K-pop group ENHYPEN is growing up — together

At the Honda Center in southern California, K-pop group ENHYPEN will take the stage for their FATE World Tour at 7:30 p.m. — sharp. But for ENGENES, the name ENHYPEN fans call themselves, the day starts much earlier.

Fans aiming for barricade positions right in front of the stage have been lining up since the night before the show, at least, to secure their spot in line. The day of the concert, there’s a line wrapping around the venue of fans waiting for official merchandise. ENGENES pass the time meeting with mutuals they’ve met online and handing out homemade “freebies” and goodies, making sure everyone gets something with their “bias,” or their favorite of the group’s seven members, on it.

If anything is going to demonstrate the rise ENHYPEN has taken since they first formed on the reality show "I-LAND" in 2020, and since TODAY.com first spoke to them last year, it’s this — the fans.

“The lyrics of their music has truly saved my life. They mean just so much to me,” Lexi, a fan since 2021, tells TODAY.com. She traveled to the concert with two friends she met at an ENHYPEN cup sleeve event in Mexico.

Aron, who traveled from Mexico with Lexi, says he looks up to ENHYPEN. “Jungwon is a really good person and sets an example for me because he works so hard to be here," he tells TODAY.com.

ENGENES wait outside for the concert (Lexy White)
ENGENES wait outside for the concert (Lexy White)

The members of ENHYPEN were among the 23 contestants on "I-LAND", South Korean reality survival show. The show's intention was to form a boy group that embodied the core values a hyphen symbol brings to a conversation: Connection, discovery and growth. Hence, ENHYPEN.Jungwon, Heeseung, Jay, Jake, Sunghoon, Sunoo and Ni-Ki were the members selected in the end by each other and fans voting at home.

Four years later, they’re thriving. Since their formation, ENHYPEN has released a studio album, sold millions of records, broken their own sales records, headlined their first U.S. stadium tour and became the first K-pop boy group to host a solo concert at the Tokyo Dome in the shortest period of time since debut.

Despite climbing the ranks as one of the most popular and consistent fourth generation K-pop groups, ENHYPEN’s dynamic remains steady and grounded, something TODAY.com witnesses firsthand before the first stop on their U.S. encore tour begins.

Still hours before the concert but now inside the Honda Center, ENHYPEN walk into a windowless room backstage, and stick out their hands for polite reintroductions. Jungwon mentions he remembers the little orange Tiny Mic from the last time TODAY.com interviewed the group.

polaroids of Jay, Heeseung, Sunoo and Jungwon backstage (Alexis White / TODAY)
polaroids of Jay, Heeseung, Sunoo and Jungwon backstage (Alexis White / TODAY)

It could be awkward, being in a small room with all seven group members, TODAY.com crew, and a plethora of staff from their record company, BELIFT LAB. ENHYPEN, however, is comfortable and at ease. Their natural camaraderie is apparent from the way they, quite literally, finish each others’ sentences and joke around.

When asked if he’s been practicing for the team’s upcoming first pitch at the Seattle Mariners game when they travel to Tacoma, Washington for one of their tour dates, Heeseung laughs and says, “No, but I need to.”

Jake jumps right into the photo corner, ready to take the first Polaroid. The rest of the members follow his directions and line up while chatting comfortably. Each member says a sincere “thank you” after their photo opportunity. Jungwon emits an excited “Wonderful!” after Sunghoon's photos are taken.

With five hours to go before the concert starts, the members assemble into their familiar positions and the visual team does a quick form and outfit check before the interview begins. When told he needs a raise for acting as translator for the group, JAKE laughs and says, “Thank you.”

ENHYPEN (Lexy White / TODAY)
ENHYPEN (Lexy White / TODAY)

The start of their U.S. encore tour marks a full circle moment for the group, since their first-ever U.S. tour kicked off, in 2022, at the same venue. Sunoo says he felt the “sound lingered until the next morning” after that show, and he’s “looking forward” to that experience again.

The group cherishes moments they connect with fans from the stage. They're reminded of the moment, months prior, in October 2023, when the crowd in Carson City, California stood on their chairs as the opening notes of “BITE ME” played. It was thrilling, the group says. It was also an affirming experience after the challenges leading up to their EPs "Dark Blood," which came out last spring, and "Orange Blood" last fall.

“The albums turned out to be big hits in my opinion and I see these as a turning point for us, propelling us to new heights,” Sunghoon says.

The group is growing in popularity — and growing up. The youngest member, Ni-Ki, turned 18 in December of last year, marking the first time ENHYPEN is entirely composed of adults. Heeseung jokes that “he was so lonely” when the group first debuted because he was the oldest and only adult but now he feels happy with the group’s dynamic.

All seven members agree that not much has changed about the group itself over the years — though scrutiny has brought difficulty.As ENHYPEN continues to soar in popularity and mature as artists and people, they dealt with critique and negativity.

When asked about handling hate online, Jungwon, 20, tells TODAY.com that “life isn’t always smooth sailing” and the group chooses to focus on the positive.

“The negativity doesn’t really shake us. We had a lot on our agenda, so we stayed focused on our goals. Thanks to that, we were able to end 2023 on a high note,” he says.

polaroids of Sunghoon, Jay, Ni-Ki, and Jungwon backstage (Lexy White / TODAY)
polaroids of Sunghoon, Jay, Ni-Ki, and Jungwon backstage (Lexy White / TODAY)

Heeseung, 22, chimes in, “There’s no need to waste your energy on negative things.”

After their interview with TODAY.com, the members snap into character and sun-shiney Sunoo is first in line to film a trendy video for the TODAY TikTok account. And just as quickly as they've come, the members leave for the show.Outside, the Honda Center starts to buzz with excited fans entering for soundcheck. Soundcheck is typically relaxed, with members performing two to three songs from the concert setlist in casual, everyday clothing.

But for ENGENES who have been perfecting their outfits for weeks and standing outside for days, soundcheck is the moment they’ve been anticipating, finally coming to fruition.

An hour later, the actual concert is about to begin. The entire audience turns their attention to the stage as the first notes of ENHYPEN’s banger “Drunk-Dazed” start to play.

Fans are finally experiencing ENHYPEN’s FATE+ world tour, and the vibe is overwhelmingly joyful.

polaroids of Heesung, Sunoo, and Jake backstage (Lexy White / TODAY)
polaroids of Heesung, Sunoo, and Jake backstage (Lexy White / TODAY)

During the show, ENGENES smile as ENHYPEN welcome giant Pikachus to the stage during the song“One and Only,” and emit an undeniably gut-wrenching screech when the vampire-core part of the concert commences, starting with “Chaconne” and ending with “BITE ME.” Maybe this is the sound SUNOO said lingered back in 2022. As the show ends, the words ENGENES said earlier in the day ring true: ENHYPEN seems more confident and self-assured on stage than ever. “From all the videos and concerts I’ve seen ... they seem relaxed, engaging and confident," Amani, a fan, had said.

For those with PCD (post concert depression), the disappointment that today is over is easily soothed by the knowledge that this is not even close to the end for ENHYPEN.

lightstick ENHYPEN (Lexy White / TODAY)
lightstick ENHYPEN (Lexy White / TODAY)

The group is excited about what’s next, including a new album, “MEMORABILIA.”

Jungwon accidentally gives away "MEMORABILIA" details during the conversation, but takes comfort after hearing this story will come out after their official announcement.

The entire room gets in a laugh, and Jungwon gets a bit embarrassed, when TODAY reminds them that the first time we interviewed the group back in April 2023, Jungwon had spoiled the title track, “BITE ME."

But if Jungwon's spoilers say anything, it's that ENHYPEN has more surprises coming — and they're too excited to not share them.

Change and continued growth are coming, but don't worry: They're still the endearing, talented rookies we first met on I-Land.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com