Somehow, against the odds, South Korean boyband Shinee outshone their more illustrious label mates Super Junior and Girls' Generation in New York last year.
Of SM Entertainment's collective showcase last October, New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica summarised Shinee as "the most ambitious" of the evening.
K-pop fans can assess the truth of this statement for themselves when Shinee perform tomorrow at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Jay Park, Teen Top, B1A4 and hot new band 188.8.131.52 are also part of the line-up of the Boyz Nite Out K-pop Festival.
When the four-year-old quintet sat down for an interview with The Korea Times, Onew, Jong Hyun, Key, Min Ho and Tae Min, aged between 18 and 22, were eager to take their best shot at explaining the reason behind their success.
"We show something new with every release," says Onew, 22. "Initially, we can feel a bit awkward (in the new shoes), but then we fill them."
"We don't follow trends," adds Jong Hyun, 22. "That's probably why."
While they are quick to emphasise their creativity and originality, the fact is that their boyish charm has been an enormous factor in winning them a considerable female following – women in their teens and beyond. At showcases, women in their late 20s and older scream the names of Shinee members in ecstasy.
What does each member of Shinee really want for himself?
"I really want to study more. So I bought a textbook on human anatomy recently."
"I want to study abroad. I want to experience the school life."
"I want a routine lifestyle, one that has a schedule; ours is irregularly regular."
- Min Ho
"I want to go on a class trip."
- Tae Min
"I'd like to live alone. I've never done that before."
- Jong Hyun
Shinee also neglect to mention the crucial part fashion designer Ha Sang Beg has played in their career.
Right from their debut in 2008 with the mini album Replay, Ha's colourful avant-garde styles for them – especially their pants – have received as much attention as their music.
Even these days, as seen on the cover of their latest single Sherlock, released in late March, Shinee are bursting with colour.
Ha says: "Much has evolved over the years since I change their styles to reflect their music, but the feel from their debut single still exists. Mixing the mainstream with the underground, haute couture with street fashion, it is very modern, like Shinee."
Above all, Shinee believe the reason for their popularity is quite simple – they are thirsty for success.
"We work hard because we are driven by our fans' expectations," says Min Ho, 20.
If their most important aim is to please fans, they can pat themselves on the back heartily. In the four years they have been around, they have established themselves as one of the most popular groups in K-pop.
Last year, they became the first Asian group to perform at the iconic Abbey Road studios in London, where the Beatles recorded many of their hits. Their 20-date Japanese tour, which started last week, is sold out.
Overseas, Shinee confess they feel more strongly the need to thrill audiences.
Jong Hyun says: "We feel a sense of responsibility when we're singing abroad in Korean. We've got to work hard as representatives."
Korea Times, KF And CJ E&M
BOYZ NITE OUT K-POP FESTIVAL
Where: Singapore Indoor Stadium
When: Tomorrow, 7pm
Admission: $148 and $178 from Sistic