He isn’t quite confident enough to address any concerns the other members may have, but he goes up to them and asks, “Do you want to play something?” He feels awkward talking to fans alone, so he shares his feelings through his piano. This is how HUENINGKAI shows his love.
The blond hair looks good on you. You tried everything to keep it from MOA, but they caught you.
HUENINGKAI: Yes. I was all excited that I dyed my hair right as we entered the next chapter of our albums because it was perfect timing to make a big show of my inverted look. So anyway, I wanted it to be a surprise, but I dyed it too early and then there were already some eyewitness accounts. When I found out, I thought, Hmm, I wanna play a trick somehow, so I intentionally put black mousse in my hair and kept showing it on V LIVE, like, See? I’m not blond! After that I tried to temporarily dye it brown but it mixed with the blond and turned dirty blond. I just gave up after that. (laughs) It was my first time bleaching my hair so I was sad I couldn’t do a big reveal.
You look a lot more mature than when you debuted.
HUENINGKAI: Yes. I don’t know why but, when I was a trainee, I have to admit I had dead eyes. I felt like my eyes looked half closed but now they’re somewhat more open. (laughs) I think my facial features started to get a little more defined after “Run Away.”
The others said you don’t just sit back and take it like you used to. (laughs)
HUENINGKAI: Ah, yes. I can’t keep living that way. (laughs) TAEHYUN likes wrestling and martial arts so I picked some of that up and sometimes try it in the studio. It feels like I’m testing my skills on the others. (laughs) If there’s a mat or something, I’ll lift some of them up and pin them down (laughs) and if TAEHYUN picks BEOMGYU up while they’re on the bed, I’ll mess around with him too. I can literally feel how much stronger I’ve gotten. And it’s great. (laughs)
You’re not so easy now, are you? (laughs) A lot of people commented on how much you’ve grown in the new concept photos. And you also really took to a lot of different costumes and props.
HUENINGKAI: I was a little surprised, too, about how well they turned out. Especially the YOU version. Oh, I felt like looked like a college student somehow. After the label saw me at the airport wearing an eyepatch for an eye problem, they seem to think the eyepatch really suited me (laughs) so they kept putting an eyepatch on me. I’m dressed like a shabby prince, I’m wearing a heart eyepatch, my makeup is totally different. Trying all those new looks made me feel like I wasn’t a baby like in The Dream Chapter anymore, but like a full-grown real idol. I usually go around dressed in (touching his hoodie) simple clothes like this (laughs) but when I completely change my look MOA likes it, so I was like, “Oh, I didn’t know I had this side to me.”
You reacted strongly on V LIVE a few days ago when SOOBIN was saying he dresses better than you younger members.
HUENINGKAI: I don’t know about anybody else, but I couldn’t believe he said that. (laughs) We dressed up in our own clothes and MOA voted and guess what? I won! (laughs) I tried to dress in a way that said, If I had to dress up to go out, this is how I’d probably do it. They found out that I borrowed the shoes, but I think it still would’ve worked with my own shoes. I put my shoes on and asked YEONJUN, “How’s this?” And he said, “Not bad. But Converse would be better.” So I asked our stylist to lend me a pair for the day. But I felt so cloistered that day … No surprise, a hoodie and sweatpants is best!
You played piano in “The Essence of Instruments.” According to the viewers, you played really well, but you were a little disappointed.
HUENINGKAI: I made so many mistakes … When I was little and my family would get together on holidays, I hated the little talent shows we would put on more than anything. My grandma was a dancer, so whenever she said, “Who wants to try to do the splits?” We would do the splits, but it hurt so much that my cousins would cry. (laughs) My grandma is a perfectionist, so when we did those talent shows with the family, if I made even a single mistake I would feel self-conscious. I think that’s when I started wanting to be perfect in everything I do. But I think that’s the best way to do it, since it’s more satisfying to anyone watching.
Does your family watch your performances and give you advice, then?
HUENINGKAI: Sometimes my mom or older sister will get in touch to tell me they really like a song. My younger sister is training to do the same job as me, so it’s actually me who’s usually giving her a lot of advice. She asked me how she could improve her facial expressions so I suggested that she watch a lot of videos for reference and try to be confident. We’ve always stuck together and had a lot of fun since we were young, but I was a prankster back then. I picked on my younger sister so much. (laughs) But now that I’m more mature I made it my goal to be a proud older brother.
So you experienced music through your family from a young age.
HUENINGKAI: Maybe that explains why I could pick up instruments quickly for some reason. So even now, whenever I practice an instrument, I feel confident and think, This one’s for me. I want to practice more so at some point I can sing at the same time as playing the piano or the guitar. Playing all those instruments from when I was a kid helps me a lot when I write songs, too, so I didn’t really run into any problems with producing on this album, even though it was my first time. I think it’s giving me a chance to show off the musical ability I inherited from my dad.
You produced “Dear Sputnik.” How did you get started?
HUENINGKAI: The label didn’t give me a theme or a guide and just told me to try writing a track, so I opened GarageBand, which I’ve been using for a long time, and just started to feel it out. I like rock so first I chose that as my genre and structured the song to give it a rock feel, then I finished it off with some bass and rhythm here and there to heighten the mood. While I made it, I imagined putting on a concert, running around with the other members and having a ton of fun with MOA and all of us singing together. I didn’t really expect them to use it, so I just made it however I felt and named the file “I made this as a sample,” but after I sent it the response was better than I expected. The producers were surprised too. So I worked on it more with EL CAPITXN and that’s how we finished “Dear Sputnik.”
I could feel your emotions in the song.
HUENINGKAI: Exactly. And that’s why I sang my heart out on it. (laughs) I let the feeling swell inside me as I pictured drifting through space with a companion. The label chose a good theme to add to my song and TAEHYUN did a great job with the lyrics. It turned out great and the other members said they liked it a lot, too. When they first heard the demo they didn’t say much, but after listening to the version with our vocals SOOBIN really liked it. He said it’s his favorite song. (laughs) I’ve gotten really into making songs now. “Dear Sputnik” actually trended on Twitter yesterday, which made me feel absolutely amazing. (laughs) I was really happy and promised myself that I’ll keep putting in the effort to make some more great music.
Your vocals have really improved a lot. It seems like your vocal spectrum is much wider now especially.
HUENINGKAI: I was a little surprised, too. I thought, Is trying all those different genres as a trainee finally paying off? (laughs) Whatever I was singing, first I would try singing intensely with all my feeling, then I would dial it back a bit and try out different vocal styles based on feedback and the song’s characteristics. For rapping, especially, I looked at other people’s raps for reference. For example, I copied YEONJUN’s voice and style for the rap part in the lead single. YEONJUN heard it and told me it’d sound better if I did it more sharply, so I did it that way and it really helped. For the “oh we” part at the end of the rap I watched RM rapping and did it a little heavy, like, “oh weigh!”
Your vocals on “Frost” are particularly impressive. The intro and the chorus are very powerful.
HUENINGKAI: We took turns trying to sing the intro and they said I was the craziest-sounding so I got the part. I imagined I was the Joker while I recorded it. It only took two or three takes and then it was done. The producers were surprised—they said, “How are you so good? It’s scary.” (laughs) For the chorus I was basically screaming, making myself hoarse. It was hard because it was awkward at first so I was singing sort of hesitantly, but later on I let go and said, I’m a madman! (laughs) And then it was easier, actually.
How did you manage to express that feeling of wanting to cry out in the chorus of the lead single?
HUENINGKAI: The single is full of feelings I really like. For example, when the music is cheery but the lyrics are sad I might cry. Since this song shows both intensity and sadness at the same time, I really felt it and could sing with that kind of sorrow. Even when we were recording I made a sad face like this (frowning as hard as he can) and sang that way. And the choreography is more like emotionally expressive art than a perfectly aligned group dance. We were supposed to all move the same way the third time the chorus plays but I told them it would convey the emotion better if I popped out and made a gesture so we changed it. I studied a lot on how to bring out my emotions better through the choreography. But most importantly, RM wrote these great lyrics. As soon as I saw them, I thought, Wow, this is amazing—how did he write this? I said to him, “Thank you for writing those lyrics!” And he said, “Make sure you make it sound cool,” so I really want to.
It’s quite clear from the album how much you’ve grown.
HUENINGKAI: I felt really assured and confident this time around while we got ready. I’m feeling really confident. I used to focus more on cute and youthful styles because smiling’s my strong point, but after the work we’ve done lately I feel like I can make any genre work. I usually get described with words like “cute,” but my goal this time is to hear people say I can pull off looks other than just cute.
You said before that hosting Listen on EBS Radio helped you grow a lot.
HUENINGKAI: I felt really comfortable doing it since TAEHYUN and I could count on each other. Before when I got in front of a camera, I’d be like, “Uh … Uh …” And unable to speak. But now, thanks to hosting, my words come out easily and I speak with more confidence than I could before. I did feel sorry to the crew and the listeners, though, since we only did it for a short time. I was even looking forward to peoples’ reactions, like, Now if I reveal my blond hair, who’s gonna be the blond DJ? Since I thought we were going to keep doing it for a long time.
You and TAEHYUN’s personalities are polar opposites, yet, amazingly, you’re the perfect match.
HUENINGKAI: We couldn’t hit it off as trainees so we didn’t get along. (laughs) We weren’t friends and didn’t really hang out together but we got to know each other better when the final lineup for the debut was decided and then we grew closer. Our taste in music, thoughts and values are all low-key similar. And we get along well when we tease the other members. (laughs) TAEHYUN put his trust and faith into me first, so I naturally came to respect and trust him.
That makes me think of how, when TAEHYUN looks like something’s bothering him, you go up to him and ask, “Do you want to play something?” I guess that’s your way of expressing yourself?
HUENINGKAI: Yes. I don’t feel confident enough to have a serious conversation, so I try to spend some time chilling with the other members. I ask them if they want to work out or take a walk together. I want the others to think of me like a stuffed animal they cuddle when they sleep. (laughs) That way we can share at least a little bit when we’re feeling happy or sad.
That sounds reassuring. When the members all cried, you were the only one who wasn’t; when they were startled, you stayed composed.
HUENINGKAI: It amazes me too. When I was a trainee, I was easily startled and cried a lot. Sometimes when I messed up the monthly evaluation, I went into the bathroom at the label and cried secretly or went to my room and just cried, thinking, I really bombed. But then after debuting the emotional rollercoaster was pretty much over. I think all that emotional flip-flopping is basically done now. I think I want to stay where I’m at now. I think it’s a good fit for this job, since you can’t lose your cool. It makes things easier.
But then when you’re talking to MOA, you like to mess around with them.
HUENINGKAI: Teasing MOA is the best. (laughs) Now and then I wonder how I can tease them in a brand new way. On April Fools’ I asked if I could use the Weverse company account, but I wasn’t allowed, so I created a side account and started messing around. Sometimes I also want to communicate with MOA in some interesting new way, like by playing a game or practicing piano. When I don’t do something like that I’m always trying to figure out what to say while I’m sitting there talking to them alone.
What kind of person do you want MOA to see you as?
HUENINGKAI: I want MOA to be able to have faith in me, as a musician and as a person. Someone who stands tall and never wavers. In other words, a trustworthy person.
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