SOOBIN spoke in an even, measured tone, using the word “determination,” at times, to describe the way he sings, dances, practices, performs and even his relationship with MOA. At all times, a deep passion underpins the calm he exudes—like when he said he’s “placing great emphasis on trying new things” for the latest promotions.

​Your pet hedgehog, Odi, recently celebrated his first birthday. How are things with you two?
SOOBIN: I tried to give him different kinds of snacks for a change of pace but he won’t eat anything other than mealworms. I’m just going to give him mealworms like always. (laughs) When I look at YouTubers, their hedgehogs are so gentle and are okay when you pet them, but Odi doesn’t really like people unless they give him mealworms. (laughs) But now he comes out from his shelter sometimes and doesn’t run away when I turn on the lights. He doesn’t like when you touch his back, but he’s okay with his stomach, so I pet his belly like this. I love how warm and soft it feels.

Has living with Odi had an impact on your everyday life?
SOOBIN: Before I got Odi, every day was exactly the same: practice, go home, sleep. I even always saw the same people, so the days were becoming boring. Having Odi has given me a lot I have to do, and after I come home I watch him and play with his feet before going to bed, which has become a daily routine. I’m just grateful and happy he’s there waiting for me. I have a lot more small things to be happy about.

Other than Odi, what other simple pleasures have you found recently? For example, it seemed like you were into console gaming and anime.
SOOBIN: I don’t game lately, but I do watch anime. I just watched one recently, in fact, so I’ve been talking with HUENINGKAI nonstop for two days about it. When you watch anime, you need someone who can share your feelings. I think I can talk about it a lot thanks to Huening. Actually, whenever I recommend something to him, he says he’s already seen it all. (laughs)

How did you get into anime?
SOOBIN: There was an anime I watched in grade school when my friend recommended it to me. I didn’t watch any more anime after that, but I started thinking about the show again out of the blue after I debuted. I remembered I liked it, so I started it again from the beginning and then happened to watch some other shows and found out there’s all kinds of good ones. I used to watch a lot of emotional animes with beautiful art styles and stories I could get invested in, but these days I also watch a lot of action-packed ones.
​You keep sharing interests like that and others with MOA. You also did a V LIVE titled “SOOBIN’s Inside KPOP” back in January.
SOOBIN: I was just going to go on V LIVE, turn on some music and talk, but I loved the second and third generations of K-pop so I couldn’t hold back and ended up singing and dancing along. The fans said that, if that’s what I’m going to do anyway, I may as well do a K-pop V LIVE, which is how I ended up doing that video. I had so much fun watching other singers rehearse and put on live performances when I hosted Music Bank. I felt blessed. Because I ended up doing what I love as a job, I mean.

You hosted Music Bank for over a year. Did that have an effect on your own performances as well?
SOOBIN: When we were on hiatus and I would see performances like that, I kept thinking how I wanted to put my heart and soul into a performance like that, too. There were so many really talented people so I learned a lot about performing. When we were working on the comeback, I didn’t have a sense for what kind of concept we should have, so I watched some performances from other artists of our generation.

This is your first album about a breakup. Were there any places in particular where you focused your effort on how you expressed your emotions?
SOOBIN: I think “Opening Sequence” was fine since I’ve sung a lot of sad songs with themes similar to breakups. “Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go” is an upbeat song, but I thought that, within that, there should be some sadness. I was actually sensitive about my voice since I thought it doesn’t convey excitement very well. But I think my voice was actually a good match for the feeling of the song.

The first song, “Opening Sequence,” opens with your vocals.
SOOBIN: I felt like that opening line was the highlight of the song when I heard the demo, but they gave that part to me. I told them, “I think you gave me the wrong part. I don’t know if I can pull this off.” But the producer was firm with the decision, saying, “We gave it to you because we thought you’re the right one for the part, so just try to be confident.” I worked hard on the recording since I got the part. (laughs)

And your voice sounds stronger in “Good Boy Gone Bad” than ever before.
SOOBIN: When I first heard “Good Boy Gone Bad,” I said, “Wow, I’m doomed.” (laughs) This is awkward to say myself (laughs) but I have a reasonably kind-looking face (laughs) and I’ve never yelled at anyone in my life. I thought it was going to be a big issue. And “Trust Fund Baby” was the hardest song I’ve ever done. When I sang the whole thing through, most of the parts were easy to get through, but I got stuck on the part that goes, “I can’t be a lover,” and felt like the part wasn’t for me but the part eventually went to me anyway. I have a love-hate relationship with the song since it was so tough for me. But now I’m good at performing it live and got a lot better.
​You mentioned before that you’re working to improve the high end of your vocal range. Do you think it’s a result of all that practice?
SOOBIN: My vocal range has actually improved a lot. I had to really give it my all singing our songs and my vocals were unstable, but now it’s so incredibly easy I can’t believe it. So I could’ve sung in falsetto for this album, but I felt ambitious and told the producer I wanted to sing in my normal voice. I ended up using falsetto anyway, but I think I’m getting past that limitation.

Is there anything else you experimented with on the album that might not be immediately obvious?
SOOBIN: The A&R team said, “We want to get some lyrics from you. You give us unique lyrics that nobody else writes.” When I’m given a topic, I write out a whole story with the speaker in mind, then extract any parts I think would make good lyrics and put those in. I liked writing novels and other things for fun in elementary school and even as late as middle school, so it wasn’t unfamiliar to me. I wasn’t writing it because I felt like I had to get some lyrics in this time; I just had fun writing about whatever I wanted, since there were topics I would want to write about anyway.

Which topics did you find particularly interesting?
SOOBIN: I thought the theme of “Opening Sequence” was uncommon, which was like a movie played in reverse like a series of flashbacks so the last scene becomes the opening sequence. Since it’s a boy who’s shocked by the experience of his first breakup, I thought memories flashing before his eyes would be a good way to express it. The other songs I wrote when the deadlines were right around the corner, but this one came to me quickly.

It seems like you tried a lot of new and different things. The choreography was once again impressively intense. What was it like practicing for it?
SOOBIN: I like and am good at dances that require a lot of energy and have big movement. But “Good Boy Gone Bad” was hard for me at first because the moves aren’t big, you have to be relaxed, and a lot of it was completely different from what I’m most confident doing. “Opening Sequence” isn’t like the K-pop dancing I’ve always done; it’s more like contemporary dance, constantly flowing and with lots of parts where we stretch out our arms and legs. Two days in and I still didn’t have it memorized and it felt like my limbs were rejecting it. It really threw me for a loop while learning it, but now I feel like I learned some new moves, which is fun.
​How did you overcome those difficulties?
SOOBIN: It wasn’t anything special, just blind hard work. Mindlessly so. As for the facial expressions, they were the opposite of what I’m confident doing—for example, bright, smiley expressions, so it made me feel less confident and my self-esteem dropped. But I changed my mind by thinking that, if I could pull off such a punishingly difficult concept, then I would have the ability to pull off anything after that. I figured it could lead to either a slump or to a turning point, so I decided to use the album as a chance to change myself.

Did changing your mindset also bring about some change in you?
SOOBIN: I changed my mindset right before we shot the music video, actually. I had no chance to improve if I was half given up and I would have regretted it if we filmed it while I was in that state. It’s better to work hard and then have regrets than to regret giving up. I think I felt a sense of urgency because this important task was right in front of me. During the shoot I kept going into the bathroom to practice my facial expressions and gestures. The staff stood up and clapped and said, “He’s like somebody else entirely.” That’s when I realized it might be an opportunity to grow and I felt more confident. If that kind of success carries over into the promotions, I think I could grow a lot.

I’m really excited to see that music video.
SOOBIN: I don’t know which takes they’ll end up using, but I saw a side of me even I didn’t know about when reviewing the footage: I’m kind of sexy there. I didn’t know I had it in me. (laughs) I just hope the director only uses the good takes.

I can feel that you always put the effort in and constantly challenge yourself.
SOOBIN: What’s contradictory about me is that, even if I’m bored and struggling with something repetitive, sometimes I’m too scared and worried to take on a new challenge. Even when it comes to ice cream, I don’t try any new flavors, just eat the ones I know I like, you know? When I was trying to embrace these things I wasn’t familiar with, I could feel my body rejecting them. I tried really hard to convey them properly, telling myself that I can do it, and now I’m determined—determined to turn any crisis into an opportunity.

Where do you find the motivation to keep improving yourself like that? It must be pretty tiring.
SOOBIN: I think I’m more the kind of person who looks for and enjoys the little things than who hopes for something big to make me happy. It’s nothing big, but I like watching Odi when I get home, and then when I’m done with the day, have a bite of hwachae or bingsu. I feel great after that. I think I recognize and enjoy things that others would just pass over. I think that positive thinking is what keeps me going.
​Back in September, you wrote, “I’ve been trying to figure myself out ever since The Chaos Chapter,” on Weverse. Do you think that positive thinking has an effect?
SOOBIN: My personality made it so that my life mostly revolved around other people. The other members kept telling me, “You should prioritize taking care of yourself,” but I just said, “What do you mean? I’m taking good care of myself,” and moved on. And then, for no particular reason at all, I found myself only paying attention to other people. I guess I wasn’t treating myself right, and I think I started living a more self-centric life starting with The Chaos Chapter.

How is a SOOBIN-centric life different from before?
SOOBIN: This might sound mean (laughs) but I started to pursue the things I wanted to do more and lightened up on the things I used to do out of obligation. In the past, I would wear myself out trying to play the leader role, but I think it’s okay now since I lessened that load. The other members do just fine on their own and they do a lot to help me out, too, as a leader.

Maybe that’s why you look so at ease in TO DO. You looked content even when the other members were playing pranks on you. (laughs)
SOOBIN: I don’t really have much of a reaction when the others make fun of me or pull pranks when we’re off camera. I was sort of determined to show something—anything—when we first debuted. I tried to give a reaction each and every time they made a joke and I tried to break the silence when it happened. I was trying to be more excited than normal and went a little overboard with my expressions, but I guess what you see now is the real me.

Have you found any advantages to sticking to the real you?
SOOBIN: Some idols sometimes struggle with the fact that the way they conduct themselves in front of the camera isn’t their usual self. But I can say this 200% in all honesty: MOA can be rest assured that what they see of me on V LIVE is exactly the way I am in everyday life. I love that there’s no divide between the person Choi Soobin and the idol Choi Soobin.

I guess there’s no division between the person Choi Soobin and idol Choi Soobin because you want MOA to see you exactly the way you are.
SOOBIN: MOA can see me with nice hair and makeup on stage or on TV anytime, but I have to wait until another time to tell them about the things I’m interested in and the way I feel inside. It’s fun to give MOA a look at parts of me I think they would like. I think it’s a meaningful act to talk about myself to the people who like me. I want to open up about almost every part of me like a friend would.
​And you finally got to see your cherished fans at the fanlive event.
SOOBIN: I was really excited to see them after so long. It was fun. Doing those performances that were meant for MOA but ended up only being a camera and no MOA at all discouraged me a little bit from feeling like I should work hard to entertain anyone. Once I saw MOA, I felt more assured about myself and more determined.

That reminds me of what you said there: “We’re only special because MOA are there for us.”
SOOBIN: As you know, I cried at the fanlive. I welled up when I saw a fan in front of me crying, but I fought it back. But there was something I kept thinking over and over: Why was that fan crying? What exactly does being in concert with us mean to them that would bring them to tears? That meant that we’re receiving so much love, love that even makes them cry. I was feeling so emotional and grateful and finally I was just so touched that I started to cry.

You must be looking forward to promoting since the situation is getting better now, ahead of your album release. How are you feeling right now?
SOOBIN: It was certainly a long time between comebacks. I really feel like this album is totally different—an adventure and something brand new that TOMORROW X TOGETHER has never tried before. That’s a worry for me, but I hope MOA will welcome it, like it and enjoy it. They’ve certainly waited long enough. And I hope I make it through and grow, and rise above? (laughs)
Article. Haein Yoon
Interview. Haein Yoon
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