On stage, the K-pop group Monsta X is alluring in every way possible. From their ability to seamlessly switch between hard-hitting EDM bangers and heartstrings pulling power ballads to their sharp, precise choreography, and down to their provocative performances, the sextet demands your attention. But today, sitting in a conference room in Los Angeles, the magnetism that draws you in is different.
Powering through a quick promotion tour for their latest English-language album The Dreaming and a few iHeartRadio Jingle Ball performances across the U.S., Kihyun, Joohoney, Minhyuk, Hyungwon, and I.M sit and chat nonchalantly but engaged. They joke. They curse. They convey their unrehearsed thoughts and opinions clearly. They even pull up their phones mid-interview to answer certain questions accurately. All of these signs of an ensemble of men who are confident in who they are both as individuals and performers, and hence as one of K-pop’s leading acts.
It’s no secret how competitive the K-pop industry is. And if it seems like there’s an endless list of groups circulating social media, it’s because there are indeed hundreds of them, both incredibly famous and regrettably obscure. In 2022, in order for K-pop groups to amass a devoted global fanbase, they often have to spend time and energy catering to the specific markets outside of South Korea they want to enter. Historically, Japan has been the market to go after, and the U.S. has become relevant in the last few years thanks to the popularity of a few groups. Latin America as a region, however, has been largely overlooked by K-pop companies despite there being a sizeable fandom since the early 2000s — way before the U.S., outside the Asian American communities here, of course.
One of the groups to identify the value in investing in the region is Monsta X, who took their world tours to different Latin American countries like Brazil and Argentina and visited cities like Monterrey in Mexico, which isn’t a hotbed for K-pop shows like Mexico City. They’ve also collaborated with artists in the Latine market, and while they’ve never actually sung a song in Spanish, the guys say it’s something they’re open to.
Last Dec., the group released their second English-language album The Dreaming just a month after releasing their tenth Korean-language EP, NO LIMIT. Monsta X was supposed to start their 13-stop NO LIMIT tour throughout the U.S. this past Jan., but it was rescheduled for the spring in light of the country’s current COVID situation.
With the help of a translator, Remezcla caught up with five out of the six guys of Monsta X last month in Los Angeles to talk about their collaborations with Latine artists, singing in languages other than Korean, and performing throughout Latin America.
I saw a video where Joohoney said he likes Ozuna. Are there any other Spanish-speaking artists that you guys listen to?
Joohoney: Bad Bunny.
I.M: [takes out phone, starts scrolling] Rosalía!
If you look at the charts or who the most streamed artists are or the most tweeted, it’s either a Latine star or a K-pop one. We’re truly living at a time where singers don’t necessarily have to sing in English to have worldwide reach and success. What are your thoughts on this?
Minhyuk: [In English] I think language is not—
Minhyuk: Important. [What’s important is] just communicating with fans and [switches to Korean] giving good performances. [switches to English] That’s it.
Joohoney: I think that the reason why K-pop got so big is that the artists are really good at communicating and engaging with their fanbase. Of course, the music is important, but that engagement and interaction are what make it even better.
Let’s talk about your Latine collabs. There was a point in time when it felt like Pitbull was on every song on the radio. What was it like for you to find out you’d be collaborating with him on “Beside You?”
Joohoney: We actually didn’t get to meet in person, so that was a bit disappointing.
Kihyun: It was really fascinating because, at his peak, Pitbull was everywhere and had so many hit tracks. And even in Korea, he was pretty big.
Joohoney: [randomly sings “International Love”]
What about “Magnetic?” I know you guys met Sebastián Yatra before working on the song. So how did that collab come about?
I.M: At first, we didn’t know who he was. But the company suggested an artist who was really good and great. So we were researching about him and we said, “Oh shit. He’s so good, we wanna do this with him.” And he really made a great verse in that song.
Kihyun: [At the time] I was hurt so I couldn’t meet Sebastián when the other members did so I really hope for another opportunity to meet him.
I would really like to see you guys perform that song with him.
Kihyun: [In English] That would be really cool.
This is a bit random but, every, like, three-four months, I watch a video you did where you sang your lyrics in Spanish.
Yes. Not only is it very funny but you did really well with the pronunciation—
[different members start saying random words in Spanish they know, including names of soccer stars]
What do you remember from that experience? Was it hard to sing in Spanish?
Kihyun: It was a really new experience because we had never done that before. But outside of music, we’ve kind of heard and been exposed to the Spanish language. So when we were filming, we saw some familiar words, so we were like, “Oh! I know that word!” It was a really fun experience.
Joohoney: The most important thing, though, is that, even though it’s entertaining and funny for people to watch, we really enjoy and have fun learning languages and trying new things, so I think that relays and comes across really well. So when fans watch it, it’s not just for pure entertainment value, but they can see us enjoying picking up the language. Because of that, it’s why Monsta X continues to release English albums.
I.M: We actually really love Spanish. Seriously.
That’s actually a great segue to my next question. Have there ever been chats to do a song in Spanish or maybe one in the future?
I.M: I mean, we would love to.
Joohoney: [In English] Yeah, we want to!
Kihyun: [In English] If we have a chance, we’d love to do it.
I.M: Because we watch shows on Netflix that are in Spanish—
Kihyun: We watch a lot!
I.M: —“Elite,” “La Casa de Papel.” Bella ciao?
Joohoney: We’ve been to Madrid a few times before because of touring, and it’s been very memorable every time.
Minhyuk: I actually went to Latin America for a TV show filming, so I picked up a few words while I was there. ¡Qué rico! ¡Qué maravilloso!
I.M: Qué maravilloso, bonita…
Speaking about touring and traveling, you’re one of the K-pop groups that have visited more cities throughout Latin America for concerts. What do you remember from touring in the region that has stayed with you?
Kihyun: We’ve been to Mexico, Brazil, Chile, where else?
Kihyun: Spain isn’t in Latin America.
Kihyun: I’ve always felt [the fans] are so passionate and the energy is off the roof. I’ve mentioned this multiple times, but those are the shows I think I’ll never forget until I die. They’ll stay with me.
I’ve been to K-pop shows in Mexico and yes, I agree, it’s a whole different experience.
Kihyun: [In English] Have you been to our concert before?
Yes, I’ve seen you three times in L.A. Oh! And I saw you at KCON Mexico, too.
All: Ahhhhh! Woooow!
I.M: Ah, really?
Joohoney: Ah, KCON Mexico? It was so rough.
Kihyun: Because it was too high! There were oxygen tanks backstage [for us]. Just in case.
Because of the altitude? Yeah, Mexico City is rough. But you get drunk pretty fast because of the high altitude.
I.M: We have to go back!
Joohoney: We have to go get drinks!
Lastly, because the fans would love to know: from countries in Latin America you have yet to visit, where would you want to go?
[They all pull up their phones]
I.M: Peru, Colombia.
Minhyuk: Ah yes, Uruguayy!
Joohoney: Sebastián Yatra is from Colombia.
Translator: They’re listing countries where their favorite soccer players are from.