HUENINGKAI flapped his arms as he talked about BEOMGYU’s pet, Toto, and answered each interview question enthusiastically between bursts of that characteristic laugh of his. Then, all at once, he calmly and quietly revealed what he’s most passionate about right now: “These days, what I’m most passionate about is getting ready for promotions.”

It seems like there’s a lot about this comeback that’s different from your past comebacks. You finally held an in-person fanlive event a little while back, for one.

HUENINGKAI: MOA still had to wear masks and weren’t allowed to cheer, but I had no trouble seeing the love they have for us in their eyes. There were more times in the past where we couldn’t see them than when we could. I went out onto the thrust stage at the fanlive to say hi to MOA and it made me feel like a singer again.


You were quite busy even before the comeback, weren’t you? You released a cover of “Sk8er Boi” by Avril Lavigne in February.

HUENINGKAI: Not only was I covering a song by a singer I liked when I was young, but it was also my dream because “Sk8er Boi” is one of the songs you have to do if you make a band. If I remember correctly, BEOMGYU performed the song when he was in a band, too. I thought it would be nice since we were about to do “Good Boy Gone Bad,” another rock-ish song.


That’s practically a spoiler about the genre of “Good Boy Gone Bad.” You dropped a spoiler for the new album at 2021 MMA [Melon Music Awards], too.

HUENINGKAI: We give different little spoilers for our upcoming albums at every awards ceremony. The dance break YEONJUN did at the 36th Golden Disc Awards that he also did for STUDIO CHOOM was a preview of what kind of feel the new album has, too. A young, innocent man finds inspiration somewhere and changes in a way that he wants to become a star, wants to be cooler, wants to be a kind of bad boy, which really suits the vibe of the whole album and the rock feel of the lead single. The reason I chose “Bad Man” out of all of RAIN’s songs to perform for KBS Song Festival was that it is a perfect fit for our album. And actually, as I recall, “Bad Man” and “Candy” were really well received, so I guess that was all part of the label’s big picture. (laughs)

​It made you seem more bad to go from blond hair on Song Festival to dark hair for the concept photos you released. (laughs)
HUENINGKAI: Seeing as my hair’s still somewhat damaged, I’m going to use FAST shampoo to grow it out quickly and then cut it. (laughs) And for the END version, we had to wear white T-shirts and express ourselves with nothing but our faces, but I couldn’t quite grasp it and found it really difficult. I was so disappointed after the shoot that I asked if we could do it one more time. Luckily things worked out better that time and that’s the one they ended up using. I relaxed my eyes a little overall but turned my attention to the camera like I’m glowering at it and kept touching my lips with my thumb and index finger.

With parts like, “You kept dumping me / My tail wagged at you that’s my past,” “Good Boy Gone Bad” sounds even darker not just because of the lyrics but also because of the way you sing it with a vocal fry, in a strained voice.
HUENINGKAI: Fortunately I learned how to sing with a hoarse voice while practicing for “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You),” featuring Seori, so that turned out better than expected, but it sounded too smooth, so to really nail it I practiced pronouncing it very carefully while singing. I practiced with the intention of sounding out each and every syllable, but when it was too clear cut it sounded like I was reading a textbook out loud, so I found a happy medium. I’m always practicing for live shows, and when I’m dancing, I have to really push my body, which helps my voice to be stronger, too, so it’s actually easier. I focused more on figuring out my facial expressions instead. Even though I thought I should just look serious, I realized it wouldn’t be good if I’m only serious, based on how the song flows, so it actually looks cooler if I smile slightly. It’s similar to “PUMA,” but that song was more conceptual and had to really capture the sense of a puma, but this album is more grounded, so it’s different. For that one, we had to really make it feel like a puma, so we even decided to watch a puma documentary. (laughs) And I saw pumas hunting sloths.

How did you feel about “Lonely Boy,” your first unit song?
HUENINGKAI: That was the very first song we started recording, but I couldn’t figure out how to capture the tone, so it took me a long time to get the hang of it, and we ended up finishing it last. I just went for a typical tone at first, but the song wasn’t working, so the next time I tried it a bit less breathy but it sounded like I went too far. Even singing while imagining an image of myself as a lonely boy didn’t work (laughs) so I think the way I finally nailed the feeling was just singing it over and over. Repetition was the key to that song in the end.
​It feels like “repetition is key” is also the key to your musical growth, in a way.
HUENINGKAI: Consistent hard work pays off. I think it’s a really good thing I’m working on other genres of songs, writing lyrics and music, and other pursuits, so I try to write lyrics or melodies because I think I should just try writing something, even though it might not work out. I feel like I’m discovering my own style.

You told your fans on Weverse that you’re slow at memorizing things, which has led you to worry, but that you’ll naturally become faster over time.
HUENINGKAI: We had monthly evaluations as trainees and in the beginning it took me a whole month to memorize any choreography. But I brought that month down to three weeks, then two, then one, and now sometimes I can memorize choreography in just two days. Seeing how time helped me there makes me think there are things that you end up naturally acquiring when you never stop and keep doing them.

You also play the piano, isn’t that right? When you played it on V LIVE, you said, “There are so many things that are incomplete. Anyways, I wanted to give it a try.”
HUENINGKAI: I still think about wanting to give a perfect performance, actually, but lately I feel it’s better just to try, even if I might fail. So I’m trying to think less about that because the fact that I’m trying something is already significant.

What do you do on the occasions you overthink things like that?
HUENINGKAI: When I’m overwhelmed by thoughts, I go to a quiet place and let my thoughts flow freely, and if I have way too many, I just go to sleep. Things are usually better after a day, so if I can’t deal with it and start to think about what I should do or if I’m doing something the wrong way, I tell myself to just sleep, and by the time I wake up the next day I feel fine.

I get that vibe from you from your TikTok, too. For example, you did one video where you asked MOA not to compare themselves to others, and another where you did the “Eat with Me” challenge.

HUENINGKAI: I keep shooting those videos because I want to bring them comfort, first and foremost, and with the hope that they don’t have overly negative thoughts. I guess you could say it’s a simple thing, but I’m happy that I’m helping MOA find some comfort through it. And we were only ever showing ourselves on stage, but I’m sure once or twice MOA wondered what we do when we’re not on stage and what we do behind the stage. I thought it would be new if we showed a different side of ourselves or something closer to everyday life.


Maybe that’s why, in one X:TIME video, there was a clip where BEOMGYU told you that the dance lesson was canceled and you said you would still stay and practice. Did you really?

HUENINGKAI: No. (laughs) But that was in the middle of the dance lesson, so I practiced hard after that.


We’ve seen you wear those same clothes you wore in that video ever since you debuted.

HUENINGKAI: I like hoodies and comfortable pants, personally, and I usually wear the same pair of shoes for a pretty long time, so I wear a zip-up hoodie with workout clothes and those shoes. When I had to quarantine, MOA said, “I miss HUENINGKAI,” and posted a photo of a zip-up hoodie, track suits and shoes, and then when I came back home and I really was wearing exactly the same kind of clothes they said, “Nothing about him has changed.” (laughs)

You’re talking about the video where TAEHYUN welcomed you back, aren’t you? (laughs) You could feel how much you care about each other, even though it was a short video. When you were making gingerbread houses on TO DO X TXT and yours collapsed, TAEHYUN comforted you and said, “You always have a plan,” and YEONJUN made a car out of marshmallows for you.

HUENINGKAI: I can still see in my mind the four of them all making incredibly nice houses, while the instant I touched mine, it all came crumbling down, so I was like, What should I do? YEONJUN was sitting right next to me, and he suggested we try it another way, and then made that car for me. I’m so thankful for YEONJUN. He’s always helping me out. And the other members help me all the time, too. TAEHYUN is my roommate and gives me an answer to anything I’m curious about, and I also learned a lot about how to speak better from him—maybe because we did the radio show Youth Communication Project: Listen together. SOOBIN’s been there for me since we were trainees, and BEOMGYU did so much for me in Daegu, too.


Yes, you went to Daegu to BEOMGYU.

HUENINGKAI: BEOMGYU is from Daegu, so I was really curious what sort of place it was. I ate honey rice cakes and all the other foods they’re famous for and put on two kilograms. The other members tried lifting me up after that and said, “That was hard!” (laughs) And I met Toto, who helped wake us up with the sound he made by lightly flapping his wings.


Sometimes you look out for the other members as well. In the episode “Chef Kang’s Cooking Secrets,” when the other members were trying to get BEOMGYU to eat shrimp, you told him, “You don’t have to eat it if you don’t feel like it.”

HUENINGKAI: I don’t like Dippin’ Dots ice cream, for example. (laughs) It’s not something I really like to eat, since I got a stomachache from eating it before, so I think that’s why I said he didn’t need to eat it—because I know what it feels like.


SOOBIN has said you’re at your finest when you see one of the other members is feeling tired and worn out and you inch your way over to give them a hug.

HUENINGKAI: I feel sad whenever I see someone who’s tired or sleeping and I want to be able to at least do something for them. If someone’s sleeping on the sofa or in the green room, it’s a small but helpful act to cover them with a blanket—one that can help them sleep better, I think. Or, if one of them looks like they’re having a hard time, I pat their back or hug them. I really hope it’s comforting to them, even if just a little. And conversely, there’s lots of times where I’m the one who’s tired or asleep and the other members cover me with a blanket, and times where they pat me on the back, too.

Just like you said in your interview with Numéro TOKYO: You’re the “reliable, shining maknae.” (laughs)
HUENINGKAI: Naturally, if you can rely on each other, you have a stronger connection and feel closer. As the youngest member, I want to be a reassuring presence that both the other members and MOA can have faith in and depend on.

You display your reliable side, but sometimes you show your mischievous side as well.
HUENINGKAI: The members play pranks and goof around with each other a lot, but since we’re so used to it now, it actually brings us closer together and keeps us amicable. We’re always goofing around in new and creative ways, so each and every day is its own joy. (laughs) At first I could fool the other members with my pranks, but now they know when I’m not telling the truth because they know me too well. One time we were supposed to finish with choreography at 10 at night, and I said to SOOBIN, “They said we’re finishing the choreography lesson at 11 tonight.” Then he went and asked the artist day-to-day team and came back and said, “You liar,” but if I tried that now, he would tell me right away to knock it off. (laughs)

I guess since you’ve been with SOOBIN ever since you were in training, he can detect your pranks more easily. (laughs) I heard that, when you guys received harsh feedback during the monthly evaluations and there was a bad mood in the air, you two quickly brushed it off and just went looking for other people to share a late-night snack with.
HUENINGKAI: If you latch onto one thing too strongly, it makes you feel terrible. I think you shouldn’t hold onto such feelings since it’s all old news anyway. You can just do better next time. I think when we had a tough morning I thought it would be nice to end the day on a high note, meaning we should brush it all off and just enjoy the rest of the day.

On that same day, one fan also jokingly called you an otaku, to which you firmly responded, “It’s nothing bad to have passion for something.” That was quite impressive.
HUENINGKAI: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate about your hobbies. I think people seem to be at their happiest when they’re talking about their hobbies. They invest themselves more than anyone else from the bottom of their hearts because they love what they do, and I think it’s completely wrong to discount them for that.

So what are you most passionate about right now, more than anyone else?
HUENINGKAI: These days, what I’m most passionate about is getting ready for promotions. I usually start immersing myself in practicing for live shows and the dancing one month before promotions. Our comeback is on May 9. (laughs)
Article. Minji Oh
Interview. Minji Oh
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