It’s a ballsy move to name your new, fresh-faced, talented K-pop boy group “Crazy Guys”. Even more so, if the word “guys” is actually just a polite replacement for something else that is less family-friendly, suffice to say. It’s what TOP Media–home to acts like TEEN TOP and Up10tion–have done with their latest five-member boy group, MCND, who debuted last February with the playful and raucous “Ice Age”. Officially, their name is short for “Music Creates New Dream”, but the acronym also seems to be a veiled reference to the Korean phrase, “mi-chin nom-deul”, which – at its politest – translates to “crazy guys”.

The group–comprising Castle J, BIC, Minjae, Huijin and Winall but confirmed this with the release of their latest album, MCND Age. The seven-track EP follows 2020’s Into the Ice Age and Earth Age with a selection of similarly boisterous tracks, including title track “Crush” and a telling outro named “Outro ; ㅁㅊㄴㄷ” (there is no English name). Written and composed by Castle J himself, the track references the phrase “mi-chin nom-deul” by using the first letter of each word to form an abbreviation equivalent to writing “M.C.N.D.”. In it, they admit: “We’re crazy, we know”.

For the uninitiated, such a maverick name might feel like a bit of a misnomer. After all, at first glance, MCND seem like your typical teenage idol rookies – well-behaved, faultlessly polite, almost timid in front of unfamiliar cameras. But watching them perform and interact with one another, a sparkling chemistry and steely determination begin to emerge that help to explain not only their name, but also their lean line-up.

With just five members, MCND form an unusually tight and compact unit among a cohort of contemporaries that boast six to 12 members as standard. All of them except Win have trained together since 2016, and with the experience that has come with training and debuting in a harsh industry made harsher by Covid-19, they appear to hold both a notable ease with each other and a tight grip on the slippery chance of success in front of them.

We last spoke to the group in July, when they promised Gem, their fans, “an MCND release for each season” following February’s “Ice Age” and April’s “Spring”. August brought us “nanana”, and with “Crush” starting 2021 off with a bang, MCND returned to talk with Seoulbeats via email about their growth over the past year and their goals for the next.

“I can’t believe it’s already been a year. Seriously, this year went by too fast!” exclaims BIC. This time last year, the group had just released their pre-debut single, “Top Gang”, a hip-hop-EDM track composed by Castle J that proclaims the group’s ambition to make it to the top, with lyrics written by the members themselves.

Even before the single and MV were officially released, though, they had stepped onto a stage in December at Music Bank to see an audience of fans, gathered through years of pre-debut activities and content. Reminiscing on the moment, BIC is nostalgic: “I was so nervous, but I won’t ever forget the happiness and excitement I felt back then!”

That nostalgic scene is a far cry from what performing is like for them today. Soon after, the pandemic set in and they were forced to sing and dance in empty venues, with only cameras and staff to impress. Nevertheless, a year of performing is still valuable experience, and the boys are confident in their growth since then. “I feel like I’ve gotten more relaxed and comfortable on stage,” remarks Huijin. Win agrees: “Our skills on stage have of course improved a lot since our debut! It’s nice to improve bit by bit.”

The group put these skills to use in their first concert, MCND 1st On:Live [Gem Age], an online event streamed live in September. “Everything was so fascinating. I feel like we grew a lot with each song we performed,” says Castle J. Despite the online format, he still lists it as a major highlight of 2020. “[It] was the most memorable moment [of the year] for me – even if we weren’t able to be with Gem in person, it was such a fun experience.”

This wasn’t their only highlight from an otherwise difficult year. As well as being nominated for several awards at the Melon Music Awards and Mnet Asian Music Awards, the group received a New K-Wave New Artist Award at the Soribada Best K-Music Awards. While there may be more prestigious rookie awards out there, MCND brim with pride at this achievement, displaying a jubilation that is both endearing and humbling. Minjae, Huijin and Castle J fervently agree that it’s one of their most memorable moments of the year. “I was super proud,” Castle J adds.

Meanwhile, BIC and Win look back fondly on their debut with “Ice Age”. When Win is asked what his highlights of 2020 are, he replies simply: “Our debut. Debuting made me so happy.” BIC agrees: “Our first broadcast performance for “Ice Age” is the most memorable for me. It was our debut stage, so I was really nervous.”

Of course, anybody would be nervous in the same position. But digging deeper into their individual motivations, we start to get an idea of why these five youths chose to be in that position in the first place. “I love music so much that it’s a job I could never give up!” Castle J declares. “Of course, there have been hard times, but my family, friends, and our members have given me a lot of strength”.

As the group’s resident producer and lyricist, this love for music is unsurprising. “Production is the most challenging [compared to rap and dance], but I’ve gained a lot of confidence [since starting] and it’s fun,” he muses. When asked what kinds of songs he wants to write in future, he mentions a desire to “solidify [his] perspective on life” through his music; MCND’s lyrics may still betray a youthful naivete, but Castle J’s earnest attitude begets real optimism about their potential.

Win is similarly frank about his choice of career. “There are times when it’s hard and tiring, but I started this job because it’s the perfect kind of fun [for me],” he states. While leader and eldest Castle J is into his twenties, youngest Win only just celebrated his 16th birthday in December.

Despite his age, he answers questions with impressively strong conviction – as well as scattered heart emojis that give away a boyish sense of mischief. “As I started working earlier than my peers, I think I am a bit more experienced in dealing with people,” he says, reflecting on his already burgeoning experience in the real world.

Meanwhile, main dancer BIC is a little more practical-minded. “I think that having a clear goal made it possible,” he says on his decision to become an idol. Having begun dancing at age seven and spending five years as a trainee, you have to admire his commitment; now at 19, that commitment has shown itself in the fruits of his labour, as the main dancer of a rookie group lauded for their dancing.

In a vlog, Choi Youngjoon, a choreographer renowned for his work with senior groups like Seventeen that also worked on “Ice Age”, complimented BIC as a dancer with great potential that will one day be recognised by the entire industry. It is high praise indeed, to which BIC responds humbly. “I will do my best to live up to the compliment while performing on stage!” he says, embarrassed, but nonetheless pleased.

Even considering BIC’s prowess, though, there are no shabby dancers in MCND. “Crush” proves this; all of them have their own version of the solo dance break that they take turns performing on music shows. “Each member has the chance to show off their own individual charms,” explains Minjae.

The 17-year-old joins Huijin, also 17, as one of the group’s stronger vocalists, but both are excellent dancers in their own right. Though his smile and bright expressions are what set him apart on stage, his answers are surprisingly serious. “In order for the audience to see that I am enjoying a performance, I need to show that through my expressions and gestures. So, that’s what I focus on,” he says, citing also proper stretching and care of his throat as musts before a performance.

His partner in crime Huijin is more reserved. The two have worked together since their stint on SBS’ 2018 competition show, The Fan, and often collaborate for vocal covers. Huijin’s own taste is somewhat softer than MCND’s mix of hip-hop and pop, and he is often heard covering sentimental ballads.

“I’ve especially been listening to a lot of Crush’s music lately,” he confesses. To our readers, he recommends Kim Johan’s “I Want to Fall in Love” – a ballad released almost ten years ago. In video appearances, he is quiet, standing back to observe the other members’ chaos whenever it unfolds. Here, his answers are short and succinct, though not unfriendly; when asked his new year’s resolutions, he gives an unexpected answer. “I want to learn French,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Beyond that, I want MCND to become well known.”

This kind of fierce loyalty to MCND is what unites all five members, and what stands out most about this group. When asked what song has suited the group most so far, four mention “Top Gang”, their self-composed pre-debut song, even though “Ice Age” was by far the most popular. “It’s a song only MCND can perform!” Win says enthusiastically.

Similarly, when asked to recommend a B-side off the new EP, they are unanimous in choosing “Outro ; ㅁㅊㄴㄷ” – the only track produced by Castle J. “Every lyric is cool, and I’m not just saying that because I wrote it,” he insists. BIC and Minjae use the same Korean acronym when asked to describe MCND in one sentence, referring to their “crazy” personalities. Win’s suggestion is “We’re crazy about music”, while Castle J is more modest with “We are your fun and cool friends.” Finally, Huijin’s answer is most informative: “We, MCND, are a team that really knows how to play and have fun on stage.”

It’s with this kind of energy and optimism that MCND face the upcoming year, the challenges within it, and their future beyond it. Holding a live concert, breaking the top 100 on the charts and winning a music show are all on their wish list for 2021, while trying new concepts, be they powerful, decadent or sexy, is on their to-do list.

“Ice Age” may have started their career off on a strong note, but it’ll take a lot more versatility, skill, and impact to create a fanbase that can sustain them in the long run. Ruminating on their future, Castle J ponders how to build their audience: “[On stage] we focus on our performance, conveying our message, and showing our own unique colour. If we are able to do this well, I think new fans will be drawn to our stages and existing fans will continue to support us.”

More than anything else, they want to grow and fulfil their potential as a unique group in a saturated landscape. To that end, they continually bring up goals of working hard to improve their skills, earning new fans, and meeting their current fans through face-to-face performances. Right now, that last goal feels more like a fantasy. Imagining the day when it comes, Huijin is enlivened: “It would feel like debuting all over again.”

Meanwhile, Win is apologetic. “It’s such a shame that because of Covid-19 we haven’t been able to meet. I’m sorry that for now we can only communicate through [written] interviews,” he laments. “Once the Covid-19 situation has calmed down, we’ll return with even better stages! Thank you, always.”

In the meantime, they are stuck with only each other for company. Not that that’s a bad thing; when asked what the best thing about being a member of MCND is, they express a happiness and gratitude for each other’s presence that you might not expect from a group in its first year. “I’m happiest being with our members,” says Castle J, while Huijin adds, “They feel both like my family and my friends.”

With such a visibly strong familial bond and lively, warm atmosphere between them, it’s hard not to feel a sense of endearment towards this underdog group of headstrong teenage boys. So, when Win confidently chirps that the best thing about being part of MCND is the fact that their future is so bright, who wouldn’t want to believe him?

(YouTube [1]. Images via TOP Media, Soribada Best K-Music Awards.)