A warm faith in himself, coupled with the cool, collected rationality required to look at himself objectively: These are the hot and cold sides of SUNOO that came together to form the artist we see today, endlessly pursuing self-improvement.
You cried the moment you saw the video the fans made for you at the EN-CONNECT: COMPANION fan meeting concert back in November.
SUNOO: I’d be lying if I said it’s never been hard while practicing. The minute I saw ENGENE, I could feel all the difficulty melt away as their good energy came right to me. Just seeing ENGENE in person really gave me strength, but it was a great comfort seeing how they went as far as to set up an event for us. I suddenly felt like, Ah … And I teared up uncontrollably.
I could tell ENGENE holds a special place in your heart. You held a V LIVE in September where you made an air freshener where ENGENE asked you several times if you’d eaten, and each time you replied that you had.
SUNOO: That just felt like the natural thing to do. Many ENGENE tune in together, but they all come in to start watching at different times, so I answered all of them because each of them could ask the same question like it was being asked for the first time.
I think small gestures like that reveal how much you care for ENGENE. You also expressed your thanks to ENGENE for sending their love and wishing you a happy birthday in the birthday “-note” you filmed on June 24.
SUNOO: Yep, yep, yep. (laughs) The strength I get from ENGENE is the force that keeps my life moving forward. It’d be really tough if I couldn’t talk with ENGENE. We were shooting I-LAND on my birthday last year, but I was a little let down because I lost a competition and it was raining. And even though I was busy on my birthday this year with filming something else, lots of people wished me a happy birthday and got me cake so I was all smiles. It was touching. The feeling accumulated throughout the day, so that by the end I realized just how good it had been.
On another V LIVE, on October 19, you said, “I really want to do an encore performance with our ENGENE fans there to enjoy it with us.” It seems like you really want to see ENGENE in person.
SUNOO: I miss them terribly. (laughs) I could really feel how much strength I found from being right in front of ENGENE when we did that fan meeting concert. I want to see them again as soon as possible because when ENGENE is there with us during a performance I feel much more energetic and happy. When I was a student, I was in a singing competition and I experienced what it feels like to have my friends cheering me on and shouting encouraging words. That’s when I realized I wanted to pursue the field. I also performed in front of a live audience yesterday [December 25, 2021] on SBS Gayo Daejeon, although I was more nervous than I expected. (laughs)
And you just did a number of year-end performances, most notably that very cool performance you and NI-KI did at the 2021 Mnet Asian Music Awards [MAMA] where you manipulated the ball with invisible strings.
SUNOO: I thought it was really interesting and cool when I first saw the plans, but it wasn’t easy to practice for. The invisible string hurt a little when I held it and it took a lot of practice to get the timing on rotating the ball right. It wasn’t easy to keep in sync at first, so NI-KI and I were teasing each other, saying, “That was your fault!” (laughs) But we got a lot better at it later on and the two of us grew closer while practicing. It was a decent performance in the end.
You prepared a performance for KBS Song Festival with TOMORROW X TOGETHER that goes through the history of K-pop. What was it like working on the performance together?
SUNOO: They really looked after us—maybe because they debuted before us—and made sure the atmosphere in the practice studio was never uncomfortable for us. And maybe that’s why we progressed so quickly and everything went well even though there were so many of us. I’m actually quite shy around new people. (laughs) I didn’t have any contact with TOMORROW X TOGETHER when I was a trainee, so I was hesitant to talk to them at first, but they would say, “Hey, SUNOO!” and, “Tough day, right?” which I liked and was grateful for.
ENGENE loved the way you jumped in that performance during SECHSKIES’ “The Way This Guy Lives.”
SUNOO: A lot of the songs in that performance I heard for the first time. So I spent a lot of time thinking about how to get the feelings of each song across and watching a lot of videos from that time period. I felt the jump in “The Way This Guy Lives” was key, so I tried to jump as high as I could rather than try to make it look cool. (laughs) I think that’s how I was able to revive the vibe of that period.
What was it like preparing for your latest album, DIMENSION: ANSWER? I can’t imagine it was easy working on it in parallel with all those year-end performances.
SUNOO: It wasn’t easy per se. (laughs) We were practicing the choreography for “Blessed-Cursed” at the same time we were out promoting our first studio album. I thought no choreography could be harder than “Drunk-Dazed,” but this was a whole new challenge because of the amount of physical exertion involved and how complicated the movement is.
The part where you come forward at the beginning of the second verse in “Blessed-Cursed” is really eye-catching. You have to call attention to yourself using only small movements and gestures, but I thought you did a good job with the part.
SUNOO: Even when we were recording the song, I intrinsically felt like, This is the part for me. This is my part. It was also my first time taking on a relatively long part, so I practiced really hard so that I could show a different side of myself. The other members said they liked what I did with my part too, so I feel proud. (laughs)
What did you want people to see from you with this new album?
SUNOO: You know, we’re showing another image, one that’s separate from our lively image. Originally I was just trying to do what I had been doing all along, but that’s all changed lately. It made me happy to try something new. (laughs) I was watching this animated movie recently with a cool-looking villain. I thought it would be a good fit for the album if I took on that kind of evil persona. I’m planning to show off a bit of a stronger image for this promotional tour. I like it. I thought it looked good when I tried it out.
I think that’s reflected in the NO version of the concept photos. Your eyes in the photo where you’re looking up in front of a blue background, in particular, remind me of those of a villain.
SUNOO: I’m actually not completely satisfied with that one. I hadn’t seen the choreography yet when we took those pictures. I got a lot better at doing facial expressions afterward because I practiced them while learning the choreography. (laughs) I still feel a little disappointed because I think I could express myself better if we were to take the photos now. But anyway, it’s for me to do photoshoots with a blank expression. When you’re pulling a serious expression like that and you’re really immersed in it, it shows right away. I’m good at smiling, too, though. (laughs)
In SUNOO’s Curiosity Research Center, HEESEUNG said that your working to fix your movements over and over in the mirror was a good motivation for him. It reminds me of that moment.
SUNOO: I was practicing because I personally wasn’t satisfied, so I was surprised and grateful when HEESEUNG complimented me like that. That was the day I first learned the “Go Big or Go Home” dance break. The beat was so fast and yet there were so many movements and I had to make it feel fresh. At first I felt like my head was going to explode. (laughs) So I kept practicing even when the other members were taking a break. I was too busy to feel nervous about it. If I were to go out on stage without properly acquainting myself with the choreography it would negatively affect the group and naturally I want to put on an amazing performance.
In the EN-loG video “SUNOO DAY” you ended up putting all 15 scents into the perfume you were making and it dawned on me that you might have the type of personality where you never give up when you have a goal in mind.
SUNOO: That’s true. (laughs) When I get into something, that’s the only thing I do. I didn’t start learning how to dance from a young age, so I think I might lack some finer details, but I try to keep the basics as consistent as possible by practicing and then ask my instructors about the details. But the more I learn about choreography, the more I feel I’ve improved. If this were back when we first debuted, I wouldn’t be able to memorize and practice choreography as much as I do nowadays. Now the way I look at the details has changed and I can do many more things.
It's also nice to see you expressing your gratitude toward the other members every time you work on a new album. You mentioned how much help the members are during album prep in your last interview with Weverse Magazine and in the ENHYPEN COMEBACK : DILEMMA LIVE @ Locker Room on V LIVE.
SUNOO: Now that you mention it, that’s true. (laughs) I felt thankful for the other members for so many different things on this album, too. I’m the sort of person who has a need to express himself. When I’m grateful about something, I just say thank you. I could tell the other members were always looking out for me and doing things for me when we were promoting. There’s just so many different little things I’m grateful for.
You sure are attuned to the relationships you have.
SUNOO: Relationships are actually challenging, you know. I didn’t used to stress over or think too deeply about my relationships, but living with a group comes with its own set of problems. It was the first time I had any of those problems, so I kept thinking about the best way to deal with any issues and solve them, but after talking things over with all the other members they naturally took care of themselves.
On IDDP, SUNGHOON said you are “good at replying to the members’ texts.” It sticks in my memory because of how attentive you are, even among your close friends.
SUNOO: Ah, did it? I express myself in any and every way that I can. And I’ve never liked it when somebody reads my message but doesn’t respond. (laughs) If you put yourself in any other person’s shoes, clearly they’d like to get a reply. So I reply to things even when they’re not very important, and I also use the function on messengers where you can tap and hold on a message and leave a heart. I think it’s better than doing nothing. (laughs)
I imagine your friends at school must’ve loved that about you. In a “-note,” you talked about the time in your first year of high school that your friends called up to your house and wished you a happy birthday. How do you feel when you think about those times?
SUNOO: That was back when I became someone who could have just a single friend and not worry about a thing in the world. I wasn’t shy, I talked to other students I didn’t know, I played embarrassing pranks, and felt at ease around everyone. (laughs) I think that’s why most of my friends thought highly of me and I could become fast friends with anyone. I met some good friends through all kinds of different experiences.
What do they say to you now?
SUNOO: They tell me I’m amazing. (laughs) But I always told everyone in my elementary school that I would become a celebrity, so my friends weren’t particularly surprised when I debuted. They said things like, I always knew you could do it. (laughs)
You received a donation card for an environmental organization for being the last man standing on the “ENHYPEN Quiz Show” and later brought it with you to the fan meeting concert. It seems like you’ve become a good influence on other people.
SUNOO: I actually really wanted to make a donation. There isn’t really anything I can do by myself yet, so I took the card with me because it was great that I had that chance to donate to something while working. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I do good things. If another opportunity comes up again sometime, I want to donate and help give strength to others.
How do you feel looking back on your teen years? You were living two lives: that of a student, and the busy schedule of an idol after his debut.
SUNOO: The end of this year was S-tier busy. (laughs) I didn’t think much about this year signaling the end of my teenage years, but now that it’s all over, I think I would’ve liked to have spent it in a way that was a little more memorable. Still, I achieved a lot while working, which I’m proud of, so I think I had a good adolescence. I was definitely busy, but my teenage years are forever captured in pictures and videos and are loved by many people. I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do, but I did everything I could do considering the current situation, so I don’t feel bad about it or have any regrets. I’m really happy with the way things are now. I used to like the past or the future, but lately I like the present most of all, so I don’t want to go back to the past. I’m looking even more forward to the future because of how good things in the present are.
How very positive and realistic of you. Even in “To Myself 1 Year From Now From. 2020” during the 2021 ENniversary you said, “Honestly, I think you can do it,” but also, “SUNOO a year from now, things probably aren't easy, but you know it’s only going to get harder from there.”
SUNOO: I’ve always been a positive thinker, but my positivity is rooted in reality—I never, ever think unrealistically. If you paint an impossible future for yourself, your plans will fall to dust, so I think you should have at least something of an outline. I think realistically, but I try to think positively within that framework.
So you spent your teens finding a balance between having faith in yourself and taking an objective look at yourself.
SUNOO: I’m proud of myself when I look back at my teenage years. If you told me to do it all over again the same way, I don’t think I’d be able to. (laughs) I was thinking I better be more mature now that I’ll be an adult soon, but in the end I figured I should keep living the way I am until I turn 20. I believe in myself, I’ll do the things I like to do, and I know the responsibility that comes along with that, so if I spend the year my own way, I think I stand to gain something. I want to live a happy life without inconveniencing others.
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