Softspoken throughout the interview, TAKI would occasionally lit up with a beaming smile and booming voice when talking about the other group members. In this interview, TAKI shares with us about the love he receives and how he radiates that love back for others like a star.
Your Korean seems to be getting a lot better. You even used Korean idioms like “The water has already been spilled” on Weverse Live. (laughs)
TAKI: We’re going to be promoting and doing interviews in Korea a lot, so I want to learn more than just textbook words. I want to learn phrases that are popular in Korea lately too!

What kind of phrases have you learned lately?
TAKI: I learned the term “four-dimensional” from EJ. I was looking for words that would explain me for when I have to talk about myself in Korean. I’m sort of a silly person and I think that term applies well to me. (laughs)

I saw the behind-the-scenes video where you looked really proud of yourself when you made HARUA and MAKI laugh. (laughs)
TAKI: More than any of the members, when I’m with HARUA and MAKI, I feel like I’m back in school. We all have really different personalities though, and I don’t feel like we’d actually be that close if we met in school. (laughs) Maybe because we’re the same age, I feel really relaxed around them and I’m really happy with how we’re able to joke around together. I can be completely genuine around them so I end up being really funny without even thinking about it. (laughs)
​Whenever I see interviews with the other members they always have lots to say about your bright, shining personality.
TAKI: Whenever I introduce myself, I say that I like to laugh and to make others laugh. I feel happiest when the other members are smiling. I specifically try to make them laugh at times, but most importantly, seeing them laugh makes me as happy as making music does!

You’re the one who keeps things upbeat during practice, right? (laughs)
TAKI: Right. (laughs) It’s hard to focus when the mood wavers so I try to talk to them a lot even if it isn’t easy. That way everyone can enjoy practice time. I want to keep being the bright sun of &TEAM that helps them smile no matter what.

Then is there anything the other members help you with during practice?
TAKI: I sometimes get scared when I have to jump over MAKI in “Road Not Taken”, since we’re pretty much the same height. The older members always said, “Don’t worry, you can do it,” which gave me the confidence to do it in practice. And I got a lot of help from EJ for the hard parts of the Korean version of “FIREWORK.” I tried really hard with his help and now my voice sounds a bit different between the Korean and Japanese versions, and I personally really like that about it. (laughs) I’m so honored I could sing this song—for many reasons.
​You’ve said before that you like fireworks. Did that make the song “FIREWORK” more intriguing to you? You mentioned on Weverse that you used to watch fireworks in the summer when you lived on the water.
TAKI: I used to live by the ocean and they always had festivals in the summer around there. So I went to all kinds of festivals with family and friends and I remember always seeing the beautiful fireworks in the night sky. I get a feeling of comfort from watching fireworks. I wondered if maybe the idea for the song had any relation to that. Probably not? (laughs)

How did you feel when you first heard “FIREWORK” would be the lead single?
TAKI: When I heard “FIREWORK” and found out what the words mean, I felt like it was really similar to the way we’ve grown and the path we’ve taken to get here. So I almost felt like I was going to cry both when recording the vocals and when practicing the choreography. There’s group choreography in the bridge that’s so good I was practically choking up.

What is it about that part that made you so emotional?
TAKI: I think the overall feeling of the song and the lyrics has a lot of similarities with us and our lives. My part and the song as a whole uses fireworks as a metaphor for the happiness you feel when you finally meet that someone you’ve been looking for. And when I think of that someone as being LUNÉ, it fills me with a lot of different emotions. By the time I get to the final bridge, it feels like all the hard times just disappear. I was reminded while practicing for the album how important teamwork is and for us to trust in one another—not only when it comes to singing, but for dancing, too.
​I imagine you can feel how important teamwork is not only while working on the album but also just spending time living together.
TAKI: Something that really stood out to me recently was this one time we were all at home after practice and talking together. MAKI said, “There’s nothing more fun than all of us just hanging out at home like this and eating and talking together.” I was really touched when I heard him say that. I mean, it’s not everyday that you hear someone tell you things like “We have the most fun when it’s just us.”  I was really surprised when he just said it so casually, and it reminded me how good the teamwork in &TEAM is and how we’re just like a family.

What really felt like family was when the older members turned the practice studio into the Big Brothers’ Crossing theme park for the younger members to celebrate Children’s Day in May. Then the younger members repaid the favor on Parents’ Day by shooting the “Toilet Paper Game” TikTok. (laughs)
TAKI: I felt a little sorry for the older members at first (laughs) but when we were filming “Big Brothers’ Crossing” it wasn’t just the Maknaez [HARUA, TAKI and MAKI] having fun but all nine of us, so I was really happy. It made shooting the video more fun. And they made it so fun for us that we figured we had to do something for them too, so that’s why we did that TikTok. The prize list included a kiss on the cheek, although I’m not sure they were happy to receive that. (laughs) I just wanted to give them a massage and make them laugh so we could all have fun together.
​I feel like the older members still see you as the baby of the group. In every behind-the-scenes video there’s always at least one of them touching your cheeks. (laughs)
TAKI: Obviously I’ve grown a lot since my I-LAND days but I’m always the little one when I’m with the older members and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. And I had no idea why they like my cheeks so much so I tried touching them myself. But I still don’t get it. (laughs) I like when they touch my cheeks—especially K. I feel relaxed somehow when he touches them. (laughs)

You seem to be especially fond of the three who were on I-LAND with you.
TAKI: I didn’t know anything back then. K, EJ and NICHOLAS all taught me so much. The three of them were so important to me that it’s fair to say I wouldn’t be here today without them. I’m where I am now thanks to them. K not only helped me a lot with performing but also in life and about the way of the world. He’s seriously like a parent to me. I want to explain all about it but there’s too much I could go into. My Korean was still shaky after I-LAND but EJ taught me so much bit by bit. I didn’t have any time to take Korean lessons back then but I learned so much thanks to him. And NICHOLAS treated me like a close friend. He taught me so much about the things he knows and we’re so close that he’s the only one I can fight with. (laughs) I’m really thankful for that.

You said in an interview with Nikkei Entertainment! in July that you used to try not to let it show when you’re feeling depressed but that NICHOLAS could tell anyway and talked to you about it.
TAKI: NICHOLAS is always the one to notice and come up to me to talk about it. He asks me directly what’s wrong and if I’m okay. What I really like about NICHOLAS is that he doesn’t try to be deep or anything—he keeps it natural and friendly. He talks things through with me and helps me to work through my issues step by step. He helped me a lot thanks to that and made me feel a lot better. I’m becoming more of an adult in my personality and in the way I think without even noticing it thanks to being with all of them.
You seem to be heavily influenced by all the time you spend with them. I’m curious if you feel that you’ve changed in any way.
TAKI: I used to be the kind of person to sort of push things back and say, I’ll just do this later. That was immature of me (laughs) but these days I’m much better at managing myself, even though I don’t have that much time to begin with, so I think I’ve grown up a lot in that regard. I also liked being at home and usually stayed at home whenever I had a day off, but after the nine of us became a group, I started to like going out more and more. Now when I have a day off, I like to spend time going to the movies with the other members or doing some other hobby with them.

Is there something different about spending time by yourself versus with the others?
TAKI: I like that I can relax at home and make good use of my time, but on the other hand, I also want to go out with the others and spend time with them so that I’ll have nice memories to look back on later. (laughs) And the things I see and experience in the real world actually have an impact on the way I express myself onstage. Going out and having a lot of different experiences helps a lot more with performing than just staying at home. So I’m always thinking about how each and every little thing is important and the kind of influence I might receive from them.

I’m impressed by the way you find things that can be reflected in your performances even from small, everyday things. It won’t be long until you’re on stage showing us what you’ve been working on either. What have you been thinking about as you get ready for the comeback?
TAKI: The biggest thing is I want to show even more people what makes us special. I keep thinking about how I want to go to all the different countries that people send us words of encouragement from. I’m also so excited and honored to be promoting in Korea for the first time! Naturally I’m also a little worried about some things but I’m glad to have this opportunity to show off my skills. There’s a ton we want to show off. (laughs)
​You’re always sure to express your gratitude for the people closest to you whenever you’re working on something. What made you into the kind of person who never takes things for granted and always expresses his gratitude with such sincerity?
TAKI: My parents always told me I should be grateful to other people no matter what. I actually didn’t know what they meant by that when I was still living with them in Japan and didn’t really pay it any mind. (laughs) But once I came to Korea by myself, I got help from a lot of different people and over time I realized what they meant. You really can’t live your life on your own. We can only put on a performance or hold a fan meeting event if LUNÉ are there, for example, and we’re able to shine so bright thanks to the staff who put it all together. So I try to make sure I never forget how thankful I am to LUNÉ and to the staff.

What should people look for when they’re watching this collaborative performance?
TAKI: I hope all the LUNÉ with us now and all the new fans we’ll have later will keep watching us as we continue to grow. I can feel we’re improving at breakneck pace but there’s no saying how much more we can grow. That’s what makes it so interesting! (laughs)

I can tell how much confidence and affection you have for your group. (laughs)
TAKI: There’s still a lot of people who don’t know about us yet and I want to show off what makes us charming to as many people as possible, bit by bit! Every one of us has his own charming points, special characteristics and personality, but we’re at our coolest when all nine of us are together. (laughs)
Article. Lee Jiyeon
Interview. Lee Jiyeon
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Coordinator. Lee Yejin
Visual Creative Team. Jang Yeaseul, UEDA SAEKO
Photography. LESS / Assist. Lee Sujeong, Park Sunseok, Jeon Junseo
Hair. Lim Jungho, Kim Minyoung, Kim Minwook
Makeup. Baek Hyuna, Lee Jimin
Stylist. Kim Beungkyu