Music. Performances. Albums. These are the topics TAEHYUN got caught up in talking about throughout the interview.

​You’re so into cooking these days that you put your cooking skills to good use on TO DO X TXT.
TAEHYUN: I have ordered so much delivery food in my life that there’s nothing I haven’t tried, so I figured I’d have to start making things myself. I ended up challenging myself more and more as I learned how to make variations using the staples of cooking, like soy sauce, sugar and salt. I’m proud each time I finish something, and I think it’s good to have something you’re good at. The YouTube algorithm shows me so many cooking videos these days.

But on the “PC Bang” episode of TO DO X TXT, we saw that, unlike with cooking, you’re not very familiar with gaming. Is there something you look for in a hobby?
TAEHYUN: MOA said they could see the difference in my eyes, actually. (laughs) The things I like and the things I’m good at are mostly things that parents would approve of. Oh—come to think of it, there’s boxing. So maybe they’re not all like that. (laughs) I prefer doing something that you can keep up with long-term, something akin to self-improvement, rather than to kill time. I feel like that’s actually more interesting.

You once said, “I can do anything I set my mind to,” and it seems like you meant it. (laughs) Is there anything you have your mind set on recently?
TAEHYUN: I really oversold myself there. (laughs) What’s always in the back of my mind is working on tracks. I always wanted to try making a song 100% through my own effort by making a track myself and giving it lyrics and a melody. I thought I’ve made enough progress to be allowed to ask for a better working environment where I could do better work, so not long ago I asked them to move me and the other members to a studio that we could make better use of together. I’m hopeful because I figure I can get into producing more easily if they do.
You’re also very ambitious about your vocals. You recently did a live solo performance on Leemujin Service and you looked extremely nervous in the behind-the-scenes video.
TAEHYUN: I can practically count on one hand the number of times I’ve been nervous for a performance since after my debut, but I think it was because I saw it as a measure of all the effort I’ve put in getting to where I am now. It was the first time it was just me and the backing track for the whole song. Honestly, when I first found out I was going to be on the show, I thought I was doomed. (laughs) I felt like I wasn’t ready. So actually, I felt more confident after having been on Leemujin Service. From now on I’ll always have the other four members by my side and I think that performance was a critical moment for me, so now I feel like I’m ready for anything.

You sang “Over and Over Again,” a song you previously covered as a trainee.
TAEHYUN: I thought, now I have the ability to sing a song I used to have to start and stop after every measure in one take from start to finish, and I’m at the level where I can sing it live in one go. You know, if you’re recording, you can do 100 takes and use the best one. I felt pressured that I had to do it better than back then, even though that one was recorded, but I felt like the live version was actually a little better than the recorded one, so I was both pleased and relieved.

Was there anything new you wanted to try to improve while making all the effort you put into your vocals heard?
TAEHYUN: I’m usually pretty good with songs in a highish range and with falsetto, or pop songs with an R&B twist like “LA Girls” or “10,000 Hours,” but lately I’ve been in the groove of darker R&B and hip hop, so I’m practicing for that a lot. I have tried covering rap songs now and then and there’s a hint of rap in my verse in our new title track. All that practicing I did on my own was a lot of help, so it felt like I was inadvertently preparing to record the title.

It feels like you’re singing in a completely new style on this song. You were sort of playing a different part than usual.
TAEHYUN: I felt like I was in a situation in that song where I had to act as a kind of bridge. Before, I would try to sing lines like, “I know I love you,” like, This is my part and nobody else in the whole world can sing like me! But this time I focused on building up to the chorus so YEONJUN’s part would really land when it came. That verse took an especially long time to record. The direction I received was, “You sound too friendly. You should try to sound bad,” so I said, “I’m not bad though. What do you want me to do?” (laughs) For me, recording vocals is more about the concentration than being fully immersed, so I focused on the parts that I needed to emphasize, like which syllables should sound strong and which words should be softer. It felt like doing triple clap pushups. It was like I kept falling while trying to clap and repeating the exercise until I was physically fit enough to get all three claps in.
​What was it you wanted to emphasize in the choreography? You mentioned that your goal this year is to study and improve on the visual aspects of your music, like gestures, facial expressions and stage presence.
TAEHYUN: I wanted to emphasize that people can trust in our group to have a good sound and good visuals, including when it comes to the visual side of music. Whenever I used to get feedback about a performance, like, “You should try making a face like this at this part,” I would say, “I should focus my attention on the vocals at that part.” I was always obsessing about and too focused on the way I was being heard, but starting from The Chaos Chapter, I think my performance and feedback were improving thanks to everything I put in. I thought that, now that I’m confident enough about singing, I have to make my visual performances stand out more if I’m going to get more people to enjoy it. I’m going to try and concentrate on putting on cool shows by pulling the visual elements that had been lower priority to the forefront.

“Opening Sequence” must have been an important new opportunity for you, seeing as it had elements of classical dance in it, which is a different style for you.
TAEHYUN: The performance director explained a lot about the emotional parts of the dance, but I was actually always focused less on the emotional aspect and more on the precision of the moves and detailed parts where we all have to be in sync. But now I was trying not to obsess over the movements and just concentrate on the emotional side by telling myself I just had a breakup and I’m incredibly sad. It was tough. The song’s slow but we never move slowly, and I had to pay attention to the whole dance without losing the thread of the emotional aspect, so it felt like that thing where you have to draw a triangle with your left hand and a square with your right hand.

And there’s even a part where you dance alone. (laughs)
TAEHYUN: They’re all lying down, except for me. (laughs) It was a lot of pressure. I realized all eyes are on me and me alone so I had to knock this part out of the park, and I was suddenly reminded of Jimin from BTS. Of all the performers I know, I think he’s the pinnacle when it comes to that classical style of dance. What would Jimin do? If he had to do this choreography, how would he move his head around for this part? I practiced by painting a picture of that in my head. The performance director told me that if I can master this choreography then my dance skills will skyrocket, and for that reason I’m still practicing.
​Speaking of expressing emotion, wasn’t it difficult trying to capture the emotionally painful breakup that colors the album while writing lyrics for three of the songs?
TAEHYUN: That’s why I asked my friend from middle school who had a breakup recently how he felt. (laughs) I know that’s not nice (laughs) but I reached out to him and said, “Hey, I have to ask you something for some work I’m doing,” but it was actually me who ended up giving him advice. I think what actually helped was looking up terms that are used in film and theater a lot, like “cliché” and “foreshadowing.” What I mean is, that’s the kind of subject matter and concepts you’re likely to hear in our songs. So I took inspiration from that when I was writing, and amazingly enough, they chose that for the part of “Opening Sequence” where I dance alone. The part of “Trust Fund Baby” that comes to mind is, “A life with no game overs.” For some people, game over really does spell the end, but trust fund babies can always pay to play to keep going, so they’re free even inside games. That’s what I thought about, so I tried to express that through the lyrics.

What was your approach for “Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go,” a unit song and the last track on the album?
TAEHYUN: As I wrote the melody and lyrics, and when we recorded it, too, I thought about how there were already so many sad songs before it, so it should be as upbeat as possible. I wanted to give some contrast that way. I wanted to make the vocals as bubbly as a bottle of Sprite. I added some variation by referencing some melodies I had put aside, and I tried to write it in such a way that there would be parts that each of us could sing well. I was really excited because the A&R team and the producer all said the chorus and the verse were good. But then only my pre-chorus melody made it in. (laughs) As usual, we can never predict what’s going to happen. (laughs)

You don’t feel a little let down when that happens?
TAEHYUN: I used to get really sad if my lyrics or melodies didn’t make it in. Now I know there will be plenty of opportunities in the future, and I think I now know how to believe in myself while still acknowledging that the parts that were selected were selected because someone else did a better job. They actually used more of my stuff this time than I expected, so I realized I can just keep doing what I’ve been doing all along. Now I’m fine just as long as I improve a little bit each time.

I can tell you’re passionate for your chosen path. I think your passion is less of a quick spark and more of a steady one.

TAEHYUN: I think you’ve got it exactly right. Usually when people talk about passion, they describe it as a burning flame, but anyone who’s really put in the effort knows the truth: It’s a cold, lonely fight to keep chiseling away at yourself. The more you do, the more numb you become to fleeting emotions, and your efforts gradually become a talent. Like you become good at anything you expel effort on. In some ways it’s a question of perseverance, and now the process itself of achieving proficiency through repetition has become a kind of muscle memory for me.

The more absorbed you become in your work, the more you need a means of support.

TAEHYUN: I think what motivates me is continuously reminding myself what I’m working so hard for so that I don’t have time to feel tired out. And anyway, I have the four other members and MOA who love and support me, and I always remind myself that getting into music was like pulling out a sword, and now that I have it I should be using it. Responsibility towards the group, responsibility for giving back to the people who love me, my own personal aspirations, this line of work that I’m so fond of—these are the things that keep me going. 

How do you feel the group is developing now that you’re in your fourth year together?
TAEHYUN: For me, it feels like there’s quite a lot of water in the cup, and just the slightest bit left to get to the top. If there was no chance for that, I wouldn’t have any expectations, but it’s quite clear to me how much synergy our group has and how well we’re working together. Even now, I can still feel how our teamwork continues to improve when we’re practicing choreography or out doing events. The chemistry between us when we’re taking dance lessons is great, too, and we’re quick with sharing feedback with each other, and I think we even learned how to solve problems and keep it really light, and I felt like we each found our own way to communicate. I think now we’re almost at the point where we can be clearly consistent enough in our teamwork that we can keep on improving without any issues. I feel like we’re right on the threshold, so I think our job now is to find that breakthrough.

That’s a rational but also affectionate attitude towards the members. I remember you took a photo of all the shoes just inside your door after all the members finished quarantine and came back home, and you uploaded it on Weverse.
TAEHYUN: It felt like a reminder not to become complacent and take for granted what we hold dear. There would usually be a row of four pairs of shoes whenever I came home at the end of the day, but no matter how late I came back, there were no other shoes. It felt weird. So it struck me as cute as soon as I saw it—this thing that used to be so commonplace but which I hadn’t seen in so long—and I took a picture.

People were very interested in the difference between you and BEOMGYU because of your “T” and “F” MBTI types. How does that difference actually come into play within the group dynamic?
TAEHYUN: BEOMGYU is an extreme Feeler and I’m an extreme Thinker, so we’re very different, but I feel like my work is really easy lately thanks to him because he’s great at all the things I can’t do, like he can talk and everyone would not find him annoying or he’s great on variety shows. And when we’re practicing, when someone says, “Let’s try that one more time,” I just quietly say, “Okay,” but he’s able to boost the group’s morale and create a good atmosphere. These days I really think a lot about how I couldn’t live without him.

But I heard you’re always nagging the others. (laughs) Where did that baby-faced, cutie pie trainee TAEHYUN go?
TAEHYUN: I barely nag. I might say something small when we’re on stage or practicing or at home (laughs) but it’s because I’m interested. I wouldn’t even begin to call that nagging. (laughs) I already told them everything I wanted to say, to be honest. And I don’t think my personality has changed much. As you said, I was so young, so I think they saw me as the baby. But I can tell they still adore me. I feel like I’ll always be seen as the little boy to them because, no matter how much I grow, I’m still younger than them. (laughs)

The fans see you as “Director Kang” but still think you’re cute. What would you like your fans to see you as?
TAEHYUN: I’ll always be me, no matter what, but I still feel like I really want to show off the flawless parts of me. I might appear excessively calm, cool and collected, but I’m in no way restricted to a narrow set of emotions. I want to give my fans all the warmth I have inside me. So I hope MOA can feel that and see me for the truly warm person I am.
Article. Yejin Lee
Interview. Yejin Lee
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Project Management. Jiyeon Lee
Visual Creative Team. Suchung Chung, Rakta(BIGHIT MUSIC)
Photography. Jiyong Yoon / Assist. Wonyoung Ki, Minhyung Jun, Kiwoong Kim, Eunji Song
Hair. Seungwon Kim
Makeup. Seulki Noh
Stylist. Aran Lee
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehui Son, Ayeong Kim)
Artist Protocol Team. Daeyoung Kim, Jisoo Kim, Seungchan Shin, Juekyung You, Youngwook Ko