Don't let their youthful looks fool you: Akdong Musician have musical sensibilities beyond their years. The duo's Lee Chanhyuk, 19, is responsible for writing and producing all the music that he and his sister Suhyun, 17, took over the K-pop scene with in 2014, via their excellent debut album Play and its singles "200%," "Give Love" and "Melted."
The duo look poised for domination again with their just-released Spring EP that dropped today (May 3) and is already taking over the charts with its single "How People Move" and "Re-Bye." As a part of Fuse's Teen Takeover Week, we spoke to the duo about their music, as well as their experiences as young singers, taking ownership of their careers and much more.
FUSE: What's it really like being a teen musician? There are a lot of young musicians in your industry, but you must be one of the youngest?
Suhyun: When we made our debut, it seemed that we were “the youngest,” but nowadays there are many artists who are the youngest members in their group and similar to our age. It’s a great pleasure and we have pride being teen artists.
“You must know who you are in order to build self-confidence, back up weaknesses and live a satisfying life.”
Chanhyuk: We were one of the youngest back in the time we made our debut. But we’ve had a break for two years and many younger artists have made their debuts ever since. I possess my own I.D. card and driver’s license, which I gained around two years ago. But there are still people, who I’ve met for the first time, knowing that I’m still young and cute. It feels good. However, these days, I want to show my artistic sides, but there are still limits.
What values are important to teenagers today?
Chanhyuk: I just asked one of the staff members next to me and they replied “freedom.” It’s quite ironic that the staff are all adults because I, too, think that freedom is a correct answer, but that's too broad in meaning. I [also] think that teens are way too concerned about appearance these days. I’m not sure if appearance goes with the word “values,” but teens are much more focused on looks, grades, trends, etc... the things on the outside.
Suhyun: To be honest, I don’t have many friends that are of similar age, so I’m not quite sure. But from my perspective, I think the most important value is self-identity. You must know who you are in order to build self-confidence, back up weaknesses, and live a satisfying life.
How do you think being a teenage K-pop star has changed from, say, five to 10 years ago?
Suhyun: There weren’t as many idols back then, so they used to have this mystique feeling. But these days, there are a countless number of celebrities, and that’s why the entertainment industry is doing its best to become unrivaled.
Chanhyuk: If you ask our boss, you’ll hear a much more realistic and fun story. Ten years ago, I wasn’t that interested in K-pop, but now I do know that the songs released 10 years ago were less provocative but much more emotional.
You just released your new EP, Spring. Are there any songs that speak to teenage experiences?
Chanhyuk: Akdong Musician have presented songs based on imagination rather than real-life experience, stories about people out of work, one-sided love, being an outcast and more. I haven’t experienced these stories, but wrote lyrics based upon how I would have felt if I were in the same situation. The new album's title translates to “adolescence” in English. I’ve already gone passed this stage in life, but there are songs that I recorded in this phase and also stories looking back at this time. So, I think that all the songs in the album will be highly favored by teens.
You produce and write your own music, but is it ever tough to make your artistic
decisions heard in an industry run by people much older people?
Chanhyuk: We are given a lot of consideration when it comes to music. Thankfully, the people working with us are doing their best to keep our “color” of music. We are very greedy when it comes to our music: We want to actively reflect our opinions when it comes to adding choreography or scenes in our music videos in order to come up with perfect results. Sometimes, that “greed” and our company’s opinions don’t match up because our company has to think about public opinion as well. The little conflicts happen not because we’re young, but because we still need to learn more. When we build up our career, maybe then we can come up with a wiser solution that work for both sides.
Suhyun: I’m still young and I have a short career, so there are many people who try to teach us and show a lot of support and favor, which is very much appreciated. But sometimes, people think we know too little so they point out flaws.
“Akdong Musician will continue to make songs for those people out there who need understanding, sympathy, and support.”
What do you think is the biggest thing adults don't understand about teen life today?
Suhyun: Taking it slow: Teens are young and healthy so they want to learn, develop and strive in various fields. I’ve seen many teenagers having a hard time wanting to fulfill adult expectations. So I think they need to take it easier, and try to find free will and self-fulfillment.
Chanhyuk: It’s more to do with understanding. Adults have had a lot of experiences and think that the problems teens are going through aren’t that big of issues. Adults advise us that we will have to face even harder problems in the future so we have to bear the situation. But they must know that teenagers have hardships of their own, whether it be to do with studies and education, friends, or even problems they can’t tell their parents. The things that adults think that aren’t that important may feel like a disaster to teens who are just starting to experience society.
What message or words of encouragement do you have for people your age?
Suhyun: Don’t be swayed by words from others. I hope you spend the time now investing in happiness.
Chanhyuk: It’ll always be difficult. From elementary to high school, and even as an adult, the pain and hurt we must face will grow. Some of you may be in trouble with studies. Others may be facing a situation where you have to give up something you promised yourself. I believe that these people need deep sympathy and understanding from friends and people of similar age. I’m no different to you. Look, we’re in similar situations. I’m fighting my best too. Akdong Musician will continue to make songs for those people out there who need understanding, sympathy and support.