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K-Pop Forerunner Super Junior Reflect on Their 15-Year Career and New Album

The nine active members of the K-pop group on how they manage to stay as fresh as ever

SM Entertainment*

Super Junior, a forerunner in the saturated K-pop market, started as a group more than 15 years ago and has managed to stay relevant and productive. With 13 members at their start, they were one of the trailblazers for the kinds of supergroups that dominate K-pop today. When they began, most groups were typically under five members.

In 2009, Super Junior shot to the top of the charts in Korea with their single “Sorry, Sorry,” and have since released several tracks that are staples of the K-pop genre. Over the years, each of the group’s members has shown off individual talents with various sub-unit groups, successful acting careers, and regular spots on variety shows in Korea. With nine active members — Leeteuk, Heechul, Yesung, Shindong, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Siwon, Ryeowook, and Kyuhyun — Super Junior returns with their studio album The Renaissance, released this past March. The album experiments with a variety of styles and maintains a modern flair, with the storied group sounding as contemporary as ever.

Super Junior reflected on their longstanding success and The Renaissance with Rolling Stone.

How does it feel to be back with The Renaissance? What were you most excited about for this round of promotions? It’s surely much different than what you’re used to, considering the pandemic.
Leeteuk: It’s always an exciting and incredible experience releasing a new album. I’ve been really excited these days thinking of meeting all our E.L.F. (Super Junior’s official fandom name) whom have been missing our performances. It’s a shame we won’t be able to meet in person, and I’m quite sad.

Do you have a favorite track on The Renaissance? What is it and why?
Yesung: I’d have to say that even from the demo, I loved “House Party.” If I had to pick another song, I’d say “More Days with You” because both the lyrics and melody make me feel as if I’m with our fans.

You’ve experimented with a variety of genres and concepts over the years. Is there any concept you’d like to try next?
Shindong: I think it’s important for us to continue releasing albums more so than trying out different genres. For us, one thing that’s on our mind is finding what feels “Super Junior-esque.” If we were to try out something entirely new, maybe releasing a children’s album!

It’s not too common for groups to have 10 studio albums. Reflecting on your past discography, which tracks or “eras” would you highlight and why?
Eunhyuk: Right off the bat, I’d have to say when we released and promoted “Sorry, Sorry.” It’s one of the tracks I feel made Super Junior and K-pop more well-known globally.

If you could go back in time to when you debuted, is there anything you would have done or approached differently, whether it’s a piece of advice you’d give yourself or anything along those lines?
Donghae: I’ve never thought about that, but if I were to go back in time, I’d want to write more songs! Now that I think about it, it’d be nice to have songs about what I was feeling in each moment so people could listen. I’d probably tell myself to also enjoy all those moments because they don’t come again.

Super Junior has broken out into several subgroups over the years: K.R.Y., D&E, T, and M. Are there any other units that you think would be fun to try out? Who would be in that unit and why?
Kyuhyun: Siwon and Kyuhyun, or SK! The name looks very cool. And I look forward to the delicious meals Siwon will buy [laughs]!

What is the biggest difference you notice from when you work individually versus when you’re all together as a group?
Siwon: The biggest difference has to be the level of responsibility we feel. When I’m working alone, I feel as if I’m representing my group. But when we’re working together, we’re all taking on that responsibility together so I’d have to say it’s different in that sense!

Ryeowook mentioned in the press conference that it feels more like fun than work when working as Super Junior. Are there any specific stories or moments you can share from preparing this album as a group?
Ryeowook: We’ve spent a lot of time preparing and working on The Renaissance, revising it over and over to perfection, so it’s definitely one all of our members put a lot of passion into. I remember being surprised during practice because everyone was picking up the choreography so fast and having such a great time together. We were laughing during practice, and I remember saying, “Why are we so good?!” Heechul joined in the middle of it, and we practiced as if we were on a variety show. We had a few cameras set up, and it was such a great atmosphere that I almost wish we could release the raw footage! I do hope all E.L.F. can feel that warmth as well.

How would you describe the signature Super Junior sound?
Leeteuk: Our sound is music that uplifts and delivers Super Junior’s own bright energy to all those listening.

Reflecting on the past 15 years, what are some career highlights you recall?
Yesung: I remember the first performance after I was discharged from military service. For two years, I really missed my fans, and also my members and being onstage.

K-pop has grown exponentially in the past few years and Super Junior has remained at the forefront since the mid-2000s. How would you like to reintroduce yourselves as a group for those who may not be as familiar with Super Junior? For example, a lot of younger folks may be more familiar with the members as soloists, actors, or from various variety shows on television.
Shindong: Don’t worry about familiarizing yourself with Super Junior! Instead, we’ll try to work harder to get your attention!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received throughout your career, and what advice would you want to give to groups who are just starting out?
Eunhyuk: One piece of advice that really stuck with me was ‘Be your own audience’. Whenever I was going through a hard time, this helped me look back at myself and learn to love myself as well. It motivated me to enjoy what I was doing so I’d like to share the same piece of advice with all the younger groups.

You mentioned in the press conference that fans can look forward to a variety of promotions from you not just as a group but also as individuals and units. What are you looking forward to most this year?
Donghae: I think what Super Junior looks forward to the most is a live concert where we can meet many of our fans. It’s a tough time right now because we aren’t able to have concerts, and that’s a place where not only us, but all other artists can truly shine. It’s also hard because we can’t meet E.L.F. in person.

What does Super Junior mean to you?
Ryeowook: Super Junior is the reason behind my existence. Without Super Junior, I wouldn’t exist as an artist. It means a lot to me, and I’m very grateful.

Finally, looking forward, what would you want Super Junior to be remembered for in the future?
Kyuhyun: I want Super Junior to be remembered as a group that’s entertaining and loves their fans. A group you were able to enjoy the journey together with.

From Rolling Stone US