CNBLUE: Dreaming of the World’s Street Corners
The Streets. This is where this band of four fresh faced young men started out in early 2009. On the streets of Japan, braving the falling temperatures of the harsh winter, having to live like renegades on the run. CNBLUE started at rock bottom with just a basic grasp of the language, little money in their pockets, no hand-phones, and no family around them, all they had was each other and their music. Their company FNC was trying a new formula, sending them to Japan to train not just as rookies but as nobodies. To prepare them for an official debut but were unsure whether to have them start out as an indie band in Japan or wait a few months more to break through to the Korean market as a band in their homeland. In the meantime, they held impromptu jam sessions at train stations, singing covers of popular artists’ songs, while quietly working on their own compositions and patiently waiting for their turn to shine. Their street tours in Japan gave them the experience and confidence they needed and helped to build a solid fan-base there. They used their natural musical talents and visual appeal to their advantage, thus enabling them to begin as indie artists in what was a foreign country to them. Now feeling empowered to co-create their own music alongside some of Japan’s greatest composers, CNBLUE started their journey.
During their time in Japan, their company finally decided to debut CNBLUE as an indie band. They made their formal debut with their English language first mini album, ‘Now or Never’ on August 19, 2009. Subsequently, on November 25, 2009, the band released their second mini album titled simply, ‘Voice’. Both albums failed to make an impact on the music charts and sales counts, but they helped to put the band on the map and people were beginning to take note. CNBLUE promoted their new music by booking performances in live clubs and continuing to hold their street lives whenever the weather allowed for it.
Breaking down the walls they faced in Japan was only the beginning; they needed to start making a name for themselves at home in Korea as well. So, with their management company at the helm of the idol-drama ‘You’re Beautiful’, their guitarist and lead vocalist Jung Yong Hwa, was selected to play the handsome yet awkward, Kang Shin Woo and would make his acting debut in the role. While the drama did not garner the remarkable viewership ratings anticipated by execs, the international response to the drama’s premise, along with the undeniable chemistry shared between the cast which included Hallyu star Jang Keun Suk, Park Shin Hye and FTISLAND vocalist Lee Hong Ki, (all members of the fictional band A.N.JELL) facilitated in catapulting Yong Hwa’s popularity to higher than expected numbers which was essential for CNBLUE’s status. This new public awareness was positive for the band as it was crucial for them to have some recognition in Korea that can pave their way for a local debut. With this new-found fame, the existing band member’s title roles needed to be put in place within CNBLUE. The role of the band leader was transferred from Lee Jong Hyun to Jung Yong Hwa not long before their debut was set to take place in Korea. Lee Jung Shin then stepped into the role of the new bassist as the replacement for their original bassist, Kwon Kwang Jin. These changes should’ve been enough for any new band just starting out to cave under pressure, but this was not the case for CNBLUE. At their very core, all these men really desired was to play music that would reach and captivate as many listeners as possible. While they work hard and strive to ultimately fill stadiums all over the world, these humble musicians would be just as content to perform on as many street corners they could play on; if that was the only way they could do what they love, perform.
In early January 2010, the announcement of CNBLUE’s upcoming Major Korean debut was made which was followed by a series of teasers, each featuring one of the four members showcasing their individual charisma and also shedding a bit of light onto what the name CNBLUE really stood for. C.N. was short for Code Name and B.L.U.E represented each of the member’s personas. Lead Guitarist and Vocalist Lee Jong Hyun’s teaser would surface first as he represent the ‘B’ for ‘Burning’. The next teaser featured Drummer Kang Min Hyuk representing the ‘L’ standing for ‘Lovely’. Bassist Lee Jung Shin would represent the ‘U’ for ‘Untouchable’. And lastly, new Leader, Lead Vocalist and Rhythm Guitarist, Jung Yong Hwa would represent the ‘E’ for ‘Emotional’. All members together represented the band CNBLUE.
The highly anticipated official music video for the unforgettable title track, ‘I’m a Loner’ was later released just before the launch of their debut Korean mini album, titled, ‘Bluetory’ on January 14th, 2010 which quickly took the number one spot on the MNET real time charts, along with the second spot on the Hanteo Music Charts. CNBLUE were the only rookie group to do so in 2010. Other songs featured on the album were Korean versions of their previous Japanese releases. It wasn’t long after their initial taste of success that the public, including celebrities, equally began to take notice of the new rookie band taking the industry by storm. At first, the band was compared to Korean band FTISLAND, who happen to be label mates to CNBLUE. The public would soon start to discern CNBLUE’s music as distinctive, considered as being of same caliber as alternative rock bands such as Maroon 5, yet also appealing and honest like alternative pop artist, Jason Mraz.
A few months after they ended their promotions for their debut Korean album ‘I’m a Loner’, CNBLUE released their follow up mini album ‘Blue Love’, which was the first to feature original Korean works by the band and not just revisions of their previous Japanese tracks. The album introduced members’ original compositions and lyrics including Jung Yong Hwa’s ‘Love Light’ and ‘Tattoo’ and Kang Min Hyuk’s co-written lyrics for ‘Sweet Holiday’. The unique CNBLUE sound, especially the exceptional combination of both Lee Jong Hyun’s baritone voice and Yong Hwa’s husky lead vocals, was soon celebrated by music enthusiasts and critics and helped to develop CNBLUE musical color.
After ‘Blue Love’s’ release, CNBLUE successfully extended their impact onto the international market by embarking on their first regional tour ‘Listen to the CNBLUE Asia Tour’. At the same time, they focused on their Japanese activities in order to reassure Japanese fans that they wouldn’t forget about the audience who first enabled them to live out their dreams of making music. Experiencing warm responses everywhere they went, CNBLUE began to officially ride the Hallyu wave and finally became international Rock stars as an idol band.
Exploration of New Territories
While expanding their reach into new territories musically, CNBLUE was also expanding their interests and talents in other forms of entertainment. In late 2010, Lee Jong Hyun and Kang Min Hyuk made their acting debut for a short vignette ‘Bakery Attack’, in the independent film ‘Acoustic’, featured at the Pusan International Film Festival. Earlier that year, in February, Jung Yong Hwa was paired with Seo Hyun of Girls’ Generation as part of a virtually wedded couple, YongSeo Couple, for MBC’s popular TV show ‘We Got Married’. They filmed their final episode of We Got Married on 15th March 2011.
Crossing T’s, Dotting I’s
On March 21st, 2011, after not having released a Korean album since the ‘Blue Love’ mini album the previous year, CNBLUE finally released their much anticipated first official album appropriately titled, ‘First Step’, named for being their first full Korean album. In a step towards becoming recognized as true musicians, the album is comprised of a total of twelve recordings featuring tracks written and composed by the members. ‘First Step’ not only included tracks that were previously successful in Japan and re-written in Korean such as ‘One Time’ and ‘I Don’t Know Why,’ (both of which landed in the Oricon charts), but the additional songs that were included were never before heard by the public and their fresh sound helped to strengthen the color of CNBLUE’s music.
The title track, ‘Intuition’, featured strong guitars with rhythmical, yet powerful vocals to round it out. Jung Yong Hwa participated in the writing, composition, and arrangement for several of the tracks on the album including ‘Love Girl,’ and ‘One Time’. ‘Just Please’, was added as a track off of their Japanese full featured album ‘Thank U’, Both feature newly written Korean lyrics by Yong Hwa as well. This time around, member Lee Jong Hyun showed off his composing abilities on the tracks ‘Love in the Rain’ and ‘Thank You’ and helped to write lyrics for a few of the other tracks as well.
‘Intuition’ received massive attention from all who heard the song and watched CNBLUE perform it, allowing for the band to attain consideration at award and music shows. The track achieved an all-kill on Korea’s major online music charts: Melon, Bugs, Dosirak, and Cyworld. Less than 24 hours after its release, ‘First Step’ climbed it’s way to top the charts and secured the No.1 position in album sales as affirmed by various offline music charts. The band won K-Chart a week after their comeback on MNET Countdown, KBS Music Bank, and a week later on SBS Inkigayo. This was the first time the band won the Triple Crown, a feat that they accomplished on both MNET M!Countdown and KBS’s Music Bank. Promotions for the song ended on April 24 on Inkigayo. Three songs off the album ‘Love Girl’, ‘Imagine’, and as expected the title single “Intuition” ultimately proved to be the top three most powerful songs on their album as a result; the album sales went up to surpass 150,000 copies sold within a few weeks after release.
To celebrate their continued success and to show their appreciation to their fans for all their support, CNBLUE released a special EP called ‘First Step +1, Thank You’ on April 26th. Three new songs were added featuring a re-arranged version of the title song, ‘L.O.V.E Girl’ first seen on ‘First Step’ and the other three songs, ‘Try Again Smile Again’, ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’, and ‘Yes..’ originally appeared on their Japanese albums. They followed up with promotions of the song ‘L.O.V.E Girl’ beginning on April 29th at KBS Music Bank and soon ended music show appearances on May 22nd.
In June 2011, Jung Yong Hwa took the lead role in ‘Heartstrings’, (aka ‘You’ve Fallen for Me’). Yong Hwa starred as ‘Lee Shin’ in the MBC drama along with fellow CNBLUE member, Kang Min Hyuk as part of the supporting cast. Yong Hwa’s self-composition created especially for the drama, “Because I Miss You”, earned wide-spread public attention. The show, which also starred Park Shin Hye, Song Chang Eui and So E-Hyun, brought in ratings between eight and nine percent during its two-month run beginning June of 2011. Similar to “You Are Beautiful”, the overwhelming response from netizens led to the drama being picked up by Japan’s Fuji TV and is scheduled to begin airing summer 2012.
After “Heartstrings” filming wrapped for Leader Jung Yong Hwa and Min Hyuk, there was no time for vacation or downtime. CNBLUE went straight into’ band mode’ and proceeded back to Japan for another round of comeback promotions to help get the word out about their second full feature album recording. Their newest Japanese release, ‘392’, which placed 6th on the Oricon Weekly Album Chart, would also be their last Japanese indie album. The title of this album has special meaning as “392″ pronounced as San-Kyu-Two (3 and 9 in Japanese, followed by 2 in English), which translates to “ThankU2″. The release of this album proved to be bittersweet for the band’s members as it meant that they would no longer be considered Indie. From the moment they played their first ‘stages’ on the streets of Japan at Shinjuku and Shibuya station and Yoyogi Park, they were working hard and practicing even harder to get to this point of their career. Achieving complete acceptance from Japan, the foreign country where they began as nobodies, was finally within their grasp. Their activities in Japan included being chosen as the opening act for a concert held by popular American rock band, ‘Linkin Park’, performing at the Ongaku to Hitachi 2011 Festival, and performing to a sold out concert for 15,000 fans at the Yokohama Arena on September 25th which was later featured as a DVD concert release.
CNBLUE were taking the music industry by storm with all the newfound recognition they received and had worked hard for. In mid-September 2011, the band announced that they were signing on with major recording label Warner Music Japan and prepared for their first major debut released on October 19th titled, ‘In My Head’. This album proved to be more special than any other album CNBLUE had released to date because it would be the first to include a self-written title track. ‘In my head’, was written solely by lead member, Jung Yong Hwa. To commemorate the release of the album, CNBLUE held a guerilla concert at Shinjuku Station Square in Tokyowhich attracted over 7,000 fans. However, the outdoor concert soon had to be shut down by police due to concerns over the public’s safety moments after the band completed, ‘In My Head’, the first of three songs scheduled to be performed at the event.
Not only was this the first time in CNBLUE’s musical career to have a self-written title track as the main focus of an album, but the ‘In my head’ mini album also signified CNBLUE’s successful transition from Indie to major label artists. Because of its market value and Rock appeal, it was well received by fans and the music world alike. “In my head” achieved gold status in just one month from its release after selling over 100,000 copies. It also entered the No. 4 and subsequently the No. 3 spots on the prestigious Oricon’s weekly chart.
With the enormous success of their first major single, CNBLUE was more determined than ever to continue on the road to the top of the world. Their much anticipated follow up, with the release date of February 1st 2012, ‘Where you are’ allowed CNBLUE to show a manlier side to their music as well as in their personas and featured a harder Rock sound that fit the ‘coming of age’ mood they wanted to present. Tracks ‘Where You Are’, and ‘Feeling’, were written and composed once again by Jung Yong Hwa while the infectious ‘Get Away’ was composed by Lee Jong Hyun.
The well received ‘Where you are’ sold over 60,000 copies in its first week, hitting No.1 on the Oricon Singles Chart for the week of February 13th. A foreign band had not capped the singles chart in Japan for 41 years. CNBLUE is the fourth Korean male artist to have topped the Oricon Singles Chart. This is quite the achievement for four guys who started out as boys with a dream and now, just two years later, were breaking records and setting the bar higher than any other band of their kind. CNBLUE continue to move on, never slowing down long enough to enjoy their accomplishments because of course, there are always more goals to set and boundaries to conquer.
On March 9th 2012, CNBLUE embarked on their long awaited venture of breaking through into the Western world, via Los Angeles. Along with fellow band musicians and label mates FTISLAND, CNBLUE held their first ever US concert, ‘Stand Up’ by M Live held at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, California with a full house of an estimated 5000 fans in attendance. Being the first American performance for both groups, this event helped in marking further their international exposure and helped to strengthen the connection between CNBLUE and their American fans.
No rest for the weary proves to be the silent motto for this hard working band of brothers. Shortly after returning to Korea from promoting ‘Where you are’ and successfully completing their first international concert in America, CNBLUE quickly got back into their comeback gear to prepare for their upcoming and long anticipated and third mini album, ‘Ear Fun’ ending their almost year long hiatus from Korean activities. The first single ‘Still in Love’ and accompanying MV, were released on March 16th. One of five songs written and composed by Jung Yong Hwa, ‘Still in Love’ revealed another side of the band, with a softer and more emotional sound. The MV for the song, showed a more relaxed and grown up CNBLUE rehearsing the song in the studio.
On March 26th, the members of CNBLUE gathered for the comeback showcase and release of their third mini album uniquely titled, ‘EAR FUN’. At the event Yong Hwa revealed, “This album was meant to protect CNBLUE’s color, but starting with our next, there will be a big transformation. After the promotions for this album end, we’re going to take a few months to figure out what direction we want to go in”.
The same day, CNBLUE unveiled the mv for the title track, ‘Hey You’. The title song received explosive interest and consequently topped the charts on various music portals such as Melon, MNET and Olle Music. CNLBUE performed both “Still in Love” and ‘Hey You’ at their first comeback stage on M!Countdown on March 29th and subsequently completed their comeback stages on the other music programs on the days that followed. The album peaked at No.1 on online and offline chart physical album sales the first week released. The song, ‘Still in Love’, peaked at No.10 on Korean national single weekly chart on 1st week then climb up to No.3 on 2nd week. CNBLUE finished the promotion of the album in four weeks with their K-chart and mutizen wins on their goodbye stage at KBS Music Bank and SBS Inkigayo on April 20 and April 22 respectively.
On May 5th, CNBLUE held their first ever Korean fan meet, ‘The Story of You and I‘ at Yeonsei University and were united with hundreds of their fans for a heartfelt meeting where they expressed their love and gratitude for the support given them. In the same event, the boys stated, “The members will be seeing each other for the next 50 or 60 years,” and promised their everlasting friendship to their fans. Yong Hwa in particular said, “CNBLUE and our fans will be together until death,” which drew out deafening cheers from the audience. Jung Shin made the fans go wild with his fan service by letting his tied up hair go free mid-performance, and later writing on his Twitter, “I prepared a lot for the fan meeting but I’m not sure if everyone had fun. Thank you. Let’s have fan meets more often!”
Through parodies and other fun events, the members made sure to provide some comic relief throughout the fan meet. In return, fans prepared surprise birthday gifts for member Jong Hyun, who became visibly emotional on the spot and was rendered unable to speak momentarily from the touching gesture.
After what must have seemed like a whirlwind two years, CNBLUE was still ready for more. ‘Lovely‘ drummer Kang Min Hyuk filled his already busy schedule by appearing in his newest acting role in the KBS drama ‘My Husband Got a Family’. Shortly after Min Hyuk started on his drama schedule, ‘Burning’ guitarist Lee Jong Hyun also incorporated acting into his list of activities and is currently working on the SBS romantic comedy drama, ‘A Gentleman’s Dignity’, which has been garnering attention and record number ratings since it premiered in May 2012. All this while still maintaining their musical schedules on various music and variety shows and other unrelated events.
While the aforementioned two members work individually, bassist Lee Jung Shin has also been keeping busy by taking acting lessons as he also desires to grace the silver screen with this ‘Untouchable’ presence. Jung Yong Hwa chose to take out time from acting to focus on working on music that will be featured on future CNBLUE’s projects. First of which is the next Japanese mini album due for release August 1st and a Korean album that has been rumored to be released sometime in October 2012 but has not yet been confirmed. Yong Hwa has stated, “Depending on the result of my work (during this time off), I want to promote with my own song as the title song for our next (Korean) album.” Their management label FNC showed its support for the singer and released this statement, “(Jung Yong Hwa) has a strong desire to write his own songs, and we plan to take this opportunity to support him fully. He wants to make a name for himself as a musician more than as an actor at this time. As well as taking part in the band’s new album, CNBLUE will be busy touring abroad this year.”
However, despite his wanting to take off time to himself, Jung Yong Hwa has been keeping very busy. Aside from working on his music for CNBLUE, he has also tried his hand at producing music. Fellow label mate, Juniel just embarked on her major Korean debut on June 7th with the assistance of Yong Hwa whom was responsible for producing the first single, ‘Fool’. The song was included on her first mini album ‘My First June’ which helped to launch the career of the singer in Korea. Yong Hwa also lent his voice to the track singing duet style with the younger songstress and also appeared with Juniel’s on her music show debut stages including the most recent appearance on the ‘Yoo Hui Yeol Sketchbook’ June 22nd broadcast.
CNBLUE Future Plans and Beyond
Planned for an August 1st release, CNBLUE’s third major Japanese mini album, ‘Come On’ will hit the store shelves much to the delight of all the fans who await their chance to add it to their collections. The album will comprise of four songs, including the title song ‘Come On’ and the instrumental version. As with all of their previous releases, the single is much anticipated by the public. ‘Come On’ has already sold over 80,000 copies through pre-order alone during the first week of the announced release date. Knowing Jung Yong Hwa’s desire to expand his musical capabilities, fans can anticipate he will have his hand in most of the song creation along with fellow band member Lee Jong Hyun who have both stated in recent interviews that they already have some completed compositions, enough to fill an album! Kang Min Hyuk and Lee Jung Shin have also expressed wanting to have more input in the creation process for their music so that they can further enhance CNBLUE’s musical color as a band. The band will travel back to Japan to start promotion for the new single sometime in July.
After CNBLUE is done with their Japanese activities regarding ‘Come On’, the band plans on taking some time to prepare for yet another Korean comeback, rumored to take place sometime in October. Believed to be a completely self-composed and self-written album, the band’s next Korean release will prove to be another history making accomplishment.
CNBLUE will soon be expanding their musical reach to the UK, the country considered as the world’s ‘home of the bands’, CNBLUE, paired with label mates FTISLAND, are preparing a concert set to take place in Europe and France planned for early next year, as a follow-up to the series of concerts that culminated in Los Angeles. Since the recent wave of Korean popular music is focused more on the dance genre, it is significant that bands, such as CNBLUE and FTISLAND also expand into the European music market. According to FNC Music’s CEO Han Sungho, “the two bands have made quite a bit of noise in Asia and additionally with their successful premiere concert in the United States, ‘Stand Up’ M Live in LA, so they are planning to share that same success with Europe and France and are expected to do well in their new venture”.
Written in the Stars
Going forward in life, one has to take time to reflect on past events and how each one of those events changes that path from on direction to another. Since their individual contract signings and the eventual assembly of the band members, certain factors were set in motion that has led CNBLUE down the path they have taken. On that path, they have had to cope with adversity and challenging times. Long nights of practice into early morning hours, sickness, replacement of a band member, controversy, and of course continued work without much free time to allow for anything else. Still, there’s no doubt these experiences have helped to mold these four boys who have matured into men right before the public eye.
With each disappointment or achievement CNBLUE has encountered, they continue to strive for more. “…to the top of the world”, is part of a lyric taken from their song, ‘One Time’ and gives the song more meaning when it is put it into the perspective of CNBLUE. They have been working together since pre-debut to complete the same goal, to make music together and work their way to the top and as a result of that hard work and determination; they continue to surpass expectations and continue to make their loyal fans happy. Until one day their own music is played in all of the world’s street corners, by themselves or perhaps by another band striving to take this road less traveled towards success.