HUENINGKAI listened closely to each question with his hands neatly folded as if in prayer. He would always nod along as he listened to them, waiting for the very last word to finish before answering. He knows he must wait so that he can fully absorb everything. HUENINGKAI has always waited like this, and he’s waiting now as well—for the roots to take hold, firmer and deeper.

Did you enjoy the photoshoot?

HUENINGKAI: I like Weverse Magazine because it feels new and fresh every time we shoot. Like last time—we were all connected through hands. I liked how this time it captured Neverland in all its dreaminess. 

It’s winter, your favorite season. What have you been doing this winter?

HUENINGKAI: I spent Christmas and New Year’s with my family, which was great. I made mini cakes with my sisters. I ate tteokguk on New Year’s, so I’m a year older now. (laughs) I usually get up around seven or eight and go for a morning jog. I like the morning winter air and I don’t really feel the cold. I’m a morning person, so I usually wash up as soon as I get in and sleep, even if work runs late.

You did a Weverse Live with the other members to mark the holidays. You gave a pet rock as your Secret Santa gift, right?

HUENINGKAI: I chose that because I have a pet rock already and wanted another of the members to raise one with me, and then I got BEOMGYU. My pet rock was originally a gift, too. They’re cuter than you think—you can draw a face on them. I’m still raising it—Lionel Mbappé. It’s doing a shoot for a moment so it’s going to be a star soon. (laughs)

It sounds like you did a lot of small but fun things. (laughs) You must have been really busy getting ready for the year-end awards ceremonies.

HUENINGKAI: There was supposed to be a vacation in between, but we all turned it down and practiced the choreography instead. We really wanted to do a good job, so we tried to bump up how often we practiced. You’re always going to feel nervous when you get on stage if you haven’t practiced enough. It makes you anxious. We decided to practice more because we wanted to feel relaxed when we got up on stage. We put on a high-quality performance so I was satisfied with the result. I think it’s particularly amazing that the dance break we did at MMA [Melon Music Awards] managed to contain our whole storyline in just five minutes.

The beginnings of The Name Chapter were at MMA.
HUENINGKAI: I really think this new album is our conceptual peak. It brings up the subject of Neverland, so it makes connections to Peter Pan, too. I feel like Neverland would be like the Nightmare version of the concept photos: It seems like a good place at first, but then you realize there’s something ominous about it. It’s like a video game: I like games, and when I have fun playing and hanging out with other people in the game world, I feel like I want to stay there. But it’s a virtual world and it’s not real. There’s stuff to do in the real world, so I’ll enjoy what I can then come back and focus on my work. I felt really happy while shooting the Nightmare version, actually. I liked lying down on the nice, soft floor with all those cute stuffed animals around me. (laughs)

How did you interpret the message behind that concept?
HUENINGKAI: It’s about deciding to get out and escape from Neverland even in the face of temptation from the devil. The story about that temptation starts with “Devil by the Window.” It’s like saying, Let’s walk down our own path—I mean, I think that’s how we grow up in the end. Even though you’re an adult on the surface, sometimes you’re still tempted to go back to your childhood. Sometimes when I’m up against a wall I think about how I want to return to a time when I just had fun, went home for food and studied. But I’m the kind of person where, if something bad happens, I might hold a little grudge for the day, but I sleep it off and then I’m perfectly fine. (laughs) The other members say that’s something good about me, which I think is a good personality trait for an idol to have. (laughs)

What did you do to try and express being tempted in “Devil by the Window”?
HUENINGKAI: I tried to sing it as breathily as possible to give it the feeling of the devil whispering. To compare to another artist: Billie Eilish. I have so much fun dancing to it because the song and dance feel like a perfect fit for the concept. I’m currently trying to make facial expressions I’ve never made before. I’ll try to stare at MOA with a mellow look when we’re on stage.

The idea of temptation continues into “Sugar Rush Ride.”
HUENINGKAI: It wasn’t easy to capture that at first. It’s also about temptation, but it has a different quality from “Devil by the Window,” so I tried not to be too breathy and sing with a little bit of power behind it. And it’s hard to stay in sync for that dance because it just flows with no real clear points of emphasis. So I have a lot of concerns but I’m going to make it work somehow. I don’t think anything would make me happier than putting on a perfect performance of that song.
Is wanting to grow musically another part of wanting to prove yourselves as a group? You set a goal for yourself again this year to increase how much of the music and lyrics you write.
HUENINGKAI: I think I’ll still be wanting to increase my proportion after 10 or 20 years even. I don’t have a lot of time to work on it, obviously, but since we’re the ones singing and dancing, I always figure it would be nice if we could have more of our own words on the albums.

You couldn’t achieve all your goals for last year, but you got the most important one done: seeing MOA.
HUENINGKAI: The pandemic kept us apart for way too long. We should have been able to come around sooner and I thought it was amazing they somehow managed to hold out for three whole years. I felt really regretful and sorry. It’s really important for us to see MOA and get that energy from them, too. It wasn’t until we saw them that I truly felt like I’m a real singer.

You said in another interview with Weverse Magazine back in 2020 that when you finally met them, you wanted to yell out the group greeting at the top of your lungs, dance like never before and sing “Sweat” as the encore.
HUENINGKAI: Nailed it! I guess everything worked out, then. For me, the encores were the most memorable part of the concerts. I was running out of energy at that point but that part was so exciting and fun, and we could see MOA right up close and personal. I actually remember being clearly exhausted by the end of the performance at the beginning of the tour, but after doing it awhile, I got used to it. It’s like how cardio is so hard at first but after you build up your strength you can go faster and run more. It’s the same sort of thing on stage. Being that energetic and then doing “Sweat,” which is the real final song, it’s always just touching. MOA always has something prepared, too, so it’s new every time.

You sang “Our Summer” as an additional encore in Manila, the last stop on the tour.
HUENINGKAI: It was a pity to tour in the summer and not have “Our Summer” on the set list so it was a spontaneous final gift. (laughs) The tour allowed me to experience all kinds of things and improve myself by another step. We’re touring again in the spring. We tried to go back out as soon as possible, just like we promised! We’re going back out so soon because of how much we want to see MOA. There’s an amazing set list waiting, so look out for that.

How has your relationship with MOA changed over time?
HUENINGKAI: I think we actually became closer during the pandemic. It made us miss each other even more. My self-esteem improved during the tour thanks to MOA and I was so excited and grateful to see them every time. Well, duh! I’m happiest when I’m on stage and dancing for MOA. (laughs)
What else makes you happy these days, whether big or small?
HUENINGKAI: Yogurt ice cream? These days it’s when I eat ice cream late at night or something else sweet at night. I’m happiest when I’m having dessert. Forget meals—I’m on Team Dessert. (laughs)

That reminds me of when you said, “I live life feeling satisfied every day. Every day’s five out of five, and if I feel a little let down, it’s just a little lower.”
HUENINGKAI: When I feel a little down, all I have to do is eat something sweet and I’m back in business! I’m usually okay after sleeping even if I had a rough day, so it’s not hard to have five-point days. Zen—like, no thoughts, head empty, as much as I can, calmly and with positivity. (laughs)

Do hoodies, stuffed animals and anime still make you as happy as before?
HUENINGKAI: Of course. Those are still my favorite things in life and nothing about that has changed.

What’s your secret for holding onto that feeling so long?
HUENINGKAI: I think it’s just in my nature. Once I like something, I end up liking it for a long time. My feelings don’t wane that easily. I guess you could say my love toward them is great from the start.

Has there ever been a time you ended up liking something later despite your first impressions?
HUENINGKAI: As far as music goes, I’d say “Good Boy Gone Bad.” I like every track off our albums but I think having a good lead single every time is our specialty. To be honest, when I first heard “Good Boy Gone Bad,” I felt like something was different suddenly and it wasn’t my style, so I had a hard time accepting it. But after we did it on stage, it felt exciting and I had fun with it. I warmed up to it when I realized people who like it would probably really like it.
When it comes to TOMORROW X TOGETHER, you can transcend your own tastes. Where does your affection towards the group come from?
HUENINGKAI: The other members, of course. If we go on stage feeling resolved beforehand, I can really feel the difference in the performance. It makes me feel really enthusiastic when we yell, “Fighting!” together and go out there. They’re passionate and ambitious people and I think doing it with them makes me ready to keep moving forward and take on the challenge. You can’t really climb up higher and higher if you keep running away. I think being an idol means having to put up with things to some degree and I think it’s important for me to be active. When TAEHYUN said, “We chose to do this job, so we have to try and reach the very top no matter what, don’t you think?” I thought, Wow, he’s absolutely right. We have to keep going until the end.

You mentioned that TAEHYUN’s had an influence on your MBTI changing from ENFP to ISTP.
HUENINGKAI: I hear about what he’s thinking a lot since we’re roommates, so I think I naturally came to understand him. That must be how we both ended up as Ts. (laughs) There’s times when it’s good to look at things rationally and I used to be an F so I think my strong point is that I can understand both sides. It’s pretty amazing how I completely changed from ENFP. I was really emotional even as recently as when I was a trainee. I even cried a lot back then but I’ve become a little more rational since debuting.

What caused your personality to change?
HUENINGKAI: I think being so busy during my trainee years and after the debut slowly dulled my capacity to express my emotions. I thought about going home in the early days of trainee life because it was so hard sometimes, but after a few years I learned to just accept it. So sometimes I feel bad lately when I’m having a hard time and I say that to the other members. We’re all working together and all have hard times and I don’t want to pass my troubles on to them.

When you said that, “as the youngest member, I want to be a reassuring presence” for the others, was that born out of the same feeling?
HUENINGKAI: I wasn’t grown up yet when I was a trainee and I was so childish (laughs) so I don’t think I really earned much trust from the other members. Even after we debuted, I still thought about how I wanted to gain their trust. But now that we’ve been living under the same roof together, we’re just like family. I’ve been waking up to YEONJUN’s face right in front of mine ever since we were trainees. (laughs) Now, even if one of us feels like giving up, the other four can keep things moving along and help each other out.

You always emphasize how important it is that you achieve things together.
HUENINGKAI: We’re a team and it’s important that we’re all doing a good job together. That’s how we show the real TOMORROW X TOGETHER. If even one of us isn’t giving it their all, it isn’t TOMORROW X TOGETHER, I don’t think. I also picture us in the future together, reaching the top the way the BTS members have. And I hope our members will be happy after that. Honestly, I think their happiness is top priority. I just want them to be happy because I know how hard they work.

On Weverse Live, TAEHYUN said, “Do you want to plant a tree in the spring?” You replied, “I think I’ll be a little sad whenever the tree grows. If 20 years passes and I see the tree grew, I think I’d feel so proud. Proud, yet sentimental.” What made you feel that way?

HUENINGKAI: I think because I would feel time passing by. I feel like I’m still a fairly new artist, and if I saw that tree growing, I’d think, Wow, it’s already been that long. Time really flies.

You said you were sad when Ash became the Pokémon champion, too.

HUENINGKAI: I was already showing my true colors when I was little (laughs) and I liked the anime ever since I was a kid so it made me sad to hear someone I spent so much time with would be retiring. I looked it up and Ash and Conan are the two longest-running main characters. While the main character kept changing in other shows, Pokémon’s always been Ash. In the context of the story, the fate of everyone who becomes champion is they end up retiring somehow. I already knew it was going to end that way, but it’s still really sad. It’s just like it would feel looking at a tree if we planted it—sentimental and moving.

At least Ash must be happy. (laughs)

HUENINGKAI: Because he became the very best. Now we can reach the top, just like Ash did.

Article. Song Hooryeong
Interview. Song Hooryeong
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Project Management. Yoon Haein
Visual Creative Team. Jung Sujung, Rakta, Choi Yoonsuk(BIGHIT MUSIC)
Photography. Pakbae / Assist. Choi Mijin, Yang Junhyeong , Gu Hyekyung
Hair. Kim Seungwon
Makeup. Noh Seulki
Stylist. Lee Ahran
Set Design. HA I I HWA
Artist Protocal Team. Kim Daeyoung, Kim Jisoo, Shin Seungchan, You Juekyung, Ko Youngwook, Koo Sanghoon