It’s a movement so subtle that if you blink, you might miss it – a simple twitch of the shoulder. But in the opening notes of K-pop group The Boyz’s newest single, “The Stealer,” the 11 members do it in quick succession across the stage, letting it ripple across the group like the flutter of a butterfly wing, or the passing of a sharp wind.
It’s one thing to be able to show grand, technical moves in choreography that inspire awe for their sheer athleticism. It’s another entirely to be able to captivate with the most subtle movements — making audiences hold their breath even in moments of stillness. Balancing both is The Boyz’s specialty, and what has made the up-and-coming group one to watch over the past three years since their debut.
As individuals, Sangyeon, Jacob, Younghoon, Hyunjae, Juyeon, Kevin, New, Q, Juhaknyeon, Sunwoo, and Eric are all talented dancers. But in K-pop, wherein lie some of the best dancers and athletes in the world, knowing the moves isn’t enough. You need to be a true performer — someone who imbues those steps with meaning and emotion. A performer tells a story with their bodies, faces, energy — and with their power harnessed as a unit, The Boyz make you feel something when they step onto the stage.
In the Korean competition show Road To Kingdom, aired this summer, The Boyz’s illustrative storytelling and willingness to take risks is what ultimately led them to win the whole thing. With each challenge, week after week, the group painted evocative tableaus using their dances — from tales of sword-wielding Hwarang warriors to slick, elaborate heists. And now that they gained more of the world’s attention, the goal of their EP that followed their reality TV victory, Chase, is to captivate with a similarly dynamic narrative.
“‘The Stealer’ a song that emphasizes drama and intrigue, about stealing other people’s hearts,” starts main dancer Juyeon. “But after the bridge, we realize that in the end, it’s rather our hearts that were stolen,” Canadian-Korean vocalist Kevin continues.
The Boyz make their performances look easy — and most importantly, fun. And though we sometimes get let in on the work that goes behind them, there is still so much that is kept close to the chest. On the eve of the release of “The Stealer” and their fifth EP, EARMILK talked to The Boyz over zoom call in Seoul about what they do best.
EARMILK: How do your performances usually come together?
Jacob: Our choreographer really likes to ask us for our opinion. He says "If you have any ideas, we can work together to make this the best it can be." And the members really take advantage of that. Sometimes the choreography does change, and we’re really thankful that he really listens to us and tries to find what’s best for us. And I think that’s also why we can come out with better performances.
Kevin: For our individual parts, he gives us the freedom to come up with whatever we’re most comfortable performing and singing at the same time in order to best express our own selves.
EM: What’s your most difficult dance?
Sangyeon: I think everyone would agree that it’s “The Stealer.” There’s floor work where we have to turn on our knees, but we have to balance and if we’re not careful we could fall over. We obviously practiced it a lot in order to perfect it, but it’s still a move that’s scary for us to perform.
EM: What’s your most fun dance to perform?
New: I personally like songs that are a lot brighter, and songs like “Bloom Bloom” where the fans can be involved. Out of our new songs, I like “Whiplash” which I think will be really fun to perform along with the fans.
EM: How do you maintain a cool facial expression while you work so hard?
Kevin: I personally study Beyoncé. [Laughs]. I think we all learn from watching sunbaenims, senior groups. Watching their stages and their facial expressions, as well as spending time in front of the mirror. Singing live while dancing brings out the most natural expressions that suit the song. Juyeon especially puts a lot of effort into it and looks in the mirror — I don’t know if he’s admiring his own good looks — but he actually spends a lot of time testing things out.
Juyeon: The dance is important but many times the face can be just as important. So I’m always monitoring myself and practicing in order to express myself better.
Eric: During “Checkmate” we even gave feedback to each other individually on our gestures and facial expressions as we were practicing to really nail it down.
EM: Did anyone have trouble with their expressions when they first debuted — being way too blank or too intense?
[Everyone raises their hands].
Eric: Me, I was way too blank.
Kevin: I have a habit to this day: My nostrils flare a lot.
Juyeon: When we first started out, we thought that not smiling and just looking cool was what you had to do. But as we got more comfortable on stage, we learned how to reflect the mood on our faces, which I think is a lot cooler than looking like you don’t care.
Juhaknyeon: When I first debuted, I was already smiling. I was perfect. [Laughs].
Eric: I think Juyeon and Hyunjae are the best at it. And Q. And Sunwoo.
EM: How do you deal with sweating?
Kevin: We don’t sweat, we glisten.
Eric: Jacob can tell you about sweating. [Laughs].
Jacob: You just...let nature take its course. Especially during concerts, there’s not much you can do. We just try to focus on the performance. Though it can be uncomfortable!
Kevin: I’m personally worried about this comeback because there’s a lot of tight-fitting, non breathable material. Especially Juyeon, he wears these leather pants, but thankfully he doesn’t sweat much. We’ll just let Jesus take the wheel.
EM: Jacob, in the past you’ve said that when you started out you “couldn’t dance,” but now you’re one of the strongest in the group. What is it about the idol trainee system that promotes that kind of fast growth?
Jacob: I would say mindset. When I first started I was negative, I didn’t want to dance much because I knew I sucked. Honestly, I just wanted to quit. But when I focused more during and after practice. Of course, everything takes time, but having a good mindset is really important. Just because you practice for four hours doesn’t mean you’ll be better than someone who practices for an hour. It all matters how you use your time.
EM: What kind of sensibilities and traits do you need to succeed as an idol?
Eric: You need to have a willingness to go beyond yourself all the time. You need to goal to be so clear and your passion so intense that you keep pushing yourself to be better and to reach that destination.
Juhaknyeon: And teamwork.
EM: What’s the trick to singing while dancing?
Kevin: Just experience, honestly. During our concerts we’d learn when to get ready when our part was coming up and control our movements so they’re less intense, so we can sing our parts properly. Just practicing helped up build up our stamina and know-how.
EM: What dance are you always most proud to perform?
New: All the stages for Road To Kingdom. I feel like few teams could’ve pulled off what we pulled off in such a short amount of time, so I really thank the members for coming together to create performances that I’m really proud of.
EM: What’s another group’s dance you wish were yours?
Younghoon: Pentagon’s “Shine.” It’s a bright song and really fun to perform, I think it fits The Boyz's style well too.
Eric: “Growl” by EXO. It’s actually the song I auditioned with, and I think we could pull if off pretty well.
EM: Q and Juyeon — do you want to choreograph for The Boyz?
Juyeon: We choreographed for fans for a song called “Back To You,” and we realized how hard it is to come up with choreography and transitions for 11 people.
Q: But we definitely want to try it again in the future.
EM: What’s a move that The B love?
Hyunjae: The “eenie meenie miney mo” part in “Giddy Up.”
Eric: That part in “Reveal” when Hyunjae and Juyeon go “time of dogs and wolves!”
EM: Synchronization is definitely one of your strengths, but when do you allow for people to put their own style and spin on things?
Juyeon: When we get a camera close-up. [Laughs]
Kevin: “The Stealer” specifically has a kind of wild kind of feel to it, so even though we’re doing the same movements, we allow differences to make the big picture a little more — rah! Fierce, powerful.
EM: Is there a move that you’re kind of over?
Hyunjae: We haven’t performed it for a while, but I’d say the chorus of “Giddy Up.” [Gets up to demonstrate, the other members erupt in laughter]. It’s really not that I don’t like it, it’s just hard on our thighs. We have to squat the whole time and hit our thighs. And it’s hard to make it look cool.
EM: In a word, how does performing make you feel?
Kevin: Sweaty. [Laughs]
Younghoon: Happy! And whimsy.
Juyeon: It’s like a game.
EM: What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had while performing?
Jacob: [Immediately shoots up his hand] Recently, while we were performing, my pants ripped on stage. We had many songs to do, and it was the first one, first minute. So for the rest of the 30 minutes, I was trying to play it cool, but looking back on it, I am really embarrassed.
Juyeon: Like an open door.
Jacob: I tried not to cover it and just dance more.
Kevin: One of the earlier songs in that set, there’s a part when Jacob and I go to the side, and I saw this happen and I tried to cover him and tried to pin it up. Wait — are we talking about the same thing?
Jacob: No. It happened again!
Hyunjae: During an M Countdown performance of “Giddy Up,” at the end after we posed we were supposed to hold it. All the members held it but I just walked off stage way too quickly.
EM: How do you want The Boyz to be remembered in the future?
Juhaknyeon: “Boys” is a very common word. So when people say “the boys,” I’d want for the first thing people think of to be our team.