NI-KI kept on expressing his gratitude for all he has experienced so far—all the while studying and practicing without relent, using those new experiences as opportunities for growth.

You put on a show at a German K-pop festival recently, your first concert overseas since your debut. How did it go?
NI-KI: It felt completely new, seeing 40,000 people in the audience. (laughs) And I could hear all the cheering even with my in-ears in. The cheering made me feel more energetic and I was once again reminded of the enormous difference between performing in-person and performing online.

You said you loved that there were so many ENGENE there. It must have felt like something else entirely singing in front of an audience.
NI-KI: You’re right. If the concert in Germany had been held online instead, I don’t think I could have been as energetic as that. And I think I could keep it up till the very end all thanks to the audience. We’ve done music shows every time we made a comeback, but there was never an audience. So I had no way to know what kind of reception there would be, but it was a wonderful time and a good chance to get a real sense of our popularity. And I’m even more excited because I know that our concerts will be all ENGENE from now on. (laughs)

What would you like to show off to ENGENE when you’re able to see them in concert next?
NI-KI: I want to show them the difference between watching us in a video and seeing us in person. There’s a big difference between watching a dance live versus in a video especially. I want to be good enough that they see me up close and think, Whoa, he’s so good at dancing! I watched a lot of videos of SHINee when I was little, but I was surprised when I finally saw them performing in person. I think that’s what made me want to become a K-pop idol. And, actually, the performance for our new lead single is a little hard (laughs) so every time I practiced, I was kind of worried and thought, How are we going to pull this off when we do this on tour? (laughs) I’m working out a lot now so I’ll be physically ready for that day.
​As you say, the choreography for the single, “Future Perfect (Pass the MIC),” is extremely intense. What was it like practicing for it?
NI-KI: First of all, one single run-through of us dancing all together is physically challenging. It’s the most demanding choreography we’ve ever done (laughs) so I needed some downtime in between. But I got more and more used to it the more we practiced and became more conscious of which parts I need to be more intense and which I need to relax a bit on. The demo version was a little different at first, too, and they actually ended up using some of the ideas I suggested.

Which parts did you come up with?
NI-KI: The small gestures between parts in the original choreography. I switched things up a little to add a bit of my own flavor to the flow of the choreography and then the performance directing team said they really liked it, too. There’s also a part in the middle of my solo dance in the single where I suddenly go into slow motion and make it look a little sexy. (laughs) It would be nice if you look out for that part. The choreography reflects my ideas and I think it displays something new that no other K-pop idols have done before.

This must be a very special album for you, especially with your ideas being reflected in the choreography.
NI-KI: Of all the albums we’ve released so far, this one has the most tracks that are my kind of song. (laughs) I love every track on it and the whole album is great, so I’m really looking forward to the promotions. I hope this album does a good job of showing how unique our performances can be and how energetic and tight our group dances are and helps get the name ENHYPEN out there even more. We also have a meeting every time we’re going to make a new album. I’m really happy with the way everyone listens to our ideas about the kind of album we want to make.

What sort of ideas did you give at the meeting this time?
NI-KI: What I said was pretty simple. The last few songs we did, like “Tamed-Dashed,” were super upbeat and cheery. I do like that vibe, but I personally believe the vibe we pull off best is one that’s dark and intense. So at the meeting for this album, I said, “I hope the vibe will let us really show off ENHYPEN’s performance style,” and then when I got the songs and it actually sounded like that, I thought, Oh, we better really nail it this time! (laughs)
​That really shows during your parts in the single, “Future Perfect (Pass the MIC),” which is intense, like you said. You also rap in a deep voice for it.
NI-KI: I noticed there was a rap when I first heard the demo, but I never thought I’d be the one who would end up doing it. (laughs) But when the producer asked me about giving it a shot, they also said I’d probably be really good at it. I became more interested in rap as I practiced for this song so it was a good opportunity to get a better understanding of what makes it so good.

What do you like about rap?
NI-KI: I like how rhythmic it is and that it’s really hip. (laughs) I’ve always liked hip hop but this was probably the first time I did a proper rap in our songs. Rapping allows the music to take on a different feeling, so I figured I could improve myself through this challenge.

The way you sing the word “F5” and “website” in falsetto in “TFW (That Feeling When)” is impressive.
NI-KI: I never sang in falsetto in any of our songs before, but when the producer was doing a key check for “TFW (That Feeling When),” they said, “I think NI-KI should do this part.” So, since I was supposed to do that part, I listened to a lot of different songs to study about how I should express myself through the vocals. I love the way trying something new on every new album we release makes me feel like I’m improving.
​You also tried something new in the way you perform when you did a pair performance with JUNGWON for STUDIO CHOOM’s MIX & MAX series. How was dancing as two instead of seven?
NI-KI: It’s usually seven of us dancing all together, but we had to do a pair performance, meaning there were a lot of things that we had to do just the two of us. So I felt a little pressure about having to dance with all my energy from start to finish. And I was nervous when we first started because we were the first people on MIX & MAX, but we kept practicing with the dancers and the end result looked good, so I was glad that all the practice paid off.

And you stayed up late practicing your solo dance, right? And redid the parts you weren’t fully satisfied with?
NI-KI: I kept practicing late into the night because I wanted to give people a high-quality performance. The process of getting ready for it was a bit challenging (laughs) but I can feel that I leveled up as a result because it was another all-new experience. I also figured it would help me for the next time I do something similar.

You also explained that you hoped the video would be something small to help ENGENE get by between promotions.
NI-KI: Yes. ENGENE are especially patient with us during our album preparation even though they're excited for us to come back. I can see how people might feel let down in that kind of situation if there’s nothing new to watch, so I’m trying to communicate more. And I think I can do more to make ENGENE like us even more deeply. So we’re trying to show a good part of our everyday lives through videos like EN-loG and I’m trying to be more active in communicating with them and spend more time with them, even if it’s just on social media, since I can’t see them that often.

Like how you always post photos of the sky every time you think it looks nice? (laughs)
NI-KI: Yes. (laughs) When I see a beautiful sky or landscape, I want to share it with ENGENE. I want to keep showing them a lot of stuff.
​You spent a lot of time with the other members during the album preparation period, too. I heard you really got into bowling. (laughs)
NI-KI: I ended up really falling for bowling after playing it on EN-O’CLOCK. I even got a ball custom-made. JAY was into it at the time, too, but I kept asking him to go with me so now he’s sort of tired of it. (laughs) I was so hooked that at one point I went bowling three days in a row. I went bowling, ate ramyeon at Hangang River, played basketball. That’s my routine. (laughs)

So that’s how you spend your time off: doing that routine.
NI-KI: Yes. When I have a lot on my mind and want to organize my thoughts, I draw. I feel calm and centered when I’m painting. And when I want to do something more physical or active, I go bowling, of course. (laughs) Bowling takes priority these days. And it’s a little chaotic at home since four of us share a room—sounds coming from computer games, somebody talking on the phone. It’s not calming at all. (laughs) So if I get to have my own room someday, I want to have some alone time and start painting a lot again and also do more to decorate my room.

Is there anything else you want to do lately?
NI-KI: What I want more than anything is to see ENGENE as soon as possible. And I want to meet ENGENE who live overseas when I go there. They’ve waited so long for us, so I want to go there and put on an in-person performance that makes them think, I’m lucky to be ENGENE. And then, after our international tour wraps up, we’ll be able to get a sense of how popular we are. I think I’ll feel more confident after that. (laughs) From now on, I want to put on a lot of concerts, keep improving my skills and spend a lot of time with ENGENE.
​Although you couldn’t visit Japan in person, how did the Japanese promotion go?
NI-KI: We couldn’t see ENGENE in person, but it made me really happy to see that lots of different countries like us. It’s really meaningful to me and makes me especially proud that my home country likes us. And I could really feel the difference between singing the Japanese and Korean versions of our songs during that promotion. There were some awkward spots even though I’m Japanese myself. (laughs) I got confused when doing the Japanese versions sometimes because I’m used to the Korean versions and I have muscle memory for them.

If you’re getting thrown off during the Japanese versions, it must mean you’re becoming more fluent in Korean. (laughs)
NI-KI: Does it? (laughs) I didn’t know much Korean on I-LAND, but I’m a lot more used to it now that I’ve been living here awhile. And now I try to make sure and look up any grammar or words I’m unfamiliar with as soon as I hear them and find out what they mean right away.

When you were on SBS Gayo Daejeon last year, you exchanged greetings with KEY in Korean.
NI-KI: We used to talk together in Japanese because he speaks fluent Japanese, but oddly enough we speak in Korean now. (laughs) We hadn’t seen each other for nearly four years at that point so I thought he didn’t remember me at first. I was really surprised because I wasn’t sure if he would remember me but he actually did recognize me. And I’m a lot taller now than when I was on their stage before, so he looked at me surprised and said, “When did you get so tall?” (laughs) It was great seeing him again after so long.
What motivates you to keep improving, whether it’s at dancing, Korean or otherwise?
NI-KI: I think I’m my own biggest motivation. I think what keeps me going like this is that, as an artist, I think about wanting to be a bit better at what I do and keep improving my skills a bit and keep getting better more than anything. And I never want to be anything but great in front of ENGENE, so I’m stricter with myself.

Are you usually that strict with yourself?
NI-KI: Yes. I always feel like I have room for improvement and that’s a really big push for me. I try harder and harder because I keep thinking about how much I would regret it if I didn’t do well on stage and embarrassed or ashamed myself. I think I just keep repeating that. And I think that stresses me out a little bit. But whenever I feel stressed from that, bowling is the cure. (laughs)

You found a very good hobby. (laughs) I hope you can keep enjoying it for a long time.
NI-KI: Exactly. Once I’m into something, I’m really into it—for a long time. (laughs)
Article. Lee Jiyeon
Interview. Lee Jiyeon
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Project Management. Kim Rieun
Visual Creative Team. Heu Sae Ryeun , Lee Gunhee , Choi Ara , Cha Minsoo(BELIFT LAB)
Photography. JDZ Chung / Assist. Jeong Changheum, Song Junghyeon
Hair. Kim Sohee, Yeo Jingyeong
Makeup. Kwon Sojeong
Stylist. Ji Seyun / Assist. Kim Minseon, Choi Jaeeun
Set Design. Choi Seoyun, Son Yehee, Kim Ayeong(Da;rak)
Artist Protocal Team. Kim Sejin, Oh Gwangtaek, Hong Yuki, Kim Hangil, Kang Mingi, Lee Hyunji