|Members of K-pop girl group Secret Number during a recent interview with The Korea Times, at a studio in Sangam-dong, northern Seoul / Korea Times photo by Yun Da-been|
By Dong Sun-hwa
As soon as Lea of K-pop girl group Secret Number set foot in the studio in Sangam-dong, northern Seoul, for an interview with The Korea Times, she asked: "I was told that the group leader is supposed to sit in the front row for this interview, but we do not have one… What should we do?"
This question from the 26-year-old Japanese member took most people on the spot by surprise, as they had assumed that Lea, the oldest member of her team, was the leader, just like most other K-pop acts. But Lea clarified that she was not, saying, "I wonder why there is such a rumor."
So this brief conversation hinted that we should devote more time to "decoding" Secret Number, which has been picked by many as one of the most sought-after K-pop rookies. This recent interview with the group indeed uncovered two facts: all of the members are witty and lively and they have a close-knit chemistry.
Their family-like bond was most visible when the two foreign members ― Lea and Dita ― revealed that their lives in Korea have not been tough, thanks to their friendship with their bandmates.
|Secret Number's Soodam, left, and Dita / Korea Times photo by Yun Da-been|
"Cultural differences between Indonesia and Korea have not been major stumbling blocks for me," Indonesian member Dita, whose full name is Anak Agung Ayu Puspa Aditya Karang, said in Korean. With Dita's joining, Secret Number became the first K-pop girl group with an Indonesian member, and it shot to instant stardom in the Southeast Asian country soon after its debut last May.
"The most demanding part was to learn Korean. In fact, when I first arrived at Seoul a few years ago to kick off my training at our record label, VINE Entertainment, I knew little Korean. I began studying the language after joining the company," she said.
Lea agreed, saying, "It was the same for me, although I was already able to speak some Korean when I first met our members. Numerous people asked me whether I have experienced any culture gaps or conflicts, but I have not."
Korean member Soodam chimed in, recounting how Lea defied her stereotypes.
"I had heard that most Japanese people prefer eating alone, but Lea is the exact opposite. She loves dining together."
Lea responded with a playful smile, saying, "That is because I can enjoy more diverse dishes if I have a meal together with a lot of people."
|Secret Number's Zuu, left, and Lea / Korea Times photo by Yun Da-been|
The bandmates seemed to know every bit of each other, partly because they spend most of their time together, even when they have days off.
"When we were on a hiatus during the past 11 months, I frequently hung out with Soodam to go to exhibitions and visit must-eat restaurants in Seoul," Lea said. "I felt a sense of unease during the break, as it was our first time since our debut to take a hiatus for such a long time… But I tried to use my time wisely through self-enrichment."
Secret Number, comprising Jinny, Minji, Soodam, Zuu, Lea, Dita and Denise, unleashed its third EP, "Fire Saturday," on Oct. 27, almost a year after the release of its previous EP, "Got That Boom." Korean-American member Denise could not participate in the promotional activities this time due to her contract issue with VINE Entertainment, and it remains to be seen whether she will rejoin the team in the coming days.
To fill the void, VINE added two new talented Korean members to Secret Number: Minji and Zuu.
"I was more than happy to learn that I would be part of Secret Number," Minji, who had long been dreaming of becoming a singer, said.
Zuu felt the same. She added that it still feels surreal to be on the stage.
"We will soon wrap up our promotional activities for 'Fire Saturday,' but I still feel like I am dreaming," she said. "I am so nervous on the stage, but our members have helped me a lot. They gave me some tips to rock the stage even before I asked them."
"Fire Saturday" is a retro-flavored tune peppered with an addictive melody, for which singer Jessi penned the lyrics. As of Thursday, its music video has garnered more than 6 million views on YouTube. More surprisingly, the music video for Secret Number's debut track, "Who Dis," has already exceeded 42 million hits, a remarkable milestone for any budding star. The team also took home the Rookie of the Year Award at the Asia Artist Awards last year.
Asked about the rationale behind Secret Number's quick rise to stardom, Minji picked the members' free-spiritedness as its competitive edge.
"All of us have distinctive characters and are willing to express ourselves freely on various platforms," she said. "I think our free-spiritedness and naturalness have helped us win people's hearts. On top of that, we can easily build rapport with our fans across the globe, since we are a multi-national group."
|Secret Number's Jinny, left, and Minji / Korea Times photo by Yun Da-been|
Korean-American member Jinny elaborated, "All our members look professional on the stage, but they look quite different when they are off the stage."
This was no exception for Jinny. Although she is usually armed with charisma on the stage, during the interview, the singer was more shy but bubbly.
Jinny added, "These days, we have a lot of content showing behind-the-scenes looks at us, so I think many people are taking interesting in us after watching them."
Lea said, "We are very humorous, too."
The lingering COVID-19 pandemic, however, has been hampering Secret Number from meeting their fans face-to-face. Since its debut, the group has not performed any live concerts outside Korea.
"We cannot really realize our popularity in Indonesia at the moment, as we have not had enough opportunities to interact with our fans there," Dita said sadly.
Minji added, "I recently watched a video featuring a Korean content exhibition in Indonesia. When our music video was played, a wave of people suddenly began shouting out as if they were seeing us in reality. I was so surprised by them and thought that I really have to go to the country to meet them."
The passionate and friendly singers ended the interview by talking about their ambitions and hopes.
"Although there is a long way to go, I want to participate in the creative process of our album in the future," Zuu said, adding that she wants to hold a performance resembling that of K-pop boy band Monsta X.
"I have been an ardent fan of Monsta X for a long time, so one day, I want to capture some element of its concept on the stage," she said.
Jinny said that she hopes Secret Number will drop its first full-length album in the near future, while Lea disclosed her ambition for a new image.
"We hope we can bring to the fore our hipness and powerfulness in our next release," she said.