Odd Eye Circle on new beginnings: “We have more freedom now”
In angel numbers, three is most commonly associated with harmony, creativity and self-expression. This rings true for Odd Eye Circle, the beloved LOONA sub-unit who are heralding a new era of creative autonomy six years after their initial introduction to the world. The fan-favourite trio of Kim Lip, Jinsoul and Choerry first emerged in 2017 with their mini-album ‘Mix & Match’ following a trifecta of resplendent solo singles, propelling the then-up and coming girl group into the spotlight.
After the group made their official debut in 2018, Odd Eye Circle (along with LOONA 1 ⁄ 3 and yyxy) were shelved in favour of full 12-member releases. And while the past few years of LOONA have spawned some of K-pop’s most memorable hits, many – including the members themselves – have long hoped for the return of the group’s iconic sub-units.
“Whenever fans asked for Odd Eye Circle over the years, we felt very sorry towards them, and felt it was a shame that we didn’t release music together,” Jinsoul tells NME from Seoul over Zoom ahead of the release of their new mini-album ‘Version Up’. “Now that we’re finally making a comeback, I feel like we are giving our fans a gift.”
A lot has changed for LOONA in the past year, let alone since Odd Eye Circle last took the stage as a trio. In November 2022, fans of the group – known affectionately as Orbits – were blindsided when long-time agency Blockberry Creative announced the sudden dismissal of vocalist Chuu, setting off an unprecedented legal battle as the rest of the girl group fought to terminate their contracts with the company.
Kim Lip, Jinsoul and Choerry, along with bandmates Heejin and Haseul, have since found a new home with Modhaus, the K-pop agency founded by LOONA’s former creative director Jaden Jeong. Together, they launched ARTMS, a collective formed by the group’s members – though Jeong previously said that “the identity of LOONA” would continue. And with all three members of Odd Eye Circle under one roof, it was only logical that the first step of their new beginning was to bring back the beloved sub-unit.
“We’d been working with Jaden Jeong since the beginning of our career, and we thought that he knew how to showcase our colour as Odd Eye Circle the best,” Kim Lip shares. As the leader of the trio, the vocalist carries herself with an unshakable poise, often taking charge of the conversation throughout our chat. “It’s a really great opportunity to be working together again and to showcase what we couldn’t last time, since we’d only promoted [as Odd Eye Circle] for a very short period.”
“There’s actually a lot of unreleased music from when we were with Jaden in Blockberry… I’d like to think it’s possible that we could release those songs from the past” – Kim Lip
It’s been years since they were active as a trio, but Odd Eye Circle share an intuitive harmony, which Choerry credits as the reason behind their enduring popularity. “Each of us are very unique in our own way, with our own individual charms. Put together, I think fans find us a very interesting combination,” she says, wondering aloud: “Perhaps that’s why they were always looking forward to new music from us?”
The youngest of the three, Choerry spends much of our time together listening intently to her bandmates’ thoughts, nodding animatedly as they speak. However, she jumps to proudly share that Kim Lip had co-written lyrics for their new Jersey club single ‘Air Force One’, adding that LOONA had “always been interested” in writing and producing their own music, though opportunities were previously scarce. “In that sense, we’ve been granted a little more freedom,” she says.
Although they have been releasing music for years, Odd Eye Circle are eager for their voices to finally be heard. While Kim Lip is the only one who has a writing credit on the new record, they unanimously agree that ‘Version Up’ is a reflection of Odd Eye Circle’s creative vision. “Our musicality has definitely matured,” says Jinsoul, whose “impressive” A&R skills were lauded by Jeong in an interview earlier this year.
“We were much more involved in the decision-making, so it almost feels like we co-produced it,” she continues, sharing that they personally chose ‘Air Force One’ as their title track, along with the visuals accompanying the record. “Even with things like choosing photos to be included in the album, we had a say […] so we have more freedom now.”
“I think [‘Version Up’] reflects how much we have matured over the years,” Kim Lip echoes. With more creative control, the trio have also been able to take full advantage of their synergy, she adds: “Instead of giving up our individual characteristics, we actually emphasised each of our own abilities at the same time, all in one album.”
After all they have been through, it is heartening to see Odd Eye Circle find their voices and take back their power, especially in an industry where entertainment agencies oftentimes wield all the control. In the eyes of K-pop fans, the 12 members of LOONA have set a new precedent in the industry, taking a brave step towards a future where artists are the writers of their own fate.
Reflecting on LOONA’s past, Kim Lip shares her advice for K-pop newcomers, pointing out that the young age and passion of most trainees make it far too easy for them to get crushed beneath the pressure of the industry. “I would say they shouldn’t give themselves too much stress. Being mentally healthy is extremely important in being able to see and reach your goals clearly,” she says.
“When we started out, we didn’t have any senior artists [in our agency], so we had to look up to each other,” she adds. While LOONA had to find their own way, the members under Modhaus have wasted no time in becoming a guiding force for the agency’s rookie girl group, tripleS, readily offering their advice and encouragement to the rising act. “It was very helpful for us to be able to depend on and become family to each other. Being able to have this relationship with others doing similar types of work is very important to having a healthy career.”
The rest of their family may look a little different now, but Odd Eye Circle’s bond has only grown stronger. “Even when we aren’t working together, we have a lot of conversations about music and production, but also our personal lives, how things are affecting us – whether positively or negatively,” says Jinsoul. “This communication between us has been very helpful for us.”
When asked about future Odd Eye Circle releases, Choerry’s eyes widen, and she lets out a playful “oooooh”, before looking to Jinsoul, who shares: “There’s definitely a possibility for us to keep releasing music as Odd Eye Circle. But we also have Haseul and Heejin being part of our ARTMS project, and the other new units and combinations that can be created from that remains to be seen.”
“Since we’re only touring as a trio this time, we’ll be doing our best to fill up the stage and make it a blast”– Jinsoul
“Only our CEO knows,” she adds with a hearty laugh. In the meantime though, Jinsoul expresses her personal hopes of exploring collaborations with other musicians and releasing more solo material.
Kim Lip, on the other hand, is keen on revisiting Jeong’s vault of unreleased LOONA material, including the elusive ‘Hyper Ballad’. “There’s actually a lot of unreleased music from when we were with Jaden in Blockberry, such as ‘Hyper Ballad’,” she says. “Now that we’re working together again, I’d like to think it’s possible that we could release those songs from the past.”
Looking to the more immediate future, at the top of Odd Eye Circle’s agenda is re-connecting with LOONA’s loyal and passionate fan base, starting with their upcoming Europe tour. As for Orbits elsewhere in the world, Jinsoul says: “We definitely want to meet our fans from all around the world since we share such a strong relationship, but we’re not sure about our future touring schedule – for now at least.”
“When we toured as LOONA last year, we ran into a lot of difficulties […] and made some mistakes along the way as well. Now that we’ve gone through all that, we want to fix all those things on this tour,” she reflects. “Since we’re only touring as a trio this time, we’ll be doing our best to fill up the stage and make it a blast.”
Odd Eye Circle’s new mini-album ‘Version Up’ is out now. Tickets to their upcoming 2023 ‘Volume Up’ Europe tour are also on sale now.