Everything he did was JAYish. He had been moving to the rhythm of the music, then he came into the photoshoot with an abrupt change in his attitude. He laughed heartily when making pleasant conversation but his voice, expression, even his way of speaking reflected his passion and sincerity when he spoke seriously about his deepest feelings.

You must feel very different after your debut, seeing as you were a trainee for so long.
 I guess I’m more relaxed than happy or excited. I saw a lot of my friends debut while I was a trainee for three years, so I knew what to expect from the debut process from watching them.

It seems like you’ve changed since your I-LAND days. You look a little more relaxed.
 You’re right. The show was three months of lots of difficulty and stress, having to keep proving myself at every moment. I was much more nervous then. Now I hardly ever feel nervous on stage. I concentrate like I’m comfortably singing and dancing in my own room. (laughs)

When I saw your parents on the show, they looked like cheery people.
 I have an easy-going, friendly relationship with my parents. And the way my mom talked on the show was extremely blunt. (laughs) My parents and I are very honest and straightforward—like, no matter what everyone might think of me, I’ll say what they need to hear and whatever I want to them. We’re all like that. Even on I-LAND, it wasn’t that different from when I was a trainee. I only thought about wanting to put on a good show every week, and that way, I think, I showed my honest side.

And that’s when you had your “RAS” moment. (laughs) What did you think when you saw that scene?
 “Whoa … Someone’s having a hard time!” (laughs) I can’t really remember that well anymore, but I must’ve had a really hard time. I think I was way too honest. (laughs)

You’re taking BTS’s advice: “Enjoy your embarrassing moments.” (laughs)
 Exactly. I don’t care about it at all anymore. I ignore it; I think, it is what it is, and there’s no way to take it back. Even after I die, it’ll still be floating around the Internet, like my ghost. So I just kind of gave up on that. (laughs)

One of the reasons you had that RAS moment on I-LAND (laughs) was because you couldn’t get the part you really wanted. Do you like the parts you have now?
 (laughs) Yes. I really like them (laughs) and, for the hook in the chorus, SUNGHOON’s part and mine are pretty much identical which are repeated. It was actually my dance move for SUNGHOON’s part and his move for my part at first, but it was decided later it would fit the mood better if the choreography was changed, so they ended up switched. The first way wasn’t bad either, but I think the changed version suited both of us much better.

I understand you’re something of a scaredy-cat. (laughs) Wasn’t it hard for you to get into the horror movie concept?
 People say I’m a scaredy-cat, but I’m really not. (laughs) I’m more of a logical person (laughs) so I’m sort of afraid of things that can’t be proven or analyzed mathematically or scientifically. So maybe that’s why horror themes aren’t my strong suit. 

I saw your reaction video for “Given-Taken” and it looked as though you were really surprised by how cool the music video turned out.
Yes. There were a number of scenes I felt underwhelmed about when we were shooting them, but the director actually made them look really cool. There’s this one part especially, where JAKE and I are looking at each other and the camera moves between us and then passes to SUNGHOON. When we were filming that, I kept wondering, “How is this going to end up?” And then that scene turned out way cooler than I expected. (laughs)

The look in your eyes the first time the chorus plays is amazing.
I’m first up on both the first and second verses, so I paid extra attention to my facial expressions and the way the dancing feels so that that whole part would turn out well. It’s a lot harder to emphasize a slow dance than a fast and pounding one, so I tried to put more focus on that part by giving off a sort of aggressively charismatic sort of feeling.

The part in the chorus where you were in the center was really intense, too.
The first thing the performance director told me to do for that part was to do this sort of tough guy swagger. And when I thought about the whole song, the characters we play give off a kind of aristocracy vibe, so I made it a point to seem like we were looking down on people. So I was dancing with everything I’ve got while I kept my face relaxed. I even smirked a little.

What do you hope to express when you’re dancing?
Whenever I practice, I always keep in mind what my dance instructor said: “Anyone who has the basics of dancing down can dance well, but looking really good comes from knowing how to relax.” So I want to dance as if it’s a piece of cake even when I’m using every last drop of my energy that I could collapse. Because of that, I made Jimin from BTS my role model for when I’m doing K-pop choreography.

It seems like you’re always thinking about dancing.
I’m extremely passionate about what I like and what I’m interested in. I get sucked into things until I use up all my energy on them. I have this tendency to focus on just one thing, and for weeks I’ll spend all my time on that one interest except for when I eat, sleep and shower. I also really like everything to be organized perfectly: I make all my game IDs the same, and arrange all my things by color. I must’ve been influenced by a bunch of designers when I started to get into fashion—like Karl Lagerfeld, for example. He only ever wore black suits in public, so now we always have this exact image of him. If you think about it, it’s like a concept. I thought it’s pretty cool to create this identity where people think or feel something specific when you see them.

You’re also interested in fashion, right?
I’m interested in anything related to art. And I think to be worthy of the title “artist” you need to be at least somewhat good in every art-related field. I take fashion very seriously because I think artists should show outwardly how seriously they take their art and their work. I think I’m also influenced by looking at artists like V from BTS who’re famous for their fashion sense.

I heard you’re also a stylist for the other members.
They’ve been asking me a lot of questions lately because they’re particularly into fashion now. My sense of fashion isn’t perfect, but I can make a decent judgment call by looking at length or color. For example, I can tell just from looking at a picture whether some combination will make someone’s legs look shorter or if some other combination will make their face look washed out, so the members will come to me to ask me questions and use me like a calculator. (laughs)

That reminds me of the episode of I-LAND where you allotted parts for “Dive into You” based on how well they suited each of the unit members.
I have a pretty good eye for things like music, dance, and clothes, so I think I can zero in on the key characteristics. I also stress efficiency in everything I do. I was actually a little bit edgy when I was giving out the parts for “Dive into You.” (laughs) Emotion is the root of my efficient and computative side. If I’m feeling competitive, or angry, or it’s a matter of pride, I get extremely focused and then I can think fast and efficiently to get results.

Not unlike that scene on I-LAND that people were talking about where producer Rain gave you feedback.
I was a bit surprised to see that clip of me being scolded by him popping up here and there. (laughs) Part of the reason I acted that way was because I was born in the US, but it’s also from my way of thinking efficiently. If I try to improve myself instead of just feeling intimidated, I might get better results next time. And I think it’s both efficient and not rude to listen to someone’s opinion properly, and show my determination not to repeat my mistakes in the future. That way I show how I’ll keep improving and moving forward.

Your life in the US must have been a big influence on you.
I think I was influenced by the way they always expect open and honest answers to everything. I usually think about what’s most important to others, to me, and to the situation before anything else, and then act based on that thinking. I never hesitate. I seriously won’t hesitate to do what’s best for them and for me, even if it makes me look bad. I think that’s more efficient than not being able to express my real opinion.

You keep emphasizing efficiency. I’m guessing you would really hate to ease up on your practice or work schedule.
Practice is a special case, I think. I think of art as an abstract kind of work: It’s something you have to slow down for and feel and think about, rather than something you can just figure out efficiently. So even when it’s time to dance, I’ll sometimes sit down with my earphones on and listen to some music to focus on my thoughts.

Is that why you’re interested in so many different things? You also cook, and you know a lot about many different topics.
I have interested in cooking since I was little. I learned bit by bit from my parents and from watching YouTube and slowly tried my hand at it. As for knowing a lot of trivia, that’s because of my dad. My dad and I are really similar. He knows literally everything. Even things you don’t usually need to know, he has a high-level understanding of. I heard him talk about a lot of things because I’m a naturally curious person and asked him a lot of questions. Ever since I was a kid, I have been curious about a lot of random things. Even when I’m in bed, if I suddenly wonder about things like, “Why isn’t time travel possible?” or, “How does the touch screen on phones work?” I immediately get up and search it.
And what led such a curious boy to become an idol?
I didn’t originally have any interest in it, but I got an offer to audition through street casting by another company. It sounded like it could be cool (laughs) so I decided to give it a try. I took some lessons for two or three days and had the audition and got in, but then something came up and I left that company. When I got serious again about wanting to demonstrate my skills and get into another company, I was just browsing the music charts and saw BTS’s “Blood Sweat & Tears” was number one. I didn’t really know about BTS at the time, though. As soon as I heard the song, my mind was blown. I looked up the music video and thought, wow, these guys are on a whole different level. (laughs) So I made Big Hit my goal, practiced for a month or two and here I am.

That must be why you were so determined to debut when you were on I-LAND. We also saw you in the role of leader. How did it feel to lead a team like that?
As someone who’s been leader twice, I don’t think it’s a job for humans. (laughs) That’s how hard it is. It’s too much pressure. When I was talking to HEESEUNG, I even said, “Honestly, you and I don’t have the right personality to be the leader.” There weren’t many people on I-LAND who had experience being the leader, so HEESEUNG and I had no choice but to do it. That was pretty hard. I knew what I had to do and how I should manage the team, but I felt like I just didn’t have the personality for it. But anyway, seeing how strong-willed JUNGWON is, I think he’ll do a perfectly good job as he gains more experience.

It seems like you were close with HEESEUNG even before the debut.
HEESEUNG and I are more like family. In the past three years, I spent more time with HEESEUNG than with my mom. We’re so close that we can say anything to each other. But with JUNGWON, it was more like a younger brother–older brother situation, so it was more about taking care of one another than being friends, and it was hard for me or HEESEUNG to get close to him. But as it started to feel like we might become members of the same team, I felt like JUNGWON was opening himself up to me, and I think that’s when we started to get close.

I imagine that, as you grew closer practicing and debuting with your team, you also grew fonder of them.
I really want to take good care of them. I really don’t need to interfere when someone else can handle it better, but still, I just want to do whatever I can to help out.

Even though you haven’t been able to meet your fans yet, what would you like to do for them?
It’s true that we can’t see our fans, and it’s a bad time for us and them both, but I’m trying to stay positive. For example, most of our shows right now are pre-recorded, so at least we can make fewer mistakes at the beginning of our debut. We have plenty of time to make ourselves even better so that when we see our fans in person we can hopefully put on a live show that we’ll have no regrets about. That’s what I want to do, so I’m practicing hard.

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)