Interview with LIONESSES

Interview with LIONESSES

Happy upcoming Pride month, Hallyu+! For Pride month, we bring you Lionesses, an LGBTQIA+ K-pop band, who made their debut on November 2, 2021, with their digital single, “Show Me Your Pride”. The members stand out among others because they perform while wearing masks. However, Damjun remains the only member to this day who has openly revealed his identity and face. Their debut track featured lyrics about coming out, facing homophobia, and dealing with hatred. The band leader and vocalist, Damjun, has revealed to our team that the band is planning their comeback on the 1st of June with a new song, “Like Christina Taught Me”. This will be a tribute to Christina Aguilera’s iconic song “Beautiful”. In this interview, we find out what the word beautiful means to each of the members, what inspires them most, and what kind of changes they would like to make to the Korean industry.


Q: Hello, Lionesses! Please introduce yourselves to Hallyu+.

: Hi guys, I’m Kanghan. The counter-tenor of LIONESSES.

Malrang: What’s up Hallyu+! I’m Malrang, the Maknae of LIONESSES

Damjun: What’s up Hallyu+! (laughs) I’m Damjun. The world’s best gay idol, and leader of LIONESSES. I’ve been producing all of LIONESSES songs since we made our debut as a group.

Q: You mentioned that the title of your new song is “Like Christina Taught Me,” and it explores themes of self-confidence and pride through a tribute to Christina Aguilera’s iconic song ‘Beautiful”. What does the word beautiful mean to each one of you?

 For me, the word ‘Beautiful’ means the beauty of every part of this world. Especially beauty from inside of our hearts. I want to tell everyone, “Beauty, as being myself” is the best.

Malrang: I think beauty may only exist in the moment, ‘Pretty’ and ‘Beauty’ are different. Right? I think a real “Beautiful thing” is an emotion that we can only feel inside for a very short moment. But, since those short emotions gather one by one in our hearts, that can be the strength that raises us up when we’re weary. In this regard, I feel that ‘beauty of a short moment’ in the word ‘Diversity’

Damjun: “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera, and “Goose’s Dream” by Korean legendary diva Insooni, these two songs gave me strength. They even consoled me during my teens when I felt like I had to run away from my dreams in fear, even though I knew I had the talent. Now I want to know why I didn’t think that I was beautiful until someone consoled me by saying: “You are beautiful, no matter what they say”. To me though, I believe that the idea of “beauty” comes from love. Everything that is loved becomes beautiful. So I want to tell my child self — and any boy who is wandering in fear and darkness — that “I love you all.” We all know that we need to love ourselves. But [for some people] it’s not as easy as it sounds. So I’m going to love everyone in their place. If I do, then maybe they will naturally be able to love themselves.

Q: Your songs consistently exude a relentless energy set out to send a strong message through them to a listener. How do you and your team maintain that momentum and stay pumped, whether in the studio or on set?

It’s very simple. We could do it because of DEN’s [LIONESSES fans] support. We couldn’t have done it without DEN’s love.

Malrang: My secret to energy? I’m starting to take vitamins and nutritional supplements these days. We’re at an age when we really need to take care of our health, rather than younger ones who are categorised in the same Kpop generation as us. (laughs)

Damjun: The most interesting thing is that each member has a different energy. for example, I’m always tired. Whether it’s in a recording studio or on set… (laughs). The moment the camera or microphone turns on, I release the energy I have to give off and then I’m like a dead machine when it’s done. But Han is super excited, especially when he’s dressed in drag [makeup]. All the way up until the moment he gets home and washes off his makeup. Malrang, as you can see, is always bubbly, giving everyone positive energy. (laughs)

Q: Your song “Papyun” has Kanghan’s other drag queen alter ego, Rooya, make its first experience. Do you have any favourite moments while working on the song?

It’s very fun and interesting for me personally to appear in the LIONESSES music video as Rooya. And it’s also very interesting for me to watch Den’s various interpretations and reactions to RooyaRooya and Kanghan, [I wonder if] Dens interpretations of the two are as different entities, or [if they see them] as the same person. I’m happy with any interpretation. I feel happy enough to express myself as me, and I couldn’t be happier to see Den being happy together by watching this.

Malrang: (*Note: The first music video that Rooya appeared in is “It’s OK to be me”, released in 2022.) The whole process of practising the choreography, recording “IT’S OK TO BE ME”, and shooting and recording music videos with the many staff members became a precious memory for me.

Damjun: When we worked on “Papyun”, in the underground recording studio of STO Entertainment — the label that we belonged to at the time — was leaking water due to heavy rain in Seoul that summer (laughs). So we had to rent another studio to record it. That was also the day a documentary crew from France’s TF1 channel came to film our recording. In that studio, there was a huge golden retriever. The rest of the members were surprised to see such a large dog up close, but I already have a Labrador retriever. So I gave him a big hug and played with him. He was so cute!

Q: What is lyric writing like for you? Do you find it stressful, or is it actually relieving for you to get things off your heart? Where do you find your inspiration? What sort of stories or experiences do you want to tell with your music going forward? (question asked by our member @mimenet)

KangHan: “
Writing” is not only relieving a part of myself, but it is also stressful sometimes. Especially when I struggle to complete it. What is clear, however, is that “writing” eventually gets me moving. I think it allows me to write and express thoughts because I am alive. For me, the starting point of “Artistry” is sometimes the inner part, and sometimes the energy from the outside. The biggest muse for me is the stories of my members and the power of ideas of Damjun. The leader of Lionesses’ production, is the most influential in Lionesses’ music.

Malrang: Lyrics… It’s hard for me in the way that you have to create a story and translate it into a language that other people can understand. The process of writing a draft and then going back to the final version is like a translation to me. Obviously, it’s the same language, but we need to find a more seamless expression. I started writing lyrics after debuting with Lionesses. So it’s all still unreleased… but I always find positive inspiration when I read good writing or have a great experience. If one day I have the time to make a song and let my Dens listen to my lyrics, I want to unravel something that our fans can relate to, That is also very private.

Damjun: I try to treat ‘singing’ and ‘making a song’ as much as possible as a job and business. If you put too much personal mind into your work, the ‘authenticity of the heart’ that I put into the song is often lost. So if another lyricist points out that I didn’t use my writing skills properly, I feel bad as ‘my personal and precious heart’ in this song seems to be ignored. I try to approach the lyric writing as much as possible as a skill. Fortunately, I compose, arrange, and produce songs on my own, so I can compose the entire composition, sound, melody, and narrative delivered by the lyrics. So I try to make up my mind, “It’s a job. I’m not going to get too immersed,” but I guess I love it so much.

When I have a sad or happy moment in my life, I think, “Oh, I want to turn it into a song ASAP,” so I keep writing it down in my notepad. I say, “I’m tired of making or playing music now”, but I actually feel like [my relationship with music] is a very long-term relationship or family member who can’t imagine a “life without this.” Now, I’m going to start by writing lyrics about my more honest life and inner self that [our former label] STO Entertainment stopped me from releasing last year. Sexual things, alcohol, emptiness and dangerous love… It’s all real life for me as an adult, and I was required to deliver bright, hopeful messages until then. But now I have freedom as a producer. (LAUGH) My friend heard some demos for my solo career and they were like, “You’ve got Cardi B living within you…”


Q: For Damjun: I see that you’ve previously written songs not just for the group, but also for other artists as well! Which was your favourite song to create out of all of everything you’ve written so far? (question asked by our member @Polaris_Tae)

Prior to my career in Lionesses, I wrote the title song for the group MAAD, which debuted in 2015. I also started my career as a lyricist with that album. After that, I was outsourced to other musicians, where I wrote and composed lyrics, or worked as a backup vocalist or as an advertising singer for a long time.

Unlike when I make music for my music or my team, my commissioned work is required to suit the client’s desire rather than my own. The client’s desire is often clear is rather interesting. The most interesting work was the advertising music of a Korean construction company, which was sung in the traditional Korean folk song singing method (called ‘Pansori’).

But out of all the songs I’ve written, the one I’m most attached to is… “Will you be my groom?” Oh, I think I’m finally old enough to get married.

Q: Several of your songs were deemed ineligible for broadcast by CBS– were you anticipating this, or did it take you by surprise? Do you think there might be a day where CBS approves your music for broadcast? (question asked by our member @mimenet)

When I first read the article, all of my members, including myself, were embarrassed. However, we were determined to do the art we could in our place without getting frustrated. The winter of 2021 is the winter when the pledge was made, and it continues to this day.

Malrang: When I read the article for the first time, I was surprised and panicked. There’s no swear word in the lyrics, and I thought, ‘Oh, this was such a raw hatred’. I was surprised by the rejection of us for the first time, but now I’ve changed my mind to express it freely. And I have given up that CBS accept us.

Damjun: I was stunned at first. I expected some discrimination, but I didn’t expect it to be so blatantly brazen. But when “Christmas Miracle” first got banned by CBS, I was furious, insulted, sad, helpless… controlled by all sorts of emotions… but it’s about year three.

After “it’s OK to be me” was released, pastors from large churches worshipped and prayed by inciting the believers, saying, “We need to systematically call thousands of protest calls to the broadcasting station so that we can get that gay out of the entertainment industry forever.”, and thousands of agitated Christians protested and claimed to kill me… and I received a lot of DMs and messages from them threatening to kill me from time to time.

It seems like yesterday that I was frustrated by the fact that I was only banned from broadcasting, but now, if such threats don’t come, I’m anxious to think, ‘Have I even been forgotten by the Homophobes…?’ (laughs) Now everything is detached.

When “It’s OK to be me” was banned by MBC, the deliberation room informed me, “If you revise the lyrics and sound source and apply for a re-deliberation, I will consider it again.” I felt, “Even if I can’t appear on the TV show for the rest of my life, I don’t want to alienate anyone from my song by revising the lyrics I wrote to suit the favour of the broadcasting station.” The same goes for other songs, and I don’t want to revise my music for trivial reasons, not for musical reasons, even if I can’t pass the deliberation.

In Korea, broadcasting deliberations censor artists’ works by ridiculous censoring standards, taking them as pawns, and urging them to edit their works. In order to pass broadcasting deliberations in Korea, even specific brands must not even be included in the lyrics. So neither Dean’s “Instagram” nor Black Pink’s “Pink Venom” passed the Korean broadcasting deliberation.

That’s why Korean television programs should call Starbucks “Star Coffee Shop” or KFC “Grandpa Chicken.” Isn’t that weird? Everyone who hears it knows it’s Starbucks and KFC, but it’s like they’re saying “You know whom” to avoid Voldemort’s name in the Harry Porter series. I really don’t want to do such a lame thing. Things where they demand that the lyrics be modified because of those ridiculous standards sometimes feel like an insult to my work.

It was a long time ago when a singer discriminated against a broadcasting station. They could not publicize their music anywhere, so he endured all the acts of the broadcasting station to artists under the pretext of deliberation. But both of the songs mentioned above were hit songs that topped the charts in Korea. I’m glad that the time has come when I don’t have to be dragged around by the ridiculous acts of the broadcasting station’s deliberation room, begging for me to be on air anymore.

Q: 2024 marks your third year since your debut. How does it feel to reach this stage in your careers?

 When I debuted three years ago, I did not start with great expectations or hopes for the future of Lionesses. However, now that this dream has grown, I think I am always grateful to my fans. I want to continue to be as grateful as I am now.

Malrang: Now that we’re in our third year, our mindset and our thoughts are changing. 2023… was truly a crisis of Lionesses. Frictions and conflicts between the former label and our members were severe. However, after this period, we’ve become very close, and we’re both happy and looking forward to this third year. I think our eighth single… will unleash an incredible amount of energy.

Damjun: Technically, my debut was in 2015. However, my label went bankrupt as soon as the album by my former group, MAAD was released, so I couldn’t get any promotions and couldn’t build a career as a singer. I have since made a living as a vocal coach and backup singer.

Then, after 2021, when I finally got to call myself a “K-pop artist”, I felt so awkward calling other artists ‘Sunbaenim’. I had to call them the Korean way anyway in an official setting… (Especially as an old ARMY, it was quite awkward for me to call BTS as a ‘Sunbaenim’ instead of “My stars, as their huge fan”)

Then, while doing a livestream on Instagram not too long ago, I talked about LE SSERAFIM and NewJeans with my fans. Come to think of it, I debuted earlier than them, so I didn’t have to call them Sunbaenim! (laughs)

Only now, other K-pop artists are starting to be recognized as colleagues in the same industry, and especially when I see rookies who start their careers and continue to do so in difficult situations like us, I want to cheer for them once more.

Not long ago, a boy band called “Big Ocean” made their debut in Korea. The boys are all hard of hearing. Perhaps I’m proud to see them come out of this prejudice and perfect their lovely song. I want to see them in this industry for a very, very long time.


Q: Are the masks permanent or do you have a specific point/reason when you will remove them? (question asked by our member @UMJI MOODS )

 I think I should tell you first what the mask symbolizes. What I want to tell you through the mask is, “You don’t have to come out. As easy as it can be for someone, and it takes a lot of courage for someone, we shouldn’t urge someone to come out, or vice versa. I wanted to convey to the LGBTQ community that “you’re not all alone, whether you’re coming out or not.”

So in “Show Me Your Pride”, leader Damjun’s mask opening depicts the liberation from the mask mentioned above. On the contrary, the appearance of other members wearing masks speaks of a world where you don’t have to come out. In “It’s Okay to Be Me”, I will be the drag queen Rooya and open the mask. I expressed this as “I’m good with this, I’m me.” in the music video. And in our comeback single, “Like Christina Taught Me”, there will be a mask opening of Malrang. Please look forward to it and interpret it a lot!!

Malrang: I don’t know but in someday… I think we will take off our masks and greet everyone freely. There will be a small challenge on June 1st.

Damjun: Lionesses was a project team that was only going to produce and dismantle “Show Me Your Pride.” But right after we debuted, we were able to grow together and receive tremendous support and love from fans all over the world. but at first, we simply thought, “Let’s put on a mask and then come out theatrically by removing the mask just once.”

Since then, we have continued to discuss masks with our members. As Han said, someone must show themselves wearing masks so that “people who can’t come out right away.” don’t feel left out. However, I believe the message of the music becomes clearer when the energy from eyes is transmitted on stage and on the screen (except in masks and sunglasses on special occasions), so I told our members that they should nevertheless show their eyes to DENs.

Han made a smart choice to use this as a new drag queen ego, Rooya, to meet both the symbolism of a mask and its eyes in performance.

Malrang has been reluctant to reveal his face in the mask, but I saw his worry that the existence of a gay cousin (who is an idol in the same K-pop industry) would be damaging to their career. Malrang was already a singer with his face open, and the fact that he was their cousin was reported a lot in the Korean media at that time.

As such, when Malrang, who must have had more complicated feelings than my worries about coming out, decided to reveal himself to DENs. I was as proud as I saw our youngest brother, who had finally become independent from his parents’ house.

Q: Is the group a working relationship or are you also friends in regular daily life? (question asked by our member @UMJI MOODS)

We’re close! (laugh) We drink together and hang out together usually. But since we’ve been together for such a long time, I think we’ve become close enough to know how not to be rude and get close together.

Malrang: Yes, we’re like a family but also in a working relationship too! We fought a lot, we cried a lot, we laughed a lot. We’ve been living through discrimination together throughout the past 3 years. We’ve learned how to respect each other in this relationship over this time period. We are maybe 70% friends in regular daily life and 30% in a working relationship? I think so!

Damjun: I don’t have friends without these guys… lol.


Q: Now for a fun scenario. If society removed all laws for an entire day, what would your ideal experience look like? Free coffee & theme parks for a day? Or something else entirely? (question asked by our member @Polaris_Tae)

: I want to drive a car! Rent a car, and drive the sea-side highway… Because I don’t have a driver’s license at all.

Malrang: Kissing with handsome guys all day alone…? (laugh) I’m gon’ kiss with 10 thousands of hotties.

Damjun: But isn’t it still possible to do it every time we visit a gay club on the weekend? (laugh) Nah, It’s just a joke. Maybe for me… I might as well do real newlyweds things with my boyfriend. As a real husband and husband. Because there are no laws of discrimination against gay marriage on that day? Right? Gosh… I think I became old enough to say everything about marriage things no matter what we talked about. Lol. But I gotta grab some man and start a relationship to do this fantasy.

Q: What makes “Like Christina Taught Me,” significant to you?

 This song made me realize “What makes me beautiful in a real way?” Most people mimick somebody to be beautiful. But I think everyone should be a standard of beauty, not a world’s gazes.

Malrang: Way to love myself. I used to hate myself and prayed a lot to be the one who could love himself. And I think I made it while we made this song.

Damjun: This song has so many tributes & homages for great musicians who raised me up when I was weak and felt afraid in my teenage era. Such as… Christina Aguilera. She’s in the song title. Other than her, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and BTS were also mentioned. I want to share the comforts and consolation that they gave me through those songs with my DENs. So, I feel like my precious times and memories that I loved those songs have been absorbed into this song. That’s the reason that this song is more meaningful for me than anything else.

Q: What goals the band have set for the future? (question asked by our members @UMJI MOODS and @Polaris_Tae)

I want to make music and meet DENs continuously. We also want to be recognized as an artist rather than as a representation of our community. I would also like to do a concert for DENs. But, DENs! I bet you know we need your love and support to make these things!

Malrang: My goal of this year is.. I hope the new song’s MV get more than 100K views, and “Show Me Your Pride”, our debut song’s MV receives 200K views this year. This is the title of my prayer. (laughs)

Damjun: I don’t have religion but… Our praying member (Malrang) is Christian though… So, A-yo, God. I know you know everything and can do anything, so… we want more! Preferably more than a million! (laugh)

Nevertheless, I gotta make my solo songs that I couldn’t release while under contract at STO Entertainment. Like my idol, who did it perfectly in both characters of August D and Suga of BTS. I want to make more personal stories in my music and go back to my team with those experiences as a solo artist. I want to stay on the side of my DENs for a long time. So I need work hard more often.

Q: If you could say something to young LGBT+ people struggling to fit into today’s society. What would it be? (question asked by our member @Polaris_Tae)

Do not deny yourself even if the whole world denies you. Accept yourself and practice towards knowing yourself. With that man in the mirror. You’re gonna grow up more beautifully than anyone else!

Malrang: I want to talk about this shortly. Always. Just live. You can make your dream or meet a better world if you still living in future, but you can’t if you don’t. The world might be a not-friendly place for people like us. But know that there are plenty of friends that can be friendly [and supportive]. If you couldn’t find anyone around your [like a friend or] neighbour, at least you’ve got LIONESSES!

Damjun: This is a lyric line from our single, “Like Christina taught me”, OK. I’ll share some special spoilers, only for Hallyu+(laugh).

“I’ll take over your fight. All you ever have to do is just love”

Q: Is there anything the fans can look forward to? Do you have any special message for them?

We really appreciate your messages of support and love. And hope you’ll be my DENs forever, and ever. (laughs)

Malrang: I want to challenge myself to make an acoustic concert this year with the band… but it’s just an idea for now.

P.S. On the 18th of May, our leader Damjun will be on the stage called “CUMA2024”, which is a collaboration concert of Korean and Japanese LGBTQ+ jazz musicians. Damjun will play with the “Black Teddy Bear Jazz Orchestra”, a Japanese LGBTQ+ jazz orchestra. They will perform a jazz arrangement of our song, “Show Me Your Pride”, for the first time ever during this stage! Damjun is a disciple of Woongsan, the Korean legendary jazz vocalist. He prepared to make a career in the jazz scene just like her before he debuted with LIONESSES. Damjun said “It’s been a while since I’ve played with a jazz band, I think I came back home now. (laughs)”

Damjun: MY BELOVED DENs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want to stay forever by your side. Let’s get older together while we listen to music in peace. And more things that DENs can look forward to!


GFX BY @yerm