HUENINGKAI playfully came in from the interview waiting room. He then headed straight to the recycling bins. After sorting out paper, plastic, and cans from the trash and putting them into the correct slots, he flashed a wide smile before returning to his interview seat. He looked simultaneously fresh and mature.

It seems you grew taller, compared to your earlier videos.
 I grew 20 cm after I became a trainee and I went up three more centimeters after we officially debuted. I could really feel the change when I had to have my clothes altered. I think I had a growth spurt after “Run Away.” It’s only the difference of a single album, but we talked a lot about how our team was back then. I think it was a real turning point in my life, that I became more mature.

I think minisode1: Blue Hour shows more of your mature side compared to the STAR series. I heard you really tried to deliver some complex emotions here.
 I tried to really understand the lyrics. I also studied up on facial expressions as I thought that’s particularly important. We’re keeping things fresh after our debut songs. I can’t just smile; I need to smirk a bit and look a little distant. I also thought, “I’m not a student anymore after this album!” All of us are getting into our twenties now. Honestly, I still feel like I’m somewhere between a teenager and an adult, and it feels odd to call myself an adult already. I don’t know what will happen when I turn twenty next year, but I’m already curious what new experiences I might have.

You said your favorite song from this album is “Blue Hour.”
 I like the melody, and the lyrics really spoke to me. Watching the sunset with friends and staring up at the sky during “the time between dog and wolf” sounds so emotional. I already loved the song just from hearing it, but add in the dance and it totally got me. I struggled with the movement a bit at the beginning because I had to go with the rhythm naturally, rather than follow choreographed dance moves like before. I bulked up a bit, so I look stronger but also a bit slower. I think I got into the flow better once I loosened up and started to enjoy the rhythm with the other members.

You can probably imagine the audience screaming as you sing “cuz of imagination” and reach your hand out.
 I really tried to embody this exciting climax during the part that would make everyone want to get up and dance. The song stops for a second and starts back up all of a sudden, and it’ll be great if I can hear the audience cheering. When I feel down, I always think back to the cheering or look up videos of our performances where you can hear everybody cheering us on.

I heard you helped write the lyrics to “Wishlist,” a song about trying to find the perfect birthday present for your special someone. I think it also reflects the way an artist has to ready themselves for a performance.
That’s why I found it so easy to relate to that feeling. You usually don’t know what the other person wants, and so I imagined that sort of nervous-but-excited intense energy you get and used that as inspiration to write. I’m so curious what kind of reaction this album will get. The response to the teaser was really great, and I’m curious if people will like the music video as well. I already saw the video and it really came out beautifully. I’m feeling pretty confident. (laughing) It was too bad we couldn’t actually see our MOA though. We were out of breath filming the video, but with no one there to see the performance the stage felt uncomfortably silent. That’s when I realized we couldn’t let that become the norm. We never want to look tired in front of MOA. 

“We Lost the Summer” talks about how we lost our daily routine to COVID-19. Were there any changes in your daily life?
I feel the change on the stage, not so much in daily life. I used to love staying home, but now I feel my life becoming repetitive because I’m always home. It feels like time has stopped. That’s why I started playing piano again. I’ve been practicing the song “Flower Dance,” since it’s popular and easy to play. It’s been a while since I played anything so I’m getting my hands used to the feel of the keys again.

You said before you like the movie August Rush.
I love musical films in general, but I think the busking scene in August Rush is the best. The way that kid gets up in front of people and just plays whatever comes to mind on his guitar is so cool. I loved how the movie showed him find a way to get people to listen to his music.

It seems music plays a really important role in your life.
Music has always been a big part of my life. I remember how my older sister, my younger sister and I would get up on stage together and put on dance routines. It’s those experiences that brought me so close to music. I really want people to hear my message, and give them hope by playing good music for them. I want to be a musician who speaks his mind.

Which music impresses you most these days?
I love Christopher’s songs “Irony” and “Bad.” I’ve been listening to those songs a lot. I found out about them when I was a trainee, then found them again after we debuted. The live versions are especially good so I keep watching the videos.

I hear you made a band with friends in middle school?
I really wanted to be in a band in middle school but our school didn’t have any. I would’ve been fine with singing or playing an instrument. Luckily I met buddies who could play instruments, and so I became the vocalist since I could sing. We went to the teachers, played in front of them and asked if we could start our own band.
What was it like for you growing up? You were born in Hawaii, lived in China, and you became a singer in Korea. Wasn’t it hard to live in all these different places and encounter different cultures and languages?
As my parents came from different backgrounds, I moved to China and then came to Korea. I’m surprised how it all worked out that I eventually became an idol. I was pretty shy when I first came to Korea. In first grade I was all turned around and couldn’t even speak Korean and so I just stayed home until I was in second grade. My teacher was mad at me because I couldn’t speak Korean in the polite form and was so out of place. I felt really lost. Luckily some classmates started talking to me. After I felt adjusted, I started speaking up and tried to make some friends. At that time I kept asking myself what I was even doing there. Thanks to all the love from MOA after our debut, I became a more positive, energetic person.

Would you like to say anything to people who have concerns similar to those you had in the past?
If you feel stressed out, just stay true to your emotions. Smile when you want to smile, and cry when you want to cry. Then everything will be better. I also think it’s best to talk it over with someone. If you feel shy, you can still share your thoughts with them, just do it slowly.

It’s important to have someone who cares about you.
I’m really lucky, actually. These four years with my company have felt more meaningful than living as a trainee for fifteen. Especially because of the other members. Take SOOBIN: I think SOOBIN is very special to me. He’s there to help and support me at all times. I tell him he’s adorable, and he says the same right back to me. Sometimes he spontaneously gives me a really big hug. We’re basically joined together at the hip. In school, my only friend is TAEHYUN. If he looks sad, I say to him, “Wanna play a game?” It’s better to play something together and let him talk when he’s ready, I think, rather than ask him about it directly. I’m no good at talking about things upfront.

BEOMGYU must be special if you let him play with your favorite stuffed animals.
I like him even though he plays with my dolls because he took good care of me. (laughing) When I was a trainee, BEOMGYU and I were the only ones who didn’t make the cut for the advanced choreography team. We always talked to each other and pushed through practice and then finally made it. When I transferred to my current school, he helped me out a lot. And YEONJUN, he’s very active and energetic, similar to me. I’m always shy at first but then become engaged and social when I get close to someone. We both got ENFP in the MBTI test, too. So people call me “little YEONJUN” and YEONJUN “big HUENINGKAI,” but it should be the opposite now. (laughing) I should be “big YEONJUN” and he should be “little HUENINGKAI.”

How does it feel to be the youngest in the team?
HUENINGKAI: When I was a trainee, I thought I would be stuck doing lots of things because I’m the youngest, but actually, it means I can act cute, and the other members like it that way. If I have some concerns about my team members, I can discuss them with the staff, like, “I’m in such-and-such a situation; what should I do?” And then get some advice for talking to the members about it. When I do that, I feel like I’m becoming a little more mature.

On October 17, you wrote in your Weverse diary post that you’re thankful to each of the members when you think back to being trainees.
I really wanted to write an honest diary at least once. When you monitor social media, there are many irritating and hurtful posts, so I wanted to talk about how close and compassionate we members are with one another. SOOBIN reads all of our Weverse diary posts, though. He read that one out loud to everyone else to tease me. (laughing) I was embarrassed.

In that same diary entry, you expressed all your gratitude and love for your fans. What kind of show do you want to put on for them?
First of all, I would say at the top of my lungs, “Hello, we are TOMORROW BY TOGETHER!” Then, I would introduce each member. I’d say something like, “It’s been a long time! But we’re finally together again. It’s been a couple months, but now I’m back—HUENINGKAI!” Then I’ll dance like never before. For the encore, I want to sing “Sweat.” It’s a song all about how we had to sweat our way to the top and finally landed in the spotlight with our debut. Whenever I hear that song, I feel nostalgic and sometimes even break into tears. We all sing the last part together. I’m pretty sure I would cry if we sang this song with our MOA.

You like playing games with fans, right?
I always wanted to do something with our MOA before we debuted. I played games and figured out many of our fans play games as well, so I gave it a try. I hid my identity when I played and later I would write “that was fun” on Weverse and post a picture as a surprise. It was fun to watch the responses from MOA—so cute! The nickname I use in-game is related to us and I act as if I’m just another fan. Once we see we’re all MOA, we talk about our favorite members and so on, which is super cute and fun. When someone says “I love this member!” I say that I like that member, too. We argue sometimes, saying, “He’s mine!” Even if I meet some of my fans, I just say, “I’m a HUENINGKAI fan, too.” (laughing)

Not only do you let the fans know your game ID, you sometimes reveal some personal details, too.
I want to share more about myself with my fans: what I think, what I like. That’s why I added more details on Weverse than V Live. I’d like to play something like Twenty Questions, but I’ll stick with “would you rather” for now.

You must be eager to talk about your comeback performance. Can you share some news with all the fans who are waiting for you?
I’m so excited that the current schedule includes so many fan signing events. I can’t wait to go there and meet more MOA. I just wanted to say thank you for waiting so patiently, and that we’re going to show you everything we’ve been working so hard on while missing our fans for so long. Let’s sing and dance and beat COVID-19 together. Fighting!
Article. Hyunkyung Lim
Interview. Hyunkyung Lim
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Visual Creative Team. Lee Hyunju Lee, Rakta(Big Hit Entertainment)
Photography. Heejune Kim / Hanna Kim, Soojin Kim, Myungjun Yang
Hair. Seungwon Kim
Makeup. Areum Han
Stylist. Gyunam Kim
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehee Son, Ayoung Kim)