After exiting a Seoul arena full of 5,000 screaming fans, the members of GOT7 walk straight into the arms of their biggest fans of all — their families.
You can spot actor-handsome vocalist Jinyoung’s father a mile away — not so much by his face, but rather by his striking full eyebrows, which arch down in mirth as he hugs his 27-year-old son. Much like their soft-spoken middle child, the parents of rapper Mark, here from all the way across the world in L.A., quietly radiate warmth and pride. And one needs only to look towards the excited chatter in the back of the cavernous greenroom to recognize Thai rapper BamBam’s family — siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, you name it — boasting chic getups and sky-high stilettos, buzzing with hellos and congratulations.
It feels like one big reunion, with members embracing each other’s parents, friends, or nieces, the room filled with laughter. It’s a happy moment, marking the beginning of GOT7’s journey now that they’ve left their longtime label behind — but it’s also an ending of sorts. Because after today, it may be a long time before the seven members of GOT7 all embrace each other again.
Two days earlier, the same seven musicians — leader Jay B, Mark, Jackson, Jinyoung, Youngjae, BamBam, and Yugyeom — stand on that same stage within the SK Handball Gymnasium, albeit looking a bit less camera-ready. The barefaced and slightly unshaven twentysomethings are running through the setlist they picked out for Homecoming, the two reunion concerts they’ll put on for fans over the weekend. “During the pandemic we had new songs come out, but we didn’t get the chance to perform in front of fans,” BamBam, sporting orange-tinted sunglasses, says later. “We listed our songs — mostly new songs that we never performed in front of fans before. We wanted to show new performances as well as some songs that had a lot of meaning to us, like our first debut song, and the last song that we performed on stage.”
The show chronicles the journey that GOT7 have taken during their eight-year ascension into K-pop stardom, beginning with a remix of their 2014 debut single, “Girls, Girls, Girls,” and winding through standout hits like “Just Right(딱 좋아)” and “Thursday” before ending on “Encore,” their last single recorded with the label that formed them, JYP Entertainment, in 2021.
The setlist is notably peppered with tracks from their newest EP, GOT7, hinting at the bigger story of their evolution since leaving their label and venturing out on their own. As they practice “NANANA,” the EP’s vibey lead single, Jay B, who wrote the track, stops to check that everything looks and sounds just so. In less than 24 hours, fans will be hearing the song for the first time, so the pressure is on. But thankfully, the single is not a sonic shift, nor will it come as a shock to listeners — in fact, they’re confident fans will love it. “It’s so GOT7,” Hong-Kong-born rapper Jackson says during the group’s press conference a few days later. “When I first heard it, it reminded me of ‘Thursday’ and ‘Page,’ where we have so much fun onstage.”
The Homecoming shows mark the first time GOT7 will be performing together in front of a live audience of fans since 2019, and the first time they’re performing as a group since departing JYP. The septet’s decision not to re-sign after their standard seven-year contract ended came as a surprise to many, especially given that the group was seeing growing popularity and continued commercial success with each year. But members of the group have said that they ultimately felt like the direction JYP wanted to take both the group’s and each member’s individual careers differed too much from theirs, and it was time to make a change. Each member signed to different management after leaving the label, but another detail was more telling about their future: The members took their IP with them.
“I wanted to make sure we had the rights to our own name, and so when I was leaving JYP I spoke to the CEO and they were very gracious in allowing us to take it,” Jay B says. “It’s a relief because all seven members decided that we would split the rights. It definitely wasn’t easy, but the way I see things, nothing is enjoyable or worth it if it’s too easy.”
“The rest of us like to keep it easy,” BamBam says with a giggle as the other members laugh in agreement.
Though GOT7 isn’t the first group to fight and keep the rights to their name, their relatively civil and quick split from their label, trademark in hand, certainly has set a precedent for groups in the K-pop industry going forward. Labels tend to hold all the power — aesthetics, music, promotional tactics, scheduling, often even housing — from well before a group’s inception to their eventual disbandment. Going solo in some capacity can often feel like the only way for an idol to gain some autonomy — your name is yours, after all. But your group name, often a more valuable brand, usually isn’t. This show of solidarity by GOT7 illuminates a path for those who want to retain that precious facet of their identity, and regain a sense of control over their artistry as a unit. It’s a glimpse of freedom and power that many groups have only ever dreamed of.
The unprecedented nature of the event itself is bound to drum up some nerves. “Our main goal for these shows was, ‘Let’s not faint in the middle of the show,’” Jinyoung says, laughing. “Because it’s been a long time since we performed as a group — we all had our solo careers and it’s been over a year since we performed together — we didn’t want people to say that we weren’t in sync. We paid attention to a lot of the details in getting ready for the show. Because our group, like Jay B says” — he looks at the leader with mock seriousness — “prefers the harder road than the easier road.” Another fit of laughter.
Even with such high stakes, they look as unbothered as ever. While rehearsing one of their most earnest ballads, “Miracle,” Yugyeom, who stands high up on a platform, begins to sing dramatically to Jackson down below as if he were the Juliet to his Romeo; at the end of “Just Right,” Jay B breaks into a silly dance for his members. It’s clear that even after all these years, they love performing for each other almost as much as they do for an audience.
That unforced chemistry has endeared millions of fans to them. They say it comes down to acknowledging their differences. “It’s because we’re different that we’re able to fulfill what’s missing and what we lack in each other,” youngest (and tallest) member Yugyeom says.
“In the beginning, when we first debuted, we didn’t get along, and the chemistry wasn’t quite there,” Jinyoung adds. “Then for seven years we argued a lot, and if we had ignored our problems we wouldn’t be where we are right now. Because we kept fighting it out, it was the kind of situation where at a certain point, everything just mixes all together well…like bibimbap.”
Jackson can’t help himself. “You acted like you were going to say the coolest thing,” he says, “then you go ahead and say bibimbap…”
“It’s Korean culture, man!” Jinyoung shoots back with a grin.
Having had some time apart, the members contend that the work they did individually helped the group as a whole grow stronger. “When performing as a soloist, you have to be able to fill up the whole song by yourself and dance by yourself,” says main dancer Yugyeom. “So our whole ability singing and dancing has probably gotten better.”
“Because you have to be able to show yourself off in a short amount of time split between seven people,” Youngjae, known for his powerful tenor, continues, “the desire to be able to stand out was very big for everybody, because there’s only so much time. But because we were able to release all those desires during our own solo promotions, when we came back as a team the whole team functioned a lot better.”
During the poignant “Don’t Leave Me Alone,” the EP’s closer and their final song before goodbyes (and many, many encore songs), the guys look around the empty stadium, all turning contemplative. Tomorrow, those thousands of empty seats will be filled with screaming fans who’ve been waiting years to see them. Tomorrow, they’ll find out if the fight to stay a family was all worth it.
It was: Both nights of Homecoming felt like parties nobody could bring themselves to leave. Each night lasted about four hours, filled with songs and question-and-answer portions where the members fondly shared memories — like the time a baby-faced Jinyoung was comically dedicated to his dance practice, or when Jackson and Jay B fought over chicken wings. Night two ended on a jukebox’s worth of encore songs — about 13, in fact.
BamBam contends that one of the most touching moments of the weekend came before the shows had even started. “For me, it was the first day when we went out to do the soundcheck for the VIP fans. After two and a half years, it was our first time seeing our fans again, and they were able to scream and send us some energy.” (Due to Covid restrictions in prior months, fans were only allowed to clap.) He clutches his arms, reliving the moment. “I felt so weird…felt some goosebumps. It was a good feeling.”
“When we saw them, they looked so much happier,” says Juliette, a GOT7 fan (technically called IGOT7, colloquially called “Ahgase”) from the U.K. who’s teaching English in Seoul. “Their new songs sound amazing. It sounds more GOT7 than anything they’ve ever done before.”’
Juliette says the members’ time apart over the last year has allowed them to “find themselves” and their own sound — something that lands closer to R&B than pure pop. But she and fellow English teacher Natalie agree that the show is more than just a chance to dance around to their favorite songs — it’s a show of solidarity. “K-pop seems to be going in the kind of direction where fan support means you can stay alive,” Natalie says. “A lot of this is just about showing support, ‘We’re here for you’ kind of thing. People say as a fan you’re a drop in the ocean. But here we all are, an ocean for them. It’s showing that we support them and they’re going in the right direction. Even if you leave JYP, we’re not going to hold it against you or anything like that. No one did honestly. Everyone was like, ‘Yeah! Finally!’”
That kind of reassurance was exactly the band’s goal as well. “I don’t think there was much fear behind preparing as a group, I think it was more trying to reassure the fans that we’re still together,” Mark says. “We don’t know what the future holds for us, but we still believe that we have a good support system, a good fan base. We’re pretty much doing it for them — and it’s something we want to do as a group, too. We all have the desire to still work together. Not too worried about whether people show up or not, we just wanted to show people that this is still GOT7.”
Soon, each member will continue on his individual path, unsure when the next time they’ll reunite will be. What a joy to have worked so hard doing what you love and to see the passionate fandom you’ve cultivated show up for you — but what if, individually, that same fervor isn’t there?
“For me, performing on stage, I’m always enjoying it,” Jackson says confidently. “After performing, on the way home or before we go to bed, that’s the moment when you reflect, Ah, my future… Will there be people showing up at the shows? But that’s the reason why we work hard. That motivates us.”
“The way that I see it, and I think a lot of the other members agree, is not that I’m someone special, but because of GOT7, I’ve become someone who’s important,” Youngjae says, the other members nodding in agreement. “Individually, we’re not as special, but because of GOT7, it’s something to be proud of and that is very special.”
Jay B holds up the GOT7 EP. “When this album came out, I thought” — he chooses to use a light curse word in Korean to express his elation, eliciting a cringe from the other members. “I was more proud of being in GOT7 than I’ve ever been the moment this album came out, because it was showing people what we were able to do. Our real potential.”
“GOT7 changed our life, man,” BamBam says.
Jackson motions to the recorder on the table, comically deadpan. “Please send me that recording of Jay B swearing later.”