I hadn’t seen HEESEUNG in a year, but he was brimming with change. And he’s channeling all the energy that comes from his kindness, wit, confidence and affection for himself back into his passion for his work and his love for ENGENE.
​You did a photoshoot just before our interview.
HEESEUNG: It was a bit like the atmosphere of the new album—dark and stylized. I dyed my hair today so it felt refreshing to shoot with a new hairdo. (laughs) We have a lot of meaningful events to attend to and I’ll be participating in all of them with this hairstyle. [Note: This interview took place on May 8.] I actually won this style. I don’t usually push for things like that but I talked it over a lot with the label. I was really feeling like I wanted to do well and I had this vague image in mind of what I would look like on stage while working on the album and I felt like I had to have this style. I think it’s pretty cool. (laughs)

You said on Weverse Live that you were paying close attention to your appearance for every concert on your US tour. Is this an extension of that?
HEESEUNG: I think I’ve been paying so much attention to it lately since my job involves appearances on stages. When I first debuted, I needed to spend more time and effort on my skillset, but now I try and keep in mind that it’s important to make myself look good too. Like, it’s important to think about how you want to present yourself to others and then to put on a cool show for them. (laughs) I’m trying really hard with it lately.

On that note, how do you feel about DARK BLOOD, visually speaking? ENGENE absolutely loved it.
HEESEUNG: We released the HALF version concept photos recently and the reactions were more enthusiastic than I expected. Maybe that’s what they’re into. (laughs) And some concerned individuals told me I might want to cover up. (laughs) If ENGENE likes every last concept photo we release then I’m guessing they’ll be really into our performances. And the trailer was tough because we weren’t given any dialogue or plot—I could only express emotions like surprise through facial expressions. I wasn’t there to see other members filming their scenes but there were scenes where they’re fighting, and where they rode horses … They worked really hard. (laughs) Fortunately it’s really original and they made it easy to understand. We did a lot of things for this album that’ll surprise people when they see us and we focused a lot on the music as well.
​You received a credit on the lead single, “Bite Me,” for the vocal arrangement, correct?
HEESEUNG: It ended up being even more fun since I was more deeply involved in the creation of the album this time around. I was also involved in directing the songs, giving help to the other members. I got to think a little more creatively and I learned how to get a little more quality out of things, so it was fun.

Am I right in thinking you mostly did the vocal directing for “Bite Me?
HEESEUNG: Yes, that’s right. I took on directing vocals and rapping in pretty much equal parts. I think I have some kind of instinct for how a song should sound and develop because I tend to think, This song should be like this, and, That song should be like that, immediately after I first hear them. I think the vibe, nuance and rhythm of the single “Bite Me” are all important so I directed with those specifically in mind. I had a lot to think about with that song. I had to consider our performances and how it would sound to ENGENE too. I tried to pack it with things I knew we’d be able to do well.

Did you help work on any of the other songs off the album?
HEESEUNG: I also had a lot of involvement on “Bills” and “Karma.” My vocal instructor watched over vocal recording with me but it was mainly under my direction. I was pretty much just belting out for “Karma” (laughs) and I feel like “Bills” is a good representation of the times and lives of people nowadays so I tried to make the vocals sound trendy. We received a huge compliment from Producer Bang for “Bills.” He loved it saying that the recording turned out great and that we should perform it during promotions. I was very proud of my accomplishments and it was a very special experience.You know, people might like listening to some of the stuff I’m working on by myself, so maybe it’ll make it onto an album someday. It was nice to see that the possibility is there. I really can’t wait to go out and promote. I want to do it ASAP but time moves so slow lately. (laughs)
​Did your experience with the world tour make an impact on your ambition to perform too?
HEESEUNG: When I first debuted I was trying to understand how grateful I am for my fans, but now I can really feel it and it’s always on my mind. I’m so touched that ENGENE came together to sing our songs with us when we toured. Now I really feel like, There’s people waiting all over the world for us to come! I think it’s kept me on my toes. I think about ENGENE whenever I record vocals and I feel like I should think about what the song will feel like to sing live later. I think performing live in front of so many ENGENE has led to me looking cooler and more effortless on stage.

It seems like the tour’s made you see the stage in a new light. You said in 2022 ENniversary MAGAZINE that you feel your “emotion and logic are separated” when you’re performing. What did you mean by that?
HEESEUNG: It paints a cool picture to be overly excited on stage but I tend to be a little cautious about that. When you’re excited on stage, it means you lose yourself to the moment. I poured everything I had into this one performance and I thought, I did great out there—I was on fire. And then I played the video back and was like, What is this? Is that really what I was like? It was totally different from how I thought I performed. I purposely try to separate those things because I feel like I shouldn’t forget to think about looking cool and doing a good job. I think that’s what a pro would do: keep trying to separate the two, distinguish between them and show people exactly what they want to show them.

You also said in 2022 ENniversary MAGAZINE that you’re “not at the level where I can say I’m dazzling so I want to keep gaining more experience by touring.” Has your mindset changed now that the tour’s over?
HEESEUNG: “Dazzling” and “not at that level”—those were my own words and I think that’s how I was projecting myself. So it seems like I wasn’t quite ready yet when I said that. Not that I’m like, I’m fully ready! I can do it now! (laughs) When you’re an idol, you should always shine when you’re on stage. And I think I should become that kind of person offstage as well. These days I don’t hold myself to standards like being “dazzling” or saying I’m “not at that level” and just try to accept things and enjoy myself. It’s my job to be attractive and dazzle people. I have to make a point to accept that, mull it over and move on.
​I could see that you used to have a lot on your mind, but these days you seem to have a kind of determination to you.
HEESEUNG: You said I’m the type to have a lot on the mind. I only realized this recently, but the best thing to do is to just not worry. There’s less you can do in your head than you think. Life’s only lively and fun if I keep myself moving so instead of asking why I can’t be the way I want to be, I should be thinking about how I can make myself the way I want to be. If you buy some vegetables and just stare at them and ask, How can I make these fresher? Well, they’re just going to rot, aren’t they? You just have to buy new ones.

You must be noticing changes in your personality and everyday life too.
HEESEUNG: I used to enjoy spending time alone in my room but lately I don’t like spending time alone somehow? (laughs) I just watch movies, try to find some new music to listen to, and then I try calling a friend. And that’s when I feel it: “I’m a person that needs to see people.” I keep thinking about how I need to hang out with my friends more.

Maybe that explains why we saw you picking up a game of street basketball with strangers.
HEESEUNG: It’s usually extroverts playing streetball since you’re playing games with people you don’t know. If you don’t overthink it and just go up to them and start talking, you can just become friends. I was actually wanting to play basketball right when that happened—right before THE FIRST SLAM DUNK came out, and I was thinking, Why do I feel like I wanna play basketball lately? And then the movie came out right after that. So I figured ENGENE would like it if I saw the movie then filmed myself playing basketball and put it on YouTube. I plan to do more videos from now on too. And I’m still playing basketball these days. I played with my brother and his friends—12 people altogether—for three hours on Children’s Day. (laughs)

I saw on your vlog that you bought basketball shoes. You seem really serious about it.
HEESEUNG: I like basketball because there’s also clearly importance placed on looking cool. I’m not really a basketball shoe collector but I bought some LeBrons and some Currys recently. You can buy shoes from all your favorite players and say, Who do I want to be today? And put on their shoes. You can tell which player someone likes just by watching their form. People who like Jordan play like Jordan and people who like Curry always shoot three-pointers. (laughs) Personally, I like Kevin Durant. He’s a power forward and he’s really tall. He's like Takenori Akagi from SLAM DUNK, getting rebounds off of other tall players, a lot of two-pointers, posts up and fakes, shoots fadeaways … (laughs)
​This will be hard, so you don’t have to do all of them, but since you like basketball and SLAM DUNK, which characters do you think each of the ENHYPEN members are most like?
HEESEUNG: If we’re just talking about the movie, I’d say I’m Ryota Miyagi. It’s not quite the same but I also have good memories playing basketball with my brother, so the movie made me sad, but JAKE was beside me so I couldn’t cry. (laughs) NI-KI’s kind of like Kaede Rukawa. He’s been placing a lot of importance on his style lately. (laughs) And I guess Takenori Akagi’s pretty good at keeping everybody balanced, so I think JUNGWON would be him. I think JUNGWON is kind of person who always wants to work really hard at what he has to do and will keep at it because of that sense of responsibility. Anyway, they’re pretty similar, so I’ll say he’d be Takenori Akagi.

Your love for the other members comes through even in that little comparison. You explained in a previous interview with Weverse Magazine that you “hope they don’t think of me as being more important than them just because I’m the oldest” and that you try to “create an atmosphere where they can speak openly with” you. Is that still your mantra?
HEESEUNG: The other members are all reliable, especially these days. We’re really lucky to get along so well and that all of us are skilled and good people. So I can trust them for everything. To be honest, I don’t think I’m at the point yet where I’m able to do enough for them. I always feel like I’m not as good as I could be. Everyone’s got their shortcomings though. And I don’t even have enough time to improve those things. (laughs)

In “To Myself 1 Year From Now From. 2021,” you said you “still feel very young.” What about now?
HEESEUNG: When I say “being mature,” it doesn’t specifically mean I want to be super adult—it means I want to be free of burdens. I want to be a little more sure of things so that I don’t feel like I have any day-to-day problems or have any strain in the relationships I have with other people. I want to have the confidence to say more openly what I think, the things I want to assert, the way I want to portray myself and the music I want to make. It’s not that I don’t already have those things—I just want to speak up more.

I think you’ve already shown some confidence in our conversation here today.
HEESEUNG: Deep down, I used to have low self-esteem. So when I first debuted, I couldn’t present myself the way I had in mind. Then, maybe half a year or a year ago, my confidence didn’t just bump up a little—it jumped up so much that I actually had to tone it down a bit. (laughs) I used to almost feel like I was nothing but I’m getting better now.

That explains that nickname on Weverse … HYBE Prince. (laughs)
HEESEUNG: Next question, please. (laughs)
​It feels like you enjoy coming up with nicknames for yourself with ENGENE.
HEESEUNG: Yeah, it’s fun. ENGENE loves it so that’s why I put it up to a vote. HYBE Prince ended up trending on Twitter. Why do they like that name so much? Do they think I’m actually a real price? (laughs) And I used to only like to post really good pictures of me but lately they even like pictures like the one I posted on Children’s Day. So now I realize ENGENE isn’t too hard on me and I have room to be a little goofy, and that’s how I’m able to have fun with them like that.

I guess that applies to Team Hamster and Team Deer too? (laughs)
HEESEUNG: Oh, put this in at the end of the interview—please make sure you do it: “Rise, Team Deer!”

You seem really comfortable in your relationship with ENGENE.
HEESEUNG: They deal with my jokes, like my cool side and show our albums love. I have lots of fun just from the fact that ENGENE loves everything I do so much. And I think about them all the time. I hope I can show them more of the real me from now on. I bet they’ll like it if I show them that. (laughs)
Article. Yoon Haein
Interview. Yoon Haein
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Coordinator. Kim Jieun
Visual Creative Team. Heu Sae Ryeun, Lee Gunhee, Cha Minsoo, Lee Jihoon (BELIFT LAB)
Photography. Nikolai Ahn / Assist. Cho Seunghan, Lee Haeji
Hair. Ahn Chihyun (fleek)
Makeup. Kwon Sojeong
Stylist. Ji Seyun / Assist. Choi Hanbyeol
Set Design. Choi Seoyun, Son Yehee, Kim Ayoung (da;rak)
Artist Management Team. Park Sungjin, Rhee Shindong, Hong Yuki, Kim Hangil, Kang Byoungwook, Woo Soohyeon, Park Jaewon