HomePop CultureGet a whiff of The Rose, Billboard's #1 Emerging Artist

Get a whiff of The Rose, Billboard’s #1 Emerging Artist

By Jia H. Jung, California Local News Fellow

The Rose, an indie rock made up of ethnically Korean musicians Kim Woosung, Park Dojoon, Lee Hajoon, and Lee Jaehyeong, opened the Dawn to Dusk North American tour in San Francisco on Wednesday night at a comfortably full Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. 

The Billboard number one Emerging Artist of the Week is promoting their adventurously two-toned second full-length album Dual, released on the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22. The 22-song concert (fully listed at the bottom of this article) also treated the audience to numerous favorites from The Rose’s career thus far.

The show was a big venue affair with a small venue feel. The musicians radiated beautiful vulnerability, singing from their chests, playing actual instruments, harmonizing with one another, and powering through the rare blooper with trademark quirkiness. Fog machines and a gigantic display of rich visuals and high-definition playback further enhanced the total effect, mesmerizing fans from the floor all the way up to the rafters above the steep loge and balcony. 

All photos by Jia H. Jung, AsAmNews

There were other improvements from the last time the band was in San Francisco. “Now you can see Hajoon,” Woosung declared at one point, as the audience screamed in approval. The drummer, who had previously been placed behind the lead singer in standard stage formation, now had his own platform parallel to his bandmates.

The cheers and screams of the crowd sounded like raining whistles, suggesting a predominance of lovesick girls and young women sporadically shrieking, “I love you!” and “Marry me!” at the four Korean men on stage. In reality, the alt-pop act drew audience members as eclectic as the rainbow lights of the rainbow plastic globes with roses encased inside them that fans waved gently in the purple dark.

Perhaps the American mainstream is branching out from the East Asian talent pumped out by the K-pop machine toward independent musical artists who happen to be of East Asian heritage. If so, it is too early to tell what this means, if anything, for East Asian musicians who remain grossly underrepresented in the American music industry.

The Rose, taking the stage at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, CA, Oct. 4, 2023. Video by Jia H. Jung

Putting this burden of representation on the shoulders of The Rose would be unfair; the band has come through a lot since its inception seven years ago. Trials and tribulations have included the pandemic, the logistics of a cross-ocean existence, and the challenge of remaining distinct from K-pop groups while synergizing with their astronomical trajectory. The Rose member Kim Woosung struck a balance this year in the middle of everything else by collaborating on “Snooze” with his friend Suga, a rapper from the boy band BTS. 

The Rose also navigated a well-covered, high-tension separation from their former Korean agency and management company, J&Star. During the litigation, Park Dojoon, Lee Hajoon, and Lee Jaehyeong fulfilled their mandatory military service requirement as able-bodied males of the Republic of Korea. 

Kim Woosung, an American citizen, spent the first half of 2022 performing his solo works as the opener on Korean rap group Epik High’s U.S. tour. He then toured internationally on his own in small and mid-sized venues across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, drawing from his solo EPs Wolf (2019) and MOTH (2020).

The Rose’s Heal Together tour last year was a live reunion for a band as it promoted its debut full-length album, Heal, and celebrated liberation from J&Star. While playing at The Warfield in San Francisco on Nov. 9, 2022 on the tour, the band vowed to return to the city the next year if the audience would bring their friends.

After premiering the first few songs of this year’s tour, the musicians remarked that the Black Roses had held up their end of the deal by doubling the attendance from the year before. 

As Woosung once explained, the band envisioned this nickname for their fans before even having much of a following. The moniker is a nod to the 2020 song ”Black Rose,” about the themes of eternal love and protection that Koreans and some other cultures associate with the flower.

Each member of the band embodies a different rose, too.

The white rose of the bunch, symbolizing purity, is vocalist and guitarist Kim Woosung, “Sammy,” known for the clear yet powdery timbre of his voice and his loving nature. 

He grew up in Southern California, aiming to become a football player after high school. But after some injuries scrapped that goal, he followed his curiosities to Korea and became a contender on the first season of the K-pop Star reality show. He taught English for a time after being eliminated.

According to some of the artist’s own retellings found online, the Korean music industry dismissed his looks at the time but ultimately had use for his guitar chops and singing. Spared from the physically taxing dance practices and performance pressures undergone by K-pop trainees, he stuck with singing, songwriting, and guitar. 

He now divides his time between Seoul and Los Angeles, enjoying the adoration of worldwide Black Roses as well as the “Wolf Pack,” fans of his solo work who barked respectfully at points throughout the show Wednesday night to show their support.

Kim Woosung, Korean American vocalist and guitarist. Photo Credit: Jia H. Jung

The red rose of passion and enthusiasm in the band is Park Dojoon, “Leo,” a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist on acoustic guitar and keys who is known for his steadfastness. He was born in the Eastern port city of Busan, South Korea but spent five years in New Zealand as a child, retaining a lilt in his fluent English along with some knowledge of traditional Māori haka war dance.

He sang many solos at the San Francisco concert and shared his mind, even asking how viewers in the upper floors were doing. “How are you guys, second story? I see you guys, every one of you,” he reassured them.

Park Dojoon on vocals, acoustic guitar, and keys. Photo Credit: Jia H. Jung

Lee Jaehyeong, or “Jeff,” the band’s pink rose of happiness and romance, provides bass and sub-vocals. Raised on the central coast on the East side of South Korea, he’s the maknae – runt – of the band, though all of the guys are either 29 or 30 years old. Jaehyeong has also moonlighted as an actor for the web drama “Six Love Story” and other TV spots as both guest and main character.

Lee Jaehyeong, sub-vocalist and bassist. Photo Credit: Jia H. Jung

The blue miracle rose is Lee Hajoon, “Dylan,” a drummer who can provide sub-vocals while laying down percussions. Born in Gwangju, he majored in drums in college and did some rapping before becoming known as The Rose’s drummer.

Drummer Lee Hajoon, who sang harmonies while drumming. Photo Credit: Jia H. Jung

The roses came together after Dojoon and Jaehyeong met in the busking scene. Hajoon was in the same entertainment company as Jaeyeong, so the trio put together a band called Windfall before bringing Woosung, a friend of Dojoon, into the fold.

The Rose debuted with the single “Sorry” on Aug. 3, 2017, then busked all over Seoul to introduce themselves to Korean listeners.

The Rose, busking in the college area of Hongdae in Seoul in 2018, shortly after their debut.

After terminating their old contract with J&Star, The Rose released one last song, “Beauty and the Beast,” before joining Transparent Arts management agency in partnership with the band’s own label, Windfall. The co-CEOs who founded Transparent Arts in 2016 are Korean American James Roh and half Chinese, half Japanese American Kevin Nishimura, otherwise known as Kev Nish and Prohgress of the Far East Movement. 

The Far East Movement hip-hop and electronic dance group, formed in 2003, started off performing alongside Asian American and Asian hip-hop artists like MC Jin, DUMBFOUNDEAD, and Epik High along with underground hip-hop masters The Roots and Talib Kweli. 

After reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and iTunes chart in 2010 with dance hit “Like A G6,” the artists had a supernova of performances on the bill with household names of American popular music, such as Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, and LMFAO. The fame was extended by chart-topping “Rocketeer” feat. Ryan Tedder (Prohgress recently performed an excerpt of the hit for Korean television).

It seemed that they had made it, but the Far East Movement soon despaired of the industry, which was constantly asking them to be less Asian, such as by changing their sound or even their names. The music creators traveled to Asia to regroup and find inspiration. They released Identity in 2016, which peaked at number 7 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums list, before deciding to transition to the more behind-the-scenes workings of the global music business while performing and composing on the side. 

Following a timeline almost concurrent to the Rose’s, Transparent Arts grew into an industry mover that has collaborated with artists such as Bruno Mars, Snoop Dogg, and Justin Bieber, and Seattle-born Korean-based rapper Jay Park. 

The company manages a roster of musical artists from the U.S. and the Pacific in addition to Far East Movement and The Rose: Argentinian-born Korean American hip-hop artist and veteran battle rapper DUMBFOUNDEAD (Jonathan Edgar Park), half-Filipino Australian James Reid (featured on The Rose’s album on the track ”Yes”), Chinese and Taiwanese American dance musician Yultron (Yulton Lee), and Korea’s B.I (Kim Hanbin) a singer, rapper, producer, and dancer now in the middle of his first European tour.

With all this force field backing their talent, the Rose has been charting on Billboard, getting attention from Rolling Stone, and hitting other benchmarks on the way up.

Woosung referenced these metrics during the San Francisco concert. He said, “Recently, a couple of days ago, we were on the Billboard charts.” After a dramatic pause, he continued, “We were number eighty-three.” The audience tittered, and then cheered when he concluded, “That’s a very, very important number for us because The Rose debuted August third.”

He did not mention the group’s leading spot on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart or fifth place position in Top Album Sales, in response to Dual’s release.

From the Radiohead-like mystique of their earlier track “Definition of ugly is” to the hit-worthy “Back to Me” and catchy “Nauseous” from the new album, hearing The Rose’s catalog live would make anyone wonder why the band’s music is not on American airwaves yet.

“Uh-oh, you’re giving me a tummy ache/oh no, it ain’t better than a heartache” – chorus of “Nauseous,” from The Rose’s Newest album, Dual. Video by Jia H. Jung

But The Rose has no trouble building its fan base without U.S. radio.

Prior to doors opening at the concert, lines wound around the grounds of the Civic Center. San Francisco City Hall loomed over everyone, lit up in Jell-O red and green in memory of late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.), whose body was at rest in the building overnight before memorial services the next day. 

“Black Roses” at Civic Center in San Francisco and enjoying the Dawn to Dusk Concert. All photos by Jia H. Jung, AsAmNews

The thousands of attendees present were in various stages of fandom of The Rose. Some had been active in American K-pop communities far before Psy’s Gangnam Style tipped the scales for K-pop’s popularity in the U.S. They knew the band inside out – these were the fans singing along to the Korean lyrics in “Red,” “I.L.Y.” (I Love You), “Definition of ugly is,” and “She’s In The Rain,” whether they were Korean or not. 

The audience, singing in Korean to accompany Lee Jaehyeong on “I.L.Y.” Video by Jia H. Jung

Some audience members discovered The Rose through Woosung when he was touring with Epik High last year. Yet others were making their first forays into Korean music altogether after bingeing on K-dramas back when everything was on lockdown. Several people said a link to The Rose’s music just popped up in their YouTube feed thanks to algorithms. 

Accidental fans of The Rose soon become deliberate ones, captivated by some sense of unique authenticity and emotion that the band exudes on top of being objectively talented heartthrobs. From this entry point, fans can always go lighter, cruising for laughs by perusing the band’s TikTok shenanigans.

They also can go deeper, much deeper, into The Rose’s episodes in the Mindset series. Mindset complements a mental health app of the same name created by DIVE Studios in Los Angeles in conjunction with The Jed Foundation for youth mental health based in New York City and established in 1998 by parents who lost their teen son to suicide. (DIVE Studios is the brainchild of Brian Nam, the brother of Korean American K-pop figure Eric Nam.)

Fans of The Rose, aged from their twenties to their sixties and coming from as far as Fresno, meet each other. Photo Credit: Jia H. Jung

One group of friends who had driven four hours from Fresno and reserved a hotel nearby to come to the concert had an age range spanning three decades. They had met at various K-pop-related events that reeled them into different aspects of Korean culture beyond music. They explore Korean cooking and Korean church while continuing their commitment to salsa dance and international cuisine. They had an afterparty with a Korean American K-pop choreographer and Filipina American photographer whom they recognized outside the venue from a past dance and culture event.

This oddly grassroots popularity driven by the Internet and the community it generates has carried the band far in just the past year alone. In some ways, the Rose launched its tour after barely having time to cool off from a maniacal streak of performances at international Lollapalooza festivals in Sweden, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, at the Montreux Jazz Festival on Lake Geneva in Switzerland in midsummer, and Lollapalooza in Chicago in August before unveiling Dual a couple of weeks ago.

This cast an overlay of tranquility over the band, which rocked more than they talked but interacted constantly with the audience by turning on the house lights all the way for one song, prompting people to sing along, reading homemade signs that people were holding up, and being direct about their feelings when they did stop to speak.  

Dojoon remarked that the sound of the audience was the sound of San Francisco and Woosung followed up by saying “We will remember it forever.”

“You guys are so beautiful and amazing,” he also said, plainly.

San Francisco saying “Yes” to The Rose on Wednesday night, Oct. 4, 2023. Video by Jia H. Jung

Dojoon piled onto the bliss fest beats later, gushing, “It was one of our dreams to do a show, in a bigger place like this – we’re living in the dreams, I think!”

As closing time neared, he continued, “Our journey will continue as long as we are together – we will go wherever our music will take us. If we’re together, every moment will be moments of wonder,” before playing “Wonder.”

The band did not sing “California” but reappeared on the stage for a short finale with a state flag to take a photograph with the audience. After the photo was taken, Dojoon draped the bear across his shoulders.

The band walked offstage after its over 90-minute set to get ready for the meet-and-greet experiences awaited by several tiers of VIP ticket holders. 

Outside, U.S. Navy sailors stopped to photograph the venue’s marquee and were approached by welcoming fans. The men in uniform, normally stationed in San Diego, had no idea who The Rose was. They had just been strolling around the city for Fleet Week, a tradition that happens to have been begun by Sen. Feinstein in 1981, lying in state a short distance away.

The strangers brought out stories from the crowd, ones that reconfirmed the diversity of fans who might have previously been dismissed as girly K-pop “stans” and nothing else.

Eventually, everyone dispersed like petals in the wind. Or maybe more like seeds – when the time comes to meet again, the Black Roses and the formerly Rose-curious will surely bring even more friends.

The Dawn to Dusk tour will roll onward to locales such as The Theater at  Madison Square Garden in New York City on Oct. 22 and the just-added Coca-Cola Roxy in Atlanta, Georgia on Oct. 28 before ending up at the 17,505-capacity Kia Forum in Inglewood, California on Nov. 12. And, as the band’s website promises, “MORE COUNTRIES COMING SOON.”

Complete setlist of the Dawn to Dusk Tour – San Francisco, Oct. 4, 2023:

  1. Eclipse (eight track of new full-length album Dual, released Sept. 22, 2023 )
  2. Dawn (instrumental rendition of the opening track of Dual)
  3. You’re Beautiful (second track of Dual, released as a single in Aug. 25, 2023)
  4. Shift (fourth track of first full-length album, Heal, released Oct. 6, 2022)
  5. Lifeline (ambient fifth track of Dual, released with Transparent Arts)
  6. Red (Korean single released with “California” on Aug. 13, 2019)
  7. Nauseous (upbeat emo third track of Dual
  8. Back To Me (fourth track of Dual, pre-released on Jul. 20, 2023 with “Alive”)
  9. Yes (eighth track of Heal, featuring James Reid on the recorded version)
  10. I.L.Y. (“I Love You,” Korean third track of mini-album Void, Apr. 16, 2018)
  11. Time (seventh track of Heal)
  12. Beauty and the Beast (last single under J&Star, released Dec. 29, 2021)
  13. Angel (seventh track of Dual, featuring Trevor Daniel on the recorded version)
  14. Definition of ugly is (Korean-language second track on Heal)
  15. Take Me Down (third track of mini-album Dawn, released Oct. 4, 2018)
  16. Alive (ninth track of Dual, pre-released on Jul 20, 2023 with “Back to Me”)
  17. Sorry (the band’s debut single, released Aug. 3, 2017)
  18. Cure (fifth track of Heal)
  19. She’s In The Rain (Korean second track of mini-album Dawn, Oct. 4, 2018)
  20. Sour (ninth track of Heal, Oct. 6, 2022)
  21. Cosmos (penultimate tenth track of Dual, Sept. 22, 2023)
  22. Wonder (closing track of Dual, Sept. 22, 2023) 

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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