Notes on K-pop Interview: Fifty Fifty on dreams, reality, and hitting it big with Cupid

Last year, new girl group Fifty Fifty’s song Lovin’ Me was a fan favorite among many diehard music loving K-pop fans. It ended up becoming one of my favorite songs of 2022. But it wasn’t the only great musical moment on the new act’s first EP, and they continued releasing another addicting single this year, Cupid.

Now, a lot of people are noticing, and Fifty Fifty is on track to become a breakout K-pop act in 2023. They’ve landed on several Billboard music charts, and their streaming numbers are steadily skyrocketing. I spoke to them amid this (this interview was done a few weeks ago), hoping to introduce them and their music to Notes on K-pop’s readers.

Update: About a half hour after hitting publish, Fifty Fifty broke into the Billboard Hot 100 chart with Cupid

How are you guys doing today?

Aran: Super good, yes.

Sio: Awesome.

I was going to get into it a little bit later, but I just saw the chart news that you guys landed on the Billboard World Digital singles chart. Did you guys see it?

Aran: We knew that yesterday. Yeah. It was so surprising to us. Oh my God, I'm so honored. Yeah, it was such an honor to us.

How does it feel now that you saw your names there?

Sio: I can't believe that.

Keena: I think for me, honestly I couldn't believe my eyes. ‘Am I seeing the real thing? Is it real?’ So it was definitely unrealistic, but happy at the same time. So I got a bunch of mixed feelings seeing that.

You guys are still pretty new, but you've already released your debut EP and now this new single, so how do you guys feel about the response to 50 50 so far?

Saena: Seeing so much of a response, good response from everyone, it's still unrealistic. We can't really believe it's coming through but whenever we see comments such as we have nice voice color, voice tone, and we have 50 Fifty Fifty’s own color, that makes me feel really happy and proud. And so I'm proud, especially proud to see that wow, people are really seeing our identity through our music. So that makes us feel very fulfilled at the same time.

To be honest, that was the thing that stood out to me about Fifty Fifty, your vocal color. You guys have very distinct, powerful, very, I don't know, timeless voices. And when you come together and harmonize, it's very, very, it's beautiful. It's just like it fits.

Aran: Oh, thank you so much.

You guys are just a few months old. So I'm kind of curious, when you guys first came together as a group, what were your first impressions of each other as performers?

Keena: I was the first one to come into this company actually. So I got to see all the members coming into this company and at first they were pretty shy and I thought it was really cute. But as we got to train together and practice together, I got to see their really close sides and professional sides as well. And when we were confirmed to debut together, I was excited because along with these three other members, I was excited for Fifty Fifty’s own color and identity with all of them. And we were just excited together to make music that people can relate to. So that was the most exciting part.

Aran: I want to give our members a first impression. Cause I was the last person in our trainee [team]. So first, Keena looked so much like a cat. I mean she looks so cute and really charismatic, so I thought like, whoa, she's a cat. She looks like a cat. And for me, she looks so tall. Her body range was perfect. I thought so. I thought she was so tall and pretty and perfect. And Saena, for me the first impression of Senna was she looked like a news anchor vibe, like oh, perfect visuals.

Saena: Oh, thank you.

I'm kind of curious how you guys think of Fifty Fifty’s musical style. What makes you distinct? What defines you? Because each of your songs so far have been different in genres, but they still feel very unified. So I'm kind of curious how you guys think of your music.

Sio: I would say our music’s most distinct quality is that it's easy to listen to [and] approach to. So along with Higher, Cupid came up with pretty much the similar kind of concept and sound of [being] easy to listen to. So I think that would be something you can maybe focus on while listening to our song.

What about the rest of your songs? You mentioned the singles.

Keena: From our first EP. There are B-side tracks such as Tell Me, Log In and Lovin’ Me. And our name Fifty Fifty, that also contains the meaning of versatility. We can show various concepts through our music. So you can see in Higher or Cupid, those are more easy to listen to. Those are more comfortable tracks versus Log In, that's a more performance focused track as well. So you can see different styles and concepts in just one album as well.

There are two versions of Cupid, the Korean one and the English one, which is a little bit remixed, the Twin version. So I'm curious, is that also representing Fifty Fifty?

Aran: Yeah, of course it can be like that. And actually we try to express the different languages.. And first of all, we thought, ‘how can we express and deliver our feelings and emotions to many people around the world through our music?’ So we tried to release that twin versions [in different languages]. That was our first goal. The second goal is going to be like that, two types of our versions gave new expressions. I think that the Korean version and English version sound similar, but just because of language they sound [like] different vibes. Yeah, I think so. Yeah, that's important to us.

Cupid is about second chances, so I'm kind of curious if you guys ever felt you had a second chance or something, or is there something you ever wanted a second chance in?

Aran: So difficult. I have to think about that.

Sio: For me, so I originally didn't have a specific dream to become an idol. I just simply wanted to be a singer, a person who sings and performs. But after watching performances by Itzy, that motivated me to start dreaming more about ‘idol.’ I think that was my new chance in life to really change the direction of my plans and dreams.

What about Itzy made you change your mind?

Sio: Oh, the performance.

You just saw it and your life changed, everything is dalla. [T/N: Itzy’s 2019 debut single Dalla Dalla translates to “Different Different” in Korean.]

In general, what musical inspiration or singers do you guys take inspiration from? Aran: Maybe it's going to be pretty different [for each of us] because our music style is really different.

Keena: Someone I really admire is Doja Cat. I really respect her ability to turn every kind of music, every type of genre into her own style. And I also think she has a really wide spectrum of music, which I really look up to as well.

Sio: So I usually listen to Sam Smith’s music a lot. I really like his style of expressing his music and the ability to really put out his whole emotions through the music. I really look up to that. So that's why Sam Smith is my role model.

So Sam Smith and Itzy?

Sio: Yeah, both.

Aran: And for me, I love Ariana Grande. That's music always. I love the title songs, but also the B-side songs. I mean every song is my favorite. And I love the way she sings on the stage. She looks so powerful and she has so much confidence on stage that looks so amazing.

Saena: I'm a big fan of Beyoncé. I really love her ability to fill the whole stage by herself. She is more than capable of doing that. And her charismatic performances as well. Watching her performances really motivates me to become an artist who can do the same as well.

How did you all decide to become singers?

Keena: So when I was young, I was watching Apink’s concert video on my phone and I was mesmerized by the scene of basically the artist and the fans filling the whole stage together. They were performing as if they were one. They were having so much fun, they were all excited together. So it was a shocking moment to me to really see that. It was almost like a turning point for me to really decide that I want to be an artist who can do the same, who can communicate with the fans and perform together with the fans as well. So yeah, that was the moment of motivation for me to become an idol.

Sio: I think the biggest motivation for me to become a singer was because I wanted to be a person who expresses myself through music. That was the biggest inspiration for me.

Aran: So I always enjoyed singing ever since I was young. And I don't know, I just thought that I was destined to be on the stage. I was destined to be a performer. And when I went into high school thankfully and very fortunately, those music related opportunities came to me and it felt very natural. So I guess I never looked back on it and I just kept pushing my dream and my motivation to become an artist.

Saena: So I was watching TV when I was young and there was BESTIE, it was a four member girl group and they were smiling so brightly, they were so pretty and they were dancing so happily. I was mesmerized by their performance and I instantly wanted to become a really professional artist who can perform so happily on stage. So that was my motivation.

I have to say, I was reading some interviews you guys did before this one, and I read that Saena said BESTIE and I was excited because I like BESTIE, but I felt like a lot of people don't know BESTIE. So I was like, ‘oh, she knows bestie!’ And I was so surprised.

Saena, high fiving the camera: Oh my god!!!

Aran: She really loves BESTIE.

Apink I know. Everyone knows Itzy. But BESTIE, it’s only if you were a fan then, you had to be in that moment.

I know that Keena’s already songwriting, but did anybody else want to get involved in that? You guys have mentioned a lot of inspiration from big major songwriters, some kind of curious.

Sio: I'm definitely interested in composition and writing the lyric. I'm practicing on my own a lot, but I know I still have a long way to go. But if I get good opportunities, I would be happy to participate in any opportunity

Saena: I can definitely say that all of us are very interested and we would love to be participating in writing our own music and writing the lyrics as well. And as for me, I think my biggest strength is dance. So I would love to participate more in making the choreography for our group. I will try my best to really show more of my choreography and my dance skills. So I hope you keep an eye on that. Please. [Fist bumps in determination]

Is there any dance style you would love to see Fifty Fifty pull off?

Saena: I would love to see Fifty Fifty try out old school hip-hop dance actually because we've been showing a lot of more lovely and softer concepts so far. So I would love to show everyone that we are able to pull up a really charismatic and swaggy style as well.

Keena, everybody else has said that they want to, but I was kind of curious how you started off songwriting and how you got to write for the group for their two singles.

Keena: I've always been writing lyrics ever since I was a trainee. And for the monthly performance test, I would show off my own songs as well. And our CEO actually said, ‘how about you write your own part and we start from there?’ And I grabbed that opportunity and here we are.

I know that Saena and Keena have shared their strengths, so I'm kind of curious about Sio and Aran. What do you think are your big strengths?

Sio: I think for Aran and me, our biggest strengths would be the vocal style and we have completely different styles from each other. So I feel like that is making our music more interesting because it almost feels like a relay run, that we are sharing very different focus styles, but we are kind of continuing in one style as well. So I think that really shows off our strengths.

I can definitely see that in the songs. Do you guys have any favorite lyrics from your music so far?

Sio: There is a line from Lovin’ Me, “now I'm going to shine brightly and confidently” (이젠 당당히 빛나려 해.) Lovin’ Me was actually the first track we've ever revealed to the public. So I think that line specifically carries a really special meeting for us. Fifty Fifty, we are ready to shine brightly and confidently

Keena, singing: “I gave a second chance to Cupid/ 널 믿은 내가 정말 stupid [I trusted you, I’m really stupid].” That's my favorite part from Cupid. And I think all of our songs have really addictive parts to it, but I think Cupid specifically has a melody that is very addictive. You would continuously hear it in your head when you're not listening to it. And I think that specific part is especially very cute. So I really think that's the most addictive and the cutest part that can really show off our cute side.

Aran: For me the most memorable lyrics is in Higher, [sings] “You take me high~” That lyric is my favorite. Cause I want to say it to our fans. Hunnies, you take me high like that. So that's my favorite.

Saena: I'll choose that “click, click log in” from Log In, because that part really has a meaning of, “come on, people log into Fifty Fifty,” that's a hidden meaning behind it. And I think that's the part that perfectly shows a new side of Fifty Fifty completely different from other concepts. I feel like that's another addictive part from our songs.

I'm curious, how do you think of Fifty Fifty’s concept?

Aran: Honestly, it's only been just a few months since our debut, but we consider ourselves as continuously trying to show different sides and different charms in that short amount of time. And I actually, I'm very confident in myself and the members as well because we've been trying and practicing different concepts and different genres and styles ever since we were training. So we've seen each other doing different concepts and different sides as well. And I know for sure that everyone, our members have various charms to show. I'm very confident that we are able to show more different sides for our next album as well.

What's the most surprising thing about each member?

Aran: I think Sio has various different charms. She looks really chic and cool, but yeah, sometimes she looks like a dog. I mean a cute dog or puppy kind of puppy.

Saena: So I think the most surprising thing for all the other members is that we are actually in real life, behind the stage, we are quite shy [when we are] in makeup, being professional. We are a little bit shy around because we are so close together. But once we are on the stage, everyone turns professional and they are showing the coolest sides ever that we are not really sharing behind the stage. So every time I see that, it really surprises me. It's like, ‘wow, they are so charismatic and so cool.’ I don't really see that in daily life, but on the stage I get to see that.

Something that I was curious about was your name. I was reading the press release, and it says that it reflects both dreams and reality. So you've debuted for a few months now. So how does the reality of having debuted differ from what you dreamed, or how do you feel about the dreams you had before you debuted and how you imagined your life now?

Keena: So if we think of pre-debut, our trainee days was the kind of reality and after being debuted Fifty Fifty is the ideal world. When we were the real us before debuting as a group, people didn't know about us. We were just trainees. But after the debut we have this fandom, Hunnies. And I think that's the biggest difference between the ideal world versus the reality that we've been living up to before the debut. Now that we have the fans who always support us and love us and send kind messages, that feels very ideal to me. So I think that's the biggest difference before the debut and after the debut.

Saena: To add on to what Keena said about the ideal world as the debut days and for the training days, I think the same thing. But what doesn't change is that we are constantly working hard and practicing, and working on ourselves. It doesn't matter whether you are in the real world or the ideal world, you have to work on yourself through challenges and struggles to get to where you want to be. So that's what we are trying to do and that's what we've been doing. We are going to continue to work on ourselves and constantly practice to better ourselves. I think that's something that will never change.

Did your expectations of your debut era, the dreams that you had then, do they match reality now or have there been moments like, ‘Oh, I was thinking wrong about something. This is actually the reality of our life as debuted idols’?

Keena: I think now that we have the profession of being idols and artists, I think the biggest difference is that we have different work times than other people who are working from, I don’t know, nine to five, nine to six. We usually get ready very early in the morning to meet our fans and to go up on the stage. And that time is not normal working time for most people. So I think that is something that we realized after being debuted as idols. Like, “wow, now we have a different kind of separate time zone from everybody else.”

Aran: So when we were training I was imagining the life of an idol. “We are going to have fans and we are going to release our own music, and we will get to perform our own music and that'll be so cool.” But in real life, I feel like we got to learn more about our responsibility. So definitely I got more pressure and I feel more nervous before performing in front of our fans after debuting. But I don't particularly see that as a negative thing, because by feeling that kind of pressure and nervousness, it really motivates me. It really gave me the opportunity to think again about how I can improve myself and get over this pressure and nervousness and become more professional. So I think that's another turning point for me to grow up and improve as an artist.

You were saying that you were eager to sing your own songs. I actually asked fans on Twitter what they wanted to ask you, and one of the questions that kept coming up was, what songs did you guys sing at your auditions when you first decided to audition?

Sio: Many songs, long time ago. [Laughs] Like six or seven songs. My favorite song was I Remember by Keyshia Cole. [Sings] “Where were you when I said I loved you?”

Aran: My audition song was Supermarket Flowers from Ed Sheeran. [Sings]

Keena: For me, it was Price Tag by Jessie J. [Sings]

Saena: Stay by Blackpink. [Sings]

Another question that people really wanted to know the answer to: how did you guys decided on your stage names.

Sio: Sio means charm. But it also is spelled similarly to my real name, Jiho.

Saena: So “saena” in Korean, it's an abbreviation of flying freely like a bird. And I think that that meaning fits me personally.

Keena: So for my stage name, we have a softer side of Fifty Fifty, but we also want to show a stronger and more powerful side as well. So that's why I wanted to take on a more powerful sounding, stronger sounding name. And we had actually a quite long list of names that my company staff had prepared for me. And then when I saw the name Keena it sounded just very strong and it just stood out to me the most. So I chose that name.

Aran: Aran that was the name that stood out to me the most. And members that were saying, “Wow, this is yours.” They recommended Aran to me a lot when they saw the name from the list. My name also has an abbreviated meaning of I've grown up beautifully, so I really like that meaning as well.

We have to wrap up, but I wanted to ask Aran… Because we've already met Keena the cat, Sio the dog, and Saena the bird. But what is Aran?

Saena: Squirrel.

Aran: Oh, okay.. For me, a squirrel. Do I look like a squirrel?

Aran: There’s one thing that Sio wants to say about my name.

Sio: It’s too much information. [All laugh] I actually have a friend whose name is Aran. When I told her that we have a member called Aran now and she was kind of blaming me for picking out that name for the member. So I was like, “no, no, no. It was everybody's recommendation. She chose that name!” But I had to really tell her that myself.

Well, I hope your friend is now happy.

That's it for me. Thank you guys so much. Is there anything else you guys wanted to say that you didn't get a chance to add yet?

Keena: So first of all, I would like to say thank you so much Tamar for finding us and interviewing us today. It was our pleasure to talk to you today. Fifty Fifty is going to continue to show various charms through more music and activities. So I hope you keep sending a lot of love for us. Thank you so much

Fifty Fifty
Fifty Fifty on our interview day. Credit: ATTRAKT Creative Content Group