“A new life. The turning point of life. Happiness.” These are three phrases the members of Up10tion voice to encapsulate their career as idols – yet Kogyeol, Gyujin and Sunyoul could just as deftly be defining the concept of the group’s second studio album, Connection.
Up10tion returned in June with the ten-track release, inviting their fans – known as Honey10 – to dive into a soundscape that shifts between sweet summer vibes and bittersweet ballads. It’s a sonic palette of sunshine and shadows that not only reflects Up10tion’s skills as seasoned performers, but allows each member to paint the album’s canvas with their own creative colour. In the midst of their comeback promotions, the group took the time to talk to Seoulbeats via email about Connection, making music and moving forwards to explore new concepts together.
Title track “Spin Off” continues the storyline Up10tion began with their 2020 mini album Light Up. Last year saw the dual release of the MVs for “Light” and “Destiny”. Both played with a kaleidoscope of colour in motion. The striking visuals shaped a poignant metaphorical journey, positioning the members as “Light Hunters”, who must learn to illuminate each other before realising the full spectrum of their collective potential.
The MV for “Spin Off” takes this idea a step further. Up10tion perform on a stage lined with mirrored tiles, in a dazzling representation of the way the members reflect each other, bringing together their individual styles and skills to present their power as a unit.
Lyrically, “Spin Off” explores hidden dreams and new beginnings. It’s a turning point creatively, as the group double down on this narrative metaphor of seeking and sharing light. But it’s also a moment for Up10tion to demonstrate their evolution as a group. With its combination of slick camerawork, elegant styling and cool choreography, this concept showcases the members’ maturity, while capturing the spark that first drew them to take the stage together.
Up10tion’s experience preparing for this comeback echoes the themes and emotions evoked in the song. Main dancer Bitto admits that he found learning the moves for “Spin Off” challenging at first. “When I first previewed the choreography, I worried if we could pull it off well,” he confesses. “But the more we practiced, I was surprised with how well it suited us.”
Kogyeol believes it was this sense of a challenge that made “Spin Off” so exciting to perform. “I really liked the choreography,” he declares. “It was great to be able to take on a new genre.” Gyujin sums it up best when he shares that being able to dance together is why the members love going on stage. “It was fun because I enjoyed moving in harmony with the members,” he says simply.
With its bombastic instrumentals and soaring vocals, “Spin Off” is an addictive slice of sparkling synth-pop. Up10tion describe the dual symbolism of the MV in one sentence: “With its refreshing melody and powerful performance, ‘Spin Off’ pushes us beyond our limits and really shows our refreshing, sexy side.” But Kuhn proudly shares that maknae Xiao’s transformation has been the most striking.
“We’re trying our best to show a new and more mature image with every album,” he says. “But the member who seems to have changed the most is Xiao. He’s become more mature and sexy.” Kogyeol agrees. “I used to think he was just young, but now Xiao’s totally grown-up.”
The 1998-liner debuted aged only 17 and has worked hard to build his skills during Up10tion’s six years as a team thus far. Besides being the member that Up10tion agree fits “Spin Off” the best – “he transformed the most this time”, is high praise from Gyujin – Xiao has also proved his talent as a producer by taking part in the composition for “Destroyed”. Driven by an orchestral instrumental, it’s a dark, dramatic song that showcases Up10tion’s cinematic range.
When asked about how he created the track, Xiao is humble. “The composing team hyungs write lyrics so well,” he replies. “I was able to create a more complete song by sharing opinions with the hyungs about which melody and lyrics would be better.”
“I remember listening to and liking the demo of the song Xiao made,” Sunyoul chimes in. “I said that I definitely wanted to put it on the album.”
This creative collaboration is the key to Connection’s sonic cohesion. Every member took the chance to compose, contribute lyrics or come together as a unit to showcase a new sound. Kuhn, Sunyoul, Gyujin and Xiao worked side by side to create a smooth, sophisticated vocal harmony on “Forever”.
The track’s evocative piano melody and heartfelt lyrics forge a potent shot of sonic beauty. “I wanted to surprise Honey10 with a unit song for the first time,” Kuhn says earnestly. “As it’s an atmospheric song, I hope [fans] can feel its dark charm.” Sunyoul believes it’s their combined vocal colours that make the song stand out: “I thought the harmony of the four voices would fit well with a calm song that would be nice to listen to on a summer night.”
Up10tion succeed in making a sense of melancholy sound just as beautiful on duet “If”. Hwanhee and Kogyeol united to create this bittersweet snapshot of a relationship in freefall. “Through emotional and honest lyrics, ‘If’ is a song that tells the story of a couple who are struggling because they aren’t as compatible with each other as they were when they first met,” Kogyeol reveals. “It was really fun to record a duet with Hwanhee and I like the song, so I listen to it often.”
Rappers Bitto and Kuhn shaped songs across the spectrum of genres on Connection, and penned lyrics for title track “Spin Off”. On their creative process, Kuhn shares that the mood of the track comes first. “Having figured out the lyrics and overall feeling of the song, I write lyrics by discussing it with Bitto,” he explains. For his part, Bitto notes that he likes to align the verses with each track’s quintessential vibe. “I tend to write lyrics while thinking about whether they will match with the rest of the song,” he says. “My favourite track is ‘Sky Line’. Because I made it!”
Beyond the sonic frontiers they’ve explored on Connection, the members interact with fans and level up their skills by creating digital content via V Live and YouTube. Main vocalist Sunyoul has led the way with his brilliant cover series SUNYOUL’IVE, putting his own stamp on songs as varied as “Hold My Hand” by IU and Idina Menzel’s “Into the Unknown”.
“I thought that my singing skill had improved a lot, but I didn’t have many opportunities to show it. So, I created an opportunity for myself,” he says, sharing the motivation behind the project. “The criteria is just selecting songs that I want to do. I don’t receive recommendations or input from anyone. It’s content that I decided to create because it’s my favourite music.”
During the pandemic, the group’s fans have been the members’ light. Connecting with them online has been a steady source of hope and reassurance. “It’s a struggle to not be able to meet fans and gain that energy,” Hwanhee confesses. “But I gain strength from seeing the fans’ messages and letters of support.”
For Bitto, preparing for this comeback has been a way to find solace through the members’ shared love of performing. “The biggest difficulty was that the members couldn’t meet easily,” he says. “I thought that I’d like to make a comeback as soon as possible so that we could be together.”
Gyujin adds that the members have made an effort to seek “small but certain happiness” that brings each individual comfort. In particular, Kuhn has been getting into a variety of hobbies.
“It’s hard because there are many inconveniences as we can’t go out as often,” he admits. “I’m overcoming this by finding hobbies I can do at home! I often cook, play games, or shop online.”
Up10tion hope to explore more online opportunities to meet their fans. Hwanhee wants to try following in Sunyoul’s footsteps to make YouTube covers, while Kogyeol likes the idea of trying ASMR. Xiao and Kuhn both hope to perform their new songs via an online concert.
The members are already looking ahead to their next comeback, and the hope of performing for their fans in person. There’s an array of sounds they have yet to try. While Kuhn and Bitto want to paint slow, dreamy moods, Gyujin likes the grand style of “Spin Off”. Maknae Xiao is open to exploration: “Regardless of the concept or genre, in the future I want to try a greater variety of music and performances.”
As they dip into new genres, the members look up to the artists that paved the way for them to stand on stage. Kuhn and Xiao cite Shinee as the seniors they admire most, while Gyujin and Bitto look up to 100%. Meanwhile, Hwanhee dreams of learning some new dance moves from Poppin Hyun Joon – “I saw his stage on ‘Voice King’. He’s so cool!”
Ultimately, as Kuhn poetically puts it, to perform as an idol in Up10tion is “to be the heart of Honey10”. Just as the MV for “Spin Off” shows the members riding an elevator towards future possibilities, they hope to light up the stage for their fans once again.
Bitto defines this bittersweet dream the best: “We’re sorry that Up10tion can’t see Honey10 in person. When the situation gets better later and we can come and meet you, I’ll run to you anytime! I want to perform in front of you.”