K-pop loves its backstories and mythologies. Here, the fun doesn’t stop at glittering costumes, sharp choreographies, and exciting, boundary-pushing fashion – but what also makes acts so alluring are the intricate stories built around the members, who often act as characters in their own cinematic universes. So far, we’ve got aliens, time-travel, parallel worlds, and, get this, an entire digital realm under attack by a mysterious serpentine entity. So, when P1Harmony were debuting, they knew they had to knock it out of the park.
Enter P1H: The Beginning Of A New World – a full-length sci-fi feature film with a stellar star cast to boot, all setting up the stage for P1Harmony’s grander-than-life vision and approach to their art. Taking from their experimental and futuristic musical roots, the movie follows the story of how the six members of P1Harmony – who are supernatural, superhuman entities – come together to save a dystopian world wrought with crime, suffering, and something far more sinister than they could ever have imagined.
While the genesis of their concept lies in the gripping storytelling of P1H: The Beginning Of A New World, the intricacies of this meticulously-crafted universe come to life on the narratives of their albums, driven by sonic experimentation and a perpetual tension. Uncharacteristically for rookies in K-pop, P1Harmony have taken full control of their identity since the beginning. The six members – Keeho, Theo, Jiung, Intak, Soul, and Jongseob – actively work on not just their music, but also breathtaking choreography, performance and dance videos for their B-sides, and even covers of their favourite songs and artists. Earlier this year, they also started P1-Post, a special song project comprising tracks inspired by the stories sent in by their fans.
For P1Harmony, this constant stream of work – from music, to videos, to dance covers – isn’t just fuelled by their collective thirst to grow, but also a manifestation of their zeitgeist. Since the beginning, their releases have been underscored by the spirit of expressing yourself the way you want, without fear or concern of the status quo. With each release, thus, they create and claim their own artistic flavour with pride.
In July, the group dropped their fourth mini-album, Harmony: Zero In, marking a seminal pivot in their artistry. Taking a conceptual detour from their previously dark, grimy, dystopian aesthetics, they swaggered in on a wave of vibrant fits and bouncier music, embodying the thrill of dancing to your own tune. With the album following a tour earlier this year and a highly-anticipated collaboration with Pink Sweat$ in May, it was clear that their sonic and thematic renaissance has only just begun.
Ahead of their performance at the HallyuPopFest in Sydney earlier this month, P1Harmony spoke to Rolling Stone Australia/NZ about their artistic evolution, involvement in music, and the surprises of being K-pop idols.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rolling Stone: How are you feeling about the performance?
Keeho: Good! It’s our first time in Australia! There were so many [things we were excited about]. Sydney opera house, and last night, we went to Darling Harbor. It’s such a big stage that we’re performing on, so we’re very excited. We did our meet and greet session a little earlier, and all the fans were so energetic, so I’m really excited to see the reaction on stage.
RS: Let’s dive into your latest album for a bit – you guys took quite a different route this time. Why the change in direction?
Jungseob: We just finished our Disharmony series, so it was the start of a new chapter, a new series. We wanted to express that musically as well conceptually. Since we’ve debuted, we’ve always wanted to show the public that we can pull many different genres and different styles. I feel like it was time to show a different side of us, that’s a little brighter than before.
Especially on this album, I feel like we put a lot of songs that were a little different from what we’ve done before. That was the goal with this one.
RS: The concept of harmony is a common factor in your releases, but your message also focuses on embracing individuality. Some people would say that individuality contributes to disharmony. How does this contribute to your larger universe?
Jiung: (laughs) That’s a very good question – you had all of us thinking for a second. I think [there is] an open ending – I feel like your question will be answered on our upcoming albums.
Jungseob: Also, this whole series [is about] us starting this new book and new world. We’re creating this new world for ourselves, new standards, new rules for ourselves. Obviously, within those new rules that we’ve all agreed on, we show our individuality and our uniqueness.
RS: You put out so much content – there’s a lot going on in your universe. What is the reason behind releasing so much content?
Keeho: I think it’s definitely because it makes the music more interesting. Starting with the movie, and then having all this content – even our music videos are connected with each other. Having this whole storyline that’s going on within our music is, I feel it helps the listeners understand our message better, because you see it happening visually and not just lyrically. That kind of coexists together and creates this one big message that our fans can understand a little easier.
RS: You guys have set such a high standard for yourself. When you start working on a new album, is there pressure to make it bigger, make it better?
Intak: Of course, there’s always a burden and this pressure of wanting to do better. Especially for me personally, [it is] lyrically, because I write my own lyrics for the rap parts. But one way I get over it is by just enjoying the burden of [that] pressure. Just always wanting to improve and always wanting to do better than before – that pressure is there to make me improve. I don’t get much stress from it. Instead, I try to use it as motivation to write better, no matter what song or what genre I have to face.
RS: So, is there any point in your creative process where you say to yourself: ‘I may have been doing a lot and not taking enough rest?’
Jiung: There is really no way to balance it, and that is very true. We’re so very busy – when we’re releasing an album, we’re preparing for the next one. We’re out here in Australia, then we have to prepare for the next place. It’s very hectic, [so] it’s definitely not an easy thing to balance. So… we just don’t (laughs).
The only way is in the small, small moments where we do have a little time off – even in the hectic schedule that we’re in – we find time to heal. That’s the only [thing] that keeps us energised and keeps us moving.
RS: You are coming up on your second anniversary. The first year as idols is hectic, mainly because you’re getting used to the grind. What is something that changed in the second year of your life as idols?
Jiung: Coming up on our second anniversary, the thing that’s changed most – and something we kind of got used to – was being a little more open and more free with our fans. [As rookies] everything was new to us.
Especially, just communicating with our fans was very awkward. We always felt this burden to act a certain way, but now we feel like it’s a lot easier to communicate, to just be open and talk to them about what we’re going through and vice versa, listen to what they go through and be really honest with each other.
RS: Is there a difference in what you were feeling on your first anniversary as compared to your second?
Intak: Definitely. Going into our second year, It’s the realisation that we’ve actually spent so much time with each other. Seeing that we’ve almost already come [close to] two years of being together is very cool, because it’s a lot. It’s 365 days more than the first year, right?
Keeho: For me personally, during our first year, we weren’t able to really perform in front of our fans at all. Everything felt like a simulation. It didn’t even feel real, to be honest. It felt like we were making music, but we didn’t understand or feel the love that we were getting and receiving. So it was very muted out. But coming to our second year and experiencing so many new things with our fans together feels a lot more special. A year where we can feel a lot more thankful and, hopefully, we’re able to give that love back to them.
RS: For our last question, let’s go back to when you mentioned that there were a lot of awkward interactions with fans in the first year. So, what was the most awkward thing you’ve done as an idol?
Intak: So, we have to do a lot of ments (piece-to-camera) – for example, if we’re shooting something for Spotify, we’re like: ‘Hey guys, we’re P1Harmony, check us out on Spotify!’ And, we have to go around and speak stuff. Sometimes, in the beginning, I feel like I exaggerated too much. I could have been like: ‘Thank you,’ but I’d be like: (in a high-pitched voice) ‘Thank you so much!’ (They all laugh) Looking back at it, I’m so embarrassed.
Keeho: For me – we have these vlogs, called PLOG. Every week, one of our members goes on and we speak about how we feel, and things that have been happening in our lives. The very first PLOG was mine and, originally, [our team] asked us to speak informally. In Korean, there’s a formal and informal way of speaking, but it was so awkward! It’s awkward to speak informally in front of people you don’t even know! It’s still up on YouTube – you can look at it, but you can tell I was so awkward.
Jiung: So, we have fan signs where we speak to our fans. One of our fans asked me to draw myself farting (cutely) on a photo card, but I made it really realistic, and I didn’t really like it at all! I’m actually very apologetic about that. I still remember it to this day.