When asked about what drives him to overcome difficult times, TAEHYUN explained, “I’m the fire, with my desires and dreams; the members and MOA are the gas.” 

You’re still not able to see your fans in person.

TAEHYUN: It would’ve been a big problem for me no matter what kind of life I lived, but for me with this job it was an absolute disaster. But it only makes sense to keep working through the disaster as best I can. I try to stay as positive as possible.


Did FANLIVE SHINE X TOGETHER bring you any comfort?

TAEHYUN: It was like, “ah, finally.” If you’re only doing it in front of the camera, knowing that fans will watch the video is like second-tier motivation. But it wasn’t that—there was an immediate, first-tier feeling. Because you tell yourself, “I’ve gotta do it, for the fans right there in front of me.”

You ended up moving on from the EBS radio program Youth Communication Project: Listen for that performance and comeback. How were those five months on Listen?

TAEHYUN: I didn’t realize I’d use my emotions that much. I didn’t rely too much on the script because I wanted to be more sincere. The crew took care of us and made us feel welcome. I realized we had good people working together on a good project on a good show. I’m sorry to the crew and to the listeners for leaving so suddenly, but I hope Listen is still doing well.

Although you’re finished with Listen, you went from blond DJ to silver DJ in preparation for your comeback.

TAEHYUN: I like it—I think it turned out well. Everyone was curious, but now that it’s out there, I feel better. (laughs) I’m relieved.

How was shooting the concept photos with your new hair color? 

TAEHYUN: We did the WORLD version first. Everything was new—the clothes, makeup, and hair. And it’s an important album we’re putting out at an important time on top of that, so I was nervous when I went in to shoot my individual photos. But when we reviewed them they told me they looked good, so I felt more comfortable after that. I was focused on the emotions for the YOU and BOY versions. When you’re switching up the outfits, makeup, hair and the whole space, I think I have to express myself emotionally. I tried to act along to the lonely feeling of BOY and the more bright and colorful feeling of YOU.


There must be a lot of stories about what went on while filming the music video. I mean, you made a campfire out of a car.

TAEHYUN: I was really surprised—it was a lot hotter than I expected. Even the director told us, “Guys, if it’s too hot, just run away.” (laughs) But that wasn’t even the biggest fire I ever saw. We burned a huge door for “Run Away,” so this was only the second hottest shoot.


You said you like it when fans struggle to figure out hints from teasers. Now that it’s comeback season, how do you feel?

TAEHYUN: It’s hardest when we film in advance and have to wait. There’s a ton of input for everything we make, but when we release things one by one and the fans say they like it and I see how they can’t wait, I can really feel the breadth of our output, and that makes me happy.


One of the things you released that way was the concept trailer.

TAEHYUN: When we were practicing it felt like I hit a wall, and I don’t think I was the only one to feel that way. I learned the first part a really long time ago but the second part came much later. There was a difficult part with YEONJUN and some parts where our timing had to be perfectly lined up, but we didn’t have much time. I wasn’t sure I could do it but I was hitting all the beats two or three days before shooting so there was hope after all. (laughs)


On a recent V LIVE, you, SOOBIN and HUENINGKAI said “that dance” from the album is also very difficult. Were you talking about the choreography for the lead single?

TAEHYUN: Actually, it’s never been the lead singles that are that hard. It’s “No Rules” that leaves us waiting to be rushed away by ambulance. The lead single’s hard, but I feel blessed to dance to that compared to “No Rules.” (laughs) “No Rules” is seriously a hectic rush. The chorus repeats more than most songs, owning to the structure of the song. Normally, like in “Can’t You See Me?” or “Run Away,” you can recover your stamina during the bridge. But it’s not like that for this song because we’re doing so much footwork. (laughs)


But was the choreography for the lead single okay?

TAEHYUN: It’s the only song where I can rest during my part because everybody acts during their own part. It’s my first time doing the intro, too. People are going to decide whether to keep watching the performance or not after seeing me, so I kept that in mind while practicing, that I had to give it my all.

It must’ve been important to have your raspy vocals on the “I know I love you” part in the introduction.

TAEHYUN: Just like in music, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answers when it comes to singing. I think whatever sounds good is the best choice, and I think I had been looking for just the right sound. The way I made it sound scratchy was different from the demo version, and from there I worked carefully with the producer to adjust it and get it right.


You did a V LIVE from the studio at one point. Was some of that studio work related to this album?

TAEHYUN: There was some stuff for this album, some lyrics, some keyboarding, but the most fun part was toplining—writing a melody on top of the track. Since I’m ambitious I’m practicing on beats I can’t use, but I’m getting better at dealing with songs and Cubase, so it’s having a positive influence. A topliner needs to hear all the music without missing a thing. I’ve been making it a habit ever since I was a trainee so I’ve developed an aptitude for it.


Which parts of the album did you work on?

TAEHYUN: When I got the demo for “What if I had been that PUMA,” I thought it was a good track that was trying something new. The track’s worked around a mechanical sound that might divide people but it’s not like that kind of sound is always bad. I wrote the lyrics with the rhymes in mind, but the parts I felt confident about didn’t make it in while the lyrics that I just rattled off did. I wrote, “C, between B and D,” but after YEONJUN and Producer Bang looked at it together, they changed it to, “Pick your answer, A or B,” which is easier to sing. I wanted to emphasize what the title “No Rules” suggests. But the part I thought I wrote well didn’t make it in, actually. (laughs) I wrote, “Whether it’s morning or night,” and YEONJUN changed it to, “Whether it’s A.M. or P.M.” And the lyrics I put in—“I wanted to be a punk”—I suggested it’d be fun if we sang the same lyrics as the previous song, and they ended up going in.


You also worked on “Dear Sputnik.”

TAEHYUN: I did the toplining for the bridge of that song, so I can’t help but love it. I tried to put some work into all the songs, but I felt anxious when my contributions weren’t included as much as I expected. I felt pressured even though I wasn’t required to do anything but I was relieved when my bridge and lyrics were included in the song. On the other hand, some of my ideas weren’t chosen for other parts, but seeing as some of the similar lyrics I wrote survived, I guess I wasn’t headed in the wrong direction, which was nice.

Did working steadily on the album have any effect on your singing?

TAEHYUN: I think it’s important to sing as well as I write because, if I want to show how good my melodies are, I have to record it myself and send it. Of course, if you can go up from an A and hit a B you’ll have a wider array of notes to choose from. I felt like my singing skills were improving on their own. I’m pursuing music with no preconceptions in mind, so I think people who can work in many different genres are good. I think it’s more than just a matter of being able to hit high notes or breathe well; how much you truly understand what you’re singing is also important. I think that’s why the strength of my vocals were revealed in that part.


What is your goal when it comes to music?

TAEHYUN: In addition to toplining our own songs, I want to get to the point where I’m doing commissions. I’d love it if I could write tracks, but there’s so many people who write well. So while I can still work on them, I’m still a long way from writing whole tracks. But I think I can keep going with toplining.


With that in mind, what do you focus on when you listen to music?

TAEHYUN: I think you shouldn’t have any preconceptions. Just because I say I like something doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because I say I hate something doesn’t make it bad. Nothing’s bad to me, because I listen to all genres. When you look at it that way, music is subjective, but even so, I feel like I’m starting to be able to predict what will trend a little now.


You show personal growth on this album, but the team shows growth as well. It had over 700,000 preorders.

TAEHYUN: I’m so grateful. There can be more possibilities when there are more fans—not only in K-pop, but in all areas. The way I keep going on Weverse is one of the ways I express my gratitude, too.

And it’s not just growth in the numbers. You’re with the same company as Justin Bieber now, who you mentioned you like, and last year, one of your favorite artists, Taemin, gave you his album as a present.
TAEHYUN: It’s not that this work isn’t hard, but it’s obviously fun. It’s dynamic, unpredictable work, and exciting stuff happens more often than you’d think. It’s more exhilarating than I would’ve expected to cover the performance of someone I admire. I also want to feel what it’s like when some of the younger artists cover us someday.

You’re fulfilling your dreams one by one, but I get the sense that you can also be a realistic person at times.
TAEHYUN: I think I can make progress as long as I don’t get bogged down in my dreams. By keeping it real I can see what I’m up against a little more objectively. So I think that actually helps me achieve my dreams.

We could see your realism on Listen as well.
TAEHYUN: There were a lot of stories from younger listeners, and sometimes I felt like their words would stay in my mind for a long time or even have a big impact on my lifestyle. Me and Huening thought a lot about how we could help in a positive way instead of just telling them to try their best. We were careful to stay away from narrow thinking as much as possible so that the things we were saying to them wouldn’t just sound like what other adults say.

I recall you compared growing up to a step graph in an interview with Vogue Korea.
TAEHYUN: That idea came from my own experiences. Depending on the person, the horizontal part of the steps might not even be horizontal. There might even be those lucky people who get to go up at an incline. (laughs) The curve finds us all and the rising part comes later, so I hope you don’t give up. And you should just focus on yourself. Because I think you’ll find yourself in a dilemma when you start focusing on the outside world. You don’t usually lose a lot of what you’ve learned suddenly. If you stay calm, you can tell you’re improving a little even when you’re in a slump. Everyone has their own talents and abilities so it’s better to compare yourself just to your past self, I think.

Where in the world do these insights and metaphors come from?
TAEHYUN: I think if you use your smartphone the right way, it’s even more useful than a book. It’s like, the more a person makes practical use of the Internet, the bigger the influence it has on their knowledge and their life. Any time I’m curious about something I look it up right away, and if I think about it again later I go back into my bookmarks. I think it’s human curiosity that keeps people from losing the spark in life.

Now that you’re an adult, what kind of grown-up do you want to be?

TAEHYUN: I want to be awake, for one. There’s countless answers in life and in the world, so I think it’s wrong to insist on just one answer. I also think it’s the role of adults to work hard for the sake of kids who are growing and developing their imagination. I feel like it’s pointless if I’m the only one living a good life. I think it’s up to adults to help out and create a so-called beautiful world that can help a lot of people.


You said on V LIVE that you feel like you’re physically different now that you’re 19. Has anything else changed?

TAEHYUN: Not really, since I pretty much still live like a teenager, but when my friends tell me they have to go to university, reality sort of kicks in. I only have friends from middle school. They knew me when I was a regular person, when I was a trainee, and when I debuted, so we don’t have any distorted views about each other and they just see me simply as Taehyun.


You and HUENINGKAI turned 19 together. What is your friendship with him like?

TAEHYUN: I think I said this somewhere else before, but Huening is my rock. He was the one who made me realize, “You’re not walking alone”; “You’re not going forward by yourself.” By being there with me, he gave me a lot of strength.


You must have a lot of affection for the other members.

TAEHYUN: I watch what I’m interested in closely, and I’m interested in the other members so I watch them closely too, I think. We spend more time together than our own flesh and blood. In a way I think we’re a real family.

You’re also very interested in MOA. You posted a message on Weverse where you mentioned every letter you received in February.

TAEHYUN: I wanted to show that it’s not a one-way conversation—that we’re communicating with each other. I wanted to show how much it means to me too. Obviously it was very meaningful to me but I didn’t expect them to be so impressed. The number of letters has really gone up since then. (laughs)


And you called MOA and the other members “my rocks.” What exactly do they mean to you?

TAEHYUN: They’re people I couldn’t have met—but I have met them. People I would have to meet even if I were to do it all again.

Article. Haein Yoon
Interview. Haein Yoon
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Project Management. Hyunkyung Lim
Visual Creative Team. Hyunju Lee, Rakta(BIGHIT MUSIC)
Photography. LESS / Assist. Mingu Kang, Donghoon Park
Hair. Seongwon Kim
Makeup. Areum Han
Stylist. Aran Lee
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehui Son, Ayeong Kim)
Artist Protocol Team. Daeyoung Kim, Seungchan Shin, Juekyung You, Youngwook Ko