YEONJUN, an artist firmly planted in the now, took a look back at the times when he didn’t feel he amounted to anything at all.
​I heard you have some new hobbies, including photography and listening to vinyl records. Is there a reason you’re taking pictures with special equipment now?
YEONJUN: As you know, I’m always having my picture taken by cameras. One time I was hanging out with a friend and they showed up with their camera. I saw the photos they took when we met some time later and they were amazing. I wanted to be able to do that, too—to look back on memories of everyday moments that would otherwise just pass by and capture them instead. The photos I take will be more than simply what the other cameras capture of me—they’re my very own behind-the-scenes look at things.

You mentioned that you’ve become more introverted and that you’re devoting more time and energy to yourself.
YEONJUN: I used to always meet up with friends whenever I had some downtime, but now it’s like I keep looking for things I want to do alone. I mean, my job requires that I’m constantly in front of other people.. At some point I took a look and realized I didn’t have a single minute to myself. I felt like I needed some time exclusively for me. I never used to like eating alone, but at some point, it became something I felt comfortable doing, and I ended up with more time to recharge my batteries while quietly writing lyrics or cleaning up my room.

It sounds like the change happened while you were figuring out for yourself what your needs are.
YEONJUN: I habitually end up taking a look at how I’m doing, so I’m usually pretty self-aware.

Since you know yourself that well, you must be very aware of how you come across to others. Is there any special reason you carefully pick out your outfits, even on just regular days?
YEONJUN: With my job and everything, I always make an effort to dress decently, even on regular days. I think your outward appearance is important in this job, and paying attention to small details like that is one way I take care of myself.

​You’re very hard on yourself, so you usually aren’t totally satisfied with your own performances, but you said, for the first time “in the longest time,” you were “satisfied with” and “proud of” your performance of “Back for More (with Anitta)” at the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards.

YEONJUN: We do the same dances hundreds of times for every song, so I can tell when I’m doing a good job or not. In most cases, there’s parts I’m a little unhappy with. Maybe I didn’t manage my energy properly, or I missed a move, or became a little stiff, and even if mistakes like those don’t show, we know. Those are the kind of small details only we notice, and even if people say we did a good job, we just feel bad about it no matter what. I feel like it’s hard to pull off as well as we do during practices because of the different outfits and our physical condition on the actual stage, but I felt like I actually was as good at the VMAs as when we practiced, so I was happy with the performance.

 

Did you plan every single thing in advance while practicing, like how to move your body without a single issue by carefully thinking through your movements down to the angle of your legs and the small details with your toes?

YEONJUN: It’s habitual now. You don’t think about how you should hold your spoon when you’re eating—you just eat. Similarly, the same thing applies to everything from angles to small details when practicing because all of those things have to be perfect. I don’t set out to pay special attention to any particular part when dancing—it just comes naturally to me now that I’m always paying attention.

 

I was really impressed the way you suggested to the other members of the group that you treat practice like the real thing for Lollapalooza Chicago, or how you actively contributed ideas on how to improve things when you were working together with the backup dancers from overseas.

YEONJUN: I think that was a result of me feeling like I’m responsible when it comes to matters of the stage. I want to be free and loose when performing at a festival, but looking back, it felt to me like we came across less like having a good time before and more stiff. So I thought, if we can’t just go in right away feeling loose, we need to practice that. And I naturally learned how to work better with backup dancers thanks to all the experience I’ve had. I’ve been working with all kinds of people ever since I was a trainee, and I learned that it’s better even for the people you’re collaborating with if you don’t hold anything back and just speak openly about your thoughts. I also feel like you have to know how to put a somewhat laid back, comfortable atmosphere in place in order for things to go smoothly.

 

You once said that “whether it be the biggest venue or the biggest stage for a singer, I want to perform in it.” Since then, you headlined Lollapalooza and performed at the VMAs. Would you say that, to some extent, your wish came true?

YEONJUN: Very much so. But I still want more. Humans are greedy. (laughs) I want to push our boundaries as far as we can. Playing on big stages is a significant source of motivation for me. Achieving one thing doesn’t mean it’s the end. I don’t want to slide back when we’re already up here. The more we grow and deliver good results, the bigger the expectations from the audience. I think the higher you climb, the harder the fall can be, and that pushes me to keep obsessing over getting better. But most importantly, I don’t want to let myself down.

​Your third studio album is about gliding down toward your dreams while also taking on the real world. Are you experiencing any “growing pains,” like in the lyrics to the single “Chasing That Feeling”?

YEONJUN: I know I have a lot of room for improvement, but I don’t really want to show that part of me to other people. I know just how much I still have left to work on. That’s why I have to work harder and why I’m so obsessed with the idea. It’s something that eats away at me sometimes, but I also know that it helps me grow, so I don’t shut it out. And that’s why I really want to capture that drive in our latest single. I want to be totally absorbed in the song when I’m performing it for people.

 

I’m reminded of when you were recording the previous album and you were frustrated because you were having a very hard time putting the direction you received into practice even though you understood it. What were things like this time around?

YEONJUN: It was like that this time too. Some songs are suited for my voice and easy to sing, but there’s also songs that make me go, What —am I seriously this bad? (laughs) “Happily Ever After” was hard because the really high and thin style is a bit different from my own, and yet “Growing Pain,” even though it was my first time trying something like that, was actually fine. I’m really into rock these days and it was fun because I think I really leveled up while singing it. I wanted to show off that I’m good at stuff like this, too.

 

You helped write lyrics for five songs on this album, and you always give your lyrics a really trendy, unique spin. What’s your approach to writing?

YEONJUN: I’m actually getting a little bit confused lately. The writing process didn’t go so smoothly this time around. (laughs) I don’t think it’s easy to incorporate my usual writing style with the kind of storytelling that the label is after. I actually thought I had a good grasp of that before, but not that much of what I wrote was a good fit for the album this time, I guess. (laughs) Bits and pieces of my lyrics made it in, but it feels like I wasn’t grasping the right feeling or like I wasn’t quite sure of myself when I wrote them.

 

It’s like the more you feel that sense of conflict, the more you crave to be creative.

YEONJUN: I’ve had that exact same thought lately. (laughs) I’ve also been working on a mixtape, but writing the lyrics has become a bit harder, and that’s because I’m trying to write good ones. I feel like I can’t really get going—maybe because I’m too worried about being perfect. It’s like I used to write freely before but now I have so many hang-ups that it’s like torture trying to write, like, Man … What now? Once again, it’s all because of the pressure I put on myself.

​For all the pressure you’re feeling, you sure show a lot of pride and self-confidence. How can you consistently feel so proud of your group when you’re practically a perfectionist when it comes to your own work?
YEONJUN: I just … I just feel confident. Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough and I lose some of my self-esteem, but I don’t think I’ve ever lost my sense of pride in the group or in myself. To be honest, there’s going to be some people who think we’ve had some things relatively easy thanks to how good our label is and the artists here that came before us. While it’s true that we got help from so many people, we’re the ones who made it through it all and we worked for everything we ever achieved. I have pride and confidence in that. Because, at the end of the day, we’re the ones who walked this road and made it all this way.

I think the reason you keep reaching for someplace higher without settling for what you already have is because you know that you can make it.
YEONJUN: I think I can—at least I’m confident I might be able to. You’ll never make it otherwise. You need to have spirit at least if you want to make something happen. (laughs)

When MOA recently asked you if it’s okay for them to watch the boy group survivor show that aired recently, you were quick to respond, “You can watch it. I’m not worried—I know you still love me.” Did you say that because you’re confident in yourself or because you feel secure in your relationship with MOA?
YEONJUN: Both. (laughs) Anyway, I mean, of course they can watch it. But I had this kind of confidence: “You would still love me more.” (laughs) And anyway, I know MOA is just joking around and trying to make me jealous. (laughs)

You sound like legit friends. (laughs) You’ve said you don’t feel the slightest bit nervous or any kind of pressure when you’re on stage and it’s just MOA.
YEONJUN: Just as you don’t second guess yourself or give a second thought to what you’re doing when you’re with your real friends, when we’re going to see MOA, I tell the other members “Guys, let’s just have fun!” They know and love everything about us better than anyone—everything from our personalities to the ways we sing and dance. So I don’t feel any pressure at all. Conversely, I feel a little pressure when there’s other people there because I want to make our fans proud.

​What do you feel is your secret weapon for making your fans so proud? When you were on SUCHWITA with TAEHYUN, he said it’s your “charm and star quality.”

YEONJUN: My secret weapon? Well … I’m curious, too. I don’t really know, to be honest. Maybe just, I guess, that I’m equally not too bad at everything? (laughs) Now that we’ve been around a few years, I’ve heard so many times that younger artists really, really look up to me. It made me think, Am I really that great? What is it about me? (laughs) And I’ve thought about it from time to time, but the honest answer is that I just don’t know. But also that I kind of do? (laughs) If I were forced to choose, I’d probably choose what TAEHYUN said, but I think I’ll just keep working hard all the same, no matter what it is. (laughs)

 

When you and TAEHYUN said on the show that you’re determined to make it all the way to the top, it made me curious where you get that kind of ambition from.

YEONJUN: I used to be this kind of person who wasn’t good at a single thing. But then people started to pay attention to me for the first time when I danced at school. I was terrible at it (laughs) but the kids all said, “You’re good at dancing,” and that’s where it all started. I wasn’t ambitious and full of drive like this at first, but then I became a trainee, got a little better fighting through the steep competition, eventually debuted, faced even more competition, and step by step, throughout that process, it was only natural that I became so ambitious. I never wanted to do anything other than this, and that’s still true today. What would I do otherwise? It’s not because I’m not good at anything else but because there’s nothing else I love and put as much emotion and energy into. There’s plenty of times when this job gets hard, but I think I’d be having a much harder time if I weren’t doing it.

​Did pursuing your dream have a direct effect on your self-improvement even when you had lower self-esteem?
YEONJUN: It must’ve had a big effect. When I first went to dance academy, I was so nervous that I couldn’t even sing. I couldn’t dance, either. I was really scared and had no confidence, asking myself if I was even capable. It felt like no one would ever notice me. But then, while I was there, I heard things like, “You have good facial expressions when you dance,” and, “Your tone is good when you sing,” and every time I was paid a compliment like that, it was a huge boost. I think that built up my self-confidence a bit, again and again, then more and more and more until I got to where I am today. So many people were by my side during those tough times. They became my friends and spent their time with me. Looking back now, that was both one of the hardest and one of the happiest times of my life.

Wow. It sounds like taking this path changed you completely.
YEONJUN: True. So true. It changed me a lot. It’s the one and only time I’ve ever truly been in love with something I’m doing.

You were asked who you would want to be if you could be one other person for a day, and you answered no one because you like yourself better than anyone else. What do you feel when you look back at everything that’s happened to you so far?
YEONJUN: The life I’ve led so far, the people I’ve met along the way, all the relationships, my job—I’m just so grateful for everything. That’s why I’d want to be reborn as me again. Even if I had to go through all the rough times again. Because I know I’d find the happiness in all of it anyway.
Credit
Article. Lee Yejin
Interview. Lee Yejin
Visual Director. Jeon Yurim
Coordinator. Lee Jiyeon
Visual Creative Team. Jung Sujung, Kim Seoyeon, Sohn Yoojung(BIGHIT MUSIC)
Photography. Jang Dukhwa / Assist. Kim Eunji, Yoon Mingi
Hair. Kim Seungwon
Makeup. Noh Seulki
Stylist. Lee Ahran
Artist Protocol Team. Kim Daeyoung, Kim Jisoo, Shin Seungchan, You Juekyung, Ko Youngwook
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