SEOUL, South Korea - Since their 2009 debut in Korea, CNBLUE have been one of the few rock bastions on the ultra-competitive local music scene dominated by danceable electro-pop.
|Korean band CNBLUE / Courtesy of Enewsworld
Their lasting success has comforted some about the continuing mainstream appeal of rock, while detractors accuse them of packaging innocuous poppy sounds, even calling them a "fake band."
At a recent interview with the four members, front man Jung Yong-hwa, bassist Lee Jung-shin, guitarist Lee Jong-hyuk and drummer Kang Min-hyuk, seemed to weigh in little on the controversy, which has been their biggest asterisk since they started.
Rather than theorizing or rationalizing about their career, the barely 20-somethings reveled in it with ample humility, as sometimes even they are at a loss to describe the reason behind their success.
"Compared to when we were touring (East) Asia with the single Love, (from their second EP “Bluelove”) nowadays K-pop is riding on a much bigger wave," said Jung, adding that their audience and fan base have expanded thanks to the collective expansion of Korean pop music in the last year. "The stages are bigger for us. Most of our fans used to be in their 30s or 40s; now we have more in their 20s or younger."
Much like their K-pop colleagues, CNBLUE have gone from nobodies to superstars almost overnight, starting with their debut Korean EP "Bluetory" and its catchy lead single “I’m a Loner.” And they have not stopped since, writing and performing new material across the Korean and Japanese markets.
Most recently, they released their third mini-album titled "Ear Fun," with the single "Hey You" topping domestic on- and offline charts.
Their continuing run of hits in Korea and even their rise to Japanese stardom was a surprise to many, simply because they stood nowhere near the usual dancing troupe model of K-pop, now noted across the world. There were many critics, however, including Korean rock legend Shin Hae-chul, who publicly accused CNBLUE of plagiarism and also called the band unworthy of bearing that term.
But since their debut, seeing guitars and a drum set on the stage of weekly pop music shows has become less alien, and Big Bang, the biggest K-pop boy band that relies heavily on dance, recruiting a live band on stage. Even indie band Busker Busker, the runner-up on the third season of Korea’s “American Idol” equivalent “Superstar K,” is now gaining mass-market attention, with their recent major-label debut topping local charts.
"The format of live television shows hasn’t changed much and so we have a few improvements we would love as a band," said Jung. "We’re content with the fact that we can let our music be heard."
And they certainly have pushed themselves hard on that front.
According to lead guitarist Lee Jong-hyuk, in the first four months of this year, they have had 30 live showcases, including nine concerts outside their usual domains of Korea and Japan.
The group is also looking further afield when it comes to giving back. In March, a school named after them was opened in a small village in southwestern Burkina Faso in West Africa, partially funded by the proceeds of the band’s earnings.
"A lot of times we want to help but don’t know how," said Jung. "We recently got to watch a video clip of the school, now all finished and in operation. We are very proud of this."
The band’s management agency, FNC Entertainment, stated that the contribution to the Burkinabe project, organized by the Korea Food for Hungry International, will continue on a consistent basis.
Now in their third year as CNBLUE, the members seemed to reflect much longer when asked about their future plans and ambitions.
"The lyrics of foreign bands are so much more varied. Some of the subjects are simply unimaginable to me," said Jung, adding that the group are also stepping away from the syrupy lovesick words the fans have come to associate with them. "I want to be alone, maybe travel — alone," he added.
"I want life to be a bit more spectacular," said Lee Jung-shin. "Our career has progressed endlessly. We need a break."
"I want to space out for a little while," said Lee Jong-hyuk, laughing.
They were off to an amusement park outside Seoul for their next appointment, at least a two-hour ride from the central business district downtown, where the interview took place.
The four members of CNBLUE all looked exhausted from their non-stop schedule, but glowed with hope.
"We are going to be together for 20 to 30 years, at least," the guitarist said firmly.
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