“I try to approach our fans sincerely in every moment,” says A.C.E’s maknae Chan. “I hope they feel that.” It is this simple sense of candour that has slowly but steadily propelled the five-member group towards the global stage. Backed by pure talent, of course.

Between the bombastic, genre-shattering bite of “Undercover” and the sun-drenched sugar rush that is “Take Me Higher”, A.C.E have demonstrated that they have the creativity and charisma to dominate across a spectrum of sounds.

As the aces of Beat Interactive, the members have grown in step with their company and fan base, painting their canvas of concepts with a vivid palette of maverick fashion choices and mythical storylines.

Their fandom name says it all. CHOICE choose to stand beside A.C.E and take pride in doing so. The group’s recognition of this fact is a testament to both their determination and the bond they share with those who find solace in their music.

In 2021, the members sought to strengthen this connection in spite of the pandemic’s impact on live performances. Jun, Chan and Byeongkwan speak to Seoulbeats about taking new opportunities, staying in sync as a team, and standing beside CHOICE through it all.

In the space of a single year, A.C.E gifted CHOICE with four new music videos, two albums and an online concert, as well as performing “Spark”, the OST for BL drama Light On Me. The new year sees Jun following in the footsteps of main vocal Donghun and rapper Wow to begin his military service. Before enlisting, Jun left fans a parting gift in the form of Tinted With You, a gorgeous sageuk romance that juxtaposes moments of time slip comedic brilliance with the sweet spark of first love.

The eight-episode web drama stars Jun as high school student Eun-ho, a talented artist who finds himself falling into a mysterious painting of feudal Korea. There he meets exiled Crown Prince Lee Heon (Yoo Hyun-woo) and his loyal bodyguard Guem (Kim Tae-jung). The prince is hiding from assassins sent by his brother, who is intent on taking his life to secure the throne. As Eun-ho digs deeper into the link between the painting and Heon’s past, he realises that his art may be the key to the prince’s future.

“I studied a lot of historical movies as well as high school student stories beforehand,” Jun says of his preparation for the part. His first lead role gave him the opportunity to test both his character acting and comedic timing, to portray the contrast between Eun-ho’s modern-day mannerisms and the feudal past he must familiarise himself with.

“I worked on my tone and speech for the historical story,” Jun shares. “I also didn’t know what kind of language high school students use these days and the nuances they speak and act with. I improved by asking people around me and referenced them a lot, but it wasn’t easy to make Eun-ho a 100 percent believable high school student.”

His efforts to juxtapose Eun-ho’s 21st-century worldview with Heon and Geum’s innocent ignorance of it helped shape Tinted With You’s time-twisting storyline into a wonderful comedy of anachronisms. “Eun-ho is both a modern and a bright person at the same time, which creates a contrast to his counterpart, Geum,” Jun recalls. “Actually, it was so fun that I couldn’t shoot without laughing in all the chemistry scenes.”

The bond between the three leads not only sparks with moments of humour, but also forms a simmering, slow-burn romance that runs beneath the drama’s fantastical plotline. Tinted With You is part of a growing catalogue of Korean BL dramas, creating a long-awaited counterbalance to the heteronormative love stories traditionally shown on screen.

“Eun-ho is innocent, curious, and more passionate and interested in art than anyone else,” Jun says of his character. “He is also a person who can’t stand injustice.”

In this way, Jun’s first foray into acting echoes the support he and his fellow members have shown for their queer fans and the wider LGBTQ+ community. By performing the OST for BL drama Light On Me, A.C.E – quite literally – used their voices to celebrate all kinds of love, and used their platform as global idols to demonstrate how queer narratives can have a place in South Korea’s distinct brand of starry-eyed romance dramas.

Tinted With You takes things a step further by intertwining a gay love line with elements of fantasy and comedy, while grounding it all in an epic, sageuk setting. Asked how he hopes viewers respond to the story, Jun says: “I hope you can see the value of art as it is. Also, I hope you can see individuals without prejudice.”

“I was so grateful to be able to play such a character,” he adds, speaking of his decision to take on the part of Eun-ho. “It was exciting to be able to play a role that I had never done before. And I prepared hard thinking about when I might be able to play a role like this again!”

To LGBTQ+ CHOICE, he shares this: “I’m really grateful that everyone has supported me so much. I am honoured to be able to stand beside you. As an artist, I will return with better work. I love you!”

Speaking of his future as an actor and idol, Jun is open-minded. “If I have something to learn and can train and grow on my own, I would like to try any role,” he says. “Above all, I think it’s a blessing that I can play various characters as an actor.”

His fellow members also remain interested in the possibilities of pursuing more acting opportunities. “I have played a character with high energy, so I want to try a serious character next time,” Byeongkwan shares, speaking of his role as Oh Ba-ul in 2021’s high school love story Be My Boyfriend. A year earlier, Chan appeared in young adult drama Twenty-Twenty as Son Bo-hyun. “If I have the opportunity, I’d like to challenge myself to play any roles I can do,” he says enthusiastically.

2021 was A.C.E’s year of exploration and new adventures. They kicked things off in January by teaming up with DJ Steve Aoki for a cyberpunk reimagining of the title track from HJZM: The Butterfly Phantasy. “Fav Boyz” took the original song’s mix of vivid folklore references and electric attitude and reworked it into an even fiercer incarnation of A.C.E’s collective charisma. Between kaleidoscopic CGI, an unexpectedly mellow beat drop, and a visceral guest verse from rapper Thutmose, the remix introduced A.C.E to a global audience in style.

Just as CHOICE drove the collab by tweeting A.C.E’s interest to Steve Aoki, they also carried the result to new heights – “Fav Boyz” entered the Billboard Dance/Electronic chart at number 12, climbing to number four on the World Digital Song Sales chart.

Three months later, A.C.E were back (minus Wow, who took a hiatus to focus on his health) to juxtapose the intensity of “Fav Boyz” with a fresh aesthetic perfect for spring. They showcased their duality with the candyfloss colours and addictive chorus of their first English single “Down”, featuring EDM duo Grey. The MV combined Insta-style frames and cartoon stickers with some seriously cute choreography, making it an instant favourite for CHOICE.

Byeongkwan shares that the best part of producing these tracks was not only experimenting with new genres, but learning from the artists they created them with. “It was an honour to work with wonderful artists that I respect,” he says earnestly. “From Steve Aoki and Thutmose, I learnt more about developing a professional attitude towards making music. I remember receiving a lot of advice during video calls with Steve Aoki.”

While producing “Down”, the members had the opportunity to meet Grey in person. “We had fun hanging out with Kyle and Michael Trewartha when they came to Korea,” Byeongkwan recalls. “We recorded together and did interviews while they were here. I think the most memorable moment for me was the time Grey visited our practice room and we all danced together. It felt like we were old friends.”

Beyond recording a full single in English for the first time, Byeongkwan has been connecting with global fans in his new role as an MC for After School Club. He hosts the bilingual show alongside Jamie Park and Lee Jaeyun of TO1. “One day I happened to be a special guest on ASC,” he says. “I think they liked how I did, so they asked me to join as an MC! I always learn a lot while meeting different artists, and I feel motivated seeing the passion of new rookies. It’s a truly a privilege.”

A.C.E made their official comeback in June, with their fifth mini-album SIREN:DAWN. Title track “Higher” melds mythical metaphors with stunning visuals. The MV is a gorgeous vista of lunar landscapes and oceanic sets, setting the perfect scene for A.C.E to revisit the iconic underwater concept photos they shot for HJZM: Butterfly Phantasy.

Chan notes his pride at their creative daring – and how he hoped to push the idea further. “During the HJZM album promotion, we were the first idols to shoot underwater content,” he says. “At the time, only Jun and I participated in the underwater photoshoot. I suggested it would be fun if all the members filmed underwater next time. While preparing to come back with SIREN:DAWN, we agreed that the concept for this album fit underwater photos perfectly, so we all shot these scenes together.”

A.C.E have always made fashion a cornerstone of their artistic identity. From performing debut track “Cactus” in hot pants to pairing elegant hanboks with gorgeous butterfly tattoos and classic rock t-shirts while promoting HJZM, the members always align their visuals with each new colour they add to their conceptual universe.

“We know that we have high expectations from CHOICE with every new comeback,” Chan admits. “Our goal is to meet the expectations of both our fans, and the global music and fashion industries. This is why we want to keep creating new concepts and trying new styles.”

One look he hopes to try is a more classic aesthetic. “Because we will be a bit older when we come back after finishing our military duty, we might want to try a dandy, dark suit concept,” he says cheekily. “We will be more mature than we are now!”

CHOICE had a taster of this suave style via Beat Interactive’s new year Beat Talk concert, an online celebration that combined shared stories, some friendly competition, and live performances from the label’s family of artists – bringing together A.C.E, vocal quartet Forestella and solo artist Son Ho-young. The day was significant for another reason too, as Chan turned 24.

“I was grateful to spend my birthday with all the company staff, artists and CHOICE,” he says. “As soon as it turned midnight, the A.C.E members got together with CHOICE to celebrate on VLive. That made this birthday feel really special.”

As the maknae of the group, Chan looks to the older members to shape his path as an idol. “I’m still very young and I hope to become a great person like my hyungs in A.C.E,” he confesses. “I’m learning every day from them to be a better person.”

One skill he has been honing alongside his members is songwriting. While Jun took the lead creatively for fan-favourite B-side “Clover” in 2020, Chan teamed up with Donghun to pen the lyrics for SIREN:DAWN’s closing track “Story”.

All five members have contributed creatively to A.C.E’s albums. Jun shares that it’s the fan-artist bond that sparks his best ideas. “I don’t really decide how to work or where to start,” he says of his songwriting process. “I believe I get the most inspiration from CHOICE. I think this happens naturally for me. Of course, there are times when I write based on my own experiences. But I write better songs when I think of my fans. I often feel like I’m talking to them. I think the way our fans share their feelings with us is a gift.”

As the lyrics for their September title track “Changer” echo, A.C.E are here to chase down new adventures as artists, but it’s the connection they share with CHOICE that propels them to reach higher. The pandemic has made it more challenging for the members to maintain this bond. After touring America and Europe in 2019, Chan admits that he misses performing for an audience.

“I thought I would meet CHOICE again soon,” he shares ruefully. “But this became a challenge because of COVID-19. Although we can’t meet in person at the moment, we want to comfort our fans just as we feel comforted by interacting with them online.”

He believes that using social media has helped them continue to feel close in the absence of live shows. “Because this is a time when we miss each other more than ever during the pandemic, we want to cheer up and connect with CHOICE by showing different sides of ourselves,” he says brightly. “We’re always thankful and happy to see our fans’ reactions when we do VLives and SNS.”

In November, A.C.E returned to the stage in partnership with The Korean Cultural Centre in Turkey. Jun shares that this chance to meet global fans was a beautiful moment for the members. “It felt as though my heart was about to explode after a long time,” he confesses. “We were all very moved because it was our first offline concert since 2020. I sincerely want to thank our Turkish fans for their warm welcome. And I felt so grateful to the fans who came from other cities and countries.”

As the first idol group to debut under Beat Interactive, A.C.E have been breaking borders since the beginning. The five young men who once performed on the street for a handful of people have gone on to climb the Billboard charts and play for fans around the world.

In 2017 the members proved their talent as individuals by collectively storming both The Unit and MIXNINE, and in 2020 they flew to LA to perform the cover songs they first honed as buskers in Hongdae to honour Parasite’s historic win at the Oscars. Through their four years together, as they play bigger stages and craft more complex concepts as artists, every success is a testament to A.C.E’s teamwork.

Byeongkwan believes that their early struggles helped to forge the members’ strength as a unit. “I think our experience busking helped us become more solid as a team,” he says proudly. “Because we had to discuss all aspects of the show from the scratch – we shared our opinions and ideas to organise performances, including the set list, the microphone setting, choreography and everything else.”

Whether they’re demonstrating their dynamite dance skills at the 1MILLION studio, showcasing their own twist on Twice’s biggest hits, or elevating the make-up looks for SIREN:DAWN by experimenting with glitter and seashells, A.C.E don’t just follow the assignment.

They choose to take that extra step, to keep testing the frontier of what K-pop – with its unique synthesis of fashion, music and performance – can creatively become. This distinct mode of artistic daring is not always an easy choice, but from their debut, A.C.E have never been afraid to dream.

“A lot of things have happened since our debut,” Byeongkwan says. “But from the bottom, I think we’ve been walking this path with our own strength. And I believe we are a strong team.” To the fans that tread the road beside them, he says this: “My wish is that our CHOICE will not be lonely but only feel happiness. I hope we all have a healthy year. And I love you!”

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]. Images via Beat Interactive and Moving Pictures Company.)