“It Feels Like We’re Family!” xikers Interviewed

“I grew up watching idols and dreaming of becoming one...”

In a south-west London basement, converted into a starkly lit dance rehearsal space, are nine of xikers’ ten members (Junghoon is in Seoul on rest) wearing sweats and sneakers. They’ve had their first ever British meal, a traditional fish ‘n’ chips. It’s the day before their first ever UK show, and they’ll go from here onto their first ever European tour. At not even a year old, xikers – Minjae, Junmin, Sumin, Jinsik, Hyunwoo, Seeun, Yujun, Hunter and Yechan – are experiencing a hell of a lot of firsts right now. 

“I grew up watching idols and dreaming of becoming one,” says Yujun. “But there’s a difference in perspective between watching and becoming. When we take to the stage and meet all of our fans, it’s a completely different experience. There’s a form of joy that comes from communicating with them.”

Seeun, whose high cheekbones constantly disappear and reappear beneath his grey hoodie, remembers clearly their first ever meeting with ‘roadY’, as their fans are known. “It was so fascinating seeing them. You’re spending all your time [pre-debut] in the practice room and there were moments when it was difficult but when we first saw them… it made everything worthwhile. Everything you’ve prepared for them can finally be shown, and there’s a sense of pride in that.”

xikers crashed into the K-pop sphere last March with ‘도깨비집 (TRICKY HOUSE)’, a burning meteor of a song, equal parts fun and ambitious. A second single, the chunky ‘ROCKSTAR’ also from their debut mini-album, ‘House of Tricky: Doorbell Ringing’, was released less than a month later. That summer, xikers dropped their second record, ‘House of Tricky: How to Play’, with two singles (‘DO or DIE’, ‘HOMEBOY’) then hit the road touring, starting in the US.

Those initial shows, says Hunter (xiker’s Thai, and only non-Korean, member) felt a little awkward. “We worried about our stamina because we dance to every song on our setlist,” he says. “Our choreographies are difficult, and when you sing and dance at the same time, you have to control your breath well, so it’s easy to feel nervous.” Pre-debut, they breath-trained by running on treadmills while singing but little beats learning firsthand. A few shows in, Hunter adds, “and now it’s kind of just like walking – it comes naturally for us. The awkward feeling that comes from being so nervous faded and we really got to enjoy the shows.”

It’s not often that rookie idols bypass club shows overseas and jump straight into 1500-plus theatres but perhaps it’s to be expected of the sibling group of ATEEZ, whose enormous sonic thunder packed out arenas internationally long before doing so on home turf. “We’ve got KQ [Entertainment] blood in our systems,” jokes leader and rapper Minjae, referring to their label and its music production team Eden-ary, whose signatures include frenetic pacing, traditional Middle Eastern and Korean influences, terrace chants, and rock-meets-EDM instrumentals loud enough to rearrange your internal organs.

There are certainly parallels between ATEEZ and xikers’ creative output, but the latter’s small yet muscular discography expands on and plays with what can be now termed as the ‘KQ sound’. And though like their senior group they possess a narrative and a universe, it’s rooted in supernatural sci-fi as opposed to ATEEZ’s gritty dystopia, more coming-of-age than smashing the system. 

“Our universe is wide but, honestly, we’re still at the very beginning,” says Minjae. “Our first and second mini-albums, they’re like trailers to who we are as a group. I think you’ll be able to see more of our main narrative through our third and fourth albums.” 

If some of the more grandiose, cinematic ideas are yet to come, then xikers’ initial thematics – fun, freedom and fearlessness – are a reflection of their Gen Z selves. They stem from, says Minjae, “a desire to focus on the present moment. In the overall scheme of things, there’s nothing that we know for certain. The only thing that we can really know is the here and now when we’re together. This is why encouragement in being fearless and taking on challenges are some of the messages that we believe in, especially for our generation.”

You’ll find this ethos in the insouciance of ‘XIKEY’, the pop punk of ‘Skater’ and the heft of ‘DO or DIE’ but, for Junmin and Yujun, ‘ROCKSTAR’ is its purest portrayal: “The lyrics directly tell your worries and everything else to go away and emphasises doing your best on what’s right before you,” says Yujun.

There are three rappers in xikers – Minjae, Sumin and the youngest at 18, Yechan, whose first appearance in idol-dom was aged 12 on survival show Under Nineteen. Each with their own distinctive voice, they’ve been writing on the band’s tracks from the outset. They have a little routine – “We like to gather in one room and listen to the guide track, from there we divide the verses and start writing our own lyrics,” says Minjae – a process that takes, Sumin guesstimates, at an average of four hours. 

“The one that took the shortest amount of time was ‘XIKEY’,” says Minjae. “It probably took about an hour. The longest one might be ‘TRICKY HOUSE’. I had so many different versions of the verses, maybe six or seven versions.”

“I had two versions for my verse in ‘TRICKY HOUSE’, but the one that got selected for the song only took about an hour to write,” says Yechan, whose thick hair is the colour of ginger-nut biscuits and falls into his eyes, where he sweeps restlessly at it. “For ‘HOMEBOY’, there was only one version of the verse, but I continuously edited and fixed it to make it what it is now, so it took about four days.” 

As a band, they’re perfectionists, tweaking and editing lines in the booth as they record, and, Seeun notes, putting “a significant amount of thought into not only making it even cooler [than the guide], but really placing the xikers stamp on it.” Says Junmin: “We actually recorded ‘HOMEBOY’ twice [on two different occasions]. That second version was the closest to the standard we set.”

xikers are already a slick and critically beloved live unit, a tornado of confidence, energy and charm – “There’s usually a dance break near the end where we go hard and fans go wild and we think ‘Wow!’” says Seeun with a little grin – but xikers aren’t quite used to doing interviews in their rehearsal clothes, sans hair and makeup, with just a manager perched unobtrusively in the corner. 

There’s a lot of wordless, coded glances and twitching brows  – ‘You answer this one’, ‘No, you take it’ – with Minjae, the oldest at 20, platinum blonde and eagle-eyed, sending telepathic signals of encouragement. But when they do settle into the rhythm of the conversation, there is a perceptible change in the air, in the way they position their bodies. They tease each other – cooing over someone’s considered response, hollering whenever shyness gets the better of another – seven introverts and two extroverts who, Yechan and Hunter say, become one loud bundle of sibling-like chaos.

When you’re together and off-duty, what do you talk about?

“We’re always joking around with each other,” says Minjae. 

Who’s the king of come-backs with the sharpest tongue? Their eyes scoot around the room. “Seeun,” they say with synchrony.

“In the beginning,” says Jinsik, “it was awkward and it felt like there was distance between us because even though the company and the members are great, it’s so easy to feel shy when you’re meeting people for the first time and getting to know them. Now that we’ve been together for some time, everything comes quite naturally. It really feels like we’re family.”

Yujun calls Minjae, as their leader, the “GOAT”. Minjae’s response is wry: “Thank you, it’s such an honour.” 

Junmin wades in: “I think he’s a well-rounded person who looks at the entire picture and pulls us in the right direction.” When Minjae squirms, mostly because this is unusual turf for them to talk about with the media, his bandmates are amused and delighted.

“He’s scary,” adds Junmin, half in jest, leading the pile-on.

“Sometimes,” opines Sumin.

Minjae wears the harried but indulgent smile of a parent whose toddlers have just eaten a box of crayons. “Ayeee, I’m not scary,” he protests. 

Hunter, tall and softly spoken, nods: “Sometimes [he is] but he’s softened a bit.”

An idol leader’s role is to guide, scold, support, defend, and comfort, to be the consolidated voice of their group, respected but also be right alongside the members, no more elevated than anyone else. It is a complicated balance to achieve alone. Minjae has found a vital sounding board in Junmin over the years: “We usually get together in his room and talk about the team or our goals. I think he’s been so helpful in leading the team and I’ve learned so many things from him.”

Their growth – personal and professional – has been exponential and impressive. “When I’m on stage and I have thoughts in my head like, “I’m doing well. I’m having fun. I want to continue to have fun”, that’s when I feel like I’m doing a good job and I’m proud of myself,” says Sumin. Adds Jinsik: “There are moments on stage when unexpected things happen and they used to bring me down. Now I view these moments more positively – I know I can show a better performance next time, and make note of what to improve.” 

For Hyunwoo, it’s also alchemical, taking what could derail a performance and turning it to gold: “Rather than saying our nerves vanished, they’re similar, yet slightly different nerves that have evolved. Before our debut, we focused on working hard to be able to perform as best we could when we debuted. Now our thoughts have changed to think about how much we’ve grown and how we can develop even more to show this.” 

xikers aren’t sure yet where this journey will ultimately take them but they bristle with purpose – “I’d like it if people thought of xikers as an amazing group,” says Seeun – and intent – “We aim to be recognized for going above and beyond, of leading by boundary pushing” says Minjae – that fans their inner flames. “We didn’t set specific expectations before debuting,” adds Minjae. “We never expected to be who we are now, but we’ve worked hard to make it to where we are.” 

Words: Taylor Glasby

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