We heard a new, higher vocal style from you the second time through the chorus in “Anyone.”
VERNON: That’s my favorite part. It’s a new take. I had to switch between falsetto and my natural voice for that part and end on a high note. That was the first time I tried using such an in-depth vocal technique on a SEVENTEEN song. It was fun trying something new with my vocals instead of rapping.
Speaking of your rapping, I was impressed with the message of “GAM3 BO1,” the hip hop team’s song—meeting in a game during this time of social distance.
VERNON: When BUMZU sent me the track, I heard all the boop boop game sound effects and it made me think of a Game Boy. I tried to use a lot of everyday words in my part to make it fun to listen to. It’s better to have really catchy words than generic lyrics. Like, a lot of people are talking about bitcoin these days, and only some people would know what NFTs [non-fungible tokens] or Cyberpunk 2077 are, but I think those words are a good fit for the “Game Boy” theme and the futuristic sounds.
How do you come up with all those things?
VERNON: I’m interested in them, even outside of the lyrics. I want to understand the trends and I’m making an effort to stay informed about them. I talk with people I know and we share information with each other. With all the time I’m spending at home recently, I started watching YouTube a lot. I watch everything that comes up on my feed that looks interesting. I also watch Infinite Challenge. It lets me see the world in a new way through other people’s perspectives so I think it’s a way to help broaden my views.
Do you ever keep track of the information and ideas you come across as you go about your day?
VERNON: Sometimes I’ll write something small in the notes app on my phone to organize my thoughts. But I’ve never used anything I wrote there for my lyrics. I just write whatever. Lately I was taking notes whenever I saw scenes in movies or TV where the actors get super angry. I saw the movie Brothers and everyone is so mad in that movie. (laughs) I saw a scene in Foxcatcher where the main character loses a match, then goes back to his hotel and yells at himself. And I watched Fight Club, of course. I’ve never been that angry in my life. There’s nothing I’m specifically mad about; I just feel like I’m getting something off my chest when I watch scenes like that. At first I was just interested in the way the actors get angry in character, but then I started to think about making a short video.
It seems like you’re interested in culture and the arts in general, not just a specific type or genre.
VERNON: I think it comes from my parents being artists. They both do a lot of abstract paintings but my mom’s are more colorful and my dad’s more restrained. I even put their paintings on my in-ears. I went to a Yue Minjun exhibit recently. I think music is a kind of “auditory art.” It’s not like I can enumerate every thought I have in my head one by one. It’s better for listeners to feel the meaning abstractly than for me to explain them all.
Do you have any recommendations for CARAT?
VERNON: I’ve been into Bladee and Mechatokand Charli XCX recently. The Jayda G remix of Dua Lipa’s “Cool” is a remix from a song off one of their albums. And I just thought of an episode from season two of the Netflix series Love, Death & Robots called “All Through the House.” It’s Christmas and Santa’s in someone’s house. The kids are hiding and watching him, but he’s actually a monster. He smells kids to find out if they’ve been good or bad, then he throws up the toys the kids want and gives it to them. It was great.
I guess you’re really into movies. There’s this anecdote from 2013, before your debut, of you sitting next to someone on the subway and seeing them watching a movie, and you ended up sharing earphones and watching it together.
VERNON: It sort of felt like they asked me to watch it with them because it was better than that feeling of someone looking over your shoulder. (laughs) Back then I didn’t have much data on my phone and the subway had bad wifi so it was hard to watch movies on my phone. I’ve enjoyed all kinds of videos since I was young, including movies and documentaries and animated films, but I was especially into realistic fantasy. Harry Potter’s a wizard, but he also goes to school, so I admired him. I like how the protagonist of Princess Mononoke is attractive and neither completely bad nor completely good, which makes it realistic. I like the distinctive style and unique worldview that Studio Ghibli’s movies have, and Princess Mononoke is my favorite movie from them. The game Ni no Kuni was made in collaboration with Ghibli, which got me interested in RPGs for the first time in my life.
How’s it going with making music these days? We saw in HIT THE ROAD how you spent time working with your own equipment even during your hectic tour.
VERNON: I try to do some at least once a week. I usually work in BUMZU or another songwriter’s studio, or sometimes if I have an idea when I’m alone I’ll do some simple work in this one tiny room. Actually, I don’t have any concrete plans for a mixtape yet, but the main reason I do it is because I want to make my ideas come to life. If I think of it as work, it becomes sort of stifling. If I start caring about what other people will see in it, my head fills up with all these variables. Of course, there’s some personal ambition there, but I try not to be hasty. I put a lot of time aside for myself instead. I think about what I like, what I want to do and what I want to present.
In 2016, in the 17 13 24 photo book, you said, “I look different anyway, so I said it’s only natural that people look at me differently, and didn’t worry about it.” Did you think carefully about your identity after that?
VERNON: At the time, I was like, There’s so many things in the world that I don’t understand. Can I go around learning every single thing? Won’t it all just eventually come to me later anyway? So I didn’t want to worry about things too much. I think I wanted to avoid everything. Once I became an adult I started to process my thoughts about my own identity. “TRAUMA” was the first song I made to show CARAT that side of me. I feel scared revealing that part of me, so I think it was more meaningful, opening up about myself that much.
Whenever you talk about your fans in interviews, you always emphasize responsibility.
VERNON: SEVENTEEN wouldn’t exist without CARAT, period. I was reading a comic book series last year but it was unfinished and I felt annoyed and disappointed. I ended up thinking about that from the perspective of a fan, and applied those feelings to myself. I thought, CARAT’s feelings matter and I need to be more responsible about them. My current goal is for SEVENTEEN to do a better job.
It reminds me of the lyrics from “ROCKET”: “Finally I realize / All along love was by my side.”
VERNON: The other day an older friend of mine sent me a video of his nephew imitating the little boy from the movie Minari. I was like, Ack, that’s so cute! But then BUMZU sampled it and made a song out of it. Then we watched the kid dancing to it. (laughs) I keep realizing how important it is to know how to find happiness from the small things in life. But you need to know what you like and what kind of person you are to do that.
Could you tell me about the identity you found inside yourself?
VERNON: He’s diverse. I don’t have any prejudices and I try to make an effort and to be aware. I was taught a lot about this from when I was young. There wasn’t any particular trigger or big incident; we just talked about it this way and that way every day. And he’s unpretentious. I guess you could call it a pursuit of natural things rather than artificial ones.
It can’t be easy to stay unpretentious in a job where you have to be on display.
VERNON: It is hard. That’s why I have to stay rooted in reality and look at myself objectively. You have to be prepared to accept that reality isn’t always the way you want it to be, and you have to be careful that you don’t put your desires ahead of your own well-being. I like to keep my body hair the way it is, but when the label says I need to wax before I wear shorts, I do what they think is best. I’m always looking for the middle ground between us.
You’re very honest. (laughs) In some of your other interviews you’ve answered some questions with a straightforward “it’s a secret” and stopped there.
VERNON: I think I’m trying to hold onto a part of myself, since a lot of me is exposed because of my job. If I sort of beat around the bush, I end up talking about someone who isn’t really me. I hate that. You don’t want to take advantage of people by lying. Who wants to be cheated like that? Sometimes you have to lie, but I think it’s better to avoid it if you can.
In the “CARNIVAL” episode of GOING SEVENTEEN 2020, SEUNGKWAN and WONWOO said to you, “A strong mentality is a strong weapon. So, thanks for bringing that weapon.”
VERNON: My confidence changed after I established my identity. Maybe that vibe helped the other members? I honestly didn’t do anything special. It’s on the same level as if someone’s exhausted and I go, There there… (pretends to pat shoulder). Because I think everyone needs time to struggle, so I don’t like to boost the mood artificially. I got a lot of help from the other members when I dropped out of middle school and learned to socialize through SEVENTEEN. I hope I can be the one having a positive impact now. Let’s just call the comments I leave on Weverse for the other members my own special way of showing affection. (laughs)
But why would a pacifist need to use a weapon? You said there was a time when you would watch the news and say you couldn’t understand why everyone was fighting when it would be better if they all learned to live together in harmony.
VERNON: I still want peace and equality, but now I understand why things aren’t that way, too. That’s why I try to do good first. I’m going to take care of myself and the people around me. It seems all the artists I admire are true to themselves. And of course, I like their work. In order to do that, I think we have to keep being introspective, honest about ourselves, and rooted in reality. And you should be able to be sincere about the things you like.
When you debuted, you said your biggest wish was for everyone to be happy. How do you feel now that you’re rooted in reality and honest about yourself?
VERNON: I still hope everyone can be happy. Some people might end up in situations they can’t control where they can’t be happy, but I can still hope. We can always hope, right?
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