Towards the tail-end of our conversation, the newly-minted, fresh-faced, bright-eyed members of Kep1er equate themselves to the word “energy”. It’s easy to see why. It’s one in the morning in South Korea, yet the nine members of the group – Chaehyun, Huening Bahiyyih, Yujin, Dayeon, Youngeun, Yeseo, Hikaru, Mashiro, and Xiaoting – are as active as ever. Decked up in their stage costumes, they laugh easily and heartily, poking fun and seemingly expanding the space itself with their youthful vigour.
This easy dynamic was established over months on the music survival show Girls Planet 999, where 99 contestants from various nationalities and ethnicities came together to battle it out for a spot on what was to be Kep1er. The winners would debut and promote as a group, carrying forward the expansive, forward-looking concept of Girls Planet 999.
After a debut that was pushed back due to the pandemic, that concept came to life on the scintillating space-themed fervour of “WA DA DA”, the title track from the group’s debut mini-album FIRST IMPACT. Ambitious, catchy, and engrossing, the track married the group’s pop proclivities with big room house, emerging as a champion of a concept that aims for infinity and beyond – just in case the group’s name and mini-album title weren’t a clue.
Just because they blaze towards the future, however, does not mean Kep1er disregards the past. Proof of this comes through three tracks on the mini-album, “Shine”, “Another Dream”, and “O.O.O”, all first showcased on Girls Planet 999 but reimagined into Kep1er’s present image by the group – a fitting homage to their origin, but also a sounding board for their explosive and inevitably successful launch.
That’s enough of the space metaphors. As they go onwards and upwards (ha!), the nine members of Kep1er caught up with Rolling Stone Australia, speaking about their long-awaited debut and future plans.
Rolling Stone Australia: What was your response to the tremendous applause that you received upon debuting?
Yujin: We still can’t believe that we finally made our debut! We put a lot of effort into preparing performances that can show Kep1er’s true colours and energy.
I wanna talk a little bit about the night that you guys found out that the nine of you were going to be Kep1er. It was a really emotional moment, we were all watching on screen. What were the thoughts that you guys had that night?
Mashiro: It was very hard to believe. It was very dream-like. Every moment was very dream-like. Since the program was live, after the results came out, my friends and family called me and sent me text messages congratulating me.
How has the transition been since then? There are some members who were already part of the industry before in their respective countries as well. Has it been smooth?
Chaehyun: It was hard to believe that we were finally making our debut, but as we were preparing for the release of the mini-album – while we were practicing for our debut performances, I [did] feel like, ‘Oh my God, this is happening! I am finally making a debut with the other members!’
When you guys were working on FIRST IMPACT, what kind of pressures or concerns did you have?
Mashiro: While going through our debut promotions, we wanted to show perfect performances on every stage. So, we had the pressure to improve our performances, to present to our fans who have been supporting us since then.
You got to know each other on the show, but what was it like working in a more structured environment for your first album?
Youngeun: Because we are currently working in a more professional and structured environment, we consider having conversations among each other very important in terms of coming together as one group. We’re very considerate of what we say and we try to respect each member. So, if anything big or small happens, we always talk it through.
The first album really did a great job of introducing your style to us. What is something that each of the members personally wanted to work more on?
Xiaoting: For me, personally, I’ve not had many experiences with vocal recording. So, in the process of working on this album, I was able to build new experiences, especially vocal recording – it’s something that I want to improve in the future.
If you had to choose one member to learn something from, which member would it be and what would you want to learn from them?
Yeseo: Since I am the youngest member, older members always take care of me and help me out a lot, especially when we practice for dance performances.
Youngeun: I personally learned a lot from Yeseo. She is the youngest member of the group [but] she has a lot of experience. For instance, she knows how to pose in front of a camera [laughs]. She’s also very polite and energetic to people around her. So she inspires me a lot.
What kind of fresh perspective did the older members gain by working with the younger members?
Yujin: I guess the younger members are always full of energy, like Yeseo. They also spread very positive vibes among the group. So I, as one of the older members, also get inspired from them.
Xiaoting: I agree with Yujin, younger members definitely are very energetic. I can always gain energy from them.
We also got to see three tracks from Girls Planet 999 on FIRST IMPACT. What do these songs mean to you guys?
Chaehyun: So, on our debut album, we wanted to show to fans our true colours in terms of Kep1er. We believe that this mini-album shows fragments of Kep1er’s worldview. So [even] with upcoming Kep1er albums, we are ready to show our [other] colourful charms.
The concept of the album talks about moving forward and reaching for the stars. Is there a particular reason why we saw three older tracks on the album?
Youngeun: I guess when we worked on these songs in the program, we were still trainees. We were not sure of whether we could make our debut and whether we could achieve our dreams. But having made our debut and sharing one identical dream to become K-pop idols, it was really nice [to know] that we all have different backgrounds and we all came together in one place with the same dream.
On top of that, certain songs, like “Another Dream” actually represent our fans. It was really nice seeing that we can support each other, so Kep1er supporting Kep1ian and vice versa and giving each other energy with these songs.
When you debuted, you received well wishes from your peers in the industry. Was there any particular piece of advice or show of support that you got from any of the members in the groups that you’re friends with?
Chaehyun: When we were performing for music shows, we came across aespa (from SM Entertainment), as they were also having their stages at the show. They bought us beverages, like coffee, and they gave us encouragement and support. I was very thankful.
Huening Bahiyyih: For me, my brother (Huening Kai from TXT) has been very supportive of my debut. When we won first place in the music show, he was the first one to send messages to congratulate me. I feel like he’s always there for me, to give me advice and support.
If you had to introduce Kep1er using one word, what word would you use?
Chaehyun: I can define us as “energy” in one word, because we want to share the energy we have with our fans, especially in our performances and we want to share love with the fans in return.