As a fan who grew up in the second generation of K-pop, I'm amazed at how the industry has evolved through the years. It has grown so much that we're now seeing the rise of fourth-generation K-pop idols. Admittedly, I am unable to keep up. But every now and then, a group would catch my attention, and suddenly I am my 2008 self again. This time around, my eyes are set on the new kids on the block: LUMINOUS.
The first time I learned about them was through an Edward Avila video I chanced upon as I was looking for something to watch on YouTube. Afterward, the platform's algorithm started suggesting more LUMINOUS videos and I saw that the boys did a cover of BTS' "Butter" and BLACKPINK's "Kill This Love." I’m a sucker for covers and what I watched made me even more curious about these boys.
The arrangement of their covers? Amazing.
Their vocals? Impeccable.
Jung Youngbin, Ma Suil, Kim Steven, and Jeong Woobin make up one of K-pop's newest quartets, LUMINOUS. They debuted in September of 2021 with the release of their first mini-album, Youth. They are the first group to debut under the Baruson WIP label, whose CEO, Kim Sung Eun, is a known vocal coach to some of K-pop bigwigs such as BTS, TWICE, and NU'EST.
A world-building concept is the latest trend in the K-pop industry and in the LUMINOUS universe, each member represents a different element: Youngbin symbolizes light while Suil is thunder. Steven is fire, and Woobin embodies moonlight. But beyond their elemental alter-egos is a group of boys eager to make the world a lighter place through rhythm and harmony.
"The dictionary meaning is 'glow in the dark,' and we built it with the hope that our fans and the public will find light in the dark through our music," the boys told K-loka by Cosmopolitan Philippines when asked about the meaning behind their group's name. "The concept of LUMINOUS is 'a friend like light,' which is like approaching a friend and giving comfort and sympathy."
As LUMINOUS' leader and eldest member, Youngbin describes himself as someone who's simple and likes to laugh. And if his name sounds familiar, it's because you probably have come across him as one of the contenders in the idol survival reality show, Produce X 101. Though he was eliminated early on in the program, he strived harder to make sure that his dreams of becoming a celebrity would come true. He was 20 years old and worked as a part-timer when that seed of a dream was planted in his mind. Four years later, the seed has sprouted and his dream was finally starting to come true.
For Suil and Steven, however, the thought of becoming a performer came much earlier. "I happened to watch a music show when I was three years old, and I remember dancing excitedly," shared Suil, who is in charge of the group's sub-vocal, rap, and dance. "From then on, it seems that the dream of becoming a singer has grown."
Steven, on the other hand, learned about K-pop through his sisters. "When I was young, I happened to hear my sisters listen to Korean pop. Since then, I have been interested in the genre and have had a good opportunity," he said. The self-proclaimed wacky, sleepy, and charismatic Steven, who grew up in Sydney, Australia, was also in Produce X 101. He may have gotten the boot but he's finally made his debut as one of LUMINOUS' reliable sub-vocalists and rappers.
The main vocalist of the group is 21-year old Woobin, whose inspiration for becoming a singer is one of YG Entertainment's best talents. "My parents are close to WINNER’s Kang Seung Yoon, so I have been watching his process of becoming a singer since childhood. Naturally, I had a dream and longed for it too," he revealed.
"We don't think anything is easy before or after debut. Before our debut, it was difficult because of the endless waiting period and constant practice," shared the boys when asked about the training they had to go through as idols. "But after our debut, the sense of responsibility and burden of wanting to show a new image after the actual debut is hard. But there are fans who always love and support us, so we will become stronger and work hard in the future. We promise we're running towards our goal."
Like most idol groups, however, the members also had to struggle with the waiting game of finally making their debut. "I think the hardest part was waiting for the day we debuted," the members unanimously agreed. But through all the crippling doubts and uncertainties, they found strength and light in each other. "Each time we wanted to give up, we would always depend on each other to overcome our troubles."
With the quartet clocking in their time for training and their albums pretty much done and dusted, there was only one thing left on their to-do list: To debut. The boys were set to have an album showcase but as luck would have it, leader Youngbin tested positive for COVID-19. While the initial plans needed to take a backseat because of the situation, their debut album hit Melon, Bugs, and other South Korean streaming platforms on September 9, 2021.
All the bumpy patches that they had to endure came melting away when their debut track, "Run," was positively received by fans. Within 24 hours since its release, the MV already racked up 2 million views. And with Youngbin fully recovering from the virus, the group was finally able to hit the stage and showed their mettle in various music programs. To date, their debut MV already has more than 10 million views. The boys have also released a performance film version of "Run," and have urged their TikTok followers to get on the #GottaRunChallenge, too.
While the upbeat "Run" talks about the youth who feels lost in life, their second release from the same album, Home Alone, is a more mellow track that does a great job in highlighting the flawless vocals of all four members. Not only that, Steven believes that it's the song that best represents their group "Since our main keywords are comfort and empathy, we chose this song because we thought it was the best song to give comfort and empathy to those who listen at home alone."
As promotions for "Run" successfully wrapped up by the end of September, LUMINOUS went back to the drawing board and started working on their second album. Their fans are lucky because they didn't have to wait long for the group's comeback. Four months later, the boys were back with their brand new mini-album, Between Light And Darkness (Self N Ego), released on January 20, 2022. It contains five tracks and highlights the clash between one's real self and ego that often sparks confusion and agony. The lead track "All Eyes Down” is what Suil describes as the group's representative song. "I chose this as a comeback song [because] it distinctly showed LUMINOUS' unique charisma and concept."
LUMINOUS' songs reflect a lot about the pains and the struggles of the youth today. And the boys are doing a great job in translating those feelings because they themselves are part of the younger generation of today. "LUMINOUS is the same youth," shared the members. "We live our life to the fullest, but sometimes we have a lot of thoughts, such as wondering about where we are now, the difficulties that come with it, and whether we are on the right track. We wanted to put that in the song itself. It would be good if you view LUMINOUS' songs as a diary about youth, and I think that the audience that listens to our songs can relate to each other because they are so connected."
While the boys already have two albums under their belts, they're clearly showing no signs of stopping. Already, they're thinking about their next steps and what fans can expect soon from them. "First, the LUMINOUS series will end with the third album, and we will write a new story again. So we also have high expectations. We plan to do our best because we hope that the theme of 'Friends Like Light,' the keyword of the LUMINOUS series, will comfort and support your lives. Please look forward to our series finale,” the quartet revealed.
Releasing two albums and planning for a third one surely is no easy task. However, LUMINOUS shared that they have different people who keep them motivated throughout this arduous but exciting journey. For Youngbin, it's EXO's Baekhyun he looks up to the most. "I always admired his progress and wanted to be like him. If there is an opportunity in the future, I would like to collaborate with him," the leader said. Steven, on the other hand, looks up to no other than IU. "I respect IU sunbaenim. I really like the lyrics written by her, and I want to emulate that ability too," he confessed.
For Woobin, his motivation is a little more personal and it's his family. "I have come this far because they always cheered me on and gave me strength. I think I am running towards the light with strength thanks to them."
And for Suil, it's the fans that keep him going. "We exist because of our fans, and because we symbolize light, they always shine brightly and cheer for us and give us strength."
Their days as trainees are filled with memories they will surely treasure for a very long time. But the memories they build as actual idols are just as precious. So when asked about their most memorable experiences so far as performers, the group has two stories to share.
"I remember the mini fan concert we had last year," said Suil, referring to their very first mini fan concert held online on October 4, 2021. "It was the first time I met our fans. It still seems so vivid to me, the fact that I performed for the fans who were sitting in an audience and performed on stage while receiving the fans' energy."
After not being able to have their first-ever showcase back in September 2021, LUMINOUS finally had the chance to do so back in January 2022. This, for Woobin, is the most memorable. "I remember the second mini-album showcase. It was my first showcase and I was very nervous because I thought I would show it to my fans before the album was released,” he shared.
LUMINOUS has finally started to shine their light and captivate the K-pop world with their illuminating presence. The boys, however, do not believe in resting on their laurels and if anything, are even more eager to show everyone what they are capable of—even two, five, or more years down the line. "I think we will be continuing to practice and improve ourselves," thought Youngbin. "At that time, wouldn't you be spending your time to reach another goal and trying to develop and achieve that goal? Also, I think it would be good if we could do a world tour by then, which is our team's goal."
K-pop is such an eclectic world filled with different colors. It also proves to be one tough industry, with many groups coming and going. But in this realm of glamorous and catchy songs, LUMINOUS thinks that what makes them unique is their own sense of music. "I think our music is has a style that doesn't necessarily follow the trend," they mused. When you listen closely to their songs and get a better understanding of their lyrics, you'll realize that this is true. "Our songs relate to scenarios where someone might be having a hard time. They help those who listen and feel that they are being empathized with, to feel comforted."
And from here on out, Youngbin, Suil, Steven, and Woobin are on a mission to become a part of the lives of their fans as much as they can. They want to be a beacon of strength for them through a medium they know best: Their music.
The pandemic is still here, but the world is starting to learn how to live it. When it becomes safer to travel again, the boys promise to meet their fans through a world tour, which is their dream as rookie idols. "We will come and show you guys a great stage performance, so please wait and look forward to us joining you guys in the future. I hope we have a great time together."
And for us Filipino fans, it keeps me hopeful that Suil and Steven have been to Cebu before and loved the experience. That means having a Philippine stop to their world tour seems totally possible. "If I go to the Philippines again, I want to see my fans, hold a concert, and hang out together," said Steven.
But until then, we'll have their albums playing on repeat.
In the meantime, LUMINOUS played a game of who's who with us! Check it out right here:
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
PRODUCED BY: Hanna Tamondong
WRITTEN BY: Raphael Mones
LAYOUT BY: Bacs Arcebal
VIDEO BY: Alyza Angeles
SPECIAL THANKS TO: 360 Entertainment