Johnny Suh is a member of the groundbreaking group NCT 127, the boy-band ensemble responsible for the latest mammoth hit “2 Baddies,” and has thus become one of the biggest global K-pop stars. The fashion magazines Vogue, People, and Paper have all featured him in anticipation of his first appearance at the Met Gala in 2022. Market research firm Netbase Quid found that on that particular evening, his nine million Instagram followers made him one of the most talked about celebrities, even surpassing co-host Ryan Reynolds.
In Northbrook, however, he is Johnny Suh, a 2013 graduate of Glenbrook North High School who enjoys returning home from Seoul, South Korea, where he now resides. When the group visited fellow Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson on her talk show in October, Suh revealed that he misses the cold and snow of Chicago winters.
During a phone conversation with Suh before NCT 127’s brief U.S. tour, which begins at the United Center on January 9, Suh joked, “She did ask what I missed most about Chicago and I did say the cold, and she called me crazy or something like that.”
K-pop (Korean pop music) is incredibly popular in Chicago right now, and the city has recently witnessed several “firsts” related to the genre. For example, BTS’s J-Hope was the first South Korean headliner at a North American festival when he closed out Lollapalooza last year, and the weekend before, Tomorrow x Together became the first K-pop group to play at the event.
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Suh was inspired to pursue a career in show business by singer-dancers like Usher. In 2007, his mother learned of a global audition held by SM Entertainment, one of South Korea’s largest entertainment conglomerates that houses its own talent agency, record label, music production division, and publishing arm. A number of successful K-pop acts owe a great deal to it, including TVXQ, Super Junior, and Girls’ Generation.
“It’s a dream of every little kid, and I guess my mom knew about it, and there was an audition for it… When she asked if I wanted to go, I thought it might be uncool because I was a “teenager,” but I figured, what the heck, why not? Suh recalled telling himself, “Just take this chance and see what happens.”
He was in the seventh grade and he compared the experience to the modern-day “American Idol” auditions. After making it through all the hoops, Suh was recruited by SM Entertainment, which eventually moved him to South Korea to be with the other eight chosen artists who would become NCT 127. In 2016, the collective began operating formally.
It was a lengthy process to make the change. When Suh was younger, his parents took him on tours of Asia to give him a taste of the pop star lifestyle there. Like summer camp, I guess. Here in Korea, I studied singing and dancing for a few years. After finishing high school, he decided to make Seoul his permanent home.
NCT 127 is a group that has contributed greatly to the worldwide success of the K-pop genre over the past decade. By 2022, THE-K had become “an enormous part of the modern U.S. music industry,” and Billboard had held its first annual THE-K Billboard Awards to recognize the accomplishments of artists in the field.
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s (IFPI) “Global Music Report,” South Korea’s K-pop industry is the sixth largest in the world. BTS, another K-pop act, overtook them as Spotify’s second most popular group in 2019.
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“I think it’s similar in a way, with [band] members working together and growing up together,” Suh says, “except now technology and social media have made it even more accessible.”
NCT 127 is well-known for fusing dance, electronic, hip-hop, and R&B into their music, so the genres are also expanding.
NCT 127, which stands for “New Culture Technology,” and “127,” which is the longitude (east-west geographic coordinate) of Seoul, represent a significant cultural exchange. “We know how powerful an impact music has on people, and our whole idea is that through music everybody is connected,” Suh says to explain the concept. We hope to connect with people all over the globe and spread our love of music and culture.
In order to stay in touch with his 5.6 million YouTube subscribers, Johnny started a series called “Johnny’s Communication Center” on the NCT 127 channel. One video even features him showing Northbrook and Chicago to his bandmates during a sleepover at his parents’ place.
“The other folks in NCT 127 came up with the concept. People often refer to me as the “communications centre” because I am always willing to engage in conversation. The ability to read the mind of the other person is one of my favourite aspects of the conversation. Suh explains, “I figured, why not turn this into a YouTube channel and show [aspects of our members or me] to our fans that they’ve never seen before.”
NCT 127 are the second K-pop artists ever to place three albums in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200 chart, following in the footsteps of BTS, who achieved this feat with their first three albums. Their fourth album ” (2 Baddies),” released in September, debuted at No. 3 on the chart.
Suh has promised that the new material, which will be included on a repackaged version of the album set for release on January 30th, “is going to be another side of NCT 127 that people have not seen yet.” According to me, this was the most challenging show we had to practice for.