“Cupid” by Fifty Fifty (stylized as FIFTY FIFTY) has become the little K-pop song that could. Released by independent label Attrakt (stylized as ATTRAKT), the irresistibly bouncy lament on modern love has grown into a crossover phenomenon on the back of organic social media virality, clever marketing and a “Twin Version” in English. So far, “Cupid” has peaked at No. 4 on Spotify’s Global 200 and on YouTube’s Global Top Songs chart, and No. 41 on the Billboard Hot 100. And that’s before Warner Records, who recently picked up the banger for North America, takes it to radio.
So where did Fifty Fifty and their seemingly unstoppable hit come from? In order to compete with major power players like HYBE and YG Entertainment, Attrakt — under the guidance of K-pop svengali Sung-Il Ahn (known as SIAHN) — tore up the rulebook. Realizing they lacked the financial resources and corporate infrastructure of their competitors, the indie label opted for innovation.
Siahn, the founder of a creative content development group called the Givers, was approached by Attrakt to help start a girl group. “The company was not equipped to produce an idol group, so I began providing consulting services,” the music executive, who later was appointed co-CEO of the label, tells Variety. “CEO Chun promised me his complete support when I told him that we would need to change almost everything.” And change everything he did.
Under his guidance, Attrakt overhauled all areas of planning and production including “talent discovery and training curriculum development.” Fifty Fifty members Saena, Aran, Keena, and Sio completed their K-pop boot camp in 2022 and were hand selected for stardom. Instead of slotting the group into a pre-selected sound (as is common in K-pop), Siahn tailored the music to Fifty Fifty’s individual strengths.
“We concentrated on developing each member’s unique traits and improving their weaknesses,” Siahn says. “We prioritized developing a unique identity for the group during the planning phase, which led us to find music that would showcase each member’s individual style.” There was a conscious decision to avoid typical K-pop tropes and trends, and instead focus on classic pop music with relatable messaging.
“My focus was on the music itself, rather than any specific style or genre,” Siahn says of “Cupid,” which he also co-wrote and produced. “The members had a positive response when I played it for them, which encouraged me to start working on the project right away.” While artists and producers often have very little interaction in the K-Pop world, Fifty Fifty were involved from the beginning.
“I spent a lot of time communicating with the members and gauging their response to the song,” Siahn continues. “The final result of ‘Cupid’ could have been entirely different if they didn’t like it.” The group not only loved it, but also connected with the subject matter. “I believe that Fifty Fifty’s unique color comes from the heartfelt emotions that the members express through their music, reflecting their experiences and growth as artists and human beings.”
With “Cupid” in the can, Attrakt also had to think outside the box when it came to marketing. Again they turned to Siahn and The Givers. “We actively sought ways to highlight the group’s unique qualities,” the group’s mastermind says. This involved a filming mini-documentary that has amassed millions of views on YouTube and, perhaps most importantly, an English-language version (dubbed the “Twin Version”) that blew up on TikTok after fans tinkered with the tempo.
While English-language versions of K-pop songs are increasingly common, they are usually rolled out after the original and frequently feel like an afterthought. That’s not the case here. “The ‘Twin Version’ is more focused on the music and message, expressed through a slightly different mixing style and arrangement,” Siahn says. “The reason we named it the ‘Twin Version’ is that the two songs are identical in some aspects, but different in others.”
“To reach people of different cultural backgrounds, we chose to promote both versions at the same time,” Siahn continues. It turned out to be an inspired move as the virality of the ‘Twin Version’, particularly on TikTok, caught the attention of Warner Records. “We’re delighted that Fifty Fifty is currently receiving their full promotional support,” Siahn says. “Our sincerest thanks go out to everyone at Warner for their exceptional effort.”
What does Siahn ultimately put the song’s success down to? “The sped-up versions on social media platforms, in addition to the English version, played a vital role in propelling the song to viral status,” he says. “The song’s global appeal was also strengthened by the vast amount of UGC produced by fans and listeners worldwide. Above all, the song’s message, which the members conveyed with sincerity through music, resonated with people of all ages.”
When asked if K-pop has potentially peaked outside of Asia, Siahn takes a macro view. “Defining K-pop is a topic of debate, with differing views on whether it is a genre or a phenomenon of fandom culture,” he muses. “From the perspective of a K-pop artist, I believe that efforts to succeed in the global market will persist, and there will be numerous triumphs in the future.” He pauses to add: “Perhaps Fifty Fifty is one of the many success cases, don’t you think?”