When ENHYPEN came back, it was with a bang.
On April 26, the K-pop rookies released their second EP, Border: Carnival, a follow-up to November's Border: Day One, which told the story of seven boys on the precipice of an unimaginable adventure.
When I spoke with Jungwon, Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo, and Ni-ki around the time of their debut five months ago, they expressed a shared desire for their music to bring people together — as Sunghoon put it, to "connect people to people and worlds to worlds." But they also had more tangible goals. "My goal for ENHYPEN is to have a successful start with our debut and mark many records," Sunoo admitted. The group's youngest, Ni-ki, agreed: "I want to steadily set my goals higher after our successful debut," he said.
It's safe to say those goals were achieved, and then some. Border: Day One became the highest-selling album by a K-pop group that debuted last year, and in January — less than two months after their debut — ENHYPEN was named one of three Rookies of the Year at the Golden Disk Awards. "I never imagined we would receive the rookie award so quickly," Jay confessed during a media showcase on April 26. It only spurred them to work harder, he said, so their music could be heard by more people.
It's been a monumental few months for the group's seven members, and so it only makes sense that their second project channels the whirlwind emotions of that period into music. Speaking to BuzzFeed News over email, Heeseung — their eldest, at 19 — describes Border: Carnival as a "fully-fledged leap forward" for the group.
"We wish to adapt to our lives as artists, show endless progression, and grow into a one of a kind group to watch out for," he says.
ENHYPEN had proven their worthiness of that title before their second EP was even released. Border: Carnival broke the group's own personal presale record, racking up more than 450,000 stock preorders, and ultimately debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard World Albums Chart, making it their first to reach the top 10. During their media showcase, Sunoo said his goal for 2021 was for ENHYPEN to have their first music show win. He wanted to take a selfie with the members to celebrate, he said. Just over a week later, that goal was achieved, too.
The double-edged sword of such a meteoric rise to success is something ENHYPEN explores in Border: Carnival's lead single, "Drunk-Dazed." In the song, Heeseung explains, the members sing about "chaotic feelings of adapting to a new world"; the lyrics describe the newfound "carnival" of their lives as something beautiful, blinding, frightening, and uncontrollable in equal measure. The music video is neon-tinged and slightly surreal, its choreography powerful and perfectly synchronized to the point it is, on occasion, hypnotic.
"We practiced extremely hard," Jake tells BuzzFeed News of the song's choreography. "One day I looked at the clock thinking, 'We put in a lot of good work today,' and I was so surprised to see that 10 hours had passed. Looking back at it, I think not realizing where the time had gone is a testament to how well the choreography suits us as well as how much we enjoy it."
But "Drunk-Dazed" showcases only one facet of the complete story that is Border: Carnival, the tapestry of which is reflected in three drastically contrasting sets of teaser photos released prior to the album drop. Sunghoon explains the distinct concepts to BuzzFeed News as representing different stages of the journey ENHYPEN has been on in recent months, from the initial invitation to explore a new world to "confusion towards the rules in the new environment."
"Like the visual concepts, the music in the album sings about the experiences in the new world as well as the confusion and excitement that follows," he adds. "Don't you think the multiple concepts add more interest?"
The variation in concepts, both visually and musically, certainly makes for a more interesting listening experience — and an all-encompassing insight into the minds of the boys who are singing. Border: Carnival's fifth track, "Mixed Up," grapples with the harsher realities of life in the public eye ("I became the main character without even knowing," Sunghoon sings in the chorus). The smooth, vampy "Fever" describes a desire so desperate that the pursuit of it only leads to suffering. Sunoo tells BuzzFeed News that his favorite is the brighter, bubbly pop sound of "Not For Sale."
"It’s a fresh take to express a song about love as something with a price," he explains. "I'm particularly attracted to the melody and the lyrics... I feel like our ENGENEs will be able to sympathize with it well, as it covers Gen Z beliefs and views."
Just like their first outing, the music on this album feels self-aware and deeply personal, even if its lyrics weren't written by the members themselves — at least, not yet. Heeseung has spoken regularly about his personal interest in songwriting, and Jake revealed during the group's media showcase that it's something they have all been working on. The album-making process had been a great learning exercise in that regard, he said.
But practicing songwriting and perfecting choreography is not all ENHYPEN has been focused on over the last six months: They've also been learning how to work together as a team. After all, their debut came only six weeks after the team members were finalized in the last episode of competition show I-Land. When asked what he's learned about his teammates over the course of those few months, Jay acknowledges they still keep him on his toes. "Our members tend to go in unexpected directions sometimes," he tells BuzzFeed News. "We are brutally honest with each other," he adds. "That's why I like it!"
As for 17-year-old leader Jungwon, he says the months since ENHYPEN's debut have been about learning what it means to head up a team. At their media showcase, he recalled some advice he received from his senior, BTS's RM, during a hard time. "RM told me that a leader doesn't pull from the front, but pushes from the back," he said, per a fan translation. Elaborating to BuzzFeed News, Jungwon said he's learned that true leadership "doesn't solely mean leading the team on my own."
"I'm always thankful that our team members follow my lead and support me as their leader," he adds.
"We want to feel the thrill of performing in front of fans all over the world while listening to their cheers."
Looking forward, the members of ENHYPEN are understandably anticipating the moment they are finally able to travel, perform on stages across the world, and meet their fans, known as ENGENEs, in person. It was something they got a taste of during their first fan meeting in February; Jungwon said at the showcase it had made them realize the energy they receive from performing in person was completely different than performing online. "Rather than focusing on not messing up, I'm trying to enjoy the moment on stage more," he tells BuzzFeed News. "I'm doing my best to improve my performance skills, which includes enhancing my live vocals as well."
Ni-ki, meanwhile, tells us he is most looking forward to "perform[ing] on a stage with the audience seats filled with ENGENEs, of course. We want to feel the thrill of performing in front of fans all over the world while listening to their cheers."
"We'll be able to feel their energy," he promises of the day that moment comes.