'It's more playful': K-pop group TO1 on new album and performing at KCON

K-pop boy group TO1 perform at KCON LA 2022.
PHOTO: CJ ENM

In 2019, at the KCON Los Angeles hybrid convention and concert, competitors from the Mnet idol show To Be World Klass were given the opportunity to perform.

On Aug 21, 2022, during the final night of the first KCON LA to be held since the pandemic took hold, some of those competitors returned to perform, now known as the boy band TO1.

“Three years ago, we were here as trainees in a survival programme, so I think it will be a really meaningful stage for us,” leader Jaeyun said ahead of their performance.

The road from World Klass to TO1 has been a long one full of twists and turns.

Members of TO1 on the convention floor at KCON LA 2022.
PHOTO: CJ ENM

The winners of the show initially debuted in April 2020 as TOO with the album Reason For Being: Benevolence . They continued with a series of releases and also appeared as competitors on Mnet’s 2020 K-pop boy band competition show Road to Kingdom.

They rebranded in May 2021 as TO1, pronounced “tee-oh-one”, kicking things off again with their Re:Born EP.

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In 2022, one member left in April, then another three departed in June, replaced with a new trio.

Now they’re a nine-member team featuring a mix of Korean and Japanese performers: Donggeon, Chan, Jisu, Jaeyun, J.You, Kyungho, Daigo, Renta and Yeojeong.

In July, they arrived anew with their album Why Not?? , fronted by the single Drummin’ .

TO1 perform at KCON LA 2022.
PHOTO: CJ ENM

“It was a quite long journey but I think it was really to find TO1’s musical spectrum,” Jaeyun said.

“It might have been tough but now we are able to actually know what kind of music, what kind of group we are and what we really want to do.

“And this album is, I think what we believe, this is us and this is TO1. A group that can just give positive energy [to] people and just play with ourselves without carrying over other stuff.”

For TO1, which stands for “together as one”, what may seem like a tumultuous past is nothing but a challenge that has been overcome, and that’s what their new album is all about.

“We’re asking to people of the world who are saying ‘no, you can’t do that’, we’re saying ‘we can’,” said Donggeon about the new album title.

“There are some things you can’t do,” Jaeyun added. “Some things we can’t do, but we just have to try and say ‘why not?’ Even though we might not be able to finish it and be able to actually do it, we just go on and say ‘why not?’”

Members of TO1 on the convention floor at KCON LA 2022.
PHOTO: CJ ENM

Why Not?? shows the group’s growth and evolution, featuring more intense vocal displays than their previous work and highlighting how well the new trio – Renta, Daigo and Yeojeong- can blend in with the rest of the group.

It’s also a bit brighter than their past releases, both in musical style and their performances, in comparison to earlier, more intense and darker tracks.

“It’s more playful and has a lot of bright energy,” said Chan, decked out in shocking yellow and black, sitting beside members dressed in neon pink and green.

Similarly, TO1 have a playful way about them as they chat humorously backstage at KCON, casually calling out and teasing one another with charming affability.

There’s also a sense of confident shyness: they’re stars who have already been around for a few years, but they’re also new at appearing in front of international audiences thanks to the pandemic putting a halt to touring.

Now, though, things are changing, and TO1 are hoping for their big break.

“TO1 has a good sense of humour and a really good team environment, so I hope people pay attention to us,” Renta said.

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Things have been kicking off in recent months, with the group appearing not only at KCON LA but also at an earlier KCON event in Chicago in May.

They will perform at several cities in the United States in the coming weeks as part of a special KCON rookie tour.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to meet fans in our offline stages, so we’re really grateful for the chance,” J.You said. “We’ve prepared a lot for it so I hope everyone enjoys. The most important thing for us is to give out positive vibes.”

They hope to one day perform a solo concert at the Los Angeles KCON venue, the Crypto.com Arena. Some members have even bigger dreams, though.

“I’m going to buy it,” declared Jisu of the Crypto.com Arena, drawing shock and then cheers from the other members.

As for the rest of 2022, they just hope to keep performing as TO1 to the best of their abilities.

“I think this year will be very memorable in a lot of ways for us because we had a lot of changes,” Jaeyun said.

“Although we have a lot of worries about this and a little bit of excitement, a lot of our fans actually liked it and like how we look as a team now, so I think 2022 will be a successful year. But! There will be more successful years from now.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.