With BTS taking a break so that its seven members can join the South Korean military and Blackpink sounding a lot like Destiny’s Child as Jisoo’s solo career keeps taking off, the new girl group NewJeans is suddenly in a position to take over the K-pop scene.
When you consider that NewJeans’ first song, “Attention,” came out just last summer, it’s even more surprising that they’re being talked about in the same breath as the most prominent K-pop groups worldwide.
But in the past year, the five teens—Minji, 19, Hanni, 18, Danielle, 17, and Hyein, 15—have quickly become one of South Korea’s most famous cultural exports. Hits like “OMG,” “Ditto,” and “Cookie” are a mix of old-school Baltimore club beats, angelic vocals, and R&B from the Total Request Live era.
They have gotten hundreds of millions of plays on Spotify and set records for the most plays in the first week on the Billboard lists. Rolling Stone said that NewJeans was “the group of the moment.” In August, they will play their first event in the United States at Lollapalooza in Chicago.
[ARTICLE] Meet NewJeans, the Fastest Rising K-Pop Act on the Planet
“With a blend of Y2K nostalgia and angelic harmonies, the rookie girl group has become one of South Korea’s brightest cultural exports.”
— NewJeans Brands (@NewJeansBrands) May 17, 2023
Minji, one of the group’s oldest members, said, “I’m still surprised by how many people listen to our music.” Their simple style—they often wear loose pigtails and underground Korean brands like Kanghyuk and Kusikohc—has also made them fashion darlings, with each member signing separate ambassador deals with brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Chanel, to name a few. Danielle said, “A year ago, we could never have imagined getting so much love.”
The group’s name has two meanings: it refers to the timeless style of a good pair of jeans (the band has already teamed up with Levi’s), and it also means that “new genes” are being passed down for K-culture.
Album covers often skip glossy photo shoots in favor of Pop art, like different versions of the same image of a cartoon rabbit. This is a nod to the group’s “Bunnies” fan base and the provocative imagery of X-Girl, a cool-girl ’90s fashion line started by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth.
Part of the credit goes to the group’s leader, Min Hee Jin, known as the “Svengali” of K-pop. But NewJeans’ knowing sense of class feels like it comes from the same place as that of teen artists like Aaliyah and Billie Eilish, not from puppet strings.
“We don’t divide particular roles,” Hanni said. “We’re all in this together.” Hyein, who was the youngest, agreed. “Everyone has a different personality, so how we do things might be different, and the person in charge changes depending on the situation,” she said.
After it was reported in April that NewJeans would be the face of Coca-Cola, the band released “Zero,” a song with drum and bass, Korean nursery rhymes, and shout-outs to sugar-free soda: “See you looking, catch it, here’s your Cola.” The song is probably the most creative if not strange, business endorsement in recent memory.
It sounds like Grimes made a Britney Spears song for the Super Bowl. But perhaps that’s the point. “If someone asks what NewJeans is, I hope the answer isn’t short and simple,” Haerin said. “Being free and natural is our biggest strength, so I hope NewJeans will become a group that is unpredictable and has a lot of creativity.”