Open as of May 14, HYBE INSIGHT is a music museum that covers various perspectives on music and, more specifically, K-pop. The exhibition that begins on the second basement level interprets works released by HYBE LABELS artists through keywords such as sound, dance and story, with the first basement level organized in a way that allows visitors to experience music through all the senses. On the second basement level, for example, visitors to HYBE INSIGHT will see the studios of HYBE producers like Pdogg and Bumzu in “Studio 360,” while “Lyrics Visualized” shows an image video of SEVENTEEN’s “Fear” reinterpreted in a light green reminiscent of industrial waste.

Visitors become familiar with everything that goes into the artists’ releases and the people it takes to make them, and experience their work with all five senses. This experience as presented at HYBE INSIGHT embodies the process behind the works of HYBE LABELS’ artists and, in a broader sense, K-pop in general, from the time they’re created to when they’re enjoyed by listeners, in the form of an exhibition. Continuing on through the second basement level, digital tattoos of words associated with each group’s original stories, like “youth” for BTS, “eternity” for TOMORROW X TOGETHER, “love” for NU’EST, “passion” for SEVENTEEN and “connect” for ENHYPEN show up on visitors’ hands and clothes. A floor up, in “Ways of Listening,” they can feel the music through the sound’s vibration, while dancing or by reading Braille. On the same floor, “Scent of Sound” is expressed as a scent through a nozzle designed to resemble a long, straight trumpet-like horn loudspeaker, and BTS’s “Euphoria” is reinterpreted in scent, with the music’s high or top notes and the scent’s top notes, all symbolically substituted with one another. By projecting the perspectives of the very people who make K-pop, these people who create projects with HYBE LABELS artists take the lead role in their respective positions, and content such as songs, performances and music videos can all be interpreted in a new way using all five senses—akin to compressing the K-pop creation process and how it’s come to be enjoyed around the world.
What follows after creation and enjoyment is reinterpretation. Active fan analysis of artists’ work and the birth of new creations therefrom has become a pillar of the way listeners indulge in K-pop. In James Jean’s special exhibit at HYBE INSIGHT, visitors are able to see how works belonging to HYBE LABELS artists act as a subject of interpretation, as well as see the pieces made by another artist resulting from that inspiration. Jean’s work paints each member using a motif, drawing on each of their personalities and unique traits. For RM, who often works on music at night, Jean added owl-like wings; the artist depicted SUGA, whose nickname is lil meow meow, with a small cat. “Seven Phases,” the principal work to carry the message of their music, was inspired by the word “garden” in the lyrics to “The Truth Untold” (featuring Steve Aoki) and portrays the members as flower spirits who light up the world and keep it entertained. Kim Jin Hyung, head of the HYBE INSIGHT team, called Jean “an artist who shows interest in people and a love for humanity, and who gives comfort to society with his positive messages. As BTS also converts the wandering confusion of youth into their art to bring them comfort, the purpose of the project was to join two artists who give comfort through their visual art and music, and to give people another form of comfort through art in these difficult times.” The theme of consolation in this exhibit links BTS’s music to the world Jean paints in his art. As such, “this garden full of blooming loneliness” (“The Truth Untold”) has been reinterpreted as an image where the members are no longer lonely, their new life together in full bloom.
However, the exhibition, which reveals the process of creation, enjoyment and interpretation, is ultimately meant to present visitors with a way to appreciate the artists. As TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s YEONJUN explains in the “[HYBE INSIGHT] EXPRESS MUSIC” video, “in addition to a wide range of content you’ll also see our sincere and charming attitude towards presenting you with great performances and music.” In “Innovative Sound,” for instance, next to a wide space showing a studio and huge equipment, there’s a small wall where you can see the artist’s recording process played out on a tiny screen that can only be seen and heard properly close up. In Moving Body, a part of “Dynamic Movement,” videos that have been modified to include various illustrations and graphics in line with the artists’ traits are projected onto a big screen. Audiences tend to linger longest for this performance video, which makes full use of the movement and unique qualities of the artists by using several different direction, editing and camera techniques. The performance video is intended to reflect the artists’ unique traits: We see BTS’s use of contemporary dance in the choreography for “FAKE LOVE” and “Black Swan”; SEVENTEEN’s 13-person mass games-style perfect group choreo focuses on replication; for NU’EST, as a group with a well-defined concept, just one color is given prominence in order to place more emphasis on their movements; cute illustrations pop out and copy TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s movements, reflecting the group’s youthful debut; the numerous graphics and illustrations for ENHYPEN’s part take the group’s audition program story arc into consideration and follow the idea of them becoming one through a connection in their explosive energy. Beside all of this, meanwhile, Behind the Sweat shows the artists’ simple dance practice videos at such a small scale that you have to get close just to see it well. The artists have reviewed themselves on film from the days of their monthly evaluations as trainees to their many recent performance videos in a process of self-improvement, and visitors see the fruit of their labor in Moving Body as well. The section where these videos in the recording studio and dance practice videos are played is miniscule—so small you have to be looking for it to see it—as though to suggest that seemingly small efforts are the building blocks of where those artists are today. It’s also a permanent testament to the less flashy side of that process: the perseverance that rarely receives attention.

“We wanted to show how all the glamour is a result of their hard work, and the world behind that glamour, and instill the fact that they’re spending their youth the same as we all do,” HYBE INSIGHT’s curator Lee Yeowoon said when asked about the concept behind the artists’ portraits displayed in “The Faces We Love” on the first basement level. Pictures that don’t paper over emotions or facial expressions can feel unfamiliar when we’re used to the splendor of the artist on stage as we all envision, but they also feel more like a real person experiencing their youth. The same goes for the artist interviews, the final video in the exhibition. “SOOBIN from TOMORROW X TOGETHER says that there are songs that are fun, and songs that are not fun,” Kim, the HYBE INSIGHT head, said. “We wanted to show how they’re stars when it comes to the music, but there’s also human things about them underneath.”
Inside HYBE INSIGHT is also a space for fans who follow everything in K-pop from the creative process to the inner lives of the artists. This highlight of the exhibition, named “HYBE Music,” is a dedication of sorts to fans. The “HYBE Music” space features an 8.5-meter-high trophy wall commemorating the artists’ achievements and a video filling out the entire front of the space across the two basement levels. Contrary to expectations that the trophies be displayed horizontally, they rise up vertically, as if reaching ever higher. Spectators are left in awe and admiration as they behold everything they’ve achieved together while each award is called out by name and the spotlight shines upon the corresponding trophies on the wall. “There are many fans who feel like they raised their artists like Tamagotchis,” Kim said of the space. “I hope they find it all worthwhile, seeing all the awards their favorite artists have received, and what they have achieved with the dedication and love of their fans.” The catalog of awards is displayed like shining stars that fill the entire “HYBE Music” space, while at the end of the video the stars gather together to form the names of the fandoms to HYBE artists, like L.O.Λ.E, ARMY, CARAT, MOA and ENGENE. If the artists’ achievements are stars, then the fandom names they form are constellations brimming with their respective meanings and narratives. And, just as constellations act as guides and companions to travelers who know nothing of what lies ahead of them, they convey a message that, in the eyes of the artists, the fans will stay with them for the rest of their unpredictable journey. That’s why the docents at HYBE INSIGHT take on the title of “companion.” Kim explained that the rationale is that, “by focusing on the word ‘companion,’ visitors experience HYBE’s music for two hours together with their favorite artist,” and that “JR from NU’EST was great at it right from the beginning, like he was born to do it. RM from BTS has been to so many exhibitions that he seemed to be familiar with the role of a docent.” While he was recording, “he suggested all the transitions himself and would change them on the spot or say he could’ve done better when he wasn’t quite satisfied.”
Museums tell of the past insofar as their exhibitions are about things that are no longer in use and of their remains. For two hours, people living their lives today recall in this space all the time they’ve spent together. But there are no what-ifs tinged with regret at HYBE INSIGHT. Instead of what-ifs and could-have-beens, everything inside exhibits what a best effort could achieve at the given time—proof of the dids and weres of past experiences. As one final farewell from the exhibit, visitors are treated to an array of albums on display—a compendium of everyone’s efforts as they leave the past behind and return to the present. As they do, the artist docent leaves them with a final message: “I hope music has built a strong bond between us and continues to reverberate throughout and beyond our lives.” Leaving HYBE INSIGHT, visitors emerge from a shared history out into the present and the future that it leads to.
Article. Minji Oh