MINJU never used to be much of a crier, but she says that she started to tear up more often once she began dreaming of becoming an idol. In fact, she was so dedicated to her dream that shuttling herself back and forth between school and the practice studio never felt like a chore. And she worried herself sick every day of middle school wondering if she would be able to make it come true.

You’re just about to debut. How are you feeling?
MINJU: Every day is just amazing. The system in place to prepare us for our debut is great, the practice studio is amazing … There’s really nothing more I could ask for. The best part is I don’t have to feel anxious anymore. My family was so happy, too, like, “You made it, MINJU. Your hard work paid off.”

Didn’t you find it exhausting going back and forth between school and the label as a trainee for five years?
MINJU: Not at all. It was something I really wanted to do. Also, my mom drove me every day, so I’m really thankful for her. When I first begged her to let me go to a dance academy, she was like, “Absolutely not. Forget it … And there’s no way you’re becoming a singer.” (laughs) But she supported me anyway because I wanted to do it so badly. I started out with dance academy, but finding my talent for singing has been really incredible. I could not dance or sing at all. (laughs) I had no idea I could sing. I found out after starting high school and practicing. I’m grateful I found something I love and excel at. Singing’s so fun.

What made you dream of becoming an idol?
MINJU: At first I thought the only thing I should be doing was just studying hard, but then I saw videos of idols in concert on YouTube. Seeing how much fun they were having performing and interacting with their fans made it look like such a fantastic and exciting job to me. I was always vice class president in elementary school, but I started dreaming of becoming an idol in middle school, and from that point on I stopped doing stuff like being vice class rep and did a lot of talent shows instead. At first I just thought idols looked beautiful and wonderful, but later on I wanted to be on stage looking as happy as they did.

How did it feel to take that dream to the next level and be on R U Next?
MINJU: There were a lot of times it was hard, like whenever they announced the rankings, and having to watch the other contestants I practiced with get eliminated.
I never imagined once in my entire life that I’d be on a survival show. (laughs) When I used to watch other shows like that, I’d tell my friends, “I could never do that,” because the people who debuted from them were just so unbelievable. But I really grew a lot through that process. It made me mentally stronger. Having to put on eye-catching performances in such a short time definitely helped improve my skills too.

You can tell your confidence grew as the competition progressed. Were any of the performances particularly memorable for you or stand out as a turning point?
MINJU: The most memorable performance for me was the 2NE1 song “I Don’t Care.” I felt confident about that one. It really let me show off my vocals, and I just like the style. I just felt confident somehow, when I was doing that song.

The judges singled you out several times to point out where you were doing a good job.
MINJU: We were just about to move on after the team assessment in round six, but then Lee Hyun said, “I wanted to be sure to compliment MINJU on a job really well done.” That really meant a lot to me. He came by during practice a lot to give pointers. WOOZI complimented me on my vocals, too. I’ll never forget that!

Other trainees on R U Next? said you’re “the kind of person who puts others first, even if it puts her at a disadvantage.” Do you feel happy when you help others out?
MINJU: Pretty much. I’d rather deal with a hard time myself than put it on someone else. Taking the L isn’t that big of a deal anyway. (laughs) I feel proud when I stand back a bit. It puts me at ease. Being considerate of others actually benefits me, too.

It’s great that you’re considerate of others, but it must lead to times where you can’t look out for yourself or end up having a hard time.
MINJU: When R U Next? first started and we were deciding who gets which parts, I stayed pretty quiet, but starting with the next round, I got more ambitious and spoke up when there was a part I wanted. Being overly accommodating all the time could actually hurt the team in the end. That really made me change the way I look at being considerate and keeping quiet.

Sort of like you said, I need to start looking out for myself now, too. Like that?
MINJU: I figured I had to for the sake of my dream and because it was a competition.

How does it feel to finally perform ILLIT’s own songs after doing covers of other groups on R U Next?
MINJU: It was really, really surreal and gratifying the first time I heard our songs.  Every single track off our album is incredible. I’m so happy with it! Having our own songs makes me feel more responsible towards them and more attached to them, and I feel like my whole mindset changed while rehearsing them. I like all the songs, but I’m especially fond of the intro to “My World,” and I’m really grateful I got to be the one to sing it.

You do a lot of the intros. You’re a regular intro pro. (laughs) Is there anything special you keep in mind while recording the vocals for the intros?
MINJU: Well, I did the intro for our single “Magnetic,” too, and the producer taught me a lot of different vocal techniques to properly convey it. I’m usually not very good at paying close attention to details like that—I’m kind of in the habit of just doing my own thing. Recording these vocals taught me a lot about paying attention to the details. You’ll never actually improve if you keep singing in the same style all the time.

So, you’re finding answers to your concern from R U Next? about feeling stuck in your practice.
MINJU: Right. I guess I used to cling to the first singing style I learned to do, and then I got sort of trapped by that. So I felt completely thrown when I got negative feedback about that. But this time I stopped clinging so stubbornly to always singing the way I wanted to and gave the different styles that the producer suggested to me a try. I was surprised to discover I could pull off those styles too. The producer even complimented me and said it was his first time hearing me sing like that.

After you were officially slated to debut, you started living with the group, apart from your family.
MINJU: I was really sad at first, and I missed my family. I’m pretty used to it now, but I still think of them a lot when I’m eating and before I go to bed. Sometimes I miss the days when I’d wake up late and eat the lunch my mom made me, too. And I really miss my dog, Ddungi. Ddungi‘s so, so cute! I probably miss my dog so much because we’ve been together since I was in second grade.

I heard you’re really close with your older brother too. And, according to the other members, you sound adorable when talking to him on the phone. (laughs)
MINJU: I talked to him just yesterday! (laughs) My brother’s my one and only … Well, maybe not quite! But I know I can always rely on him to be on my side. He’s always looking after me and worrying about me. He teases me sometimes, but I can tell he cares about me a ton. My brother is an absolutely irreplaceable part of my life. Sometimes he even gives me money, hehe.

What do you two usually talk about on the phone?
MINJU: Seriously, just any little thing about our day—what we’re up to, what we ate, how we’re feeling these days. Last time I asked him, “You’re coming to our showcase, riiight?” (laughs) And I play pranks on him sometimes, too. The other members pretend to be me on the phone to test whether my brother can tell or not. He usually knows when it’s me right away, but two days ago, he couldn’t tell! (laughs) So I was really hurt.

You’re the youngest in your family but one of the older members of the group. Have you felt yet like you suddenly understood your older brother better?
MINJU: I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand him. (laughs) Wait, there is one thing: I never knew it was possible to feel so much affection for younger siblings. Even among my extended family, I’m still one of the youngest. Now it feels like I have younger siblings for real. They’re so cute, and I always want to take care of them. Maybe that’s how my brother feels?

What was your first impression of the other members?
MINJU: YUNAH was the first trainee I met at HYBE. You can just tell that she’s an idol trainee. Even in glasses and a mask, with no makeup on, her proportions and that unmistakable aura made it obvious. She also gave me tips like how to eat snacks secretly. (laughs) When I first saw MOKA, she was quiet and wore a lot of black, so I wasn’t sure if it’s okay to talk to her first. But when she danced and took off her mask, she was so pretty and danced so well, I was surprised. I still remember that. WONHEE became a trainee a little later, and as soon as I saw her, I told the other trainee next to me, “That girl’s gonna make it!” She had something special about her that just made her the most memorable among all the trainees. Roha looked like a baby to me when I first saw her. (laughs) Seriously, just like a baby. I was amazed she became a trainee at such a young age, but once I saw her dance, it all made sense.

It’s clear when watching videos of you two that you’ve known YUNAH for a long time. There was even a caption saying you’re “stuck to YUNAH“ because you kept calling her over.
MINJU: I rely on YUNAH a lot. She’s like a big sister to me. Even though she’s really goofy sometimes. (laughs) YUNAH can tell when I’m having a hard time without me even saying anything. I think it doesn’t show, but then she asks, “MINJU, what’s wrong?” She said that I’m a big source of support for her, too. Being the same age and having gone through a similar amount of training, we have a lot in common. How should I explain it? It’s like we understand each other without saying a word.

The other members have said you have a “subtle madness” about you. (laughs)
MINJU: I have no idea why they say I have “sparkling eyes but also a crazy side.” (laughs) Maybe it’s because I joke around all the time? I play pranks and crack a lot of jokes with people I’m close with, which probably caught them off guard. Sometimes I’m surprised by how crazy I look onscreen too. Why do my eyes look like that? (laughs)

MBTI isn’t an exact science, but I know you’re an ISTP, who doesn't tend to cry much. But you seem to tear up pretty easily.
MINJU: Actually, I never used to be the tearful type, but R U Next? changed that. I don’t usually cry when I see other people feeling sad, but I do tend to cry if I’m struggling with something or feeling hurt or something. I guess it’s because it’s a dream I tried so hard to make come true for so long. I was never really the sentimental type before, but these days I’ve been taking a lot of photos of the sky. I guess I sort of changed. (laughs)

You’re really affectionate in all the comments you leave for fans on Weverse.
MINJU: I end up using a lot of hearts and emoticons with fans. I guess I’m sentimental when it comes to people who like me. Maybe that’s why people who really know me don’t really think I’m an ISTP. I keep taking the test over and over again, but I always get the same result. (laughs) I’m on Weverse all the time, and all the messages the fans send really make me feel better. Even when things get tough, just thinking about my fans motivates me to pick myself up and keep working hard.

How do you feel when you’re on stage and can see all the fans who came out to cheer you on?
MINJU: I can’t even describe how thankful I am. But on the other hand, I feel really sorry. I want to go up to all the fans holding signs with my name on them, but when we’re filming I feel like I can’t do much for them. That’s why I want to have a fan signing event as soon as possible so I can see them up close and personal and talk to them. I even remember one fan in particular! During round six of R U Next? I was wearing a super sparkly skirt, and one fan caught my eye:
They were dressed very business-like and were holding up a sign that said, “Your face shines brighter than your skirt.” (laughs) It was so cute and funny. I felt really grateful for that.

What would you like to talk about with your fans?
MINJU: There’s so much that I’m curious about about them! I want to know literally everything about them—how they came to the show, what they ate, what they’re up to these days, how school’s going, what kind of job they have. Basic stuff like that. I just want to know what my fans are like, although I would love them whoever they are.

Did you know your motto became popular on social media? “This too shall pass.” You said it came from when your mom yelled at you. (laughs)
MINJU: Yes, I know. (laughs) I thought that even back when I was really little. My mom’s lectures when I got in trouble seemed endless. I’d think, When is this going to end? And keep telling myself, This too shall pass. Even hard times eventually come to an end.

Do you still think of that phrase when you find yourself in tough situations?
MINJU: I do feel a lot better when I think about it. If we’re having a long, hard rehearsal, I keep telling myself, “This too shall pass,” and imagine myself lying in bed at home later. (laughs) I do it when I’m upset about negative feedback, too. I just think, Well, what can you do? This too shall pass. I believe things will just get better automatically over time.

It was a tough, uncertain time, but you’re finally debuting. Now that your dreams are coming true, if you could say anything to your past self as a trainee when you were working toward becoming a singer, what would it be?
MINJU: I’d tell her not to stress too much, because if you just keep working hard, everything will work out eventually. Don’t get discouraged, no matter what people say. It’s okay to feel confident about your beliefs and follow them. Because those choices will be the right ones.

ArticleLee Heewon
InterviewLee Heewon
Visual DirectorMat-kkal, Lucky Park(MHTL)
CoordinatorOh Minji
Visual Creative TeamLee Gunhee, Kim Nayeon, Kim Joo hyun, Yoon Sanga
PhotographyPark Sangjun(@poishx)
VideoJo Yunmi, Seo Yujeong
ProducerPark Soyoung(@andsoyoung_)
HairPark Jihee(HOLYHAIR)
MakeupMun Jiwon, Im Hajin
StylistAhn Areum
Set DesignMHTL(@official.mhtl), Leeroy Kim(@leeroykim)
Artist Protocal TeamWoo Soohyeon, Hong Inseo, Cho Yoojeong, Yun Jayoung
Copyright ⓒ Weverse Magazine. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction and distribution prohibited.