On his lunch break during the photoshoot, SUNGHOON carefully considered his choice between bulgogi fried rice and kimchi fried rice, thinking back on what he had eaten for breakfast. He’s the same person who left his longtime friend, figure skating, to pursue his life as an idol. And now, SUNGHOON is serious.

Can you remember the moment you were a confirmed member of ENHYPEN?
 They called my name sixth, and I was so nervous. It would’ve been devastating if I couldn’t debut after everything I went through for three whole months. So when they called my name I was happy, but also really relieved at the same time.

And now you’ve debuted.
 Before, it hadn’t really sunk in, but now I can really feel it. It’s fascinating to be on TV programs I used to watch at home. I’ve been busy but it’s a lot of fun, too. There are so many things I’ve never done before so I get worried or nervous at first, but when I get started I get used to it and then it gets fun.

On I-LAND you talked about your younger sister. Is she still watching you now that you’ve debuted?
 My sister… Well, she isn’t particularly interested in what I do. (laughs) But once in a while she’d share what she saw on TV or what the current issues are. We don’t usually talk a lot.

You seemed like you were very close with her, though.
 We are close, but we also fought a lot. (laughs) Not so much fight, but squabble. When I was little, I spent more time playing with my sister than with kids my age. Even though I’m five years older than her, I feel less like her big brother and more like her friend.

You cried a lot when you read the letter your mother wrote to you on I-LAND.
 I never really spent time apart from my parents, and I was so busy and stressed out with all the tests we had to take that I really teared up. My family always supported me, right since I started figure skating. Most of what my family did, they did for me, so I feel indebted to them… and very, very thankful, too. Now that we’re living apart, I hope my parents can do all the things they never had time to while they were busy taking care of me.

It seems like you really lightened up once ENHYPEN was formed.
 That’s probably because I’m doing what I always wanted to do. The other members also had an effect on me. We don’t agree on everything and we have disagreements here and there, but we work through them and now we’ve developed a kind of camaraderie. It’s fun being with them.

You look like you’re relaxed and having a good time when you broadcast on V LIVE with 02s. What’s it like when the three of you are together in real life?
 The whole group is like a family, but the three of us have the same interests so we tend to talk about that a lot. We even cooked together a little while ago. JAY took the lead and made buchimgae, which turned out a bit salty (laughs) but they still tasted all right.

You and JAY have completely different personalities, how did you become close friends?
 I can’t really open up to other people immediately because I’m pretty shy, but JAY opened up to me first and we became close. I think I feel comfortable being with a friend like JAY—someone carefree, and unpretentious. (laughs) 

In “Given-Taken” and “Let Me In,” you and JAY sang the same lyrics but in different parts and with different feels.
We did a unit performance together at the beginning of I-LAND, and you can really see that our minds run on the same frequencies when we dance together, too. JAY and I give off a totally different vibe, but I think that balance actually has its own unique charm.

Your acting improved a lot compared to when you were on I-LAND.
I practiced in front of the mirror a lot, and thought a lot about the feeling and nuances of the lyrics. The lyrics, “On that crown / That blood / Dripping down,” in “Given-Taken,” felt very intense to me, so I tried to make a sexy expression, and tried to make my face look more intense during the chorus.

You definitely came off as intense in the “Given-Taken” chorus.
That’s the part where the song slows down, so we really had to emphasize our facial expressions. I paid a lot of attention to the look in my eyes for the part where we all gather around and changes to slow motion. I start by looking straight in front of me, then slowly turn my head. I made that stand out, too.

What about the performance for “10 Months”? You had a hard time pulling off a cute look. (laughs)
(laughs) I got better by performing “Chamber 5.” Still, I prefer darker songs like “Given-Taken,” although I got used to songs like “10 Months” with playful concepts. I think I make better facial expressions when I think about the lyrics of that song, too.

What were you thinking of while trying to express the lyrics for “10 Months”?
I pictured someone who is going through puberty early but doesn’t know it, and they’re telling how they feel to the person they like. I didn’t know it when I was going through puberty either, I think. I never felt puberty was very hard for me, but I’m not sure how my parents or anyone else I know felt. I definitely hit that phaze I think I just went through it without ever realizing.

All your experience as a figure skater must have been a lot of help for your performances and facial expressions.
I wasn’t really good at facial expressions when I figure skated, but I remember feeling the melody and I did a lot of sentimental acting, which I think helped. That still wasn’t enough, though, so I ended up studying a lot and practiced alone taking selfies. And because I figure skated for so long, I’ve become pretty athletic, so even though I haven’t learned much, say, acrobatics, I could do it right away. People say I have a clean dancing style and that I don’t have any bad habits, and that there’s a soft, pretty tone to my dancing. (laughs) And people usually practice their dance moves in front of the mirror and get used to that, but when I was figure skating I never really did that. I think not having to rely on the mirror makes my performances on stage and on camera look just as good as when I practice.

How did you first start figure skating?
My parents first said I should try to do something active, so I started to play ice hockey. Then I saw Yuna Kim and started figure skating. At first it was for fun, and then I started competing. I really liked the sense of accomplishment from getting good scores and winning medals, so I practiced a lot. I went through a bit of a slump at one point but I never wanted to quit. I really wanted to be good at figure skating so I kept at it for a long time and didn’t give up.

How were you able to be an idol in training while continuing as a figure skater at the same time?
I was getting a lot of calls from Big Hit at the time. My parents suggested it couldn’t hurt to try out once, and that the dancing and expressions you learn while training to be an idol could also be helpful for my figure skating, so I decided to do both at the same time. The more I got into it, the more fun it was to spend time with my trainee friends, and watching other artists do amazing performances on stage made me really want to do that too and I became more and more interested in being an idol.

Wasn’t it hard to give up your figure skating career?
I did have a hard time giving it up, because I’d been doing it for so long. That’s why I kept figure skating the first two years I was training to be an idol. Then I was officially selected to go on I-LAND, and that’s when I decided to focus solely on the show.

They both require a lot of practice.
When the other trainees went off to school, I went to train for figure skating. I figure skated in the morning and trained to be an idol after that. My parents really took care of me—giving me rides to practice, picking me up after. They were so helpful in so many different ways and made it much easier for me to practice.

Practice must be particularly meaningful to you. During your debut show, when you were asked if you ever felt the other members were too slow during practice, your dog ears twitched. (laughs)
Ah. (laughs) I got a bit frustrated when the others couldn’t concentrate. I tend to lose confidence when I haven’t practiced enough. I don’t naturally ooze confidence, so I wanted to make up for that with a lot of practice.

I heard that you give yourself praise to boost your self-confidence. Does that work?
It does work, but if I overdo it, it can make me look like a show-off. (laughs) But I think saying something really makes it come true. I used to be pretty self-deprecating until people around me said I should speak more confidently to myself. That’s how I started to gear up mentally. If I tell myself, “I’m handsome; there’s nothing I can’t do; I can do anything,” it gives me a little more confidence.

How do you feel, transitioning from working alone as a figure skater, to doing everything as a team?
I like being in a team better, since we can rely on each other. To be honest, I never really used to think much about the team and just focused on myself, but at some point I started to put the team first. We haven’t been together very long, but we already feel like brothers, like family.

I imagine it wasn’t easy at first—seven people from different backgrounds all living together.
Disagreements bound to happen because different people spend every waking moment together. But we started to have more and more meetings and made it a habit to solve problems by following our leader’s initiative, to look at things objectively and talk about everything.

JUNGWON said, “I can feel SUNGHOON subtly helping me out.”
I’m in the older half of our group, and I know it’s hard for the leader to do everything by himself, so I try to help out from the sidelines. For example, if the rest of the members aren’t paying attention to what the leader’s saying, I try to make them get together and focus, or give him my thoughts on any problems or issues that come up. I think JUNGWON is doing a good job as the leader.

You were chosen as the member most likely to take a fall for the sake of the team’s success.
The past me probably never would’ve done that, but, I think I’ve changedThey might be right. I mean, I became a more active person because of figure skating, but I changed even more after I became a trainee compared to back then. There’s way more people my age here than there were in figure skating. I think that’s why I was able to become more social, spending time with friends without feeling awkward. I’m definitely braver now—more talkative, more outgoing.

How else do you hope to change, in the future?
I wanted to become an idol, watching BTS’s performances. Now I want to put on amazing performances just like them and develop a kind of aura. I ran into Jung Kook in the company lounge once, and he was so friendly when I said hello to him, and I was so happy when he cheered me on. (laughs)

You’ve had a successful debut, but it’s a shame about COVID-19.
I would really like to put on a fun show in front of the fans, but we’re only doing pre-recorded shows, unfortunately. Also, I’m worried that when things do get better and we finally put on a live show, I might get too nervous and can’t perform as well. But anyway, for now, just performing on stage is fun, and I made it my goal to continue to grow until the day we meet our fans. Even in these tough times, I want to show people all around the world what kind of team we are through our performances.

Article. Yejin Lee
Interview. Yejin Lee
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Visual Creative Team. Gunhee Lee(BELIFT LAB)
Photography. Sunhye Shin / Assist. Seungjo Baek, Minseok Kim, Sangwoo Kim(@co-op.) (Digital camera), Yurim Jeon(Film camera)
Hair. Iljoong Lee, Minjeong Kyung
Makeup. Sunghee Ahn, Sojeong Kwon
Stylist. Kyungwon Choi
Video. Ujeong Bang, Surin Kim, Jibin Yeom, Yujeong Kim, Yeongeun Min(Big Hit Three Sixty), Yeongjae Cho, Jaehyeong Kim, Taehun Kim(Brandhood)