With LOONA On Hold, Odd Eye Circle Welcomes A New Phase

The sub-unit is under new management and trailblazing new possibilities for K-pop artists.

by Tássia Assis
Originally Published: 

"For a long time, we have lived a life that’s closely related to the moon,” says Odd Eye Circle’s leader, Kim Lip. She’s referring to her experience as a member of K-pop group LOONA who originally brought Odd Eye Circle to life as a sub-unit back in 2017. “Every time I see the moon up in the sky I tend to take a lot of pictures, and I also have a moon tattoo. It means a lot to me.”

As its name suggests, LOONA aimed to portray the satellite’s multifaceted mystique through 12 young women (its Korean name, “이달의 소녀,” means “girl of the month”). In one of K-pop’s most astonishing rollouts, each member had their talents highlighted in lush pre-debut solos and sub-units — projects that started in 2016 and lasted until August 2018, when they finally debuted as a full group with the EP [+ +].

LOONA shone brightly — the meme “stan LOONA” populated even the most remote corners of the internet — but, like the moon, they also met darkness.

In November 2022, the members found themselves enmeshed in a legal battle against their label, Blockberry Creative, an ordeal that began when vocalist Chuu was suddenly expelled from the group, prompting the remaining LOONA members to file injunctions to suspend their contracts due to a breach of trust with the company. By June 2023, all members had won their lawsuits. Now free, a new cycle looms on the horizon: it’s time for a different LOONA to rise.

Odd Eye Circle is spearheading this new beginning. The trio, comprising Kim Lip, JinSoul, and Choerry, is the first to resume activities under new label Modhaus. Its second album — or first of this new era — Version Up, dropped July 12, and while it maintains LOONA’s essence, it also represents “the more developed version of us compared to six years ago,” says JinSoul.

On a Thursday ahead of the release, Odd Eye Circle joins NYLON on a Zoom call from Seoul. Through the screen, their jet black hair contrasts with pristine white T-shirts, but that’s as far as the similarities between the three women go. Eldest member JinSoul, 26, has attentive eyes and a deep voice, with which she relays carefully thought out ideas. Choerry, the youngest at 22, is the embodiment of the “^_^” emoticon, and playfully smiles throughout the interview. Kim Lip, 24, is lofty and assertive, inspiring a confident aura to the group.

For Kim Lip, the past few months have been very confusing and uncertain. Despite the turbulent departure from her former label, the trial inspired her to fight harder to stay a part of LOONA in whatever way possible. Joining Modhaus seemed like the most certain course of action: “Our initial plan for Odd Eye Circle’s re-debut started as soon as we signed the contract at the end of March,” she says.

Modhaus, also home to rookie girl group TripleS, was established in December 2021 by LOONA’s former creative producer and mentor, Jaden Jeong, who, since the beginning, was intent on supporting LOONA toward a brighter path. “On the day that we signed the contract, Jaden listed all the plans that he had set out for [us], and his confidence while talking really impressed me,” Kim Lip says.

“Jaden is the one who really let us spread our wings and find our true colors,” adds JinSoul.

Under the label, the trio are a part of a greater music collective called ARTMS alongside fellow ex-LOONA members Heejin and Haseul. While future activities involving all of them haven’t yet been disclosed, conversations are happening. “The members and Jaden usually talk about issues over text, just like how friends would do,” says Kim Lip.

During Odd Eye Circle’s darkest nights, when they were unsure of what awaited their futures, having multiple sources of support kept the members afloat. Jeong’s presence was crucial, but the members’ outlooks on the whole situation were equally important. “I didn't feel necessarily hopeless, however, I hoped it would end quickly,” says Kim Lip of that time. “Thinking about that situation made me angry and motivated me to become successful, to work with the members, and to work hard in general.”

JinSoul and Choerry eased their anxieties by talking to friends and family about their struggles, which made everything easier to bear. “My concerns worsen over time if I just stay on my own, thinking [about it],” says JinSoul. “It's good to just let out the stress and whatever's in your heart.”

Another grounding force was their fans, also known as Orbits. Upon learning about the legal issues between LOONA and their former label, fans initiated a boycott against the company which ranged from unfollowing official accounts on social media to not buying albums or streaming their music.

When asked about the boycott, JinSoul and Choerry throw furtive looks at each other and smile. “Fans’ beliefs in the appropriate pathway that we should walk motivated them to do actions that support all the LOONA members, including us,” says JinSoul. “They did their best, and thanks to that we're standing here right now.”

“We had a lot of deep conversations with each other, which made us grow stronger as a group.”

On the precipice of a new phase, the three women are now focused on making Version Up their best version yet. “The first feeling is nervousness, but I'm also looking forward to the redebut of the group,” says Choerry. “Our new album means a lot because it came out after a deep and active discussion with Jaden.”

The twinkling and brisky title track “Air Force One” finds them singing about leveling up and facing a “new universe.” They swap Odd Eye Circle’s famous white Converse high-tops for sporty Nike Air Force Ones, and compare stepping into this new journey to the “delightful [feeling] of buying new shoes and wearing them for the first time,” says Choerry. (She also notes that Air Force One being the USA’s presidential plane instills a regal spirit to the song.)

In the music video, layers upon layers of references to LOONA’s previous releases add a nostalgic touch — an acknowledgement that, despite this fresh start, the members haven’t forgotten where they came from. For Kim Lip, who co-penned the track, it was a moment to express “our sincerity as a group.”

On the remaining five songs on the record, the group travels through lavish synths and hints of hyperpop, deep house, R&B, and more. It’s purely theirs, spinning forth new iterations of a sound that is odd but absolute, like the shape of a circle.

Choerry, who debuted when she was only 16 years old, says that the album encapsulates just how much she’s grown. “Back then, my vocal skills were not quite good, but thanks to all the advice that the unnies [elder members] gave me, I feel like [they] have improved,” she says. As the interpreter relays her words, she laughs and does a “T_T” emoticon with her fingers. “I’m a developed version of Choerry compared to six years ago.”

With an open road ahead and new shoes to walk in, Odd Eye Circle (and LOONA) is trailblazing new possibilities and setting new parameters for K-pop artists in general. Winning a lawsuit so quickly and finding the freedom to start again is almost unheard of in their industry, where lengthy legal disputes and unfair contracts run rampant. For peers who might face a similar situation, the group’s re-debut symbolizes hope.

“It would be best not to go through the same experience that we have gone through,” says Kim Lip. “However, if you are involved, it's all about staying strong mentally and to figure out what's best for you and what you want to do with your life. We had a lot of deep conversations with each other, which made us grow stronger as a group.”

The group’s upcoming Europe tour Volume Up in August is just the beginning. Looking forward, JinSoul wants “to be able to show all the things that we have prepared as a group, and to execute them perfectly.” Choerry wishes that they can all “get deeply involved” in the production or writing lyrics for their upcoming releases. She wants Odd Eye Circle to keep on shifting, and for fans to keep on guessing what their next step will be: “I hope [we] have an appeal like the moon: mysterious, charming, and dreamy.”

Odd Eye Circle’s ‘Version Up’ is out now.

Editor’s note: This article’s headline has been updated to reflect that LOONA hasn’t disbanded.

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