When South Korean band iKON was asked to play with fans instead of for fans during Samsung's Fortnite tournament in New York City, the band jumped at the unique opportunity.
Getting to play the ultra-popular video game in front of a large audience wasn't the sole reason for iKON's palpable excitement — it also marked the band's first appearance in New York and second U.S. performance since they exploded on the K-pop scene in 2015. The week before, the septet — B.I, Bobby, Chanwoo, Ju-ne, Jay, Song, and DK — made their U.S. debut headlining SXSW's 2019 Korea Spotlight showcase.
The reason for their first New York City visit was to promote a rare collaboration. Samsung announced a K-pop partnership specifically for its newly-minted Galaxy S10 phones. Mobile Fortnite players would be able to dress characters like iKON member Jung Chanwoo, using the new "iKONIK" skin. Players would also be able to unlock a special "emote" (a dance move that your character can bust out) based on the band's 2018 mega-hit "Love Scenario." To celebrate the launch, fans of the game and of iKON (called iKONICs) packed into Samsung 837's New York headquarters to watch a Fortnite tournament — the winners of which would be able to play with members of iKON (avid gamers themselves) and pro-gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. After the match, the K-pop group performed a few of their high-energy songs for the audience.
Refinery29 sat down with Chanwoo and his iKON bandmates to talk about their collaboration with Samsung and Fornite, their deepening connection with overseas fans, and their upcoming projects.
How did iKON's partnership with Samsung and Fortnite come about?
Chanwoo: "First of all, when I heard about this collaboration I was thrilled, because Fortnite is obviously a very world-renowned game, and I absolutely love to play it. When I heard that I was chosen to become a skin for Fortnite, I was so excited and happy. I heard that they were looking for a K-pop idol who loves to play the game, I thought, Wow, I guess playing this all the time paid off after all."
Are you any good?
Chan: (laughs) "No."
Bobby: "No, he's just saying that. He's actually the best."
Why do you feel that this collaboration was a particularly good fit for iKON?
Chan: "Personally, as a Fortnite player it was a great opportunity for me to be featured in the game, and as for iKON, it would be a good opportunity for us to become more familiar to people all around the world who play the game. We would be able to introduce our group and our songs to people through Fortnite who otherwise might not know about us."
How did you come up with the design for your Fortnite skin?
Chan: "The character was designed and created by Epic Games. I was really impressed that they were able to capture the details — I like to wear black clothes a lot, and I have a black mask that I frequently wear. So I'm really happy with what they came up with.
Chanwoo, did you ever imagine yourself being a character in a video game?
Chan: "No, I grew up playing a lot of games and lot of different types of games, and I always figured that in order to become a character of a video game you'd have to be famous. So to see myself as a character come true is really amazing."
Bobby: "Personally, I've always thought it would be cool. But if I made a character or skin for myself, it would definitely be cooler than Chan's." (laughs)
Song: "As Chan mentioned, Fortnite is such a globally famous game and to become a character you have to be really big. So I'm somewhat envious in a way, but I'm so proud of him."
What about the "Love Scenario" emote?
Chan: "When I first heard that there would be an emote created with our choreography, I thought it would be 'Bling Bling,' and not [the more low-key] 'Love Scenario.' But when I saw the emote and the effort they put in, I realized it was a great choice. It's really pretty choreography, so I'm very happy with what they did with it.
Is this collaboration a way for you to connect to international fans who you don't often get the chance to see?
DK: "Of course! We only really get to see foreign iKONICs reactions to our music on Youtube and social media, and not in person very often, so that's why we decided to do this."
Chan: "To some people, I'm sure it seems like a relatively simple idea to be playing games with our fans, but for us it means we can to be closer to our fans in Korea and overseas, so that's what makes this so special for us. And hopefully for our iKONICS, it will be a great moment they'll remember for a lifetime."
This is one of your first performances in the U.S. Have you noticed any difference between U.S. fans and those in Korea or even Japan, where you're also extremely popular? Anything that surprised you?
DK: "When we perform [in Asia], Korean fans and Japanese fans are really focused. In the States, they're dancing with us. They feel the music, and they're dancing, jumping, and screaming. That was really surprising and interesting to see here."
Bobby: "We also never expected them to sing along with us in Korean. It's a totally different language but they're still singing along."
What's next for iKON?
B.I.: "First, we're in preparation for Bobby and my duo album, which will be the very next project. We're also preparing iKON's next album, and if we have the opportunity in the future we would really like to tour in different parts of America and be able to meet our fans out here."
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.