Amid cutthroat competition in the ever-increasingly saturated idol scene, establishing a strong presence even pre-debut has quickly become the norm for K-pop groups. Many take the survival show route, while others post regular YouTube covers or even take to the streets to busk. Even then, for TOP Media‘s youngest boy group MCND, who debuted last February, they carry their performances with a surprising amount of experience and confidence beyond their years. A quick introduction to MCND’s extensive pre-debut history will easily explain this, and the members’ pre-debut activities have seen them at not only survival shows but at impressive showings at both national and international dance competitions, including one of the biggest global dance competitions World of Dance.
Outside of their regular idol schedules, MCND keep their love for performance alive through a YouTube series known as PMG (Play Music Ground). PMG started out as a pre-debut project, where the members showcase their skills through covers and remixes of various popular music such as Post Malone‘s “Circles” and a medley of 2020 K-pop hits from Pentagon, The Boyz, (G)-Idle, NCT 127 and Itzy. Many idol groups continue posting covers even after their debut, but few have committed in the way MCND have. A clear amount of time and effort was put into each of these covers, with proper styling, camera work and were shot at different venues. But nothing could distract viewers from the stars themselves, who perform with equal intensity as they do relaxed charm. Following MCND’s last interview with Seoulbeats in January for their comeback promotions, MCND have returned to share more about the pride they take in PMG and their journey as performers thus far.
MCND’s recent cover of Johnny Erasme or J Blaze‘s choreography to “Second Emotion”, a Justin Bieber track featuring Scott Travis has racked up over 3 million views since it was posted in early May, making it their most successful yet. Filmed by Sunny Lee from INVIS and with the guidance of performance director TaeHoon Kim, the cover saw MCND take inspiration from the original’s street dance style and showcased the group’s ability to excel at groove-heavy hip-hop choreographies, a dance style that is much harder to execute than many non-dancers may think. Though main dancer BIC gets most of the spotlight here, the cover also confidently affirms all the MCND members’ dance abilities, as they transition seamlessly between individual sections and group choreography. It is also BIC and Win‘s proudest cover to date and they expressed that it was meaningful to be able to show their foreign fans a hip-hop cover.
A notable fact about MCND’S PMG project is the amount of creative freedom the members have, and while TOP Media gives suggestions on songs that may be suitable for the project, the members ultimately end up choosing what they feel suits them best. “Second Emotion” was chosen by MCND, who listen to Justin Bieber’s music regularly and was taken by the emotions of the track. To date, the series has a total of 57 videos, which include behind the scenes footage and dance practice videos for each cover that showcase just how involved and invested MCND are in putting together these videos. Leader Castle J, who is active as a composer and lyricist for the group’s official discography, also takes charge of the remixes such as in their cover of Billie Eilish‘s “Bad Guy“, which is his favourite work to date. On how he works on improving his craft, he said: “I listen to a lot of music that’s out now. When remixing a song, I think “If I produced this song, would I have done this here?”. If I listen to my remixes, I can still hear some parts that are lacking, but I like them all.” While many musician cringe at their earlier work, Castle J is sentimental. He picks his first remix, MCND’s cover of Itzy’s “Dalla Dalla“, as the PMG video he would use as an introduction to MCND.
For most of the members, dance was a hobby before it became a career. Minjae and BIC’s parents encouraged them to pursue dance, while Castle J and Huijun first became interested in dance through their friends. On the other hand, their youngest member Win only started dancing in his trainee days, which meant that he had to work harder to perform cohesively alongside his experienced peers. His growth as a performer is evident as the PMG series progressed, and he said that dance was something he grew to really enjoy over time. It is clear that Win is a hard worker, and to fans looking to start dancing or improve their skills, he said: “I just want to say that sweat never betrays you.” Huijun offers similarly encouraging advice to fans. “Confidence is the most important thing. Whether or not you’re a good dancer, if you dance with confidence, I think it will turn out well,” he said.
“Everyone, feeling is the most important part of dancing!! Dance along with what you feel in your body and you’ll do well!”— Main dancer BIC on advice he has for fans looking to start dancing or improve their dancing
On top of their surprisingly impressive technical dance skills, MCND stand out because they perform with contagiously youthful energy and engaging sense of passion. A huge part of this seems to stem from the group’s emphasis on fun. “I think having fun is the most helpful thing. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you will naturally improve,” Castle J said. In the practice room, MCND play hard just as much as they work hard, and the members say that their practices include plenty of chats and games. “Because everyone is so playful, a lot of fun moments happen in our practice room,” Minjae said. Thus, in these PMG videos, there is no pretence — MCND look like they are having fun because they are. This is evident as they eagerly share about the excitement and fulfilment they feel throughout the process of conceptualising, rehearsing and filming each video before they are finally able to share the final product with their fans. “There’s nothing to be afraid of if we are enjoying ourselves,” BIC said.
At the heart of what makes these videos so compelling is MCND’s teamwork and chemistry. The members are spirited as they agreed unanimously on their strong understanding about and towards one another, which they believe is a huge essence of their performances. Huijun shared: “It’s important to dance well, but I think the sum of the five members together comes first. So when I practise, I think of it as us playing at a playground, enjoying ourselves.” Win echoes this sentiment. “I can perform well on every stage because I am confident in the five of us and our synergy. I think that if you want to improve teamwork, it’s really important to be considerate of one another,” he said. Depending on the length of the choreography and their schedules, it can take anywhere from a week to a month to prepare for each video. The members pick up choreography at different speeds and have different learning styles, and they typically help each other out accordingly. Huijun admits that he learns and forgets choreography quickly, so he revisits choreography whenever he has time. Castle J finds that he places emphasis on image training when learning choreography, while Minjae pays special attention to his timing and the beats of the music.
But despite the majority of the series made up of dance videos, PMG also features vocal and rap videos. In fact, the series started with a vocal cover of LAUVE and Troye Sivan’s “I’m So Tired”, which Huijun still considers one of his best work. As the main vocalists of the group, Huijun and Minjae reunite again for their PMG’s latest release — a cover of Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber‘s “Monster”. The cover sees the duo in sophisticated wear under striking light and boasts not only the duo’s smooth vocals, harmonies and adlibs, but some stellar English pronunciation.
With each video, MCND aim to keep things fresh for themselves and viewers by experimenting with different colours and styles, and their enthusiasm for adventure comes through in their varied responses when asked about the sort of concepts and styles they want to try. Minjae and Castle J expressed their interest in powerful R&B and rock, all as BIC quips: “It’s a bit embarrassing to say, but I want to try a sexy concept!” On top of covers, the members also expressed the desire to show fans more of their own creations in the future. As a closing, the group ended with a message to their fans, Gems: “Thank you for cheering for us even from afar! We wish you all the best and health this year. MCND will show you a lot of great performances, so please show us support and love!”
Through the interview, something that shines through is MCND’s understanding of their goals and their unique strengths, and they are focused on making the most of each PMG video as a valuable, challenging yet exciting opportunity to show the group’s versatility beyond their music show performances. More than just a treat for fans in between comebacks or a way to garner interest from non-fans, PMG thus acts like that of a growth diary that marks MCND’s growth as performers, as well as the expansion and evolution of their artistry. Thus, when MCND said: “Whatever the genre or concept, we can pull it off!”, it is hard not to be convinced.