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LE SSERAFIM Reflect on The Success of ‘UNFORGIVEN’ & First Tour: Interview

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LE SSERAFIM is the latest artist in Billboard Japan’s monthly feature interview series which presents various artists and works that have caught its eye. Making its debut in May 2022,  they are  the first girl group produced by SOURCE MUSIC and HYBE, the label behind BTS and countless other global artists.

 In January of this year, LE SSERAFIM released their first Japanese single, “FEARLESS,” and held a showcase event to commemorate it. In May, the group released its 1st studio album, UNFORGIVEN. The album took the top position on Billboard Japan’s “Hot Albums” overall album chart, the “Top Albums Sales” weekly album sales chart, and the “Download Albums” chart.

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 A Japanese version of the album’s title track, “UNFORGIVEN,” was released in August as their second Japanese single. “UNFORGIVEN (feat. Nile Rodgers, Ado) -Japanese ver.-” features Ado, and a Japan-exclusive track, “Jewelry (Prod. imase)” was produced by imase, generating buzz in Japan. Billboard Japan spoke to LE SSERAFIM about what’s happened in the year since their debut, their well-received album and latest single, and their first solo tour. (Due to scheduling issues, HUH YUNJIN was not able to take part in the interview with the rest of the group and was interviewed on her own at a later date.)

It’s been roughly a year since your debut. Could you tell us where each of you thinks you’ve achieved the most personal growth over the course of this year?

KAZUHA: My greatest growth has been in how much my Korean has improved.

What about you, KIM CHAEWON?

KIM CHAEWON: Before our debut, and right after our debut, I wasn’t yet in the right frame of mind to enjoy myself while I was performing on stage. Now, though, I’ve become comfortable enough to have fun on stage. I think that’s an area where I’ve grown a lot.

Could you talk a bit about what makes LE SSERAFIM unique and what your strengths are?

SAKURA: A lot of our lyrics are based on our actual life experiences, so I think our songs can encourage and resonate with people who are going through similar experiences. I think our strength lies in the fact that we sing about our philosophy of how you can live your life.

What about your live performances?

KIM CHAEWON: When we get up on stage, we try to create a live show together with all of our fans, as a group effort. For example, we put in call & response sections so that the audience can respond.

In May, you released your first studio album, UNFORGIVEN. I’ve heard that you recorded several of the songs in Japan. Did you have any insights or discoveries during the recording process?

SAKURA: On this album, there were a lot of songs in genres that I didn’t have much experience with, for example, “Fire in the belly” which has a lot of Latin-influenced sounds. So when we were recording, I discovered new voices I didn’t know I had. Sometimes it was hard, but I think with UNFORGIVEN, listeners will be able to enjoy all kinds of genres through the entire album.

What did you do to prepare for recording?

KAZUHA: We began recording “UNFORGIVEN (feat. Nile Rodgers)” in Japan, and my approach was to sing the opening words “Unforgiven, I’m a villain, I’m a” in a kind of dark, cool way. But I got some advice to try singing it with a bit of a lighter tone, and when I tried it out, the producer was also like, “right there, that’s it.” That part sticks with you, and the producer said he wanted to make it an addictive hook, so I’m glad I was able to pull off that part so well. I think the recording of this album allowed me to experience the best possible recording process, despite the time limitations we were under.

KIM CHAEWON: We didn’t have that much time for recording, so I took a lot of care to make sure my voice was in its best condition.

HONG EUNCHAE: I sang a somewhat long part in “UNFORGIVEN (feat. Nile Rodgers).” It was my first time doing that, and I wanted to do really well, so I practiced to show the best version of myself.     

I feel like your first studio album, UNFORGIVEN, was made with this desire to pave your own way, without being held back by how other people see you or what they think. The album has gained support from a lot of fans and reached the top of the hit charts. What do you think that means for you and how do you feel about the response to the album?

KIM CHAEWON: Our goal wasn’t breaking into the charts when we were preparing for the recording. We just wanted to do what we could and to express ourselves through music. That’s what we were focused on when we made the album. We figured that people would see what we accomplished and recognition would follow.

SAKURA: UNFORGIVEN dropped the day before we celebrated our first anniversary, and you can see the hard work we put in over the course of that year. A lot of people discovered us through “ANTIFRAGILE,” and I think the expectations people had for us had a good impact on us. The real test will be where we go from here. I want us to continue making the kind of music that only we can.

HUH YUNJIN: I can feel the love that so many people have for our songs and performances, and I’m so happy that the message we’re trying to share is reaching people. I want us to be a team that has a positive influence on people who see us perform, helping them courageously join hands and keep pushing forward.

Could you talk a bit about your second Japanese single, “UNFORGIVEN?” One of the songs on the single is a Japan-exclusive produced by imase titled “Jewelry (Prod. imase)” What are the highlights of this song?

KIM CHAEWON: The lyrics are beautiful. A lot of LE SSERAFIM songs have a cool, sophisticated atmosphere, but “Jewelry (Prod. imase)” is a bright, cheery song.

SAKURA: I think it’s a real ear-pleaser, perfect for listening to on late-night drives. A lot of LE SSERAFIM songs are rap-oriented songs, but when we recorded this song we tried to make our voices really shine.

KAZUHA: Usually, during recording, I break things down very precisely, like, “in this part, I’ll do this, and in this part, I’ll do this.” With “Jewelry (Prod. imase),” though, I just felt the energy and had a blast singing.

HONG EUNCHAE: The word “sparkling” appears a few times in the lyrics, and when I sang the song I envisioned beautiful, sparkling scenes and vibed as I sang.

HUH YUNJIN: I love the city pop genre, and both the music and lyrics are wonderful.

The title song, “UNFORGIVEN (feat. Nile Rodgers, Ado) -Japanese ver.-” features the Japanese singer Ado. How did you feel when the decision was made to collaborate with her?

HONG EUNCHAE:  I knew that Ado was a very well-known artist, so I couldn’t believe it when I found out she’d be collaborating on one of our songs.

KAZUHA: Ado has a truly unique singing voice, so I was excited to hear how she’d sound on her collaboration with us.

HUH YUNJIN: It was so unexpected, I couldn’t believe it. I remember being impressed with what a wonderful artist Ado was the first time I heard her. I never expected to be able to work with her.

You started your first solo tour, 2023 LE SSERAFIM TOUR ‘FLAME RISES,’ with a performance in Seoul on August 12. In Japan, you played in Nagoya, Tokyo, and Osaka. Where did the “FLAME RISES” in the tour name come from?

SAKURA: It refers to us burning the path we walked behind us so there would be no going back, our only choice would be to keep going forward. It’s also because we wanted to put on a blazing hot show.

What has the response been like?

KIM CHAEWON: Even before we debuted, we had our eyes set on putting on concerts. I was so glad to be able to put on our first LE SSERAFIM tour. I’ve had a hard time even believing it. We’re making sure to take good care of our health, and hopefully we can bring the tour to a successful conclusion.

SAKURA: A lot of concerts end with a quiet, soulful song, but we’re ending our concerts with a really exciting song that gets the audience amped up. Like the image evoked by our tour name, “FLAME RISES,” we want to be on fire up on stage. At our shows, we’ve seen the audience enjoying the show with every fiber of their being, so it’s been a thrill for us, too.

HUH YUNJIN: It’s been so fun. I’m so grateful that people have taken time out of their busy schedules to come see us. I want us to keep enjoying ourselves in our shows, staying healthy and putting on impressive performances.

Do you have any final message for our readers or your fans?

KIM CHAEWON:   I hope you put our second Japanese single, “UNFORGIVEN,” on heavy rotation, and if you come to one of our shows, I hope you have the time of your life.

SAKURA:  I’m so glad to be able to experience first-hand the love people feel for our music. We’re going to keep putting on great shows for the rest of this tour, and then achieve even further growth in preparation for our next tour, so we look forward to your ongoing support.

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