At 12:00 A.M. on January 1st, 2000, the world was meant to end.

Or so said those that believed in Y2K, anyway. The theory warned that computers had not been programmed to switch from ‘99 to ‘00, which potentially could wreak havoc on everything from airline reservations to government and financial systems.

Danielle wears coat BURBERRY / Earring CARTIER Love earring (in 18k white gold) / Necklace SUSAN FANG

None of the members of NewJeans—a recent and incendiary South Korean export— were alive at the turn of the century. Yet Minji (19), Hanni (18), Danielle (18), Haerin (16), and Hyein (15), who debuted in 2022, use visuals and lyrical references to encapsulate a time that was essentially marked by an avoided armageddon. Think music infused with late ‘90s R&B instrumentation, Baltimore Club breakbeats, baggy clothing à la Aaliyah and Missy Elliot, and a stylistic sportiness reminiscent of Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time” video.

However, despite some unimaginable achievements—NewJeans broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest K-Pop group to hit one billion total streams on Spotify in just 219 days, for example—the quintet are not time travelers. The girls and the powerful team behind them are simply inspired by the dawning of a new era, adopting and incorporating Y2K cues from the generations that lived through it.

“I really like TLC,” Hyein says in Korean. The girls are seated on a sofa in a small, all-pink room upstairs from the studio, waiting for a set change. They masterfully balance bubbly animation with refined professionalism. “I know their songs are old, but I never get bored of them. And they’re great to dance to.”

Hanni wears dress GUCCI / Earring CARTIER Clash de Cartier (in 18k rose gold)

The timelessness of groups like TLC speaks to the name “NewJeans”—a double nod to the permanence of jeans in fashion, as well as the more scientific “new genes,” denoting the girls who are essentially having their coming-of-age story unfold in front of millions of adoring fans.

Considering South Korea’s scientific approach to Pop music, the concept of genetics feels remarkably appropriate. By definition, genetics encapsulates the transmission of traits from one generation to the next and has been studied for over 6,000 years, when one Babylonian tablet was marked with the pedigrees of horses and their inherited characteristics. The much more modern science behind genetic engineering, in which a laboratory uses technology to alter the DNA of an organism, rings with the same dystopian, sci-fi under- tones as the Y2K apocalyptic scare. And, as is customary in the world of K-Pop, the girls seemingly emerged out of nowhere, as if they’d been produced in a lab by a mad scientist. Details regarding the girls’ training periods— and really anything about their lives prior to their debut, apart from the basics—are barely public. Their genesis, or “jean-esis,” feels as spontaneous and explosive as the Big Bang.

Minji wears all clothing CHANEL / Earring SUSAN FANG

Despite this, the group still prides itself on authenticity. Rather than music videos filled with multi-million dollar CGI and scantily clad girls serving Playmate sex appeal—a combination that has defined much of K-Pop’s visuals—NewJeans has honed in on a playful, girl-next-door aesthetic that’s relatable to teenagers. In “OMG,” an acronym that flourished at the turn of the millennium, the girls dance around an empty apartment with bunny backpacks and bunny hats, a nod to their fans—the Bunnies. Their makeup is minimal. The music video for “Zero” also depicts the girls doing mesmerizing choreography in what might as well be one of their parents’ apartments, offering sentiments of slumber parties and post-school hangs galore.

Each girl plays a unique role, of course, but said role is to just be themselves as much as possible. “Hyein is amazing with details,” says Danielle, who was born in South Korea but is half-Australian. “It doesn’t matter who the person is, she cares about every single detail. If you want to ask her for a favor, she’s already done it.” The girls giggle and blush amongst themselves. “Minji is kind of like a protector to me. When I’m with her, I feel really safe, safe, and warm.” Once again, the young ladies on the couch are all smiles. “Hanni is kind of like the seasoning on a meal,” she continues in her thick Australian accent. “And then Haerin is really honest. When I’m around her, I feel really calm and like myself. She’s a really amazing and positive person to be around.”

Haerin wears dress DIOR

Despite K-Pop’s habit of manifesting pop groups out of thin air, like the aforementioned Big Bang and not unlike Professor Utonium concocting the Powerpuff Girls out of “sugar, spice, and everything nice,” NewJeans was not actually crafted in a laboratory vial. The girls spent years training together after an audition process, nurturing real friendships in the process.

Hyein wears dress LOUIS VUITTON

“In the K-Pop industry, there’s a system where before any group debuts, they’ll train, practice music and dance, and then, they’ll debut,” Hanni says in Korean. “We also went through that process. But I think that period of time to us is very special, just really special. I think it gave us the opportunity to improve in our dancing and singing and also deepen our passion for music. And then, because we all trained together, we got a lot closer during that time as well. I think without that time we wouldn’t be as close and as passionate about music as we are now.”

With K-Pop’s global visibility continuing to skyrocket—according to Pulse News Korea, “Exports of K-contents in 2022 saw a 47.9 percent rise from $1.2 billion a year before, thanks to the popularity of superstars BTS and BLACKPINK”—the NewJeans girls feel it’s important to act as ambassadors for their industry.

“I think from personal experience from when I first found out about K-Pop…people see K-Pop as just a genre,” says Hanni. “You can see it that way, but inside the genre, there’s a lot of variety of music and [sub]-genres that a lot of our seniors have produced and put out there. It’s not really tied to one type of musical style.” NewJeans’ music, which doesn’t substitute Ibiza-esque synth drops for choruses like some of K-Pop’s global hits, is exemplary of this; the production is stripped back, cool but collected, and filled with lyrics that the girls creatively contribute to themselves. This, once again, adds to the group’s authentic focus.

From left to right:
Hyein wears dress LOUIS VUITTON  // Minji wears all clothing CHANEL // Haerin wears all clothing DIOR // Hanni wears dress GUCCI, Rings and bracelet CARTIER From top to bottom: Juste un Clou ring (in 18k yellow gold) / Juste un Clou ring (in 18k rose gold) Juste un Clou bracelet (in 18k rose gold)  // Danielle wears coat BURBERRY, Dress KIKO KOSTADINOV, Rings CARTIER From left to right: Love ring (in 18k rose gold, diamonds) Love ring (in 18k white gold, diamonds), Earring Y/PROJECT 

“I believe it’s not just about music either,” Danielle adds. “It’s something that we’re experiencing firsthand right now. It bridges people over language barriers. It celebrates diversity, just by bringing people together…It really connects and unites people as a community, a tight-knit community, all through K-Pop music.”


Just as music lovers and K-Pop aficionados can’t get enough of the girls, nor can the fashion industry, which, like that special pair of jeans, have found them to be the perfect fit as brand ambassadors. Collectively and individually, they have contracts with Levi’s, Gucci, Armani Beauty, Louis Vuitton, Burberry, YSL, and Chanel. This is, of course, the business aspect behind the industry’s new quantum leap, which merges their Y2K styling with luxury brands. It also speaks to the girls’ innate love of fashion, with modeling effectively being their secondary career.

“I really like wearing clothes that are comfy, but that also makes me feel confident,” says Danielle. “Being able to express myself through fashion is amazing.” “Wherever I went, if there was a magazine, I always flipped through it,” Hyein chips in. “I was just really curious—I’m a curious person, and even though I was young, I could always tell what was pretty. So I was so happy to get to try on beautiful clothes once we debuted.”

And while this might draw eye rolls— NewJeans are obviously a hit-making machine backed by a mammoth corporation—they are, ultimately, just a bunch of teenage girls, as are many of their fans, whom they have a give-and-take connection with. “The relationship I have with Bunnies is like a friendship,” Haerin explains. “In many ways, we are supporting each other. And we would like to have a positive influence on them and we’d like them to have a positive influence on us.”

Like any group of teenage friends, the girls share many of their fans’ same obsessions. “We love Harry Styles,” Minji says with stars in her eyes. “I have to mention Beyoncé,” Danielle adds. “I’ll watch her music videos and almost every time I watch her perform, I kind of tear up. There’s no particular reason why I start crying when I listen to her. She just hits me some- where that really touches me.”

For Hanni, it’s all Whitney Houston. “My mom used to play her music a lot when I was younger, so there’s a very homey feel when I listen to her songs.” While Coachella performances (or headlines), endless fashion shows, and international ad campaigns are pretty much promised for their future—such assumptions don’t require rocket science—an ideal day for the girls is far more stripped back.

“Here’s a few things that it must consist of,” says Danielle, excitedly exploring the thought with a smile on her face. “I would say music, the members, and traveling. I would say we’d be driving somewhere on a really nice day to a new location. And then we’d have the music blasting in the car and we’d all be doing carpool karaoke.” The other girls coo with enthusiasm. “And then, like, we’d go and have a picnic or something and explore. Maybe jam out, sing—that kind of vibe.”

In many ways, the girls and the youthful utopia they’ve created with their artistry—ripe with high school crushes, dance parties, and a classic teenage longing for road trips and exploration—represents the exact opposite of a post-Y2K dystopia. There are, of course, certain successes we can attribute to the tried-and-true K-Pop formula, but ultimately, the science behind NewJeans isn’t science at all. It’s just a focus on connectivity, music, and talent—all of which is simply in their genes.

This story appears inside the pages of V143, now available for purchase!

Photography Cho Giseok

Fashion Choi Yumi

Interview Mathias Rosenzweig

Creative Direction Stephen Gan  

Makeup Gil Joo Oh

Hair Hye Yeon Jang

Set design Hwang Seoin

Executive producer Kelly Suh

Production A PRJECT

Studio Manager Jaeman Kim

Set design assistants Cho Sumin, Kim Gunwon, Kim Jeonghwan

Production assistant Indigo Choi

Retouching CGS Studio 

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