SUNOO looked nothing short of lovely as he chattered away with emotion and great enthusiasm. He looked lovely not simply because of the expressions on his face and his way of speaking, but from the way he saw the beauty in himself and everything around him.

​I heard you recently changed your motto to, “Live a happy life.”
SUNOO: My mindset used to be just let’s work hard to achieve my dreams and my goals at any cost, but I became well known to lots of people and I get to be up on stage ever since I became an idol. Now that the things I wanted have gradually come true, I felt like I needed to look out for myself a little more. So starting from the debut, I ended up thinking more about my own happiness. I want to live a happier and more fun-filled life.

What brings you happiness these days? You sure looked happy during your recent mukbang tour on EN-loG. (laughs)
SUNOO: (laughs) Yes. Thinking back on it now, I was happy because I was trying something new that I wanted to do, so I think there was a certain kind of happiness that I could only feel at that time and wouldn’t feel again even if I were to eat the same thing. I’m so fickle-minded that I don’t even know exactly what it is that makes me happy, so I’m always looking for something to do to make me feel happy. These days I usually try to find new, fun, interesting things to try out, even when I’m working.

Perhaps posting photos you take of the scenery around you and being sure not to dismiss the little things that make up everyday life are ways of finding happiness for you as well. You did the same in Germany, and once you returned to Korea, you got on V LIVE and described the look and feel of the streets there in detail.
SUNOO: (laughs) Admittedly, I was really excited because it was my first trip abroad. So I wanted to do everything I could that I might enjoy within that short timeframe. Even all the pop songs that were playing from my playlist while I was taking pictures were so, so good. And the scenery was all just so beautiful. It had been a while since I felt that kind of happiness, so I really wanted to keep a record of the moment. I do it for my own personal satisfaction but also because I want to share the moment with ENGENE—because I like to chat up a storm with other people and share my feelings.

You used the word “satisfaction.” When I heard you use fragrances before you go to bed, I felt maybe you’re the kind of person for whom a personally satisfying environment and atmosphere are important.
SUNOO: Oh! You’re right! So even though I’m not the kind of person who plans everything out, I sort of get stressed out when things don’t go the way I expected them to, to be honest. For example, ever since my elementary school days, if I think in the morning, Today after school I’ll come home and watch this one movie while eating such-and-such ramyeon, then I have to do it. That time is for me and me alone, and I’m sure it’ll be fun and make me happy, so I spend the whole day looking forward to it and feel a kind of reassurance all day as a result. Something like that. I just realized the reason I’m pursuing happiness might be because I know how happy I feel when I do what I want.
​That sounds like your own personal way of practicing self-love. I found it fascinating the way you always check out and admire your face with that loving look every time you’re on V LIVE. (laughs)
SUNOO: Actually, before I debuted, I thought I was the most radiant, most handsome person on the planet. (laughs) I was so in love with my face that I loved looking at myself in the mirror and was really satisfied with myself at the time, but I honestly don’t do it as much as I used to. Both my surroundings and my appearance changed after I debuted. It’s my job to look out at lots of people and be on the screen so I have to look good and act perfect, but sometimes I think I can’t live up to my own standards.

Do you feel you have changed that much since the early days of your debut?
SUNOO: I think the mere fact that I-LAND was over two years ago says it all. There’s a clear difference in people before and after they learn something new; I’ve experienced a lot over the last two years, too. I was still new to everything back then, so even the way I talked was like, “Absolutely!” “All right!” “Sure!” But now I’m like, “Yes. Noted.” I think even my tone of voice has changed in that way. I can feel my voice changing. It got a lot deeper. But even though it did, I can actually hit higher notes and sing in more diverse ways. Isn’t that amazing?
You could look at your albums as a record of your growth and all the changes you’ve gone through in that time.
SUNOO: I actually used to pick apart the music video concepts for each album and figure out everything about them, making specific plans, like, I should do this here and I have to show that there. But the albums all came out at different times so the way I look between each naturally changes and I inevitably end up changing in some way whether I want to or not. Instead of purposely figuring out something to show off, I can be myself and I’ll be able to see my development over time more drastically when I see it again later, so I’m trying not to think too much about what it is I want to show or any specifics when I work. So I hope ENGENE will look at me and think, Oh, so that’s what he looked like at 16, 17 and 18.

Speaking of which, the focus in the pre-chorus of the new lead single, “Future Perfect (Pass the MIC),” is your voice and the way you express yourself through your body, so I thought your own interpretation of it and your personal expression would be very important.
SUNOO: Honestly, that part’s the highlight. (laughs) But the recording was so hard. There’s a long rap part before it, and then, suddenly, boom—the tempo slows down and the exact range of notes is a little hard to define, and that part emphasizes the flow of the emotions, so it was a bit difficult to get the hang of it. That was also the first time I ever did a song in that style so I wasn’t familiar with it, but I kept practicing and got a feel for it in my body and now I think my emotions and my style are naturally and progressively coming out in it. There’s a lot of parts in the performance that I have to fill with facial expressions and gestures, too, but that’s my specialty. (laughs) I studied myself in the mirror a lot again, working on my signature eye contact and facial expressions while asking myself whether they were the right expressions and if I was facing the right direction. So I really hope ENGENE likes it.

I feel like I can hear your voice conveying more emotion when I listen to the other tracks off the album. I heard you practiced your vocals a lot.
SUNOO: I practiced especially hard during this album preparation period. I wanted to be really good at singing one of the songs I like, so I set myself a goal to tackle the whole song by myself and got to work. Now, thanks to that, I can do what I couldn’t do at all at the beginning, and I can express myself in a wider range now while recording.

What are you most excited for, for this promotion?
SUNOO: We debuted during the pandemic, so we couldn’t directly experience the support and energy that comes with the love of so many people. Now that I got a taste of the excitement of that crowd of 40,000 in Germany, I’m really looking forward to experiencing it again from ENGENE and other audience members. It’ll help me show off a whole new side of me. (laughs)
​You clearly have confidence in your charm and abilities in addition to your natural talent. During your V LIVE, one comment mentioned being an MC, and you said, “I’m all ready to go. I can do anything. Because it’s me.”
SUNOO: The main thing is that I know myself well. I know every last thing about what I like, what I want to do, what gives me energy, how to come across cooler, and thanks to that, I think I’m always ready for anything. The exception, of course, is how I’m feeling any given day, since there’s no way to predict that.

What kind of role do you usually like to take on? When you became the moderator for one of the debate episodes of EN-O’CLOCK, you were so happy and yelled out, “Oh, yeah! Moderator!”
SUNOO: This might come as a surprise, but I’m more interested in becoming someone who’s in charge of others than I thought. (laughs) Funny, right? (laughs) Some people look at me and think I’m so young, like a baby, and just cute, which is certainly part of my image. But I want to be someone who’s a little more at the center of influence of others, because then more people would need me and seek me out, which would make me feel proud, and I could puff out my chest and say, “Aha! You need me, and so I’ll give you all the help you need!” And then help them, of course. I feel so incredibly fulfilled when I can help out other people, so I almost never turn someone down when they come to me for a favor, and sometimes I even feel sad when they don’t. (laughs)

You took a very active role on the EN-CAFE episode of EN-O’CLOCK, getting feedback about the drinks, waiting on customers, checking how things were going and so on as the members asked you to. I think it was quite clear from that that the way you talk and behave, which comes from your unique blend of kindness, cheerfulness and your eye for detail, has an important role to play in your group.
SUNOO: Thank you very much for acknowledging that. (laughs) I really like meeting new people, find new challenges interesting and am a detail-oriented and insightful person. (laughs) I’ve actually always really wanted to try working part-time, especially at a cafe. That helped me to work hard and do a good job. I really, really liked it.
​You seem to be having fun as host on the EBS radio show Youth Communication Project: Listen. [Note: This interview took place on June 2.]
SUNOO: Yes, I love it. I never even thought about becoming a radio host, but now that I’ve actually tried it, it’s way too fun. But I also think it’s a little hard to be a good host for the guests. I need to know what kind of person they are and what their personality is like so I can make them feel comfortable, and lots of things change depending on how they answer my questions and there’s a ton of things I have to pay close attention to. So I kind of relate to you conducting this interview right now. (laughs) It isn’t easy to research about the other person to find out enough about them so you can ask good questions, either.

You’re good at empathizing with others. What about the other way around? What do you want to get out of your relationships, emotionally speaking?
SUNOO: So, I express everything as I feel it: If I like something, I say I like it. If I don’t like something, I say I don’t. When I’m happy, I show I’m happy. This tastes great. This doesn’t taste very good. I say all those things. But because I like to express myself directly, I feel love best when it’s expressed directly. The more over the top it is, the better. That’s why I love people who have big reactions. On the other hand, if I see someone who doesn’t have much of a reaction to things, I get curious about why they don’t react and actually approach them first. (laughs)
​I can tell that it’s very important to you to have fans—as well as that you like to receive a lot of love and attention from them.
SUNOO: Yes I do! I really want to receive attention from lots of people. That’s why I’m so thankful for the people who come to our fan sign events and when they leave a comment on Weverse or other social media. I’m all too aware that it’s anything but easy to show your love and interest for someone, especially these days, in this climate. So I think, by continuing to put on good performances, ENGENE will also keep feeling that way. It’s good for me and it’s good for ENGENE. I think the relationship between idols and fans is a win-win situation. I hope I can hold onto this kind of relationship with ENGENE far into the future—one where we can bump into each other on the street and just say, “How have you been? Did you have something to eat? I’m going this way; where are you off to?” Just casual, like friends. (laughs)

You have said you dreamed of becoming an idol because you like when people pay attention to you. Have you enjoyed being an idol so far?
SUNOO: From the outside, you really only see the beautifully done-up version of the idol: a shining superstar, dancing on an awe-inspiring stage. I used to see it that way, too, but after experiencing it for myself, I realized there’s nothing easy about it. If I’m being honest, I can’t be happy all the time; I have a lot to worry about. But the whole reason I can stay on my feet and keep moving forward is because I see an amazing future ahead. I’m honestly quite sure of that. So I see everything I go through as a good learning opportunity. Even though it’s difficult, I don’t have a single regret or thing I would take back. Could a bad future be awaiting me when I’m working this hard? I really doubt that’s possible. (laughs) The future’s definitely going to be amazing. I’ll make sure of that.
Article. Lee Yejin
Interview. Lee Yejin
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Project Management. Kim Rieun
Visual Creative Team. Heu Sae Ryeun , Lee Gunhee , Choi Ara , Cha Minsoo(BELIFT LAB)
Photography. JDZ Chung / Assist. Jeong Changheum, Song Junghyeon
Hair. Kim Sohee, Yeo Jingyeong
Makeup. Kwon Sojeong
Stylist. Ji Seyun / Assist. Kim Minseon, Choi Jaeeun
Set Design. Choi Seoyun, Son Yehee, Kim Ayeong(Da;rak)
Artist Protocal Team. Kim Sejin, Oh Gwangtaek, Hong Yuki, Kim Hangil, Kang Mingi, Lee Hyunji