There are few things more exciting than a vibrant new music scene exploding into life, and it has been a real joy to see the Korean jihadol or “live idol” scene thrive in the time since Homicidols last stopped by for a proper visit. So on that note, I’m delighted to welcome you back to the continuation of this series covering both the established and upcoming stars of the scene.
For my first article there was one group that immediately sprang to mind, the trailblazing two-member idol unit who go by the full name of Ne, Kitteru? (“Hey, are you listening?”), but are better known to the world as NEKIRU, the longest-running and almost certainly most influential group so far.
From their first shows in 2019, NEKIRU quickly became a group to watch, with spirited live shows that quickly drew a small but devoted local audience. Following a series of member changes they solidified around the core duo of original members Nyaryu (@Nekiru_NYARYU) and Soha (@Nekiru_SOHA), setting the pace for other groups to follow as they developed from an idol covers unit to performing their own original material. Never content to just go with the flow, they proceeded to stage some of the first one-man lives ever held for a domestic idol group and will soon be venturing to Busan and Daegu, taking the live idol experience to areas outside their central hub of Seoul.
As the banner group of independent idol management agency To Hermitage, they have endured where their counterparts have passed into fondly remembered legend, like beloved WACK enthusiasts HIBANA, the sadly short-lived 8YUME and their debut sister group RARE STAGE, famously the original home to Meme Tokyo’s Soli. These days they share their agency with a wide variety of exciting new groups including KKD, NTORE and IROPIRO, all of whom have recently released original songs themselves as the initial slow trickle of occasional releases has become a steady stream. It could be said that as far as Korean idols go, NEKIRU paved the way, and are still paving as we speak.
First catching international attention with their 2020 debut EP “Hello”, idol explorers were drawn to the opening charge of the attention-demanding “Hear My Voice”. By the time of the release of their second CD “The Forgotten Star”, they were at the forefront of a scene in constant growth, releasing alongside the debut single from 29production’s hotly anticipated Kizuna Simulation as more and more idols and agencies joined the fray that led us to the scene we have today.
With the release of their third album “E-Mail from Pluto” and a second one-man live at the larger capacity Rolling Hall on the way, NEKIRU seemed to be going from strength to strength. But alas there was a serious shock on the horizon, with the announcement on the day of that very same live that Nyaryu would be graduating after more than 3 years with the group.
In light of their already-considerable accomplishments and at such a pivotal juncture in their idol careers, it seemed like a great time to invite the members for an exclusive interview. And they were kind enough to join us.
Homicidols: Hello and thanks so much for joining us. Let’s start with an obvious question first: What inspired you to become an idol?
Soha: Around 2017, when I was a high school student, I saw a Japanese idol video on YouTube. That’s when I first learned about the existence of this idol scene, and since then I’ve liked idols. Then a group called NEKIRU was formed at the recommendation of a friend who hosted an idol event in Korea. It wasn’t this serious at first. The suggestion was that you should just try it for fun. However, as I became active, I fell in love with idols and NEKIRU more and more.
Nyaryu: While admiring my favorite idol, I thought to myself “I want to shine like that person”. I vaguely had this idea in my mind, but at that time there were no active idol groups in Korea, so I didn’t intend to try it. An idol fan I knew on Twitter was going to host the first idol live in Korea, and I asked me “Would you like to appear as part of a cover unit?” so I had fun onstage with them on February 3, 2018. Afterwards, I was thinking “I want to officially do activities,” and I was asked by SOHA to be an idol together, so on April 27, 2019, I debuted as NEKIRU’s NYARYU.
NEKIRU DEBUT. – pic.twitter.com/6JKG4Mo0Jo
— ねえ、聴いてる ? (NEKIRU) (@NEKIRU_Official) April 28, 2019
How is idol life compared to how you imagined it? It seems like a lot of hard work!
Soha: When I first started out as an idol, I had very different thoughts on the life of an idol than I do now. At first, I thought idols were all about performing live, self-management and communication with fans. But now we make our own songs, wear our own costumes, and continually look for spaces to perform live shows. And to promote NEKIRU in more places, we continue to plan various events and try to communicate with fans in Japan and around the world. Also we support our other groups from To Hermitage.
Nyaryu: Before debuting, I thought that idols only needed to perform well onstage with the songs and dance performances that they had prepared. However, I felt desperately that the mindset of an idol is the most important thing in this field. I’ve lived a normal life, so I was an idol prepared in an instant! It seemed impossible at first, but I gradually developed by practicing often before going onstage, studying what expressions to make and what to say, and I realized that idols were making a lot of effort not only onstage but also behind the scenes too.
As one of the first Korean live idol groups, how did it feel seeing the culture grow and develop around you? It could be said that NEKIRU set the path for other live idols to follow.
Soha: We think that’s an undeserved compliment. At the beginning of our activities, there were few idol groups in Korea. I think it’s a great development that the size of the scene has grown the way it has, and the number of Korean idol groups and lives has increased so much. It’s not just copying, but a direction where we can cheer for our own culture and identity to be established. Now I want to come up with a way to have more fans as well as idols, and perform to a wider audience.
Nyaryu: When NEKIRU debuted, we held a small performance once a month with an audience who always attended the same concert hall with similar cast members, and the exchanges on SNS weren’t much different, so I didn’t even think there would be more groups in the beginning. However, as of 2021, various groups made their debut and gradually became known in Korea through TikTok or Twitter, and now more than two or three live shows are sometimes held in a single day. At the beginning of 2019, audiences would join us for 20 minute shows, but 22 domestic idol teams performed for a total of almost 150 minutes at IDOL ARENA, which was recently held on May 7. It feels like I’m witnessing a miracle to see and experience the process of this certain culture happening and growing. I think we reached this point because both idols and fans did not give up and ran together with one heart.
It seems that Korean idols are very creative, and often participate in their own production, writing, and design. Can you tell us anything about your activities there?
Soha: Due to the nature of this idol scene, members often participate in album production or other activities. In NEKIRU, NYARYU is in charge of design. I am usually in charge of writing lyrics in album production, as well as overall planning and operations. In addition to performing lives, there are activities such as renting live halls, casting other groups, gathering audiences, and promoting. In addition to these basic activities, I’m in charge of planning various events, operations on the day of the live, and responding to customers’ questions.
Nyaryu: I am currently in charge of the overall design for To Hermitage groups for events, live posters, goods, and albums. Currently, there are no official idol team offices in Korea, so most idols run their groups via self-production, and the main focus is “Do what you can by yourself.” I’m an amateur who’s never formally studied design, so the results of my work are somewhat lacking, but I think it’s worthwhile to work with idol activities because I have members and fans who like my work.
In addition, many idols participate in all idol activities in Korea, not just for themselves but helping others by producing costumes, creating choreography, writing songs, and planning performances.
Korean idols are getting noticed more often these days. I saw PLANCK STARS posting a NEKIRU clip some time ago. I know Soha especially is a fan. It must be a good feeling.
Soha: Yes, I’m a huge fan of them. Anyone can relate to the joy of their favorite artist recognizing them. As the size of the idol scene grows and activities increase in Korea, Korean idols are increasingly recognized overseas.
The lyrics for each song on the new album was written by each member. Could you describe the meaning your song has for you?
Soha: NEKIRU’s album names consist of a series of quotes from my favorite poetry verse. “From. PLUTO” is a song that I wrote, and I wrote the lyrics thinking it was the final part of this album series. I really wanted to make a song like this on the last album of this series, so it’s a very precious song for me. I think it’s a song just for me, containing all the things I like.
Nyaryu: “Mahaken Da Peppeldomoon” refers to a spell in Arabic that makes you forget sadness and pain. I’m usually scared and have high anxiety. I wrote this song with the hope that people like me would not give up and move forward from sadness and the wounds of pain, and I wanted to give courage to live freely without worry because I was fine by whispering magic spells. At first glance, I think it’s a cute and lively song, but I think it’s also a fun song that comforts you when you listen carefully.
We recently saw the news that Nyaryu would be graduating with her final live on July 17. It must be an emotional time, but it’s amazing what you’ve accomplished. What would you say is your proudest achievement as an idol?
Nyaryu: I’m most proud to have held NEKIRU’s one-man live at Rolling Hall recently. Considering the total number of idol fans in Korea, you may think that a solo performance at a venue the size of Rolling Hall is a reckless challenge, but no idol group has held a one-man there before and I think NEKIRU has broken new ground! In the future, I hope that it will become a daily routine for countless idol groups to hold live performances there and become a stepping stone to a wider audience.
And lastly, do you have a message you’d like to share with overseas fans?
Soha: Dear fans around the world who always support NEKIRU. Thanks to your support, I gain confidence as an idol today. I can’t meet you now, but I want to go meet all of you someday. And I want to keep talking to you until then. Thank you for discovering us. I love you always.
Nyaryu: I’m very surprised that overseas fans are interested in it! Since it’s still a very small scene, I don’t think it’s easy to get to know each other, but thank you for your affection and interest in Korean idols from afar. NEKIRU will continue to work hard to show you a better performance, and there is no end to how much we will grow, so please look forward to it. With your continued encouragement, one day NEKIRU will continue to run to your country!
Once again, many thanks to Soha and Nyaryu for taking the time from their very busy schedules to share a few words with us. Following Nyaryu’s graduation on July 17, NEKIRU plan to return with a refreshed lineup and are currently auditioning for two new members who will be joining Soha in the next phase of her idol career.
“E-Mail from Pluto” is currently available at your streaming service of choice, and I would highly recommend you give it a listen. NEKIRU will also be making a special online appearance alongside their old colleague Soli during this year’s TIF ASIA TOUR in Harevutai on June 12, streaming tickets for which are currently available on Zaiko from now until the end of the month.