Sibling duo AKMU returns with star-studded, philosophical album ‘New Episode’

July 26, 2021

AKMU, the brother-sister music duo known for its witty and profound songwriting, has returned with the star-studded album “New Episode” featuring top vocalists, like Lee Sun-hee and IU.

The album, set for release at 6 p.m. on Monday, is Lee Chan-hyuk and his sister Lee Su-hyun’s first full-scale album together since their studio album “Sailing” that signaled a major step into adulthood.

For their first new album in two years, the two decided to move away from their typical style and venture into a new musical domain via collaborations with key artists in the Korean music scene.

The list of their collaborators is top-notch: ranging from veteran vocalist Lee Sun-hee to younger musicians, like IU, Crush and Sam Kim.

They worked with Lee for the solemn yet retro-fused track “Hey Kid, Close Your Eyes,” which comes with the Korean title that means “Warfield,” and picked IU for the main track “Nakka,” which translates as “freefall” in English.

This photo, provided by YG Entertainment, shows sibling duo AKMU. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This photo, provided by YG Entertainment, shows Lee Chan-hyuk (L) and Lee Su-hyun of sibling duo AKMU. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This image, provided by YG Entertainment, shows the tracklist for AKMU's upcoming album "New Episode." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo, provided by YG Entertainment, shows sibling duo AKMU. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

“Previously our album was all written by myself and we didn’t have collaborations (with other artists). But for this album, we decided to go for a collaboration album. It was fun to write songs imagining their different (vocal) colors,” Chan-hyuk said during an online press preview on Monday.

Su-hyun noted how the whole idea came from the main track “Nakka,” which was inspired by the musical film “The Greatest Showman” and carries the message of standing by someone despite all the hardships that come.

“We thought about how we could make the song’s message more approachable to the public and concluded that IU was the (right) person,” she said. “We felt if we collaborated with an artist who is popular and knows how to convey a message, we could approach more people. IU willingly accepted the suggestion and that led to the start of a collaboration album.”

Voicing gratitude for all the artists who took part in the album, the siblings especially appeared fond of working with towering vocalist Lee Sun-hee, who debuted in the 1980s and is often dubbed the “national diva” for her charismatic voice and successful discography.

“All the artists who took part in the collaboration were like the ‘Avengers,’” said Su-hyun, referring to the superhero series. “But above all, working with Lee and being there at the recording scene was an honor itself.”

But an album dedicated to collaborations with other artists does not mean that AKMU has completely derailed from its unique style. In fact, the duo said the album’s roots come from the song “Dinosaur” in its 2017 album “Summer Episode” and “Freedom” in the 2019 release “Sailing.”

“Dinosaur,” a semi-biographical song inspired by the siblings’ childhood memories, marked a stylistic change in their discography, which had up until then leaned toward acoustic tracks.

“Working on ‘Dinosaur’ was a challenge for me when I felt we needed to make music that also has some electronic dance music style,” Chan-hyuk said. “I had the same sentiment working on this album, so it kind of is an extension of that challenge, which is why we named the album ‘Next Episode’ after ‘Summer Episode.’”

In terms of message, Chan-hyuk said the theme that penetrates the album is largely based on the 2019 song “Freedom,” which sings about enjoying true freedom even without everyday necessities like a house, a car and clothing.

“It’s not about just resting or moving away from fatigue but about inner freedom and about being free despite whatever happens around you. We pondered a lot on the topic and tried to put (our thoughts) into the songs,” he said.

Going forward, the sibling duo said they want to be a band that can tell their stories through music in an unforced way.

“I used to have this great ambition of changing the world through music. But I’ve come to question myself if it’s good if it changes everyone,” said Chan-hyuk. “I’ve come to realize that different things make up the world and that’s what makes the world beautiful. I hope our album can be an album for those who are willing to accept our message and change.”

Su-hyun agreed.

“We will continue to sing like we have until now. It’s up to the listeners to accept it and listen to it. Rather than telling people how they should live, I hope our stories can offer comfort.”