K-Pop Stars P1Harmony Talk Singing in Spanish & Viral “La Chona” Video

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla.

The extensive transformation of Korean pop music into a juggernaut industry was probably a presaged cultural phenomenon. But even in the “before times,” Latin America was a stronghold for this sonic landscape. With the rise of digital platforms, the visibility of this region has cracked open, and the transnational interconnection has only amplified because music is borderless. For the up-and-coming K-pop ensemble P1Harmony — consisting of Keeho, Theo, Jiung, Intak, Soul, and Jongseob — Latin America is still uncharted territory. However, this hasn’t been an obstacle to their growing popularity, and it takes a rapid assessment through social media to understand the outpouring of support from their Latine fandom.

“We feel very honored,” Jongseob, the group’s youngest member, shares with Remezcla over a Zoom call. “We don’t even make music in the language that [our Latin American fans] speak, but knowing that we’re getting love from so far away, it’s such a thankful feeling. I’m glad that our music can be spread out in such big lengths.” 

In essence, the sextet is the embodiment of youth, and even though the clock is about to hit midnight in Seoul, South Korea, their restless energy never fades away. At random times during the call, all-rounder Jiung tries to predict  — to no avail — the score of the World Cup match between Brazil and South Korea. Then, multi-hyphenate leader Keeho laughs at the memory of him burning a tortilla while vocalist Theo and Japan-born dancer Soul smile broadly at his spontaneous outburst. And yet, this playful side is just a slice of their identity. 

Since their debut in 2020 under FNC Entertainment, P1Harmony has existed as a force to be reckoned with on and off stage, moved by a lyrical exploration of individuality and self-discovery. On “Back Down,” their latest single, the group irreverently delivers a statement of non-conformity, blazing over that sturdy hip-hop beat that has become the spinal cord of their discography. At one minute and 20 seconds in, rapper Intak makes a bold promise, “Pray for me / I’m gonna do something big,” which could easily reflect P1Harmony’s near-reality as they prepare to hit their U.S. tour next month.

Shortly after the release of their fifth-mini album Harmony: Set In and ahead of their second North American tour, Remezcla linked up with P1Harmony to discuss the possibility of taking a stab at Latine music. With Keeho acting as their translator during this conversation and Jiung answering mostly in English as well, the group also delved into the ebbs and flows of practicing their Spanish, touring Latin America, and that time they went viral for dancing to “La Chona.”

Collaborations are an attractive approach to breaking into the Latin American music market, and the ever-evolving nature of K-pop allows for these multicultural enterprises. Are there any Spanish-speaking artists that made you think, ‘Oh, I’d like to work with this person’?

Keeho: I have one!

Jiung: Me too [pulls out his phone], let me search for it.

Keeho: I love Rosalía! I know she is super popular right now, and she literally swept the Latin Grammys recently. I think she has amazing music and she’s a very good vocalist. Hopefully, we can do a song with her. I love her songs! Her album MOTOMAMI is on repeat. [Even though] I don’t speak the language she is singing, the fact that music is so universal and we can enjoy it regardless of the language barriers, it’s very beautiful. I really hope we can get to do something with her. I don’t know if she’s reading this… [forms a heart with his hands]

Jiung: For me, Luis Fonsi. I really like “Despacito,” and used to listen to that song every single day. I like his voice and rhythm, so hopefully, I can collaborate with him.

I saw your World Pop Live video from 1theK where you covered “Un Año” by Reik and Sebastián Yatra and “Mi Gente” by J Balvin and Willy William. Singing in another language may be daunting, so how did you prepare to tackle this challenge? 

Jongseob: At the end of the day, it was just a lot of practice. I always listened to the songs and how the artists pronounced the words because I’d never spoken Spanish before. Also, while recording the covers, there was a Spanish speaker who directed us with the pronunciation, and through that, we were able to — hopefully — be as close as possible to how the actual pronunciation needed to be. 

And what was the most difficult part during that preparation process?

Keeho: In every language, there’s intonations. I can honestly just read the words and make the sounds sound right, but it doesn’t sound natural if you don’t have the intonations down. So, being able to know when to go up and down to express a sentence beautifully is very difficult.

Jiung: Actually, I really like Spanish. I tried to learn it by myself, but it was hard, and I only know one sentence: “Yo soy estudiante.”

Oh, yes! I’ve watched videos of you saying that.

[All the members laugh]

Jiung: Ah! Thank you!

Intak: Personally, it’s important for me to put my own color and style into the covers. But, when focusing on the pronunciations and intonations and just making sure of saying things correctly, it’s harder to twist my voice into it. Trying to find a balance was very challenging, especially when covering the rapping sections, but the same goes for vocals. 

Would you be open to experimenting with Latine music?

Jiung: Definitely! We love Latin music and, even before [debuting], I really liked “Despacito,” so I want to do a song that’s very rhythmical. You know, the rhythm of Latin music is sexy, but also very energetic, and [we think] it’d be very cool to have a song like that.

Keeho: We would love to, really. We actually talked about it recently.

There have been Latine songwriters who have already stepped into K-pop territory to create amazing bangers. In fact, you recently did a cover of “Antifragile” by Le Sserafim. That song was co-written by Isabella Lovestory from Honduras and Paulina Cerrilla, who is Mexican-American.

Keeho: Honestly, as soon as we heard “Antifragile,” we thought, “Oh! This is very Latin-inspired and a very Latin beat.” We were like, “This song is fire! We need to get a song like that. We really need to.”

Here’s one scenario. Let’s say that you get an opportunity to craft a musical work completely in Spanish or Portuguese.

Jongseob: Uuuh!

Keeho: I want it to be sexy! Very sultry and groovy. [slowly shaking his head]

[Jongseob laughs while Theo is nodding]

And lyrically, what would be the story behind it? 

[Back-and-forth in Korean]

Keeho: A very passionate love! We don’t have any love songs, so it would be our first song about a very passionate love.

P1Harmony already had a U.S. tour and even participated in KCON, but let me tell you, K-pop concerts in Latin America are a different kind of beast. How do you picture yourself standing for the first time on a Latin American stage, or what expectations do you have for when that happens?

Theo: Ooh, it would be amazing! [I imagine] getting down into the audience and dancing together with our fans. We would like to have a very energetic performance!

What song from your catalog could be a good opener for a concert in Latin America? 

[Talking among themselves again]

Keeho: [We thought of] our song “Breakthrough” because it starts with a section that everyone can follow along. It goes like, “Whooa yeah” [singing the intro of the song]. If we do that and everyone sings along, it’d be very, very fun.

What are some Latin American countries you want to visit while on tour? 

Jiung: Mexico.

Keeho: I really, really want to go to Brazil!

Theo: Me too, me too!

Jiung: Peru!

One thing I enjoy about your interactions is how lively you are. Back in Oct. of last year, you went on VLive and fans asked you to play a song called “La Chona.” You did it, and that clip went viral — you even appeared on Mexican news sites. What was going through your mind when you listened to the song? Did you read the lyrics afterward?

Keeho and Jiung: [yelling]La Chona”!

Theo: We didn’t search for the lyrics.

Jiung: When we heard the song, straight off the back, we couldn’t stop doing this [tapping his foot to the rhythm. Intak, Yongseob and Keeho join him] It was like, ‘Wow!’ You just automatically start riding the beat. It was a very memorable song!

[Theo tells Keeho in Korean the original artist shared the clip on their social media]

Keeho: [surprised] Did the artist of the song mention us?!

They posted that video of you dancing to “La Chona” on their Instagram.

Intak: Whooa!

[Jongseob and Soul show big smiles]

Keeho: Oh my god! I didn’t know that! 

Jiung: Me and Theo knew. ¡Muchas gracias!

Intak: Is that song very popular?

Yes! “La Chona” is a famous song that is a must in all Mexican events. The lyrics talk about a woman who is the life of the party, and that song is performed by a band called Los Tucanes de Tijuana. Actually, Tijuana is a Mexican city that borders San Diego, CA, where you already performed. 

All: [surprised] Ooooh!

Let me ask you something. Who’s the member who would channel “La Chona” spirit the most when going out for everyday adventures? 

Jiung: I think it’s Intak. He’s always dancing. 

[Jongseob and Theo nod in agreement while Intak starts dancing]

A fan told me to tell Intak that he was born a Latino.

[More laughs]

Intak: Thank you! That’s pretty cool!

Lastly, I understand that your fans are one of your driving forces, but going beyond and speaking from a personal perspective, what’s your current motivation to keep moving forward?

Jiung: [In Korean] The fact that I can make and perform the music I love is a very big motivation. I always find happiness through that. 

Soul: I like to think about the time when I decided to come to Korea. I was so passionate, so I’m always reminding myself of this goal I’ve had. I try to live by this quote that says, “It’s very easy to give up, but it’s not easy to keep pushing.” I also have a family that’s so supportive, and I have so many people that love me, so I always use this as a motivation to keep myself, you know, pushing.