The members of SuperM - Taemin, Baekhyun, Kai, Taeyong, Mark, Ten and Lucas - are amongst the most skilled and experienced dancers, rappers and vocalists in the South Korean pop industry.
Dubbed by their label upon debut as the ‘Avengers as K-Pop”, ostensibly for this formidable combination of talents, Super M went on to prove equally powerful on the charts. Their eponymous debut EP, released last October, landed at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 200 and No.19 in the UK album chart.
Out in a matter of hours, their first full-length album, ‘Super One’ (preceded by the singles ‘100’ and ‘Tiger Inside’) brings with it, says the group, a message of unity in a time of pandemic and uncertainty.
Earlier this week, SuperM partook in a global, roundtable interview live from Seoul, unpacking the elements that lie within their sound and behind their teamwork. Here’s everything we know about K-Pop’s latest supergroup, and their brand new record.
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Key track 1: Infinity
Beloved by Mark and Ten’s for its “dynamic and storytelling”, ‘Infinity’ is nothing short of a space opera, fired up with choral bursts and a demanding wub-wub bass that twists beneath the harmonies. “Like a blaze of glory, going overdrive / Going to live my story, everything I do to feel alive,” they declare, more victorious than defiant.
Even a supergroup needs motivation and, no matter how long they’ve spent being pop stars, SuperM are still constantly learning and honing their craft Rapper Mark calls reaching No.1 on the US charts an “honour. To have our fans combine their strength to help us really felt great. It motivated us and we put in double the amount of effort [on this album], so we believe the quality went up that much as well.”
If there’s any pressure on them to repeat the success of their EP, then they’re not outwardly displaying it. Instead, Baekhyun, the group’s eldest at 28, looks at their growth as performers. “One of the things I learned in preparing for this album is we were able to stretch our limits even more. We’ve released ‘100’, ‘Tiger Inside’ and now, the title track ‘One’. Each of these songs has such a great concept and choreography and putting all that together was really challenging.”
Key track 2: Big Chance
“I personally like taking big chances and opportunities so this song, just the title itself, captured my attention,” says Baekhyun. “It’s a good song that showcases our individual charms.” Sung in English, this western radio-friendly cut is frothy with a falsetto hook and bouncy instrumental, triggering a yearning for simpler times, fun summer nights and the press of a warm hand into your own. One key ingredient to SuperM’s appeal is their yin and yang charms - consummate professionals on stage, the epitome of chaotic good off stage.
Though only just clear of a year as a group, their connection is infallible; during the 40-minute roundtable they cheer like sports fans after their every reply and so frequently get the giggles mid-answer that, at one point, they’re hushed by their staff and sit scolded like naughty schoolboys. Hong Kong-born Lucas, whose Korean isn’t fluent, sends his bandmates into fits of brotherly laughter as he enthusiastically attempts to summarize their “different but connected” aesthetics but there’s a telepathy between all seven and Kai and Mark patiently, warmly, elucidate for him.
Taeyong, in halting but near-perfectly inflected English, recalls Taemin’s detailed work on their choreography and calls their performances “really dope and great, and untouchable”, and Mark and the group’s second English-speaker, Ten, beam.
But SuperM’s funniest moments are unintentional, often born from juxtaposition: Kai politely discussing his love of the “energising” ‘Tiger Inside’ but there’s Mark and Taemin distractingly pose like circus tigers, or Baekhyun revealing their sonic maturation as - “We wanted to relay the message of positivity rather than just focus on the performance” - even as Taemin thoroughly amuses himself by practising the severed thumb trick.
Key track 3: Better Days
The ballad with underrated beginnings, according to Ten. “When I listened to that song, I was like, ‘does it sound kinda old, seriously, it sounds like [from the] 90s’,” he says. Although the verses are perhaps more Macklemore than Mytown, its sweet, retro chorus blooms over a simple piano line, and the message, adds Ten, “is healing. When we’re together, we can make a better day.”
From tanks to supercars, SuperM are known for their use of vehicles in their videos, but there’s more to it than being a petrolhead Their debut single, ‘Jopping’, featured a helicopter and a tank, ‘100’ gave us CGI cars and a futuristic train, and ‘Tiger Inside’ sported a garish fur print motorbike but, according to Kai, this affinity for things that go vroom-vroom isn’t merely an aesthetic. “We can’t really travel right now because of the pandemic but we really hope that, just like these modes of transportation [can] take you somewhere, that our songs and music and album can take you to a place of hope, that higher place where everyone can be happy.”
Key track 4: Together At Home
The aim of ‘Super One’, says Mark, is to bring hope and unity to a world gone dark. “For ‘Together At Home’ (Taeyong’s favourite track), we really felt, like, ‘we’re all staying together at home so what are the ways we can connect through our songs?’” It’s one of the album’s finest moments - joyous, high gloss synth-funk with a chorus that steals the show with pure panache. Making an album that not only highlights each member’s skills but also creates a definitive SuperM is not an easy task.
The members’ respective groups - SHINee, WayV, NCT and EXO - already have such defined sonic identities that creating an entirely new one for SuperM would have been wildly ambitious. Instead, SuperM is a lake into which four rivers flow, and ‘Super One’, which takes an individual leaf out of each group’s playbooks (EXO’s glorious harmonies, NCT’s bonkers bass lines, and so on) and wilfully sews them together, is that aspiration realised.
For SuperM, their album is a leap forward; Taemin points out that ‘Super One’ harmonises the member’s skills “way better than we did initially [on the ‘SuperM’ EP], with this album we’re able to experiment more and try out different genres and see how it comes together.”
Key track 5: Wish You Were Here
“This would have been a great title track,” says Taemin, who chooses it as his favourite. “It’s one that’s kind of unexpected because audiences expect performance-heavy songs and the message within this brings the whole album together.” Faintly tinged with the flavour of steel drums and 80s percussion, the longing woven into the rhythms is dream-like and hypnotic.
No matter how successful you appear, there’s always seemingly wobbly career stepping stones… and you just have to take them, one haircut at a time Between them, they possess over 40 years of experience as performers yet Taeyong admits that not everything they work on feels clear cut. “I’m sure everyone feels the same way but, when we started our careers, a lot of the moments we go through feel like we’re still trying to get there. We’re not fully there yet.
There’s a lot of moments where it might have felt like a failure but everything was a step to build up to what we have now.” Such pragmatism means that their keenest regrets are, quite fortunately, follicle related. “When I debuted,” recalls Mark, “my hair was very short so my bangs were above my eyebrows and I honestly hated it. But coming back to it now, it was cute, it was appropriate for that age, that time of my life.”
Ten agrees wholeheartedly: “Like [for] ‘7th Sense’, when I saw my hair, I was like, ‘this is not going to work out’ but now I miss it so much!” It has to be said that it’s just hair but Mark, his own faded from being magenta into a cotton-candy pink, and as a K-Pop veteran, cheerily protests such a claim. “Hair is an important factor!”
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SuperM’s ‘Super One’ is out on September 25th.
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Words: Taylor Glasby
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