A new era for K-pop is on its way led by groups like ChoCo who are ready to show the world what they got.
Inside the halls, practice rooms, and studios of K-pop companies in Korea are the new generation of idols currently training for their time in the spotlight. While 4th gen is still going strong, the time of the 5th generation of K-pop will eventually come as kids and young teenagers gear up for their chance to bring the genre forward. In fact, there are already groups and artists who, in their capacity as trainees and pre-debut idols, are starting to show off their talents and showcase what 5th gen K-pop is made of. One such name is ChoCo.
THE NEW ERA
Under ChoCo Entertainment, which was founded by ChoPD, a first-generation legend in Korean hip-hop who has launched powerhouses like PSY and ZICO, ChoCo is a co-ed pre-debut K-pop group currently made up of trainees Jake, TJ, Sean, and Anpan. Similar to the concept of NCT, ChoCo runs on a sub-units system where the male trainees’ team is called ChoCo1 while the female trainees’ team is called ChoCo2. Meanwhile, the leaders of both teams, Jake and Anpan, are in another subunit called ChoCo1&2.
Already, these young teens have undergone training that isn’t that unlike what debuted idols do. They have a reality show called ChoCo in Hollywood, which, as the name suggests, was filmed and set in Hollywood, have released songs and EPs, and some of them even performed on M COUNTDOWN. These public appearances are a part of ChoCo Entertainment’s unique “artist incubation system” that aims to help the young trainees manage the pressures of debut through “training equivalent to a debut”.
Basically, they’ve been put through the wringer without the guarantee of a debut. But with the talent and passion these kids have, it’s all part of the process. We recently got the chance to catch up with Jake, TJ, and Anpan in between their busy schedules where the trainees opened up about their love for K-pop, the public spotlight, and more. Get to know more of them by reading their interview below.
Can you share the meaning behind your group name ChoCo?
JAKE: No matter where you are in the world, “ChoCo” is a word that people can read and instantly remember, so we named the group the same as our company name to make it easier for us to reach out to our global fans.
TJ: When I first heard “ChoCo,” I felt like it was “delicious.” I want our music and dance to be that “delicious” to people as well.
ANPAN: One of my favorite food is chocolate, so when I first heard the name of the group, I was happy. I hope others will feel the same way when they hear our name.
How would you describe who ChoCo is as a group?
JAKE: As the leader of ChoCo1, I would say that ChoCo1 is the “Undeclared Avengers.” Because we have various personalities, skills, and characters, I think we’re a group that can deliver our message in any form and in any place.
TJ: I think it’s a free group. I say it’s free, because we are able to do activities with different member configurations, not only with ChoCo1 but also with ChoCo2, depending on the concept, and we can show our fans what we want in different styles.
ANPAN: ChoCo is a group of relatively young members, but we have a lot of talent in different ways. We have the special ability to express our music not only through singing and dancing, but also by playing instruments and making our own music.
Was there a specific moment in your lives that made you decide that you wanted to become K-Pop idols?
JAKE: I’ve been exposed to the music and performances of BIGBANG and BTS since I was a kid, and when I saw how they interacted with their fans on stage while enjoying themselves, I thought, “I want to be an idol like that.” I want to grow as an artist who gives and receives energy on stage.
TJ: I originally wanted to be a dancer, but after joining ChoCo, I started dreaming of being a K-Pop idol because I thought it was so cool to be able to show my thoughts and performances to my fans.
ANPAN: I first heard BLACKPINK’s ‘BOOMBAYAH’ at school when I was 7 years old, and I loved the song so much that I became interested in K-Pop. I always loved to dance, so then, I danced to a lot of K-Pop idol choreography, and thankfully, I joined ChoCo, and after coming to Korea, my dream to become a K-Pop idol became definite.
What were your initial impressions when you first met each other?
JAKE: TJ was like a really chubby, cute, energetic kid when I first saw him, but he was taller than me, so I was a little scared that I’d get punched if I did something wrong… (laughs). At first, TJ was late, but when he came in, he was like a boss baby. Anpan seemed very confident, and he seemed like the most passionate person I’d ever seen. The moment I saw her, I already knew she was going to be a good dancer, and I was right.
I thought it would be awkward because of our different nationalities, but Anpan was the one who approached me first, and now we’re very close.
TJ: When I first saw Jake in the lobby of the training center, I thought it wouldn’t be easy to get along with him because he looked like the type who doesn’t listen. Anpan seemed dark when I first saw her, but the next day she greeted me really brightly. I didn’t expect her to be such a bright person. She was the first one to say hello, and she was really bright and positive!
ANPAN: I thought Jake-sunbaenim was very shy. TJ-sunbaenim was very polite. Both of them were actually very shy, so it took a long time to get close to them.
What’s interesting about ChoCo is that, as pre-debut idols, you undergo a system where you from sub-units and go through “training equivalent to a debut.” How do you handle all that and go through the pressures of being a trainee?
JAKE: Our members are taking a variety of classes, including vocals, dance, drums, guitar, DJ-ing, acting, English, etiquette, and monitoring. I feel like we’ve definitely grown in terms of our attitude towards music. There are a lot of classes that make us rethink about things we didn’t pay attention to before, so I keep myself on my toes as I take those classes. I listen to and make my favorite songs to de-stress.
TJ: As Jake said, we are growing into amazing artists as we take guitar, language, and facial expression classes at ChoCo. Most of the classes are customized for us, so we definitely feel like we’re continuously growing. Learning to be exposed to different types of music has also inspired me to dream of becoming a producer. It would be great to see that dream come true someday. I destress when I am at school or by playing soccer with my dad during weekends, or by practicing my individual skills.
ANPAN: Thankfully, I’m getting a lot of training at ChoCo, not just the basic classes like dancing and singing, but also acting, language, DJ-ing, and drumming classes. I’m also a trainee, but I’ve recorded an album, shot a music video with a band, and performed on the “M COUNTDOWN” stage. These were valuable experiences, so I felt a lot of pressure to do well. I get through it by eating my favorite chocolate. ChoCo is good!
You guys recently participated in your own reality show, ChoCo in Hollywood. What was your experience like doing the show?
JAKE: It was the first time for me to show myself to people so it was amazing, but at the same time, I think I was nervous to be standing in front of the public. I made a promise to myself to work harder for the people who were watching and supporting us. I will never forget the ‘Fruity Loop’ stage on “M COUNTDOWN” with Anpan, which was featured in the final episode of the reality show.
TJ: It was amazing to be able to show our fans our daily lives and various aspects of our lives on such a big channel like Mnet, and it also felt like we took a step closer to the public.I hope a lot of people will watch “ChoCo Takes Hollywood,” as well, which will be released after “ChoCo in Hollywood!” I really enjoyed the “Yoo Quiz” with Kelly-sunbaenim and the members. It was fun to play hide and seek among the members in between filming, and the filming process itself was fun too, so I would like to do it again for a 2023 remake.
ANPAN: The filming in Thailand was the most memorable for me. I was able to spend happy time with my family, show my family home in Surin, eat delicious food, and go to an elephant village. It’s a pity that “ChoCo in Hollywood” is over, but I’m happy to have memories that I can pull out whenever I miss it.
Are you surprised with how much attention ChoCo is getting even though you haven’t debuted yet?
JAKE: It’s so amazing. I’ve never gotten this kind of attention before in my life, and it finally felt like I can fulfill my idol dream. In fact, sometimes, I still can’t believe I’m part of ChoCo1.
TJ: We went to Thailand that time, and it was surprising to see people recognizing us there. From then on, it made us realize that we need to be move like professionals from now on.
ANPAN: I didn’t feel the attention right after we did the “M COUNTDOWN” stage, but now that I’m in Thailand and meeting so many fans and doing interviews like this, I feel that ChoCo is getting a lot of attention. I still have a lot to learn as a ChoCo trainee, but I’m going to practice harder to give a good performance to the many people who are interested in us!
There are so many rookie groups on the scene and more coming in the future. What is ChoCo bringing to the table? How do you stand out from the crowd?
JAKE: We don’t just work as a group, but also we work as various units, so we are able to showcase ChoCo’s music’s variety. Also, as all our members compose their own songs, we can perform as solo artists instead of as a group. We want to show our imperfect growth, and I think it would be fun to approach as a group that grows together with fans.
TJ: ChoCo can do a lot of different genres. Aside from Hip-hop, R&B, and dance, we are also able to do performances in all forms, from 1DJ 2MC, 90s band music to country. I think we’ll be able to show a lot of different things.
ANPAN: I think the biggest advantage of ChoCo is that we can freely organize our activities according to the direction we want to pursue, rather than following one set mold, such as gender, genre of music, or album concept. Please stay tuned for more information about ChoCo’s future projects.
People have said that you guys are leading the way for the 5th generation of K-Pop. With that said, what do you think 5th gen K-Pop will bring to the K-Pop scene?
JAKE: I think ChoCo itself is “change.” Whether it’s the music we’re making or the way we’re communicating with our fans, everything is new.
TJ: Even though ChoCo is the fifth generation, I think ChoCo is a group that stretches across generations nicely, so I think young kids and old people alike will love it.
ANPAN: I think the fifth generation of K-Pop is going to be even more globally recognized than it is now. ChoCo will become the leader of the fifth generation of K-Pop, and we will definitely visit the Philippines in our best form.
Now that the world knows about ChoCo, what’s next for the group?
JAKE: We will continue to expand the reach of K-Pop by collaborating with various global artists so that K-Pop can spread to more and more places through us.
TJ: We still have a lot of work to do, but we want to show the next generation the good we can do.
ANPAN: We are currently filming in various countries, not only in Korea, but also in the US, Thailand, and other countries! Maybe we can go to the Philippines next! Stay tuned, everyone~~ (laughs).
While it’s still early days for ChoCo, do you guys have dreams or goals you’d love to achieve in the near future?
JAKE: I would definitely like to collaborate with Swae Lee, who I love, and Hanni from NewJeans (Laughs). I would like to show better albums and performances with ChoCo1 or ChoCo1&2, and personally, through my compositions, I would like to prepare my new self. We will try to make our music heard everywhere. If you have a headset or earphones, you can meet us anytime!
TJ: We want to make our name known to the world as much as possible, and we want to be on the Coachella stage in the near future. I was able to go to Coachella with Jake-hyung, and we thought that we want to be an artist that can attract the audience just like the artists we saw on the stage. We will work hard so that we can stand on the Coachella stage. Please remember me, TJ. We will try hard to so that we can meet you with our great music and good moves
ANPAN: From coming to Korea from Thailand, where I was born and raised, practicing at ChoCo, filming a music video, to standing on the “M COUNTDOWN” stage, everything that is happening to me right now still feels like a dream. During the filming in Thailand this time, I was able to feel the eyes and attention of many fans. I hope to have more time to interact with more fans directly in the near future. I will practice harder! I can do it!
Photos courtesy of ChoCo Entertainment
Continue Reading: Jump In: Inside P1Harmony’s Final Installment of the Harmony Series