Affection, a sense of purpose, MOA, the members—these are what keep TAEHYUN moving forward tirelessly down an endless road.
I saw the “indoor lighting” picture you uploaded on Weverse. Looks like you’re working out a lot. (laughs)
TAEHYUN: There are few places you can see progress faster than you would expect, but that’s one of the perks of working out. I keep at it because I feel a sense of responsibility to become a perfect model for when I do commercials or other photoshoots so it’s a habit now. Now I sing and dance so much that it’s a form of insane cardio so I only work out enough to make up for losing my muscles.
You also work out with your Eonbuk Homies.
TAEHYUN: They came to Yongsan to meet me just yesterday. Only a few of the six of us were close at first. It started as maybe three of us from second year of high school calling ourselves the Eonbuk Homies and we added more and more people until we ended up with six. That was back when I debuted and my friends were preparing for the university entrance exam. We learned to rely on each other during that time because it was the hardest time of our lives. They knew me before I started down this career path, and when I was a trainee, and once I became an artist. They understand and respect all aspects of me.
Most of the people in the Eonbuk Homies were born in 2002, so people must bring the 2022 World Cup up to you a lot. What did you think of the recent World Cup in Qatar?
TAEHYUN: I loved that Korea made it to the round of 16 and I applauded the other Asian countries for putting on great performances, too. I watched the finals with the Eonbuk Homies and we were really rooting for Messi. Seeing France and Argentina go to the finals and then Argentina winning was really … (laughs) There will be a lot of naysaying if there is a TV show with such a storyline.
You wrote an overview of each game on Weverse, too.
TAEHYUN: Weverse is fun and I have a habit of showing up there, and I show up there even more often because I think it’s healthy to have a two-way relationship with MOA.
I can tell you’re dedicated by the way you say you “show up” to Weverse. You also posted a demo version of a song you wrote called “Ring” on there.
TAEHYUN: After watching the movie We Made a Beautiful Bouquet, I could really relate to lyrics like, “One day [we] meet and love each other like that,” and, “Probably because reality will get between us.” The movie’s about how the love is as beautiful as a bouquet at first but it eventually wilts—and there’s nothing dreamy about that at all. I thought there’s probably a lot of couples who break up over realistic and unavoidable reasons and I wrote that into the lyrics. I actually think that the love pretty much everyone has is meant to be. (laughs) That’s why the demo version was a love song. The album was about breakups, so the song was reimagined as a breakup song.
Did you write the lyrics in Japanese?
TAEHYUN: I write the lines I can in Japanese and get them checked by my Japanese teacher. I say something like, “I’m going to use these as lyrics. Does any of it sound awkward?”
How are you so good at English and Japanese? (laughs)
TAEHYUN: Well, I’m a sports fan and a music fan, so I think I got better from looking up a lot of interviews with athletes and artists. And I’m good at my mother tongue! (laughs) I think you have to be good at your first language in order to be good at a second one. I think I have an advantage there because I love to talk in Korean, even. I work hard at it because I want to talk using my own words.
And you sang in Indonesia and the Philippines in the local languages at your concerts.
TAEHYUN: Even though overseas MOA can’t really see us like in Korea unless we’re on tour, they still show us so much love, so we wanted to give them something special. I figured that, even though we can’t visit there that often, our sincerity would come across more if we sang in the languages of those countries.
You were getting ready for your year-end performances even while on your world tour. What was that like?
TAEHYUN: I was quarantined in Korea because of COVID-19 while the other members went to Chile, so I practiced the choreography alone first before reuniting with the group, then we rented a practice studio while staying in the US. We always started early and finished late so we would have more time to practice. I was worried whether we could do a good enough job considering how hard the first version looked and how little time we had but after we gave up our vacation time and practiced really hard it slowly started to come together. So when the performance was done, I thought about how it always seemed like it wasn’t going to be good but then it was, and also how proud and lucky I was to have the other members. But on the other hand, I wondered if they keep giving us hard stuff because we manage to do it every time. (laughs)
Wasn’t it tough practicing?
TAEHYUN: I was desperate. I felt sorry because there were all those MOA waiting for us ever since we dropped our album in early 2022 and I was desperate for an opportunity to show that we’re different now and could put on a good show.
What exactly did you want to show them?
TAEHYUN: That we can fill a stage, just the five of us. That we’re still good no matter which one of us is center stage. That we’re good at performing live.
And what about you personally?
TAEHYUN: Doing things the way I was taught, properly, is both a strength of mine and a weakness. I’m really used to doing group dances, but I think I still need some studying and to sharpen my skills for when I have to do a part alone. So I thought I need to bring up my quality level to be on par with someone like YEONJUN who has natural talent. I thought that would put him at ease. Recently, YEONJUN did “Lonely Boy (The tattoo on my ring finger)” and the four of us did a performance, and when it was all done, YEONJUN said he was never worried about us even from the start—that when he saw us perform, he thought we looked cool and everything would work out. Then he said he didn’t tell us we were doing a good job while practicing because he thought we’d be even better if he didn’t say anything. I thought we managed to take off some of his burden because he could at least take a short break while we were performing.
Is it true that you personally approached the BTS members for advice when you were doing a cover of “DNA” for 2022 SBS Gayo Daejeon?
TAEHYUN: I’ve been talking with Hobi since a while back, and the best part of being with the same label as people at that level is that you can get their advice. I grabbed each of them to ask them about “DNA” and they all said the same surprising thing: “Try relaxing a bit and you’ll look cooler.” So I passed that on to the other members, too. But it’s BTS’s song and when all those people are watching you, it’s not quite as easy to relax as you might think. (laughs)
Why is it you put your all into each and every performance?
TAEHYUN: There’s going to be people who are passionate and people who aren’t no matter what field you’re in. We decided upfront to be serious about it. All of us agreed that people would be able to understand that if they can see how full of grit we are. I’ve been in this field for years and the people who work hard really stand out. So we said we’re going to be those kinds of people no matter how many years we’re at it and hold onto our grit.
You revealed a bit of “Sugar Rush Ride” at the 2022 Melon Music Awards. Unlike your usual uplifting vocals, you sang in a seductive and sexy voice.
TAEHYUN: Everyone has their strengths—some people are best suited to uplifting music, others sing like angels, and then there’s people who sing really deep and soulful. I like to sing songs in a really clear voice no matter what. But you have to sing that song a little rough to make it really work. There’s a lot of parts that require singing sexily and a little over the top, and those were the parts I had to focus on bringing to life.
How do you manage to bring out a different style in every song?
TAEHYUN: I’m actively involved in the direction when I record vocals. I usually tell the recording engineer, “I’ll do that part again,” or make a part and record while talking it over with the producer. I think I should play it safe and dance the way I’m taught by the experts for now, but I’m more involved when it comes to singing lately because I work on songs too and have started to be able to see the big picture of how it’s going to turn out.
Were any of the songs changed to incorporate your ideas?
TAEHYUN: I changed how I express the lines in “Farewell, Neverland” from the demo version and it turned out great. We have a six-person group chat with Producer Bang and he sent us a message saying he was amazed how the recording turned out so well. I said, “Thank you. But didn’t you think ‘Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)’ sounds really good, too?” (laughs)
You’re in the credits for “Tinnitus,” right? (laughs) It takes guts to put your ideas out there like that, doesn’t it?
TAEHYUN: One good thing about the producers we work with and all the people at BIGHIT MUSIC is that they’re open-minded so there’s no issues when giving them ideas. When I toss out an idea, it’s backed up by how hard I’ve worked to come this far, so one reason I work as hard as I do is so I can give my thoughts on things. It's like I’m taking one major, this one thing I’m really good at, but I believe I can double major with something else if I try really hard.
I think effort is one of the best talents a person can have. (laughs)
TAEHYUN: I used to think I wasn’t born with any, but now I think I was born with a strong will toward effort. It turns out it was a talent all along. It’s actually a talent to be able to put in the effort without much motivation.
You sing about arrested development on the latest album, but you seem to aspire toward growth more than anyone else.
TAEHYUN: I want to grow any way I can because growing means I’m alive and it’s how I demonstrate my identity. Putting on way better performances and singing good songs come first. All five of us make songs and I aspire to make good music. Being a good person is important, too. It's important to behave like artists, too, but this is a job where we work with other people, so it’s also important that the work is fun and nobody gets their feelings hurt so that the staff will feel affection for the whole team.
Have you never wanted to put your development on hold and give into temptation?
TAEHYUN: So many times. (laughs) But I never really give into temptation, no matter how tempting it is. There’s temptation constantly: today, yesterday, the day before that—every day. I think about sleeping more, taking a longer break, going home without practicing—but I realize I’m practicing anyway. I’m always practicing so I can improve myself musically, but sometimes it feels like an endless road because there’s no perfect solutions like in math.
But what is it that keeps you moving forward?
TAEHYUN: Affection’s first. I’m still in love with singing and dancing. Second’s my sense of purpose and third is MOA. I think, once you’ve felt your fans’ presence—once you’ve seen your fans singing along in concert—it’s impossible not to work hard. And I think that leads to a sense of purpose in the end. Fourth are the other members. If I work hard, I think it’s helpful to the group and to the other members.
What you’re saying seems to be reflected in “Happy Fools” (feat. Coi Leray).
TAEHYUN: I think it is an unbelievable blessing if you’re doing the work that you want to do. I also experienced a clash between things I want to do and things I have to do and I’ve ended up doing the things I have to do. There is a line that I wrote that goes, “There’s so many things to do but I don’t wanna do them.” There are also lyrics like “People say the future’s always more important than now,” “Locked in a sweet moment,” and, “Every day’s so happy.” The most memorable line for me is the “People say the future’s always more important than now.”
TAEHYUN: Everyone’s thoughts are future-oriented, right? It’s actually more fun and happier if you don’t study right now but grown ups tell you to study for the future. Would the happiness of the future or tomorrow be more valuable than the happiness of today? I don’t think so. That’s why I wrote “People say the future’s always more important than now, but I’m not planning on doing it.” But I’m the type that doesn't practice what I preach because I’ll still be studying. (laughs)
You helped write the lyrics to “Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock).”
TAEHYUN: It’s my favorite song of the album and when I first heard the theme I was like “this is insane.” Everyone is bound to meet a hurdle. Let’s say if I’m doing rock, then I will someday bump against this doubt that I will never become like Nirvana or AC/DC. That is why I talked about how I would rather become a rock and do nothing than be a star that feels empty and even hears tinnitus when the fun’s over.
What’s the meaning behind the lyrics you wrote?
TAEHYUN: “Rockstar minus star, just a rock, ok?” is just a pun. (laughs) There’s a line that goes, “I don’t have that kind of talent or deep backstory,” and I think those lyrics are relatable for many people, but I think the key point of that line is the “deep backstory.” Groundbreaking artists like Kurt Cobain, Eminem and Justin Bieber struggled along or have start-from-the-bottom stories, but I really don’t have anything like that. (laughs) So I thought it would be fun to be honest and sing about how I’m not as gifted as them and don’t have their backstories.
I don’t think you’d be satisfied being “just a rock” though.
TAEHYUN: We sing about not having the potential to become rock stars in “Tinnitus,” so I thought it would be fun to write a song later called something like “We’re Rock Stars Now” if we do become groundbreaking artists. There was a time when I struggled with that and wanted to be a rock, but, no—I’m gonna be a rock star. I’m a rock star.
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