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In early May, I had the privilege to personally meet with top Q-pop boyband, Ninety One, in Seoul. Thanks to JUZ Entertainment for granting the exclusive opportunity to ask some of the pressing questions I had about the boys and Q-pop in general. For that, Ninety One takes the stage as Soundboard Asia’s Artist Spotlight for this month.
Ninety One comprises of 5 members, Zaq, Alem, A.Z., Ace and Bala. The boys were no strangers in Korea and they’d seemed very laidback at the start of the fan meeting with a cafe filled with mostly young Kazakhstani girls. It was an intimate session with an elaborate Q&A spoken in Kazakh and while I had no clue on words exchanged, Ninety One displayed a lot of gratefulness and patience as fans shared their personal stories. One fan noted and thanked Ninety One for having English captions on their music videos, which led to some of her international friends converting to Q-pop fans. Contrary to BTS' growth and a better known genre such as K-pop, English translations help for the newer Q-pop genre to be widespread.
Before the start of our one-to-one interview, the well-mannered boys apologized for having only one chair in the room and insisted I used it while they sat on the floor. Eventually we all casually sat on the ondol-heated floors and began the 18-min long interview. When asked about their thoughts after finding out Q-pop, particularly Ninety One is growing a fan base outside Kazakhstan, they humbly replied with one word, “Shocked.” Alem immediately added, “No, seriously, really shocked.” While it’s in their plans to make Q-pop travel worldwide, the introduction of their first song, “Aiyptama” was a move to say “hello” and experiment with the fans. Indeed, their shoot to popularity came as a pleasant surprise.
Given their immense popularity in Kazakhstan, I was curious to know Ninety One’s perspective on what they thought their fan appeal was. These down to earth guys found the question difficult to answer but finally said it’s the “one frequency” they share with their fans as their lyrics in “Mooz”, “One Love, One Rhythm” suggests. The five of them add a personal touch to all their songs, A.Z. and Zaq through lyrics, Alem, Bala and Ace through melodies. To keep abreast of trends, Ninety One are frequently tuned in to YouTube and are pretty familiar with some YouTube influencers, but Zaq was clear about “not following trends, but making the trends.” Juz Entertainment and Ninety One are inspired by the K-pop system but have plans to make their own.
When asked what’s next, the boys mentioned a further experimentation of their songs. They have tried using English and Kazakh to create songs with dual meanings and expect to do more of it in the near future. The example raised is “All I Need”, a song which speaks about how much a man wants this lady. However, the same pronunciation in Kazakh means “She’s going to say no”, an approach to appeal to both international and Kazakhstani fans. It’s no mean feat finding commonalities between both languages and delivering the same set of lyrics. Although the boys love a good collaboration and had done so with K-pop girl group, Mamamoo, Zaq mentioned “right now, [between the five of us] we’re focusing on writing songs because we understand ourselves and we want to collaborate with someone who shares the same harmony as us." Their manager added, “And to maintain the quality of the song, we want to find the right person too.”
Ninety One and Juz Entertainment are certainly taking a smart approach when putting content out to the world. Upon returning to Kazakhstan, the boys were spotted at the opening of their new ice cream parlor, “Mooz”, named after their hit song, “Mooz” [translated “cold”]. Another great example of their ingenious word play in action there. We’re sure with their hard work and innate sense of humor, Ninety One will achieve much in their quest for the Milky Way. We sincerely wish them and Juz Entertainment all the best in their endeavors.