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The Rose Are in Full Bloom

After a lawsuit nearly halted their career a few years, the band are back and are bringing Korean rock to the world
The Rose
The Rose (Credit: Christian Haahs)

In the same way that steady rain holds the hint of a devastating storm, or a clear nighttime sky’s twinkling stars (light pollution allowing) evoke the majestic power of the universe, the Rose’s New York City concert at the Hulu Theater in October evoked a sense of wonder in the near simplicity of it  Touring in support of their latest album, DUAL, which was released in September, the tour cemented the Rose one of South Korea’s preeminent rock exports.

For an hour and a half, the Rose mostly performed in darkness, awash in twinkling, colorful lights. They spoke minimally but said a lot through a setlist that bandied about the story of their career, with evocative softer moments of despair rallied into boisterous, uplifting dance tracks. The crowd swayed and sang along, and danced and roared with enthusiasm.  

Composed of frontman and guitarist Woosung (Sammy), who shares lead vocals with keyboardist Dojoon (Leo), bassist Jaehyeong (Jeff), and drummer Hajoon (Dylan), it was the Rose’s second headlining show in New York City in less than a year (the previous one took place last October at Terminal 5). For another band, performing two headlining shows in the Big Apple on two separate tours would be a high-water mark. The Rose’s 18-date North American leg of their Dusk to Dawn saw them play to the biggest crowds on the continent to date, including an arena show at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Ca. Yet, a few years ago, as they were entangled in a legal battle, it seemed very unlikely that the band would ever play together again, nevertheless bringing their power anthems to the world.

The Rose
(Credit: Christian Haahs)

Formed in 2015, the Seoul-based group started as buskers known as Windfall. Several members were K-pop trainees. In 2016, the group signed with a small South Korean entertainment company and changed their name to the Rose. Following the change, the Rose hit their stride. The group’s first song, the robustly melodramatic “Sorry,” peaked at No. 14 on Billboard‘s World Digital Song Sales chart. 

Soon enough, they sold out clubs in Asia and Europe, before hitting the U.S. Those gradually turned into theaters, all while steadily releasing new music. By 2020, the Rose were one of the handful of Korean pop-rock bands that had any modicum of success in a scene dominated by idol pop acts, balladeers, rappers, and R&B artists. They were scheduled to open for Halsey at the pop giant’s Seoul tour stop, and then the pandemic hit.

On the surface, the Rose appeared to be on a world-conquering trajectory. However, internally, the band threatened to fall apart. In February 2020, the band sued their management company, J&Star, to nullify their contracts. According to the bandmembers’ lawyers, they were overworked and underpaid, with tours and album releases turning up little profit for the bandmembers. J&Star denied the allegations and the case went to court. As the pandemic ripped a sense of normalcy apart, the Rose went on hiatus, threatening to derail the upward trajectory of the past handful of years.

During this hiatus, the Korean-born members enlisted in the country’s military, fulfilling the nation’s mandatory draft service. Woosung, as the group’s sole non-Korean national (he’s from Los Angeles), focused on his solo material. In June 2021, Woosung revealed that the band had “figured out” everything with their former company and after a year away, the group was ready to move forward. 

The Rose
(Credit: Christian Haahs)

“We did go through a lot of hardships and we learned a lot,” Dojoon tells SPIN over the phone. “It worked out well in the end,” he says before pausing for a wry laugh. “I think [now] all four of us have a belief in the Rose’s music and that’s how we can still, you know, be a band together.” 

Now managing themselves, the Rose began working with Far East Movement’s Transparent Arts label. In 2022, the band released their comeback album, HEAL, where they handled nearly every sonic element of the album themselves. Since that release, their profile has risen to new heights. Their 2022-2023 Heal Together World Tour saw them play more than 40 worldwide, including sets at Lollapalooza and BST in London’s Hyde Park.

In the time between tour legs, the Rose found time to record DUAL.

“We had only a month or two to write, edit, and arrange,” says Dojoon. “Even though it was tough, we loved every minute of creation, crawling slowly to do something we wanted to do.” 

The album’s cover features overlapping crowns of roses and thorns, a Venn diagram reflecting the band name, and the tracklist’s duality: the first five songs start with the bird chirps of the instrumental song “Dawn.” At the same time, the latter five begin with the transitional haze of “Dusk.” The album’s “Wonder” is meant to bring it all together with a sense of grandiosity, blended with emotive yacht rock and rousing synths a la Coldplay. It also serves as a victorious declaration after battling through the tumult that threatened their future.  

“‘Wonder’ is very unifying,” declares Sammy. “It has the energy of victory, but victory with your tribe or your people. It’s victory together just as human beings and the universe, just sharing love and being able to live happily together, even with the sadness.” 

DUAL reflects where the Rose’s emerging from a tumultuous few years. Sonically, it shows a group that, despite the setbacks, are gearing up for a big future. While they don’t spend too much time ruminating on the past, lyrically, their career’s highs and lows have inspired the album. In particular, on the soaring, regret-filled “Eclipse” and the playful callout to their haters in the form of “Nauseous.” 

“Now, since we got healed, we have more time and energy to think about balancing the duality of a human being’s life,” says Dojoon. “Even if something’s good, if you do it too much it’s bad.” 

As of November, the Rose are the highest-charting Korean rock band on multiple Billboard charts, including the Emerging Artists and Heat Seekers charts. Korean acts outside of K-pop stars rarely appear on those charts. As the problems that threatened to derail the band are now in the distant past, the Rose’s 2024 is picking up where this one left off. The Rose are kicking off the year with Asian tour dates, which includes an appearance at Lollapalooza India, before heading to Europe, where they’ll be through April, which includes a stop at London’s Wembley Arena and Zenith in Paris. Despite the ups and downs, the Rose have a positive attitude and that notion is reflected in their music.

“What we really wanna portray and let people understand is that bad days are necessary to have good days, and good days are necessary to have bad days as well,” says Woosung. “Good and the bad… One good act doesn’t make you a good person. One bad act also doesn’t make you just a horrible person.”