When ENHYPEN first debuted, NI-KI had said he wanted to be as broad-shouldered as his older teammates and better at speaking Korean. Four months later, with a sturdy set of shoulders, he explained himself with greatly improved fluency.

I heard you’ve been into working out lately.

NI-KI: I’m doing personal training and my trainer also taught me some exercises I can do by myself at home. I’ve been working out a lot, and I think my shoulders got wider as a result. I like how my clothes fit much more than before. (laughs) I especially like how much different I look now when I wear shirts.


Looks like you’re still growing.

NI-KI: I massage my knees sometimes since I still get growing pains. And if I massage them before bed, it helps the next day if I’m practicing any knee-intensive moves. I used to go to bed late but I’m trying to sleep earlier like the rest of the team now. And I’m trying to get enough sleep. I realized I have to take good care of myself because I’m going to be busy from now on.


What else have you learned lately?

NI-KI: The new practice studio is way bigger than the old one. The ceiling’s higher, too. It feels different when we practice now. I feel even more determined to do a good job. I think we have more precise timing and follow the beat closer when we’re practicing together, too.

You took on more parts in BORDER : CARNIVAL than on your debut album. That must make you eager to try even harder.

NI-KI: I practiced more because I figured I should put on an even better show than before. I also studied by listening to songs by Lauv and Justin Bieber and singing along to them since their songs are a good match for my voice, I think. “FEVER” was the first time I sang on the chorus, so I thought it was important to do a good job. And I was pretty determined because I never sang a song with this kind of sexy vibe before. It was hard, but I managed to bring out that feeling thanks to all the help the producer gave me.


The lead single, “Drunk-Dazed,” though, is a fast-paced song.

NI-KI: While “FEVER” has a consistent feeling throughout the song, “Drunk-Dazed” is physically demanding from start to finish, so I thought I better give a solid live performance. I did a lot of practicing to stay aware of the tension in my stomach and control it to make it easier to sing live even while dancing. In terms of the choreography, the group dance and the solo parts are both cool but in totally different ways. We wanted to focus on deemphasizing ourselves as individuals in the group part and working together as one unit, and on showing off our individuality for our solo parts.


In your part, where you sing, “from across the line, everything crumbles,” it feels like you’re taking the whole theme of the song, of all the confusion of entering a new world, and compressing it down.

NI-KI: When I was watching the demo video, when I would get an idea I talked to the performance director about it. We discussed my ideas and then the director incorporated some of them into the performance. I wanted to really show, like, “I’m here now, across the line.” At first I would go in slowly, cross the line, then make a big splash with a big, sudden change to the rhythm of the way I move.

It seems like you really have crossed a border, achieving the dream of debuting you’ve had since you were young. 

NI-KI: But I also found out where I need to focus my efforts and work harder while we did our last album. When I see other older artists perform, they’re so cool and really talented. I look too stiff compared to them. I’m learning a lot about how to look more natural, no matter how physically demanding the song is. I’m just thankful I have the opportunity to learn from watching them. I watch their TV performances but I’m also watching V LIVE to study Korean. I want to be good enough at Korean that I can do my own V LIVE alone like them.


Did you see the V LIVE where YEONJUN from TOMORROW X TOGETHER said it would be fun to perform with you?

NI-KI: Yes, I did. I saw his performance and thought it was really amazing. I like YEONJUN so I was so happy when he mentioned me. I really want to be on stage with him someday. “Puma” is one of my favorite TOMORROW X TOGETHER songs. Wouldn’t it look awesome if I did a dance break with YEONJUN in a remix of that song? Plus my nickname’s Puma. (laughs)


It sounds like you pay a lot of attention to other artists’ performances. I guess that’s why you were like a cover AlphaGo when you were on MBC every1’s Weekly Idol.

NI-KI: Maybe the reason I like it so much is because I got into the habit of singing along and dancing while watching those videos as a kid. I look up all the videos of performances from music shows and awards ceremonies. I watch them over and over again, but not to do a cover version of the dances. I just end up being able to copy the dance routines as a result. Currently I’m watching BTS’s live performance of “MIC Drop” a lot.


You also covered BTS’s “Boy in Luv,” “LOVE ME RIGHT” by EXO, and “Very Good” by Block B.

NI-KI: I felt it was important to show our own unique take even when covering their songs. I think one of the strengths of our team is our group dancing, so we tried to dance to “Boy in Luv” without missing a beat. You have to dance like crazy in “Very Good,” so we made it feel like we were forgetting everything else and just having fun. “LOVE ME RIGHT” was something me, JAY and HEESEUNG did together. The director Son Sung Deuk told us that sometimes overly confident dancers can look like they’re dancing alone instead of in a group. So we focused on synchronizing our moves.


Should we be looking forward to another cover performance?

NI-KI: I’d like to do an official cover of TAEMIN’s “IDEA” sometime. If you look at TAEMIN’s performances, you can see how he’s really comfortable whether he’s performing with the rest of SHINee or by himself. I want to look as amazing as him on stage too. I’d seriously be honored if I could be on stage with SHINee someday since I’ve been a fan of them for so long. They’re the ones who made me dream of becoming an idol.

You mentioned that your solo performance at the 2021 NEW YEAR’S EVE LIVE made you realize how challenging it can be to fill the stage all by yourself.

NI-KI: I had to fill in for the other members’ parts my own way. I started in a chair and ended by kicking into the air. I kicked the chair partway through to add flavor to the performance and keep the audience from getting bored. And I practiced kicking that chair away a lot so I could make the performance more exciting. I also practiced a lot to control my intensity. When you dance as a group, the close-ups are on whoever’s in the middle, but it’s always on you when you’re alone. I found it hard to control my facial expressions. I concentrated on using the strength in my body when I wanted to show off my dance moves and relaxed to make the right facial expressions whenever there was a close-up. I think that whole experience will be very helpful for me moving forward.


What unique parts about yourself were you hoping to express?

NI-KI: The way my body looks when I move. You have to adjust your intensity right out to your fingertips to make it work. I’m always moving this way and that way in front of the mirror and taking note of which movements look the best. When I’m practicing alone and come up with a part that looks all right, I share it with the other members so we can try to get in sync.

The gracefulness of your dance stood out in the dance cover you did of BTS’s “Lie” in January.

NI-KI: I feel good every time I dance to “Lie” because its contemporary dance has parts that are similar to jazz dance. I only studied contemporary dance briefly but while I did I got some compliments. (laughs) I think I’m well suited to it. I really want to do a cover of it as ENHYPEN and make it look cool like Jimin does. I got accepted at BELIFT LAB after I danced to that song for my audition. I was just a little kid who liked to dance back then (laughs) but now I want to show everyone how much I’ve learned and grown through my experience as a member of ENHYPEN. And tell them that’s how I ended up getting better.


You were in middle school when you auditioned, but you graduated this year.

NI-KI: I came to Korea during my second year of middle school, and went to school maybe once every three months after that, so it didn’t feel like I was going to school for real. I guess I’ll probably go to the same high school as the other members. I’m sure going to the same school will be way more fun than going alone. I wonder how it’ll be different from school in Japan. A long time ago, when I saw Korean schools in K-dramas, I wanted to feel what it was like going to school in Korea.


Are there any clubs you want to join?

NI-KI: The soccer club. I like playing soccer and also watching it. I’ve been a Neymar fan ever since I was in elementary school. I used him as my character yesterday while playing FIFA. (laughs) When I like something, I like it forever. I think I’ve been like that my whole life. I still like boongeoppang, too. I even made pizza boongeoppang on V LIVE before. And I found out you have to look at the color of the batter to figure out how long to toast it to make sure it tastes good.

That was the V LIVE where you made it with HEESEUNG and JAY, right? You play a lot of jokes on them when you’re together.

NI-KI: I’m not going out of my way to goof around, just trying to keep things natural and light. It’s good to laugh sometimes. There isn’t really much I can do for the others, but I think it makes them feel better when I joke around like that or hear them out and share my viewpoints.


Why did you think there isn’t much you can do for the other members?

NI-KI: Because they’re the ones who are always making me feel better. JUNGWON especially says a lot of nice things to keep our spirits up, since he’s the leader. Before we debuted, I spent all my time alone at a homestay. I got through the loneliness by looking at pictures of my family. But now I stay with the other members and we can spend time together, which is special in its own way and different from spending time with my family. I thought I was going to be all alone on Korean New Years when everyone leaves, but JAY invited me to his house. I was so happy. JAY’s parents were nice to me too, and made lots of amazing food. I was so grateful and I want to repay their kindness someday.


You’re so sweet!

NI-KI: I liked sleeping in the same place as the other members, but I’ve been sleeping alone the past two months. When I sleep I hug my body pillow since they’re not around. I think I feel more comfortable sleeping alone now. (laughs) Things are busy and exhausting right now and I worry about the members getting tired . I was even more thankful for the members when we were in Japan. I think JUNGWON is so cool, always leading us during the comeback show and when we talk to reporters. When we’re in Japan I try to take the lead and teach them words they don’t know like they do for me. I made a bunch of jokes on the radio when we were the hosts of All Night Nippon X. I was glad JAY laughed at my jokes. The other members have trouble speaking Japanese right now, but I think we’ll have a lot of fun broadcasting when they get better.


JAY said that he wants to take a group trip to your family’s home when COVID-19 clears up. You must want to go home too, right?

NI-KI: I haven’t been to Japan once since we debuted, so if we end up going there, first I’m going to see my parents and say hello, then get some rest (laughs) and figure out what places to visit with the other members. I think Osaka would be nice. I want to eat a lot of good food and make good memories.

And what do you want to do right now?

NI-KI: Show ENGENE our performances for this album as soon as possible. We practiced really hard so that we can put on a top-notch performance. I’m ready. I can’t wait to show you my best. Sometime later I’d like to try doing a sentimental song or a hip hop song like BTS’s “Go Go.” Since I have many days ahead of me (laughs) I want to try a bunch of different concepts and show ENGENE everything I’m capable of.

Article. Hyunkyung Lim
Interview. Hyunkyung Lim
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Project Management. Yejin Lee
Visual Creative Team. Gunhee Lee(BELIFT LAB)
Photography. Songyi Yoon / Assist. Yejung Shin, Kyunghee Kang
Hair. Iljoong Lee, Minjeong Kyung
Makeup. Sunghee Ahn, Sojeong Kwon
Stylist. Kyungwon Choi
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehui Son, Ayeong Kim)