While NewJeans‘ brand of easy-listening K-pop minimalism has earned the girl group both a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 as well as a Billboard Music Award, the quintet shook up their formula when it came to recording League of Legends‘ annual world-championship anthem “Gods.”
For the musical collaboration alongside Riot Games set to one of the world’s most popular video games (League of Legends reports 80 million average monthly players), NewJeans bring a booming, maximalist electronic-pop epic fully in English where an ominous full choir accompanies members Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin and Hyein.
According to NewJeans, bringing “Gods” to life meant delivering their most elaborate live performance to date when the quintet took the stage at LoL‘s World Championship Finals on Nov. 19. Along with dancers and actors joining NewJeans, the performance included virtual-reality, computer-generated imagery and guest appearances from the top competing teams in eventual 2023 champs T1 from South Korea as well as Weibo Gaming from China.
Talking to Billboard exclusively after a big weekend where they not only performed and won at the 2023 BBMAs but helped open League‘s 2023 Worlds, NewJeans discuss recording and preparing “Gods” for the big stage, meeting T1 and Weibo Gaming, favorite Riot Games’ musical collaborations and more.
Congratulations on a huge weekend. Not only did you perform and win at the 2023 Billboard Music Awards, but you also performed “Gods” for the first time live at Worlds. How are you all feeling?
DANIELLE: The whole experience felt surreal to me! Performing for the Worlds Finals as well as the Billboard Music Awards alongside artists we deeply respect and admire was incredibly surreal! Even looking back now the scale was unbelievable and we are so grateful and honored for the experience.
The Worlds performance looked and felt very massive. How do you prepare for such a big performance with different elements like dancers, actors, VR and more?
MINJI: It felt like the stage with the most diverse range of creative elements we had so far. It was truly enjoyable going through the process of coordinating with the dancers and actors through numerous rehearsals, aligning the timing and virtual reality aspects! [Laughs]
Those VR and CGI elements are very cool to watch on YouTube. As performers, do you need to imagine the effects while you’re singing?
MINJI: I was aware that there were numerous stage setups, but when we actually rehearsed on stage, everyone was quite mesmerized. In particular, seeing the part where the video effects seamlessly transitioned into reality left everyone in awe. It was truly an honor to be able to participate in a performance of the scale!
How was making the live premiere of “Gods,” your first song in English, at Worlds? Take us through how this song was conceptualized and eventually came to life on stage.
MINJI: “GODS” was a new challenge for us as NewJeans. It has a different vocal and choreographic style from what we usually do, so we invested a lot of time and effort into it! I recall rehearsing it over and over again for a flawless and dynamic live performance on the grand stage.
HAERIN: Since it’s the anthem for a game and a tournament that is so widely loved on a global level, we thought the lyrics in English would help fans around the world immerse themselves better in the surge of emotions associated with the song.
Are any of you League of Legends fans or players yourselves? Was anyone excited to see parts of the game like Leona and Mordekaiser’s character represented during the performance?
HANNI: I enjoy playing League of Legends every now and then, and because there are so many champions, I’ve become curious about all their different abilities. It was amazing to see the performance we practiced being brought to life on stage alongside such amazing dancers, actors, and all the special effects and CGI. I remember being in awe while we watched the playback of our performance backstage. Also, our outfits and styling were inspired by the champion Leona! Looking back, having Leona appear on stage with us was definitely cool to watch.
So, even your fashion had connections to LoL too?
DANIELLE: Yes!! In fact, our whole outfits were based around Leona, who is a holy warrior in League. Our accessories were specifically designed to resemble her armors of gold and shimmer!
HAERIN: Our wardrobe had a chic feel to it and was put together based on a palette of neutral tones. We wanted an attire suitable for portraying the song effectively!
Finalist teams T1 and Weibo Gaming (WBG) also joined on stage. T1 members have shared that they’re NewJeans fans. Are any of you fans of the teams or players? Did you meet at the event?
HANNI: We had the pleasure of meeting both T1 and WBG backstage on the media conference day! It was a few days before the Finals, and I can’t imagine how nervous they would’ve been, but they greeted us all very warmly. It was nice to have time to meet them! Up until then, we had seen all the small references they made about us and our music, so I really wanted to mention it to them and thank them. But, out of the excitement of meeting them, I forgot to mention it!
HYEIN: We had a lot of rehearsals to perfect our performance for the Finals. During one of the rehearsals, I turned around briefly and was surprised but also fascinated to see the players there! Also, before the stage, we had a moment to greet the players, and it was so gratifying to be able to tell the players from both teams that we’ll be cheering for them.
One of my favorite parts was the montage with people from the LoL community’s photos, like players, casters, announcers, owners and more. How does it feel to be part of this diverse community?
HANNI: The fact that we were able to take part in such a globally loved occasion and engage with such a big community still feels surreal. We were so honored to be a part of it, and we were also grateful to everyone who made it possible. Being there in person and witnessing how such a wide community shares the same love and passion, including all the staff and fans there alike, was an amazing experience. It really was the icing on the cake for this whole process.
You’re now joining LoL and Riot Games’ history of musical collaborations. Imagine Dragons, Becky G, Marshmello, Kim Petras and more have participated, while Riot Games has created virtual bands like K/DA, HEARTSTEEL and True Damage. Have you listened to these collabs?
HANNI: I’ve listened to nearly all of the musical collaborations with Riot Games Music and watched all the amazing accompanying performances. I think K/DA’s “POP/STARS” was just so iconic and massive. I remember it blew up in popularity back when I still lived in Australia! Personally, “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons, the first-ever Worlds Anthem, possesses a very deep emotional sound that is captivating, and I loved immersing myself in the emotion it conveys and the expression of it itself. While we were rehearsing and preparing for the opening ceremony performance, we got to watch the other performances, and HEARTSTEEL was such a blast to watch! The song is not only fun to listen to, but the artists’ individual characteristics and personality were showcased really well on stage, while effortlessly complimenting each other!
As artists, in what ways do you see music and gaming connecting?
DANIELLE: From my perspective, I think music can enhance the storytelling aspect, enriching the whole experience of the game. I think it helps to heighten the overall immersive quality of the experience, which leads to a stronger connection between the player and the visual elements within League!
NewJeans had a massive 2023. Is anything significant still planned for the end of this year? Or any spoilers about what to expect for 2024?
HYEIN: Certainly there were many exciting events in 2023, including our music releases. I want to deliver many fulfilling and amazing performances for the remainder of 2023! I hope our fans, Bunnies, will enjoy our upcoming performances too!