Up close with the startling new collective...

“It’s a lie baby, just pretending everything is alright,” says the opening line of K-pop group AB6IX’s latest single, 'Close'. In the MV, the quartet runs through surreal dreamscapes trying to find each other and wake up, Inception-style. They know no one is having an easy time these days, and dreams seem more comforting than reality. Off their fourth EP, 'Mo’ Complete: Have A Dream' (out now), the track aims to soothe listeners and offer a glimmer of hope in the current coronavirus pandemic.

Carried by a deep house melody and an addictive hook, 'Close' also recalls the group’s 2019 debut single, 'Breathe'. Back then, they wanted to bring attention to the aggravating fine dust pollution in South Korea, while also encouraging people to break free from society’s oppressions. Now, they practice radical acceptance — “I’ll take care of you one by one / Close your eyes / Just trust me, like a blind,” the lyrics go — while waiting for things to get better.

“We think about the days when we first debuted with 'Breathe' and what we were able to enjoy with [our fandom] ABNEW,” says vocalist Donghyun over a phone call with Clash. “We reminisce and feel quite happy to imagine what it could be like to enjoy this promotion and album with fans. That’s how we have been able to go through this moment.”

Formed by Woong, Donghyun, Woojin, and Daehwi, AB6IX is the first idol group from hip-hop company Brand New Music. But before debuting together, they garnered considerable attention for their history. Back in 2017, Daehwi, Woojin, Donghyun and former member Youngmin participated in Mnet’s wildly popular survival show Produce 101. “It was a very fortunate and influential part of our lives,” says Daehwi. He and Woojin placed 3rd and 6th respectively, and therefore became members of Wanna One, the temporary group formed through the show. “[Produce 101] represented what the K-pop scene was at the moment, and it taught us how to survive in the long run and how to be competitive. We really put our best efforts, and it became a good foundation to our debut and to sustain us as AB6IX.”

For Woong, who didn’t participate in Produce 101 but trained for years in companies such as JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment, there were many times where he considered giving up. “Right before I came to Brand New Music, it was a time when I was trying to let go of a lot of things. Luckily, our CEO, Rhymer, was able to give me an opportunity, so I’m very thankful for that,” he says. “[Being a trainee] taught me not to give up, ever. There were a lot of tough times, difficult times, but as long as I don’t give up on my dreams, I will be able to make it.”

Although the group has experimented with a variety of styles in their discography — from hard-hitting hip-hop in 'Hollywood' to bright pop rock in 'The Answer' — they feel like they should experiment even more. As Donghyun’s biggest advice to his younger self, he would “Tell myself to try different kinds of styles, different kinds of processes, whether it’s writing, dancing, or singing.”

Fortunately, they can still apply that to future endeavors. According to Daehwi, their forte is being a group of people who have different personalities and traits that come together to present something unique. “I think many people in the audience will be able to witness that as our career continues,” he says. “And looking [at AB6IX] as a third party, not being biased at all, I think that if any producers see us, they would definitely be tempted to work with us.”

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It’s true that AB6IX possesses the flexibility to fit any concept, but they are also creative forces of their own. All members actively participate in writing, composing, or choreographing their releases. Daehwi, who is the youngest of them at 20 years old, is one of the most promising producers in the industry, spearheading most of AB6IX’s work and some songs for other editions of Produce 101-related artists. “There are not too many clashes [in our creative process],” says Woojin. “We try to compromise and work with each other. But even now, to be honest, we’re still searching for our own style and direction.”

Their flow as a team becomes clear as soon as they start talking about each other. Daehwi starts by praising Woojin’s performances, and says that: “He is very talented when it comes to dance and choreographies, and [his] presentation of music is very free and varied.” In turn, Woojin admires Woong’s personality. “It’s something that I don’t have. He’s very friendly and approachable to the fans with his aegyo/cute personality. That is something I respect.”

For Woong, Donghyun’s “strong mentality” is what he appreciates the most. “He’s very stable and keeps us together with that,” he says. Donghyun finalizes by saying that “Although [Daehwi] is the youngest member, and sometimes he is just like a kid, at the same time there’s a lot of stuff where he presents himself very maturely, and I really admire that. I think it’s great and that’s what I look out for me as well.”

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With such chemistry, finding their own style is more a question of time than of ability. And while they experiment, they keep ABNEW as a compass. “Compared to the other albums, where we tried many different sounds, we wanted to go back to the roots of what our fans really enjoyed. We wanted to fulfill their needs,” says Daehwi.

Making ABNEW happy is one of the things keeping them afloat in these times. In a recent interview for the South China Morning Post, Woojin mentioned that he would like to be asked “Are you happy?” more — to which he replied with a hesitant “I don’t know.” Today, he is more optimistic, responding with a cheerful “Yes!” when I ask that same question. “I do feel happiness from time to time these days. It is sad that we can’t see our fans, but when we’re on stage and we know that they will be watching us, those thoughts make me very happy.”

“If you ask me what happiness is, I feel like it exists everywhere, but at the same time it doesn’t,” he adds. “It feels like it’s very nearby, but can’t be seen sometimes. From the little, trivial things, to the bigger things, happiness is something that we can feel and keep it to ourselves as well.”

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Words: Tássia Assis

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