From time to time throughout our lively conversation, HANJIN’s words couldn’t quite keep up with his racing thoughts, yet the whimsy in his expectant eyes conveyed a wealth of emotions for him. He was filled with the excitement of a young boy about to encounter a new friend for the first time, ready to share a million stories. 

What are you up to now that your debut’s just an arm’s reach away? Your birthday was also just last week. [Note: This interview took place on January 14.]

HANJIN: We have a showcase to put on on the day we debut, so I’ve been practicing hard for that performance, keeping myself focused and ready for anything. I even practiced on my birthday, from morning till night like usual. (laughs) But then the lights in the practice studio suddenly went out, and people from the management team and the other members of the group came in with a cake. I was like, “Oh!” I was so touched.

A good variety of content has been released now, and you’re on Weverse now, too.

HANJIN: It’s so surreal seeing myself on YouTube. It’s like, whoa! And I’m glad I can finally post the photos I took on Weverse. I love taking selfies and so I take them almost every day. (laughs) I posted on Weverse just yesterday, and in less than a minute, fans already left a ton of comments. It’s incredibly touching and amazing. I literally tear up reading their comments.

Do you tend to tear up when moved? Not that it’s totally trustworthy, but your MBTI personality is INFJ, right? (laughs)

HANJIN: Yes. I even tear up when there’s an emotional scene in a drama. I took an MBTI test in China and again after coming to Korea and it’s always been INFJ. It hasn’t changed for a year. I think about the future a lot before I fall asleep, and think, “Why am I here on this Earth? What would it be like if we won at the MAMA Awards like SEVENTEEN? What if we won Best New Artist? How would the fans react?” Also, being a J, I’m a planner. Say tomorrow’s a day off, for instance: I make a note about what time to wake up, the clothes I’m going to wear, what time to go out, and whether to take a taxi, bus, or the subway. I almost always plan out where I’m going, what I’m going to eat, and what time I’ll get back home before I go out.

Now you’re making me curious about your school days.

HANJIN: First off, I love studying. Hehe, I really, really do! I especially loved school at lunch and dinner times. Our school let us go out to eat, and there were so many good restaurants nearby. Growing up, I dreamed of being a TV host, so I entered speech contests and joined the media club in high school. Every Wednesday, I’d go to the school’s broadcasting room to report the weather during lunch, and then play songs that other kids requested. I was also class president in both elementary and high school, so I think I have decent leadership skills. But I came here and it turns out the older members have even better leadership skills and they’ve really been taking care of me. Even though I’m in Korea, it feels like I’m right at home. (laughs)

How did you first become interested in K-pop?

HANJIN: I found out about Cha Eun-Woo while watching Korean dramas, and then seeing him in a K-pop group piqued my interest in the genre. Then I kept watching a bunch of SEVENTEEN’s videos and wanted to put on a cool performance of my own. I love all of SEVENTEEN’s songs, especially the lyrics to “_WORLD.” I learned a lot from watching JUN and THE 8, who are also from China. That’s when I really wanted to become an idol.

Coming to Korea to become an idol couldn’t have been an easy decision to make. What was your family’s reaction like?

HANJIN: My parents were worried at first, saying it’s time for me to focus on school. I tried really hard to persuade them: “I know I can do it. Please, just trust me.” And eventually, they said, “Alright, we trust you,” and gave me permission to do it.

What was their reaction later on when you told them you were going to debut?

HANJIN: My dad just sent me a 👍 emoji! (laughs)

Your family’s really cool. (laughs) How did you end up with the label?

HANJIN: I got in after I sent them a TikTok video, one that captures me in slow motion, at school and in my uniform, with all my boyish charm. I often asked my friends in China to record me if I heard a song I liked on TikTok.

Adjusting to a new environment like that must have been hard. Was there any part of being a trainee that you considered to be particularly important?

HANJIN: It was very hard at the beginning. First are the basics. Those are extremely important to me. I need to work on them a lot. Second is what I learn from the other members. We talked together every day after lessons and they gave me feedback, but I would always forget it, so I started keeping notes on my phone and I look at them for a refresher whenever I have time.

I would assume it must have taken a great deal of effort to progress in such a short amount of time.

HANJIN: Sometimes I wouldn’t know what to do with the feedback that my instructors and the other members were giving me, which was really tough to deal with. But I would tell myself not to dwell on it after just two seconds. Otherwise it’s just stressful and it’s a waste of time. You have to work hard and fix your shortcomings quickly—that’s what counts. And anyway, it was okay, because I wasn’t alone during the hard times. The other members always said, “It’s okay. You’re doing a great job. Don’t worry.” And that boosted my confidence and drove me to work even harder. That’s why I like the line I sing in “first hooky”: “All the work’s done, now / Your worries, throw them away.” In other words, do what you need to do, and once it’s done, get rid of all your worries. I think that’s wonderful.

Wasn’t it difficult to grasp and sing the Korean lyrics?

HANJIN: The hardest part about recording is the Korean pronunciation. Even when I hit all the notes and get the feeling down, sometimes I have to record it again because of my pronunciation, so I guess I need a lot more practice. The first thing I do when I get the lyrics is write out what they mean in Chinese so I can fully understand them. My Korean improves fastest when I’m studying song lyrics, I think.

What did you think of the single “plot twist” when you first heard it?

HANJIN: I loved it so much that I said, “Wow, I wanna go practice this and record it right now.” The melody is great, but my favorite part is the lyrics. It perfectly conveys the feeling of nervous excitement when meeting someone for the first time—being prepared for that moment and wanting to come across well. We spent a really long time practicing it, so I want to put on the best, most amazing performance possible.

The bright, playful expression on your face when you sing “Wait wait!” at the climax of that song and the way you wave goodbye at the end of “BFF” is unforgettable.

HANJIN: I practice making facial expressions by watching older artists’ performance videos. I pick up different emotions and styles watching one video one day and a different video the next. I try them out in the mirror and also test to find the best angles. I always check the “moving” video after choreo lessons to find the best-looking expressions.

JIHOON said on his TWS: Think About Us! profile that you’re good at positioning your face at just the right angle. (laughs)

HANJIN: I’m always looking in the mirror [and striking various poses] to see if a certain angle makes me look more attractive, if this angle makes me look cool, if looking straight ahead would be best… I try to find a good angle when we’re taking photos for the album, too. I can’t keep posing at the same angle, but then I worry the photos won’t be as flattering if I try a different one…

Which angle do you find is best? (laughs)

HANJIN: To give you an exact answer (laughs), 45 degrees to my right.

It’s those varied facial expressions that really bring out the lively mood of your performances. It can’t be easy learning the choreography, what with all the little moves and the precise timing of the steps and jumps.

HANJIN: I’d say the most intense choreography so far is for “Oh Mymy : 7s.” The details! It’s all about the details, start to finish. There isn’t a second to rest, and we have to sing at the same time, so it requires a lot of concentration when practicing. I definitely want to see any cover videos of the song that get uploaded later. (laughs) We have to be extra careful when practicing the “BFF” choreography because it involves tables. Not only do we have to sing and dance, but we also have to remember the timing so we can hold the tables securely in place. I’m sure it’s fun to watch, and we have fun with it, but it’s quite chaotic. (laughs)

What’s the atmosphere like during dance practice?

HANJIN: When we rehearse as a group, we talk about which parts, what moves and what kind of feeling each of us wants to focus on that day. JIHOON has a lot of experience with dancing, so he’ll take the lead and say, “It’d be better if we did this part this way. How about we give it a shot?” He helped me so much when I first joined the roster. He would stay behind after group practice and help me. It meant the world to me.

Can you tell me about TWS’s “first encounter” as well?

HANJIN: The first of the members I met were DOHOON and KYUNGMIN. I went to the practice studio after coming to Korea, then went to our new home, and there they were. DOHOON’s fashion sense was unbelievably good. To this day, he wears something different nearly every day, and it makes me want to shop for clothes like his. I didn’t know KYUNGMIN was the youngest at that point, but he was already adorable. I felt like YOUNGJAE had a kind face when I first met him, and I still feel that way. He felt just like the boy next door—the male lead in every Korean drama who’s always waiting just outside the female lead’s home. And SHINYU I first saw when he was practicing for a shoot. I was like, “Is he an idol? His face is so petite. He’s got perfect skin. And he’s so tall. Wow … He’s so handsome.” He’s our leader and he always looks after me, and I love that. The first time I saw JIHOON wasn’t quite face to face; I saw him through the door while he was practicing. I thought, How on Earth can anyone actually dance that well?

Did you have any issues with communication when you met them?

HANJIN: They spoke slowly for me and used their phones to translate when I couldn’t understand. They taught me by saying things like, “Stop, just a sec! It’s pronounced like this.” I got better super quickly thanks to them. I learned formal, polite Korean first—I ended everything I said with -yo, -yo, -yo—so even to JIHOON I would say things like, “Bap meogeosseo-yo? [Did you eat something?] Wasseo-yo? [Are you back?]” So he said it felt like I was keeping distance between us, and he was like, “Why are you speaking so formal to me? Why not talk like friends do?” (laughs)

In your Spotify OH TALK video, you mentioned your most commonly used phrase lately is, “KYUNGMIN, what are you doing?”

HANJIN: Since he’s the youngest in the group, the rest of us always joke around with him, saying things like, “KYUNGMIN, what are you eating?” or, “KYUNGMIN, get over here!” We just call out to him all the time. He was cute when I first met him, and he’s just as cute now. The first time our group had time off, we went to a theme park and rode a bunch of rides. YOUNGJAE and I were practically dying by the end, but KYUNGMIN? Phew. He was bursting with energy till the very end. It was unbelievable. KYUNGMIN and I are roommates, too, so I talk to him whenever something’s wrong, and he talks with me a lot, too.

It seems you’ve grown close with the other members in no time.

HANJIN: One time we ate malatang and mala xiang guo in the practice studio, which everybody absolutely loved. So I thought it’d be nice to make mala xiang guo for them when we first move in together. For days before we moved into our new place, I was looking up the locations of Chinese grocery stores and getting all the ingredients for mala xiang guo together so I could make it on our first day living together. I feel like I’m in charge of keeping track of our group’s memories. I love taking photos—I have two cameras at home—and I like taking and editing videos, too. So I’m always the one taking photos of them and filming us whenever we go out to keep a record of those memories.

What memorable moments coming up after your debut are you most looking forward to experiencing with the others?

HANJIN: I’m looking forward to things like fan showcases and fan sign events—things where we can meet and talk to fans face to face. We’re going to perform for the first time at our upcoming showcase, and we have to put everything we’ve got into it. [Note: This interview took place on January 14.] I hope we’ll be as good as when we practiced. I’m going to be so nervous with so many people there watching me dance, sing, and speak Korean (laughs) but I’m getting more comfortable the more I practice with the other members. It’s fun as long as I look at it as a learning experience.

Would you say that’s “the person I will be tomorrow—the one I’ve waited for for so long,” that you mentioned in your FIRST TIME video?

HANJIN: I came up with that phrase after talking it over with the label several times. It was hard to choose the right words. “I will not give up on the person I will be tomorrow—the one I’ve waited for for so long.” I’ve become more confident and my skills have improved since coming to Korea. I want to make an effort to be constantly evolving. I honestly owe where I got today to everyone around me. My family, my friends, the other members, the label—they kept telling me, “Just keep at it. You can do it.” So when I’m feeling down, I tell myself, “HANJIN, don’t give up. Just keep working hard.” I can make it as long as I keep telling myself that.

Article. Song Hooryeong
Interview. Song Hooryeong
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Coordinator. Lee Heewon
Visual Creative. Lee Hyunju, Kim Woojeong, Yang Dongmin (PLEDIS Entertainment)
Photography. Kim Cheonga / Assist. Jeong Gihun
Hair. Bae Kyunghwa
Make Up. Park Sooyeon
Style. Kang Soomin
Artist Protocol Department. An Soyoung, Kang Miju, Shin Doyun, Kim Hyejin, Hong Ahyun, Cho Sungje, Kwon Wooyoung, Hwang Yumi