HEESEUNG: “I could be happy forever by holding onto the memories I’ve made up to this point”
ENHYPEN ‘MANIFESTO: DAY 1’ comeback interview
HEESEUNG finds a unique balance even in his endless stream of thoughts, infusing his pleasant speech with an air of seriousness, along with a confidence that comes as a result of heavy thinking. In this way, HEESEUNG forges his own way forward.
You did a cover of “Off My Face” by Justin Bieber recently, which was the first time an ENHYPEN member has done a cover song solo. How did that come about?
HEESEUNG: ENGENE was waiting for one forever, plus we were preparing for our album, so I thought I better do a cover. I talked it over with the producer, and after personal consideration, it was the most appropriate song. I looked into the video-recording studio, too. I wanted a space with a laid-back atmosphere so people could easily focus on my vocals.
It must have been more difficult to record your vocals than the laid-back sound suggests seeing as the only thing accompanying you on the track is a guitar.
HEESEUNG: I’m drawn to music that lets me sit and calmly go over my thoughts these days. Songs where they’re just strumming away on the guitar. (laughs) “Off My Face” doesn’t just say “I like you”; it’s a dedication. The song demands a lot of sincerity, so I tried to express the change in emotions line by line to the best of my ability. It’s like how actors can say “thank you” using the same words but change it with their tone of voice, accent and talking speed. In the same way, I wanted my voice to sound more lively so I really worked on modifying the little details and my pronunciation.
When do you feel confident that you’ve made enough modifications? A long time ago on V LIVE, you said that, when it comes to your songs, you “keep working on them until I’m really satisfied” and only then release them, so I was wondering if the cover met your own standards.
HEESEUNG: I don’t know how much potential I have within myself. From that perspective, my standards might sound vague. I was really waiting until it sounded satisfactory to my ears—until I would think it’s good enough to let others hear it as soon as I heard it. I said that two years ago but I didn’t think I was ready at the time. I thought maybe it would be okay to upload it now so I finally worked on it and uploaded it.
You spent a lot of time agonizing over a video that’s less than three minutes long.
HEESEUNG: This: This is my problem. (laughs) It takes me too long to finally get around to sharing anything. But, considering how long ENGENE had to wait, I’m glad they liked it. And I’m hard at work on a song I wrote that a producer friend of mine is helping me with. Not that people can look forward to it anytime soon. (laughs) But I’m working on it.
In your last interview with Weverse Magazine, you said you “don’t feel tied down by any rules” when you add instruments. Is that still true?
HEESEUNG: Now I choose a reference. One easy way to look at it is how ramyeon has noodles, flavoring powder and dried vegetable flakes in it while curry has turmeric powder, carrots and onions. (laughs) I try to fence them off and make songs that way. It tastes bad if you mix absolutely everything together, so you only put in the things you need. After working for around two years, our songs may seem similar, but the instrumentation and feeling are all different in every song. By listening to those things, I realized that it’s important for each song to have its own character so that they can shine in their own way.
The songs you recommend on Hee-ply lean toward R&B. I’m curious if there’s a similar influence in your own work.
HEESEUNG: I can’t really help it. I started doing music while listening to R&B, so I can’t remove that influence. And it’s not something I strictly need to remove, anyway. I like R&B—in fact, I love it—so I hope it will sound at home in my music, too. I think R&B is about emotional expression, and I really like the unique way it expresses things. I actually bought a book about that but it’s hard to capture in words. (laughs) I have a friend who makes good music so I always ask them what they’re listening to recently and give that a listen. I’m pickier than I thought I was so I’m learning so I can rid myself of that.
It's amazing you can have that kind of attitude despite your busy schedule. In a recent V LIVE, you also said you’re working on self-improvement, right?
HEESEUNG: The second I deleted my game account I lost interest in it and now I’m living a completely different life. (laughs) I was so busy practicing our choreography and vocals on top of my personal work and working on cover songs these days that I no longer had time to read books much. But the ones I read when I did have time were definitely helpful.
What was it about reading that you found helpful?
HEESEUNG: There’s a book called Akujo ni Tsuite, about all the things several people have to say about one person who’s died. It was new to me to imagine the personalities and way of speaking of different characters in a book. I feel like it helped me with my music, too. Obviously, if you want to write lyrics or make something, you can’t start with a blank slate. It gives me some inspiration and sparks my imagination about how I should express things. It’s easier to imagine things with an expression like, “I like you even more than getting off work at 10:00,” than just, “I like you.”
Was it thinking like that that led to the change in your MBTI results? I wouldn’t take them at face value (laughs) but I was curious since your result changed based on how you interpreted the questions.
HEESEUNG: I didn’t think about the questions that deeply (laughs) but I did think about it after for fun and because I was curious why my outcome keeps changing all the time. I’m more like ISTP or INTP when I’m working, but I think I’m INFP when I’m alone. I can’t say that I never feel shy, but I can’t be timid when I’m outside my space. I even got ESTP once. But, like I always say, MBTIs are really just supplementary. (laughs)
Would you say you’ve become more professional about your work?
HEESEUNG: I’d say I’m more productive now. When I first debuted I had to meet with many people, but nothing gets done by thinking with emotions alone. I think I developed that kind of personality from trying to approach and think about things more rationally. Once I was able to take a work-like approach to mapping out my ideas, I was able to make things like that cover song, too. I think I started to exhibit that kind of personality while trying a lot of different things.
Your new album paints the self in a subjective light. As such, what was it like to tackle lyrics like those found in “Future Perfect (Pass the MIC)”?
HEESEUNG: Actually, what really impressed me was how we managed to make drill music emotionally touching. When we sing, “Shout out together,” it seems like everyone really should. Normally people brag and act tough when they do Chicago drill, but it was refreshing to have lyrics that were both tough and able to pull at your heartstrings. I recorded the chorus so many times, so I hope people like it. Because I like it.
How did the recording process go? In the last interview you did with Weverse Magazine, you said your voice is thin, so you sing in a lofty way.
HEESEUNG: I had a lot of thoughts going on during “Blessed-Cursed.” I thought I had to put it on thick because of my thin voice, but I don’t think my views are quite so extreme anymore. You actually need to loosen up and sing lightly to give it more weight in my experience. I thought just singing naturally would actually sound better. This time, though, I didn’t think about keeping my voice low and just pretended to be cool instead. (laughs) I could set my standards while I was working on “Off My Face,” so I was free to organize what I wanted to find in myself to show other people.
There must have been times when you were influenced by your usual personal work, too.
HEESEUNG: I make the melodies myself when making my own songs, so it’s only natural to make them suit my vocals. I liked a melody I heard while practicing with the group so I tried to use something similar in my own work. “ParadoXXX Invasion” was the kind of thing I like in particular. It has a melody that sounds familiar to anyone who likes R&B, so it was easy for me to work with and it ended up sounding good.
I could tell you have your own groove when I saw Dance Jam Live. It was like you made your movements match up with the most minute details.
HEESEUNG: I guess you already know, but I like popping. Whether or not I’m actually good at it, I don’t know, but I definitely like it. Anyway, poppers listen to the sound of the instruments very closely. It’s usually the vocals that jump out at you first when you listen to music, but I have developed a habit of listening to all the instruments when I practice. You might notice I’m doing some special moves when you see me. (laughs)
You have your own style, even when you dance, but what did you focus on for “Future Perfect (Pass the MIC)”? It’s heavier than any song you’ve ever done before?
HEESEUNG: I think I really want to look energetic when I dance more than anything else. For the first chorus, which was my part, I had to execute each move perfectly and keep my balance, but I placed emphasis on that intense energy so that it’ll burn into people’s brains right away. And the song is hip hop-influenced, so I’m trying to learn and express that kind of attitude.
Most importantly, this time you have promotions and performances coming up that you’ll do in person with ENGENE there watching.
HEESEUNG: All of us are gritting our teeth with determination for that reason. Not that we didn’t before, of course, just that I think we’re more focused this time. Bang Si-hyuk, the producer, suddenly reached out to us one day. He said he saw the video and that we must have worked hard because it was the first time he ever saw so much passion. That’s how much we practiced. For the sake of putting on a good performance.
Did your recent performance at the festival in Germany change your attitude towards performing?
HEESEUNG: I feel like I picked up some concrete motivation. We couldn’t feel it until our fan meeting concert. Being on that big stage and hearing all those ENGENE cheering for us and channeling all that energy into the performance made me feel like I was doing something totally new. Now that I’ve got a sense of our goal—that this is what we’ve been getting ourselves ready for—I have more energy and a greater sense of responsibility when we practice. I used to say, “It might be hard, but let’s just do it.” Now it’s become, “Let’s do it even better. We can do it.
I imagine it’s tiring practicing all the same. Do you use your role as the oldest member of the group to tell the others anything in particular?
HEESEUNG: I don’t use my position as the oldest for anything, actually. And there’s honestly no need to. (laughs) I’m still young; I just happen to be the oldest, and not that different from the others. Naturally I try to give a good amount of support, but I learn a lot from the others, too. If I try to lord my age over them, it will only make them uncomfortable.
You went bowling with NI-KI before. It sort of feels like you’re looking after him because he’s the youngest. (laughs)
HEESEUNG: NI-KI’s a good bowler. I was absolutely destroyed so I don’t go anymore. (laughs)
He says he’s sad that you don’t even play games with him anymore, though.
HEESEUNG: I saw that too. (laughs) Maybe after this interview is published … Could you please write, “I’ll start playing games with him again”? (laughs)
BEOMGYU from TOMORROW X TOGETHER used to be one of your gamer friends, right? (laughs)
HEESEUNG: He actually came over to my parents’ house one time. We ate ramyeon and gamed, but we’re both so busy these days that we can’t talk much. (laughs) I’m so thankful to have him as a friend. I used to be an introvert, but then, on KBS Song Festival, he said to me, “It really weighs on my mind that we’ve known each other all this time but never really got to know each other. I want to become better friends.” I told him I really wanted to become better friends with him too, and then we did. I find it reassuring that we’re friends and also colleagues.
Even still, I didn’t expect you to say in the “EN-BTI” video that you made video calls to the other members and the other important people in your life.
HEESEUNG: That was when we were all living separately because of COVID-19 and I was curious what all the other members were up to. So I started a video call and asked what they were doing and then they all joined in. (laughs) I just really enjoy being with them. I feel empty when they’re not around. I really like them all.
It sounds like, after two years, you guys must have become naturally coordinated with one another.
HEESEUNG: I think we’re at the stage where we’re improving as people because we do everything together. We’re all really young. I’m the oldest, and I’m still only 20. There’s still a large divide between me and maturity (laughs) but I’m slowly getting there. I want to say my personality has changed as I’ve come to accept that. I want us to get along like this forever.
What’s it like witnessing ENHYPEN grow together with the other members?
HEESEUNG: Some might think everything is all sunshine and rainbows, but it’s not really like that. My expectations keep getting progressively higher so I can’t stay where I’m at. I think I need to be a cool enough person and artist to reach that next level. I worry about things like if fans would be a little disappointed about the next albums compared to the previous ones. I think we have to work on this concern together. To make sure we’re satisfied with what we’re doing and to not let ENGENE down.
As the group continues to grow, you have gone from online performances to performing in person, hearing the roar of the audience and even performing overseas. How has the meaning of performing changed for you?
HEESEUNG: It’s not just the stage for me—it’s a place I’ve dreamed of ever since I was little. It means so much to me that things that I wouldn’t have been able to manage with courage alone are really happening for me. I’ll keep on making music, but I could be happy forever by holding onto the memories I’ve made up to this point. So I feel like I should make the most of this period of my life.
And how about ENGENE, as they watch you up there on stage?
HEESEUNG: I always think about how incredibly grateful I am for them. They’re the ones whose help and support allow us to keep on making music and performing. A simple thank you is inadequate. I think I better try to express it again once my expressive ability improves a little bit. (laughs)
Article. Yoon Haein
Interview. Yoon Haein
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