Music

Why ‘Magnetic’ Group ILLIT Is Billboard’s First-Ever K-Pop Rookie of the Month

In a debut that has set new records for the K-pop industry, ILLIT emerged as a new pop titan upon its March start this year, earning its place as an undeniable new artist to watch — and as Billboard‘s first-ever K-Pop Rookie of the Month, for June 2024. The five-member act of Yunah, Minju, Moka, Wonhee and Iroha formed through HYBE’s reality show R U Next? has rewritten K-pop’s global expectations with an explosive, addictive entrance into the international music scene.

ILLIT’s debut single “Magnetic” made chart history by entering the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 91, a feat unprecedented for a K-pop group’s first song. Their Super Real Me EP also impacted the Billboard 200, with a No. 93 debut, and hasn’t left the World Albums chart since it first entered the listing, notching 13 weeks so far. The group’s international appeal was further cemented as “Magnetic” secured spots in the top 10 of the Global 200 and Global 200 Excl US charts, and still remains on both tallies as of the chart dated June 29.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” Wonhee says. “We’ve never dreamt of seeing ‘Magnetic’ on the Billboard chart.”

Moving from reality show contestants to chart-topping artists has been a whirlwind. While ILLIT’s road to debut wasn’t without some minor challenges (a last-minute lineup change saw the departure of Youngseo, originally slated to be the sixth member), the quintet dove into dance rehearsals, vocal training, language lessons and fitness routines, with Yunah mentioning that a pre-debut appearance at Paris Fashion Week in February for Acne Studios also required practice to ensure their chicest walks and poses. Initially announced to the world with the name I’ll-It, changing to ILLIT was not only more visually pleasing and accessible, but was designed to better “emphasize the meaning behind the name of ‘I Will ( ) It,’ to represent the potential for infinite possibilities,” its management home HYBE shared.

While partially attributed to its association with an industry powerhouse like HYBE, their label BELIFT LAB (which also houses ENHYPEN) and the visibility from R U Next?, ILLIT’s breakthrough goes beyond mere circumstance. An addictive blend of sugary-sweet vocals, ready-to-go-viral choreography, and, well, magnetic personalities that viewers fell in love with during their show all struck a chord with a global audience, one hungry for the next K-pop breakout.

With an all-star team including HYBE chairman Bang Si-Hyuk, longtime BTS and TXT producer Slow Rabbit and singer-songwriter Salem Ilese all assisting on Super Real Me, the set’s four tracks point to ILLIT’s promising range, demonstrating where the five members could take their future pop stylings.

Get to know Billboard‘s K-Pop Rookie of the Month better below, with the ILLIT members sharing most of their personal and group stories, and previewing what’s to come next.

Congratulations on your debut, ILLIT! You’ve started so strong with both your debut single and EP entering high on Korea’s charts, as well as on Billboard‘s U.S. and global charts. How did it feel to earn such a strong reaction?

MOKA: It was mind-blowing how so many people loved “Magnetic.” We are very happy that it’s enjoyed and loved by numerous listeners. We’ll try our best to show a better version of ourselves. Thank you!

WONHEE: We couldn’t believe our eyes! We’ve never dreamt of seeing “Magnetic” on the Billboard chart. We’re super happy that so many people are loving “Magnetic.”

While R U Next? and coming from a beloved company can help, do you have any theories as to why your debut resonated so strongly with fans worldwide?

YUNAH: I think the cute, bubbly and hip vibe of our songs represents the charms of K-pop and pop combined well, capturing the audience’s ears and hearts.

MINJU: I can’t believe all the love our global fans are showing us and I’m very grateful. I think they recognize and appreciate the efforts we put into the performances.

Can you explain the meaning of ILLIT to you, and your first reactions to the unique group name?

IROHA: When I first heard the name, I thought the meaning behind it was wonderful. It means “we can be anything,” and that we have infinite potential to become whatever we want to be as a team.

WONHEE: What I loved was how it has such a beautiful meaning to the name. I was so happy to know that we’ve got a name that’s solely ours.

What were the months between the finale of R U Next? and debut like?

IROHA: After R U Next? we moved into the dormitory together and took dance, vocal and language lessons.

YUNAH: Yes! We are dorming together right now. Immediately after the show, I spent time taking lessons and exercising, preparing for the debut. As for the fashion week, we focused on practicing walking and posing in front of the press wall.

When did you find out that “Magnetic” was your debut single and what was your reaction?

MOKA: I think we found out sometime in the winter!! I remember how everyone was excited about the song, and I personally thought the song would be perfect for ILLIT.

WONHEE: I vividly remember how all of us were in awe and shouted “Woah!” Because it was that good!

What other songs are your favorites on the album?

WONHEE: I love “Midnight Fiction” the most, because it has its own aura of warmth that’s delivered with cute and whimsical lyrics.

IROHA: I love all of our tracks, but I have to say it’s “Lucky Girl Syndrome” because my heart gets filled with happiness and I truly feel like a lucky girl whenever I perform for it.

Are any or all of you interested in songwriting, composing or production?

MOKA: We actually haven’t tried [those] yet, but our imagined dreams were reflected in “Midnight Fiction.” It was very interesting to see our stories turn into the lyrics. I’d love to work on lyric writing whenever I have the chance.

Can U.S. fans expect to see you anytime soon?

IROHA: I’ve never been to the U.S. before, but I can’t wait to visit and meet our fans there!

There is inevitable pressure and scrutiny that comes being a public figure. How are you remaining mentally and emotionally strong? Do you have advice or tips for those who might also be going through challenging times?

MOKA: I picture myself achieving my goal, which I find very comforting and nurturing. So I’d recommend this method.

WONHEE: I still sometimes have some difficulties controlling my nervousness, but my tip is to take a deep breath right before I say something. This helps me relax a bit.

Looking ahead, what’s next for ILLIT? Any chance you’re already planning your first comeback?

YUNAH: We are all working hard for what’s to come — which I want to spoil so badly, but I shouldn’t! [Laughs.]

IROHA: Like YUNAH said, we’re working very hard on it, so please stay tuned!

Anything else you’d like to add at this time?

MINJU: I’m forever grateful for all the love we received for our debut track “Magnetic.” We’re working hard to come back with better music and performances, so please stay tuned!

YUNAH: I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for the love our fans have been showing us. And thank you Billboard for letting us share our stories!

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