Yeo One woke up one morning, went straight to the bathroom, looked in the mirror and said, “Wow, who’s that? I want you, my baby!” Or so tells the tale by Pentagon’s vocalist, Hongseok. Yeo One, the main character in question, is one of Hongseok’s band mates, curled up in a black puffy jacket right beside him. He laughs nonchalantly, as if this story is both the realest and the silliest thing in the world. His alleged exclamation while admiring himself is part of the lyrics to “That’s Me,” a jazzy, bouncy b-side off the band’s latest EP, Love or Take.
Around a conference table for a late evening Zoom call with Contrast, the two young men are joined by the remaining active members of Pentagon: Shinwon, Kino, Yuto, Yan An and Wooseok (the group’s eldest members, Jinho and Hui, are currently enlisted in South Korea’s mandatory military service). Sipping on bottles of coconut water and tea, they find amusing ways to describe what exactly is a “funky winky boy” — another genius verse on “That’s Me.”
Kino, a show-stopping performer and songwriter, says that the correct answer is simply “us.” To the expressive Shinwon, talking isn’t enough. He jumps out of his chair, raises his arms and sways side to side, shrieking “I’ll show you the funky winky boy!” The room bursts in fits of laughter. This is nothing out of ordinary — Pentagon are known for their loudness and chaotic antics. In fact, compared to their standards, this evening is a relatively calm one. Most of the talking (and joking) is done by the three members mentioned above, who often speak in English and help translate the other members’ thoughts as they reflect on their career so far.
The group debuted in 2016 under Cube Entertainment, and has since showcased a wide range of releases — from synth-filled EDM (“Like This,” “Runaway”), to quirky hip-hop (“Shine,” “Naughty Boy”), to dramatic, angsty pop (“Dr. BeBe,” “Daisy”). Love or Take, out March 15, is Pentagon’s 11th EP, and saw them return to brighter sounds with a flair of retro. It’s a collection of seven tender, wistful tracks that display Pentagon’s best talents.
Visually inspired by manhwas (Korean comics), the packaging for Love or Take transformed the members into charming characters straight out of a romantic graphic novel. Shinwon explains that the concept came from leader Hui’s “big brain,” but it’s supposed to be taken lightly. “We wanted to show the audience and our [fandom] Universe how handsome we are,” furthers Hongseok, whose sculpted figure rendered him part of K-pop’s notorious Big Tiddie Gang.
Pentagon know how to hype themselves up, even if it’s all for laughs. When asked about their biggest strengths, Chinese member Yan An — who had been shyly observing until then — makes it a point to share that it’s their “long necks and large chests,” a statement followed by Japanese rapper Yuto, who mentions their “muscles,” and by Shinwon, who gets up once again to say “friendship!” while opening his arms to hug two invisible friends. But another, more grounded side of Pentagon is revealed when Wooseok, the tallest yet youngest member, chimes in. “ [It’s] our professional attitude. We don’t make music for the money, we do it because we love it,” he says.
This love is reflected in Pentagon’s mostly self-produced, prolific discography. In this EP, for example, Hui and Wooseok co-produced nearly all the songs, and “Baby I Love You” was co-written by Kino. Throughout their nearly five years together, all the members have made notable contributions to their music and choreography. It’s part of why they adapt so easily to all the challenges that have come their way.
In 2018, Yan An announced a hiatus due to health reasons, and member E’Dawn left the group at the height of their breakout success with the viral single, “Shine.” Pentagon recovered quickly, but last year saw them sending vocal powerhouse Jinho off to the military, while welcoming Yan An back. Now, just before the release of Love or Take, it was time to reconfigure their strengths once again as Hui, the leader and one of the team’s main producers and vocalists, initiated his military duty.
It’s the band’s first time promoting without him. “We are figuring out how to show different sides of Pentagon,” says Kino, who took over Hui’s leading role for the time being. Wooseok agrees, “this is an album that clearly shows what we built up until now, and what Pentagon can do well.” To Hongseok, Love or Take taught them that “it’s okay without Hui and Jinho” — an affirmation that prompts a round of applause from all the members — “but on the other side, it’s gonna be perfect with them.” The room crashes in joyful, raucous cheers.
Jinho’s absence is felt the most in the mornings. “He was the one who would wake everyone up at the dorm, so now we have to wake ourselves up, and we’re working hard on it,” says Yuto, whose growing hair is tied up in an effortless ponytail. “And although there were people concerned about Hui’s absence, we’re actually doing completely fine,” he adds, eliciting bouts of giggles across the table. Kino teases, “We’re like, ‘Who is Hui?’” but Wooseok, in his ever-calming presence today, tries to fix it. “Sorry, Hui!” he apologizes, making everyone laugh even more.
Currently, the group is enduring busy schedules while promoting their sweet title track, “Do or Not” on Korean music shows, and reveal that they often need to decide between eating (mostly Subway sandwiches, as Kino and Hongseok point out) or sleeping. But their efforts have not been in vain — “Do or Not” is the group’s first single to top Genie, one of Korea’s biggest streaming platforms.
This comeback follows last October’s “Daisy,” the single which gave Pentagon their first music show win. While some groups get their first trophy less than a week after debut, to Pentagon it took four arduous years. “The experience was a fuel for us,” says Wooseok. “With ‘Daisy,’ I felt like we were able to create the kind of music more people would like. I felt confident, and also thought that we should probably put together more quality music for our next album.” For Kino, the experience meant they could give back that confidence to Universe; a feeling that “Pentagon can do something” and that their fans “didn’t fail.” Hongseok adds, “Just like we needed motivation, we also wanted to give our Universe a good motivation to keep on supporting us. The first prize means a lot, it’s a present for us, but it’s also a present for Universe. It means that their support and their love were worth it.”
Slowly, Pentagon show what’s behind their hilarious mischief: a group who has seen the many ups and downs of a ruthless industry, and who survived by fiercely pushing through and allowing room for growth. They remember last year’s participation in Mnet’s survival show Road to Kingdom, where they were the senior group competing against six other teams for a chance to boost their popularity and participate in the show’s sequel, Kingdom.
The competition was tough, and Pentagon felt pressured to level up when facing their peers. “We noticed that failure and frustration are good motivations to seek success,” reflects Hongseok, while Shinwon adds that “[It] reminded us of having a competitive attitude, and of our sincerity.” Kino concludes by saying that their growth through the show was the reason why they were able to get their first win with “Daisy” later on.
Road to Kingdom was a pit stop, like many others along Pentagon’s unraveling track. A moment to review, refuel, and reprogram. But as Yeo One says, they would like to just “keep going.” They know better than anyone that slow and steady wins the race — even if they dream of riding it in a lamborghini (yes, Hongseok’s idea once again). “We will be legendary,” says Kino as his eyes light up with the same fire of his performances. “I’m being serious now.”