre-recorded video played to give artists time to prepare for performances—of the members guiding the camera into a house and blowing a candle on a cake, which established a joyful mood as the screen transitioned into the members performing their bubbly song “10 Months.”
Sunoo became the group’s emcee after the group finished reading and replying to fans’ seven-syllable poems describing ENHYPEN that were submitted through a Google Form 20 minutes prior to the fanmeet. Jaejae, a Korean emcee and host, accompanied him to introduce the challenges. “EN-CHALLENGE” consisted of three games: guessing the numbers pressed on a phone based on the sounds, punching a massive stack of wooden boards with a boxing glove, and spinning 20 times and dancing to one of their songs right after.
The games were designed to highlight some members’ specialties, such as Heeseung having perfect pitch, Jungwon being a former Taekwondo athlete and Sunghoon being a retired competitive figure skater.
The six competing members were divided into two teams: the first team consisted of Jay, Jake and Sunghoon and the second team consisted of Heeseung, Jungwon and Ni-ki. Since the second team won two out of three games, the first team rolled an enormous cube with challenges on each side for the upcoming “Chamber 5” performance.
Jake and Sunghoon wore life-sized bunny costumes, Jay wore a hanbok, a Korean traditional two-piece clothing worn for celebrations and ceremonies, and Sunoo waved two ENHYPEN light sticks in the empty audience with a bright smile as the members performed the song. The group’s lighthearted and humorous performance filled my living room with laughter.
ENHYPEN brought more surprises to the stage as the group divided into two subunits for K-pop song covers.
The first subunit, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo and Jungwon, performed “I Like It” by BTS with a romantic schoolboy concept. Jungwon’s soothing falsetto at the beginning of the song and Jake’s rap during the first verse amazed me. As I heard more of Sunghoon and Sunoo’s vocals during the performance, I realized that their vocals are underrated.
Heeseung, Jay and Ni-Ki’s cover of “Love Me Right” by EXO was the complete opposite from the first subunit. Their energetic and catchy performance made me feel like I was watching a musical where the characters randomly break into an upbeat performance and somehow know the same lyrics and dance moves.
ENHYPEN came back together for their jaw-dropping cover of “Boy In Luv” by BTS. The members had never covered a hip hop song, so their versatility and professionalism shined throughout this performance as all of them stood out with their unique vocals. Sunghoon opened the song by rapping, which was followed by more members rapping and they all had fierce looks as flames shot from the stage.
After performing three songs from their debut mini-album “BORDER : DAY ONE,” a surprise video entitled “From ENGENE to ENHYPEN” played on the screen behind the members. Flabbergasted, the members watched as the video montage showed clips of their journey together as a group, from the day after ENHYPEN was formed to debuting and receiving their first award at The Fact Music Awards on Dec. 12, 2020.
Tears streamed down my face when a clip of ENHYPEN saying their group introduction: “1, 2, Connect! Hello, we are ENHYPEN!” (translated from Korean) with their synchronized group hand sign at their Nov. 30, 2020 debut showcase played. Watching the surprise video made me feel grateful to have witnessed all of ENHYPEN’s firsts and how much the members have grown individually and together.
The surprise concluded with photos of ENHYPEN light sticks from around the world, photos of ENGENEs’ handwritten messages and usernames of ENGENEs watching the online fanmeet, which emphasized the fanmeet’s theme of ENHYPEN and ENGENEs being connected despite the pandemic. As the members wiped their tears, they turned around and expressed their gratitude towards ENGENEs.
The members mentioned that they struggle with their new lifestyle as K-pop idols, doubt themselves and miss their families, which brings more attention to the hardships K-pop idols deal with behind the scenes. ENHYPEN humanizes the public image of K-pop idols by sharing their raw thoughts and worries since they were trainees on “I-Land.”
When the members waved goodbye at the end of the fanmeet, the departure resembled the ending of a concert where you want the moment to last forever. Logging off the website was bittersweet since the fanmeet marked the end of ENHYPEN’s performances for their debut mini-album songs.
ENHYPEN is currently preparing for their comeback album that will be released later this year; more details will be announced soon by Belift Lab.