You are passing by a playground in the Hongdae area of Seoul one evening in early September of 2016 when you hear an acoustic guitar and a light drumbeat, a gentle but strong voice enters the mix a few bars later. As you follow the music, you come across a brilliant scene: a young band performing for a captivated crowd, illuminated by beams of cell phone flashlights.
Flash forward five years and that band—now called Onewe—still remembers that moment in Hongdae. During their O! NEW E!volution II concert last week, Onewe’s fans (named Weve) surprised them with a similar image. Instead of 100 curious passersby brightening a park, over 1,000 Weve shined their lights towards the band standing on stage. Here was the universe of Onewe, their fans, and the memories they made together.
O! NEW E!volution II celebrated Onewe’s story and the long path Yonghoon, Kanghyun, Harin, Dongmeyong, and CyA walked to get to this very time and place: their very own sold-out solo show. Held both in-person at the two-leveled Yes24 Hall (tickets that sold out in a minute) and online for international fans, Onewe’s latest concert took everyone watching on an emotional journey through their discography.
Their past concerts, most recently the two-day Studio We Live #6 and the small in-person encore, usually featured a number of covers, since the band did not have enough songs of their own to fill the setlist. Now in 2022, Onewe were able to populate the two and half hour event with their original music, save the vocal unit’s cover of “I’ll Never Love Again” from A Star is Born.
The concert started with “Rain To Be,” a calm but expecting ambiance created through the sounds of rainfall leading up to the reveal of Onewe on stage. Inspired by their experiences with rain—they have noticed that it tends to rain when they have schedules—”Rain To Be” from their Planet Nine: Alter Ego album was the perfect song to kick-off the night.
A bold drum and electric guitar intro played alongside growing recorded cheers (those in the hall were only allowed to clap due to the pandemic) built the excitement before the blue screen covering the stage was pulled away. As the notes resonated throughout the hall, the curtain fell, dramatically revealing the five members’ silhouettes while fog curled around their bodies and instruments.
For the next two hours, Onewe rose higher and higher, traveling to Planet Nine, exploring the cosmos, and reflecting on how they have developed their own sound over the years. Of course, what made this journey even more special was having Weve there in the room with them. During the introduction ment, Yonghoon exclaimed, “This feels like a dream! Are you seriously Weve?” Kanghyun followed this question with a relatable statement, “It feels like it’s been years.”
And it has, quite literally, been years. Onewe debuted in May 2019, so like many others, the band has not had as many opportunities to perform in front of live audiences. O! NEW E!volution II presented them with a unique chance to perform their newer songs—some for the first time—but also to share their older, classic tracks. For this concert, they let their music do the talking with epic intros and new arrangements that added a special spark to familiar songs.
“Montage_” may have only been out in the world for a month, but Onewe rebooted the rock-driven track by weaving the final version with the demo guide CyA made. The new intro maintained the energy of “Rain To Be” and succeeded in building more anticipation for what was to come. Spearheaded first by Harin, CyA joined with his original rap, and Kanghyun closed the rearranged part with a polished guitar hook based on the guide.
Fans of Onewe know that their musical skills come in tandem with their family vibe. They balanced out the often intense energy of their stages with a casual, feel-good atmosphere during their ments, which were more like conversations between the members and fans. It was these moments where their familial relationship was on full display.
A notable bit was the spontaneous “Love Me” ending, directed by Yonghoon. Right at the last notes, he threw the baton to Kanghyun who picked up one more riff before passing on the ending to bassist CyA. Dongmyeong’s slightly panicked smile accompanied his chord until the final finale looped over to Harin.
All eyes were on the drummer as he improvised a new ending; however, Harin’s mischievous smile indicated that he had something else up his sleeve. That, it turned out, was an unprompted attempt at singing the last line of “Love Me,” causing both the drummer and the audience to burst into laughter.
Lots of apologies from the other members and more laughter followed this freestyling. Yonghoon faced the crowd, honestly admitting, “I didn’t know he would sing,” while Dongmyeong simultaneously exclaimed, “What a thrill!”
“Thrilling” is the best way to describe a Onewe concert, where fans (and the members) headbang one second and then cry the next—or headbang AND cry. This duality is best seen in the band’s Universe series as they launched into “Regulus.” Resounding piano chords and a delicate echo of the recognizable melody guided the concert to the sentimental side of their discography. Onewe continued to trace their exploration of memories and the stars through the single “Parting,” the rock track from Memory: Illusion, “Trauma,” and Harin’s self-composed song from Planet Nine: Voyager, “Envision_.”
“Trigger_,” Dongmeyong’s contribution to Voyager, concluded this portion of the journey, swapping romanticism for a sultry groundedness. Low lighting artistically illuminated the members’ faces, while the vocalists’ emotions and attitude brought the track wholly to life. “Trigger_” ended with a dramatic flair, casting the five in shadow one more time.
However, the seriousness of the stage did not last very long. Onewe went back to their familiar banter as they transitioned to the only unit performances of the night and a costume change.
“I will go eat kimchi stew [kimchi-jjigae] now,” Harin joked, as he looked down at an invisible watch on his wrist. Dongmyeong shot back, “Yeah, go eat dinner. But no beer!”
Who knows if Harin actually did eat dinner because Yonghoon and Dongmyeong’s “I’ll Never Love Again” cover was one of those “mics are definitely on” moments. But the stage was just the two singers, their vocal power, and their expressions lacing even more heartbreak into the song. They opted for simple floating lights and fog curling around their legs, drawing all the attention to the duo and their microphone stands.
In true Onewe fashion, after the crying came the headbanging unit. Following the instrumentalists’ performance, Dongmyeong and Yonghoon joined the three others saying, “We made the fans cry, and then they killed it.” Kanghyun added, “The vocal unit was sentimental, and we…we broke the stage.”
“In Course” is a CyA, Harin, and Kanghyun original, although the older two members rearranged the track for O! NEW E!volution II. The instrumentalists also showed off their magnetism with their energy, easy confidence, and comfortable dynamic, having been bandmades for five plus years.
As an all-instrumental track, “In Course” gave each musician a chance to shine. Virtual attendees had an advantage in this performance, as the cameras got rare close-ups of the members, the bodies of the bass and guitar, and the artists’ intricate fingerwork.
“Star” signaled the biggest mood shift in the concert, resuming Onewe’s Universe series with its most recent additions. Fans became stars of their own when they surprised the band with a flashlight project, the one that reminded Onewe of their Hongdae busking days.
The five members and Weve dove further into space as the explosive “AuRoRa” cascaded into “Orbit_” and “Cosmos,” two of Kanghyun’s compositions, before arriving at “Universe_” and “A book in memory.” This part of the setlist was a mini journey within itself to the great unknown, starting first with a phenomenon witnessed from earth before ending with the creation of their very own universe.
The heart of O! NEW E!volution and Onewe’s story, however, was “Reminisce about All,” the band’s 2019 debut ballad. Softly falling flower petals joined the unadorned track of an acoustic guitar, piano, and contemplative voices. As Yonghoon’s voice filled the quiet hall, the audience captivated, Onewe seemed to say, “Our story is the memories we have made with you, our universe.”
The Weves in the audience agreed. Their banners with “Our moment will make our universe” on them caused the five to get choked up, and Dongmyeong even had to stop singing for a few seconds to wipe away his tears. With his piano notes gone, there was a silence overflowing with softness, patience, and memories hanging in the air.
“It made me think that the hard times will also become memories,” Dongmyeong reflected afterwards. Yonghoon echoed similar sentiments, adding that “We can reminisce when that time comes.”
Journeying back to “Reminisce about All” from “Universe_,” their most recent track, and “A book in memory” was a metaphorical way of looking back on the path they had worn as a band. From neighborhood friends to busking together around Seoul to joining a company and debuting as M.A.S. 0094 to joining another company and debuting as Onewe, the five now stood together on the stage of the sold-out Yes24 Hall. All eyes were on them, enraptured. Remembering.
As the night (or morning depending on where fans tuned in from) wound down, Onewe turned to their high energy side after taking a few steadying breaths. The summer bop “Veronica” saw a rare interaction between Dongmyeong and Kanghyun during their keytar and electric guitar duet. Meanwhile, the band reinterpreted the melancholy lyrics of “Eraser” to be something akin to a cheerful goodbye.
The last 10 minutes of the concert proved to be the best kind of chaotic. Ushered in by the fans’ clapping chant, Onewe returned to play their encore tracks in branded black T-shirts with “It’s okay if I get lost, we’ve got each other” written on the fronts. (Disappointedly, these shirts are not merch items.)
But even more attention was drawn to the T-shirts a few moments later, and not just for their aesthetic appeal. Spontaneity must have been in the air because Harin took off said shirt—very calmly, in fact (now, imagine being there in the flesh).
The hall was in absolute chaos as laughter erupted from the audience along with a round of applause and some screams that briefly forewent the no cheer rule. According to Kanghyun, who held an “after party” V Live, Harin told his members his plan through their in-ears right before he stripped off his T-shirt. Onewe launched into “Ring on My Ear,” but the stage director was in their in-ears repeating that they needed to pause before “Crazy Good” so Harin could put his shirt back on.
This unexpected interruption never hindered Onewe’s performance nor their energy. Kanghyun even had the stage director in his in-ear during his complicated solo, and Yonghoon headbanged all over the stage giving no indication that someone else’s voice was in his head. Onewe’s practice and professionalism ensured that they executed “Ring on My Ear” perfectly, closing the concert on a high note with the adrenaline from “Crazy Good.”
For online viewers, this is where O! NEW E!volution II ended. For those attending in-person, however, Onewe had one last gift for them: performances for “Logo” and “From_,” both dedicated to fans. Once again, tears were shed, including by the usually dry-eyed Harin.
As they say, headbang, cry, headbang, cry.
No matter where the five members are going, they will never forget from where they began, if O! NEW E!volution II is any indication. And Onewe will always remember those who were there by their sides as they keep on growing and adding more memories to their story.
Onwards and upwards, Onewe. Onwards and upwards.
(YouTube. Images via RBW Entertainment.)