For three years, girl group (G)I-DLE have been driven by the dream of creating their own genre. Over a video call from Seoul, leader Soyeon explains what that genre would look like as a work of art. Her description is a little hard to translate, and Thai member Minnie laughs at herself as she attempts to do it justice in English. “A masterpiece made from fire?” she suggests. Their translator expresses it this way: “Something too hot to touch, too hot to get our hands on [like] a performing art that involves fire.” As Soyeon describes what those performers would wear, Minnie leans towards the camera, translating this time without hesitation. “Wearing nothing,” she says, “naked.” Soyeon explains the symbolism of such an act: “We’d want to show something raw and true to ourselves.”
(G)I-DLE like to play with fire, and with vulnerability. Since their 2018 debut, their music has crackled with blistering intensity and smoldering seduction. Many of their lyrics reference “burning up” physically and emotionally, and their music videos often place them in close proximity to flames: a fiery hat in their debut “Latata,” sparking ruins in “Senorita,” a flaming mic in “Uh-Oh,” and a blazing portrait of a lion in “Lion.”
The six members themselves seem to get along like—well—a house on fire. In addition to leader and rapper Soyeon and Bangkok-born vocalist Minnie, there’s vocalist Miyeon, dancer Soojin, Beijing-born vocalist Yuqi, and the youngest, Taiwan native Shuhua. Their collaborative dynamic is visible in small glimpses. Even over a grainy Zoom call, Yuqi translates for Shuhua in hushed tones, Soojin hands Minnie a snack, and Soyeon sits back in her chair to give other members room to talk.
"We all know it’s tough to lead all of us and be responsible for everything for (G)I-DLE. It’s heavy, an overwhelming job. But [Soyeon] never shows it in front of us. We don’t really say this but we always think it: we are so happy to have her as our leader," says Minnie.
(G)I-DLE’s EPs have been titled in declarations: I am, I made, I trust. Their newest, released on Monday, is titled I burn. “Our group is independent and determined, and our key strengths are our honesty and confidence,” Soyeon explains, “so naming our albums ‘I something’ conveys that confidence and color. It’s symbolic phrasing that represents us well.”
They describe the six tracks of I burn as a “novel” that begins with “the image of a woman in the cold,” her heart frozen in the bitter winter of a break-up. By confronting it, she melts the ice that traps her. The fire of acceptance enables the growth of new love in the form of a flower and the arrival of spring. The collection plays on the Korean concept of “Han,” a deeply cultural emotion that, like Soyeon’s earlier description of (G)I-DLE’s genre, has no direct English translation. The best way to describe it is a combination of injustice, sorrow, rage, and regret, and it’s a feeling they have referenced since their second single, “HANN (Alone),” in 2018.
I burn features composition from Minnie and Yuqi, with extensive direction and writing from Soyeon, whom Minnie recently called the group’s “quality guarantee mark” during their press showcase. She has guided their sound since before their 2018 debut and says that when it comes to creating music for the group, “I take inspiration from Beyoncé’s music a lot. As female artists, there’s a lot that we can learn from her... as a woman in music and [from] her confidence.” Minnie mostly listens to pop from Troye Sivan, Charlotte Lawrence, and Halsey, but recently has taken a liking to R&B and may write to the genre in the future.
“Minnie performs like an artist on the stage but, behind the stage, she’s really like my little sister. She is responsible and a good sister for all of us. She is really good at looking after others," says Yuqi.
For Yuqi, whose rich lower range is unusual in K-pop, “Dua Lipa is my role model,” she says. “She has a similar deep voice. I watch her music videos and listen to her songs to see which [ones] can fit my voice because we have the same ‘mood.’” When it comes to writing, “I haven’t been making music for that long, only since last year around this time.” As a new songwriter, she says she feels “lucky” to have her song “LOST” included on the EP.
Minnie has been itching to write since her childhood growing up in Thailand. “I’ve been playing piano since I was little and I always wanted to write a song, [but] my Korean was really bad when I first arrived [in the country,]” she laughs. “I waited two years until I could speak Korean fluently and started composing [in 2017]. The way I express through lyrics is different [in each language]. If I start to write the song in Korean, then I think in Korean.” The same goes for English, and “if I think in Thai it’s gonna be weird in Korean.” “If you translate it straight,” Yuqi adds. Minnie nods, “Yeah, it’s better to just think in Korean from the beginning.”
“For me, it depends on the song style,” says Yuqi. “For a ballad, I would use Korean because it is kind of magical for ballad [lyrics].” She’s now so proficient in the language that “when I talk in Korean, I think in Korean. My Chinese is out!” she laughs. “I don’t need a translation in my head. For [a song in] the R&B or pop style, I usually choose English or Chinese first and then I ask others to help me translate to Korean in the best way.” She speaks in excellent English throughout the interview, and when complimented on it she answers proudly, “Hey, thank you! I think so, too!”
As for her hopes for the future, Yuqi admits, “I can’t play many instruments. I play guitar, but [starting] piano is too hard for me because I am old now.” “Oh, come on!” Minnie chides. Yuqi continues, “Right now, [the way the production process works is that] I put my ideas into a track and then it’ll be [finished by] another producer. In the future I will try to make it all by myself.” When pressed for more details about her guitar skills, Yuqi’s confidence wanes. “[I play] a little. Not very well, actually,” she giggles, “to be honest!”
Like Yuqi, Minnie is working towards finishing a song without the help of a producer. “I am better at composing and [creating a] melody,” Minnie notes. “I want to get better at arranging, I am still working on my Korean and hope I can write better lyrics in the future."
“Miyeon is a very friendly person and she’s also the one who compliments us the most. When she’s around others or in an interview, she praises us so we can feel confident, and calls us beautiful. She sees the best in us and shares that with other people," says Soyeon.
“I like writing lyrics and I feel pretty confident about that,” says Soyeon. “But since we release our music in many different languages and I primarily speak Korean, I want to improve my foreign language skills so I can contribute to writing lyrics [in other languages] in the future, specifically in Chinese,” she adds, nodding at Yuqi, who smiles. “When I look at the English lyrics of our tracks, I can kind of understand them but with Chinese, I have no clue.”
Other members are interested in songwriting, too—Miyeon and Soojin plan to co-write lyrics in the future—but not all. When the question comes up, Yuqi whispers in Shuhua’s ear. Shuhua turns to the camera and deadpans in English, “No, thank you,” which elicits laughs from around the room and a proud pat on the back from Yuqi.
Given I burn’s subject matter, Teen Vogue asks what advice the group might offer to listeners experiencing a break-up themselves. “This too shall pass,” Soyeon says with firm resolve. Minnie is a little more sentimental. “Enjoy the moment, even if you’re sad,” she says. “It’s not fun to lose someone or the relationship [but] it’s not a bad thing to accept it and move on. Maybe you can write some good songs. It’s okay not to be okay,” Minnie finishes, stretching her hands out to the camera like “ta-da!”
"Soojin’s secret power is the power of silence. She listens carefully and quietly and says one word in response that has a big impact on me," says Miyeon.
Their advice for creating stronger relationships with friends is similarly candid, and it reflects the vulnerability they lay bare in their music. “We’re very honest,” says Soyeon. “If there’s anything we need to solve, we say it straight, keep it clear. Because that’s how we resolve our conflicts, it helps us build trust.” Speaking for the first time, Soojin adds, “I think all six of us—our personalities—are naturally honest. We’ve been having those kinds of conversations since the beginning.” As Soojin answers, Minnie is enthusiastically rolling her head around and making shapes with her hands. Yuqi appears to be videotaping the performance on her phone. “She always does this,” says Yuqi, as if she currently has hundreds of similar videos on her camera roll. “I’m having fun with myself!” Minnie laughs.
What advice do they have for young women who are trying to create stronger friendships? Minnie’s hand pops into the air, “Treat others the way you want them to treat you. That’s the right thing.” Yuqi is now whispering in Shuhua’s ear again, and appears to be translating for her in Mandarin. “Please wait!” she says, as Shuhua gathers her thoughts. “To be a good friend, you first need to be honest with yourself,” Shuhua says. “I’ve been away from home but when it’s a friend’s birthday, I go online and find a gift and ship it to them. I believe that sometimes friendships need surprises, too.” This nugget of wisdom draws a rousing round of applause Yuqi, Miyeon, Soyeon, and Minnie, who screams “ahh, yeah!” Shuhua puts one hand to her heart and the other in the air, waving like she’s in a parade.
“Women in their 20s like us are very different. We all have our own individual characteristics, come from different backgrounds, and have lived different lives,” Miyeon says thoughtfully. “The key thing is learning to accept and respect those differences. Once you come to accept and understand them, that’s how you take the relationship further, and deepen it. Because we’ve been doing that, I think we’ve been able to form very deep relationships, not just as bandmates but as friends.”
“Yuqi is bright and energetic and silly in her daily life but when she’s doing her job—performing or writing her songs—she’s very serious about it, and I respect that a lot," says Shuhua.
From the back of the room, Soojin puts it simply: “Always be on their side and by their side.” She has been quiet for most of the interview which is not unusual—she’s known to be the most soft-spoken. When the group is asked to choose one member each and describe their secret superpower, Miyeon begins by explaining that “Soojin’s secret power is the power of silence. She listens carefully and quietly and says one word in response that has a big impact on me.”
Soojin leans forward to see Shuhua more clearly around Yuqi. “Shuhua’s secret power is her personality. She has very clear and solid ideas and values in her life. Sometimes I read something Shuhua has written and it makes me think twice about things.” Miyeon nods enthusiastically in agreement.
“Yuqi is bright and energetic and silly in her daily life,” Shuhua says while Yuqi waves a peace sign, makes a heart over her head, and then shoots little hearts towards the camera with her fingers, “but when she’s doing her job—performing or writing her songs—she’s very serious about it, and I respect that a lot.”
“Shuhua’s secret power is her personality. She has very clear and solid ideas and values in her life. Sometimes I read something Shuhua has written and it makes me think twice about things," says Soojin.
Yuqi looks across the table at Minnie. “Minnie is the first one I met when I came to Korea. She was my first roommate. And I know her path of growing up. She performs like an artist on the stage but, behind the stage, she’s really like my little sister,” Yuqi confesses. “Little sister!?” Minnie and Miyeon repeat in shock, probably because Minnie is two years older than Yuqi. “It’s just my opinion!” Yuqi says in defense, then continues, “She is really cute.” “I’m cute?” jokes Minnie. “Everyone knows that!” Yuqi ignores her, “She is responsible and a good sister for all of us. She is really good at looking after others. Also, I didn’t want to say this but... she’s sweet.” As Minnie cackles at the compliment, Yuqi admits, “I’m regretting it now.”
“I will talk about Soyeon,” Minnie says, pausing to make a silly face at her before continuing. “Many people know Soyeon as our leader and that she is charismatic and everything. But actually, we all know it’s tough to lead all of us and be responsible for everything for (G)I-DLE. It’s heavy, an overwhelming job. But she never shows it in front of us. She never says ‘I’m tired’ or anything.” On cue, Soyeon leans over, touches her arm, and says sarcastically, “No, I’m okay.” Yuqi points across the table at them and yells, “Ha! They’re so dramatic!” Minnie continues, “We don’t really say this but we always think it: we are so happy to have her as our leader.” “She looks like she’s so strong,” Yuqi adds, clenching her fists in the air, “but we know she’s actually soft on the inside. And we’re the only ones that see it because we are so close. She doesn’t really show that part.”
Soyeon claps in shy thanks and then looks at Miyeon, who is the last to be evaluated. “Miyeon is a very friendly person and she’s also the one who compliments us the most. When she’s around others or in an interview, she praises us so we can feel confident, and calls us beautiful. She takes care of us a lot.”
As the interview wraps up, Soyeon’s final thought hangs in the air like a warm, shimmering mist: “She sees the best in us and shares that with other people.”
Three days later, at the group’s press showcase on Monday, they sat side-by-side in crisp whites and silky reds to field questions about I burn. Amid inquiries about their production styles and Covid-19, Soyeon described their work on the EP as an exercise in empathy. “All our members are artists,” she said, and when it came to conveying the emotions of the EP, “we had spent enough time living together that whatever emotion it may be, we pretty much shared [it] at all instances.” To create I burn, “We enjoyed working as we empathized,” Soyeon said. As always, they played with fire and vulnerability. Their goal, Soyeon concluded, is to blaze brightly enough that listeners say, “(G)I-DLE is like a spark in the middle of this winter.”
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