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K-Pop Phenomenon Enhypen on its Three-Year Anniversary, Rise to Stardom, and Artistic and Personal Growth

Three years since their debut, members of K-pop band Enhypen reflect on the moment that changed their lives, their stratospheric rise to stardom, and their artistic and personal growth

Jungwon wears blazer, shirt, pants, Prada; Jake wears blazer, shirt, pants, Prada; Sunghoon wears top, shirt, pants, belt, Prada; Ni-ki wears coat, shirt, Prada; Heeseung wears turtleneck, shirt, shorts, necklace, Prada; Jay wears shirt, pants, Prada; Sunoo wears blazer, shirt, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

Back in 2020, when Enhypen debuted in the face of Covid-19, everything that had helped launch a new K-pop artist in the world since the 90s had come to a halt. Although different in musical styles and aesthetics, all K-pop idols share a common love for performing in front of their fans as they thrive on their energy. For Enhypen – the seven-member group consisting of Jungwon (19), Heeseung (22), Jay (21), Jake (21), Sunghoon (20), Sunoo (20), and Ni-ki (17) – their debut on November 30 followed a series of performances devoid of a live audience, as well as the cheers that come from it. Three years on, it seems like the group is more than making up for the absence of this applause – it follows them to every event around the world. Large crowds, roaring fan chants, posters, and phone cameras held high – one would be mistaken for assuming this was an Enhypen concert in Seoul; rather, it’s a fashion show in Milan, where the group has made an appearance. In June this year, they were named Prada ambassadors, (the fashion house ranked second among brands in earned media value for SS24 with US$41 922 484, all thanks to Enhypen, according to Vogue Business) and their arrival at fashion shows and other brand-hosted occasions has been met by large gatherings of proud fans, who have traveled miles and waited for hours, solely in the hopes of catching a smile and a wave. Footage of Enhypen arriving at Prada was Vogue Arabia’s top-performing fashion week ready-to-wear post, with 1.1 million views and nearly 73 000 likes.

Jungwon wears Blazer, shirt, pants, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

It’s a long way to come for the seven who entered the industry as teenagers after competing for a spot on the debut group in the survival show I-Land. Fans, who would come to be collectively known as Engenes, watched the members of Enhypen train, falter, persevere, and eventually win. “It wasn’t easy to compete with people that are going through the training process with me, it’s one of those feelings you’ll always remember and keep close to your heart throughout your career,” says Jungwon, who is the leader of the group, of their victory. “When my name was called, I couldn’t believe it and all the hours I’d spent in our rehearsal studios passed in front of my eyes.” Heeseung, the oldest member, lets out a chuckle remembering his family’s reactions, “I think they were half happy and half worried, but they always congratulate and support me to the fullest.” Living under a shared roof 24×7, their time on the show became key to their exceptional bond as members, which is not only something eagle-eyed fans can pick up on but is also a telling sign of a group’s success. “Even before our debut, we spent so much of our time together as if we’re family, so we’ve naturally come to understand each other really well,” shares Jay, who was born in Seattle, Washington, and moved to South Korea when he was nine. “That’s what made our relationship stronger, and I think that bond will always be particularly perceptible on stage, regardless of where that stage may be.” Jake, who was raised in Australia for the better part of his life, believes that despite their diverse backgrounds, it’s their common goal of giving their 100% every time that ties them together. “All the members putting in their best effort is what makes our teamwork possible,” he adds.

Heeseung wears turtleneck, shirt, pants, necklace, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

Last month, Enhypen had their first performance in the Middle East, as headliners of the Hyperound K-Fest in Abu Dhabi. Ahead of their arrival to the UAE, the band was photographed for their first-ever Vogue cover shoot, for Vogue Arabia. Alongside sleek looks from Prada, the members were also dressed in menswear pieces by Arab couturiers Elie Saab and Georges Hobeika, marking another first for the group. In Abu Dhabi, during a quick chat backstage, their synergy was palpable, and they were entirely at ease in their roles as idols. Contrary to the intimidating silences that fall upon rooms that renowned celebrities enter, Enhypen’s arrival came with respectful greetings, bright smiles, waves, and eventually, fun banter among the members. Sipping karak tea over collective nods of appreciation as well as a bit of trivia about saffron from Jay, the members were eager to learn a few words in Arabic for their fans – a sweet reciprocal gesture for the Arab Engenes who sang the lyrics to their songs in Korean at the concert.

Jungwon wears coat, shirt, pants, tie, brooch, Georges Hobeika; Sunghoon wears blazer, pants, Elie Saab; Jake wears blazer, top, pants, Elie Saab. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

Their trip to the UAE came shortly after the conclusion of the US leg of their second world tour titled Fate, which followed a show in South Korea, and two in Japan, promoting their mini album Dark Blood. It sold over 1.1 million copies on the first day of its release alone – a remarkable yet easy feat for Enhypen, whose first EP Border: Day One became the highest-selling album by a K-pop group that debuted in 2020. While darker and moodier concepts are experimented with much later in most Korean groups’ discographies, Enhypen dove headfirst into an artistic storyline that imagines them as vampires. Paired with surreal, sometimes otherworldly imagery in its music videos – besides the dynamic dance moves – hit singles like Given-Taken, Drunk-Dazed, and Blessed-Cursed speak of overcoming boundaries, making sacrifices, and the joys and challenges of being K-pop stars.

Sunghoon wears top, shirt, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

Few idols can do justice to the complex plots and personas that the new generation of K-pop demands, but Enhypen breezes through their embodiments of immortal beings. “I immerse myself into the story, by trying to get a comprehensive understanding of the plot and imagining that I’m a character in the storyline,” reflects Ni-ki. Sunoo, who is loved among fans for the duality of his bubbly offscreen and magnetic on-screen personalities, adds, “I think I focus more on empathizing with the emotions associated with the themes, rather than trying to understand it exactly. I think of the mood I want to portray based on an emotional connection with the music, it helps me focus during the shoot.” Okayama-born Ni-ki, who is the youngest in the group, shares that he grew up listening to a lot of fellow Japanese singer Namie Amuro as well as Michael Jackson, which would explain his command of dancing and his increasing contribution to Enhypen’s choreographies. “Before, I refrained from actively pitching my ideas, but now I have the courage to! I think that’s evidence of growth on its own,” he muses. “I’ve grown bolder and more courageous as a dancer.”

Ni-ki wears coat, shirt, pants, shoes, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

It makes sense that personal benchmarks like these are so important to the members. Apart from its deep roots in the fast-paced K-pop music industry, the battle to constantly better oneself is a close one for Enhypen. Behind their fierce on-screen personas, they’re all boys at heart, navigating their quick rise to fame, while humbly attributing it to their adoring fans. “In the beginning, it didn’t feel real that we were receiving so much love and support,” says Sunghoon, who confesses to being the “realistic one” in the group. “I don’t think it’s easy to send so much love and support someone’s way, so I don’t want to take it for granted.” Jay emphasizes his gratefulness for the fans: “Engenes love is a huge part of the driving force. It feels like maybe we say it too often sometimes, so I’m worried it doesn’t sound genuine, but it’s just what’s true.” Jungwon, who was chosen as the leader despite his age, admits to having felt out of place in his role at first but has come to embrace the sense of responsibility as a part of himself, which shows in his reaction to cynics. “I think I dwell on negative comments sometimes, especially if it’s something I also think about myself from time to time, but I am able to overlook trolling or groundless criticism,” he reflects. Looking back on how idolatry shaped his personality, Sunghoon adds, “I’ve had to become more conscious of how I behave and speak, but I think the sense of purpose – arising from the fact that everything we do strongly affects our fans and listeners – just leads me to overcome the pressure.”

Ni-ki wears blazer, shirt, pants, tie, Elie Saab; Jay wears blazer, shirt, pants, Elie Saab. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

Their recent work is further proof of their individual and musical progress, which saw Heeseung direct the vocal recording of Dark Blood’s title song Bite Me. “I really want to expand the scope of my contribution to the process for sure, not just in terms of directing but throughout the overall album production process from songwriting to recording,” he says of the experience. “I think it’ll help me tell our stories better, allowing me to try out a wider range of forms of expression.” As well as wishing Enhypen will perform at Coachella one day, Jay is hoping to improve his songwriting skills, but his mastery of the guitar as seen during the Fate World Tour has already won fans over. “I started playing musical instruments under my parents’ influence,” he remembers, before adding with a laugh, “I was happy to be able to play the guitar in front of our fans during the shows, and I think they were also happy to see me in a slightly different light.”

Sunoo wears coat, shirt, pants, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

At the time of writing, Enhypen is gearing up for the release of its 5th EP Orange Blood on November 17, building on the storyline from Dark Blood. The concept trailer showcasing a powerful storyline and acting from the members has already set fan theories running wild, but Jake is most excited about the music. “With our new EP, we aim to show Enhypen’s different side through a variety of genres along with fresh looks and performances compared to tracks from our previous releases,” he says. “I feel the music is just really great this time.” Believing in Enhypen’s capability to take on the challenge of trying out a range of concepts, Ni-ki adds, “I’ve always had my eyes set on becoming an artist that can deliver these stories and concepts to the level they deserve. Recently, as we worked on more songs and gained stage experiences, it has all started to feel more natural, perhaps a bit like it’s in my nature.”

Jake wears blazer, shirt, pants, shoes, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

After going through a cycle of preparing for the next comeback, rehearsing, and rounds of promotions, Enhypen greatly values its breaks too. “I’m the one that needs alone time,” jokes Heeseung. “As the oldest member of the group, I think I like to make sure that all our members have the support they always need. When we have days off, I like to do things that allow me to break out of the routine. By doing so, I gain the energy to get up and run again.” When Sunoo is asked how he unwinds, he says, “I like to get into something comfortable, grab something to eat somewhere, and just rest however I want to rest.”

Jay wears shirt, Prada. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

It’s rest well-earned, as with a palpable passion for their jobs, a strong desire for self-improvement, and a growing fanbase of more than 14 million followers on social media, there’s no doubt that the group is just at the start of a great journey. “I’m having such a blast thanks to our amazing fans Engenes, and the members! I want to continue making more of these memories together,” shares Jake. The next time you see Enhypen – whether on stage at a sold-out concert or during fashion week – they will probably be soaking in the exhilarating moment just as much as their fans. As Jungwon best put it, “There’s the saying, ‘You are the youngest you’ll ever be today.’ I think youth means living the moment you’re living to the fullest.”

Heeseung wears blazer, shirt, brooch, Georges Hobeika; Sunoo wears shirt, brooch, Georges Hobeika. Photo: Dukhwa Jang. Vogue Arabia, December 2023

Originally published in the December 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Seyun Ji
Fashion director: Amine Jreissati
Hair: Haein Jang
Makeup: Ga Young Oh 
Executive producer: Kelly Suh at A Prject
Production: Danica Zivkovic
Production Coordinator: Indigo Choi

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