Credit
Article. Lee Jiyeon
Photo Credit. WM Entertainment
At long last, all of the Korean ONF members have finished their military service and have returned with their new album, LOVE EFFECT. In this interview, Hyojin tells us all about how excited the group was to get back into action, his role as the ON team leader, and passing time in the army. Read on to hear about how he’s changed, how much he believes in and appreciates the other members of the group, and where he sees FUSE and the group going together.

Releasing LOVE EFFECT to mark the end of military service
Hyojin: Our fans couldn’t wait to see us after we had spent time away from music for a year and a half in the military. All of us really wanted to see FUSE while we were serving and to put on performances. We did everything we could to capture all the different emotions we felt while making the new album. We put extra care into conveying how we felt while missing the people we care about most and the feeling of being on stage.

Performing at the Ground Forces Festival was unforgettable
Hyojin: I’m happy all of us were able to get together and perform while serving our country. Not only was I happy just being able to perform at the Ground Forces Festival, but I was also really grateful that people liked it so much. I still can’t believe I put on a performance in uniform while on active duty. (laughs) And U helped me out so much while getting ready, which I was extremely grateful for, but I also couldn’t help but feel the huge void left by his absence once on stage. It reminded me how ONF isn’t complete without all six of us.
​Spending military leave with U
Hyojin: I’m pretty sure I saw U every time I had a leave, but I also felt sorry because I realized I haven’t looked out for him as well as I could have. He was left waiting for the five of us to get out, after all, and it was hard to hear him say now and then that he felt lonely. Before that, he was never without us, and then suddenly he was eating all alone. (laughs) So I made sure to spend as much time with him as possible whenever I had time off from the army. We’re both gamers, too, so whenever there was time, I’d say, “Hey, Yuto, you wanna play Kart?” And we’d play together. (laughs)

Talking with the other members
Hyojin: Even while we were in the army, I still talked with the other members almost every single day. We’d tell each other, “I miss you guys. I can’t wait to get back to performing.” I told them again and again, “There’s no one I’m as close with as you.” I always thought we had a strong relationship, but after going to the army and being apart, it was even clearer. It was a reminder of how important they are to me and it led us to be even closer to one another. (laughs) Now, whatever we’re up to, we try to do it all together with everyone there. Before, when we were traveling outside the country, some of us would go out to a restaurant to eat together but others would spend some time by themselves instead. Now we do even more together—all we need is someone to say, “Let’s all go out to eat!”
​A year and a half in the army as an “elite soldier” and a musicals star
Hyojin: I was lucky enough to participate in the army’s original musical Blue Helmet: A Song of Meissa. It was a big step for me just to be in a musical, but also an  opportunity to perform, so I was really grateful for that. I always made sure to work hard and do my best for that reason. It was sad when it was all over, but luckily I got to be with the other ONF members in the Ground Forces Festival after that. I also started working out more seriously as I worked towards earning the “elite soldier” title. At first I was doing simple exercises like ones you do at home, like pushups—not using any equipment like you would at a gym—which I think was the reason why my resting metabolism was so much better when I had my most recent checkup. I’m not bragging (laughs) but it’s high even when compared to the other members—and they’ve always worked out a lot! I think taking care of my body like that also explains why I didn’t have too much trouble practicing our new songs. Even now, I’m doing around 120 pushups a day. To be honest, when I get home after a day of work I find myself thinking I should take a rest to reward myself (laughs), but I’ve been pushing that thought away and working out consistently.

What’s there to be afraid of?
Hyojin: Before I went to the army, I would get worried and overwhelmed before I even started doing anything. But after the army, I’m not so afraid anymore and feel confident enough to do anything. (laughs) So my mindset was a lot different while working on this album compared to the past. My mindset has become like,What’s there to be afraid of? Nothing’s standing in my way! It did take a while for me to learn the choreography for our new album, though, since we were away from it for a long time. I found it difficult, and hard to memorize, too. But I think I’ve gotten  a little better at figuring out how to overcome such situations. Because now my mindset’s like, Okay, let’s do this! Nothing’s standing in my way, right? (laughs) It used to be that, when I practiced by myself and came up against something I couldn’t do, I just kept practicing alone until I nailed it down. But now, if there’s anything I’m not sure about, I go straight to the other members. I feel like (the military) was a great opportunity for me in a number of ways, including how I’ve learned to be more receptive and accepting of other members’ input. 
​Working on the new album
Hyojin: I was trying really hard to get in touch with my old vibe while working on this album. I practiced on my own a lot, and I was also able to get a hang of things faster thanks to the direction from our producer, Hyun Hwang. I actually did the vocal guides for this album, and he gave me advice on things like how I should sound. I kept pushing myself to get the right feeling out of every song. I’m working on making my vocals cleaner and more soothing for listeners, not only when I’m hitting the high notes but also in general. I want to do a good job with my vocals. I’ve noticed that once I achieve one goal, more keep popping up. 

“Love Effect” is a breath of fresh fall air
Hyojin: Hyun Hwang played “Love Effect” for us and, wham!—I fell in love with it immediately! (laughs) I feel like it captures exactly the kind of refreshing vibe people associate with ONF. I also talked a lot with the producer about how it’s not refreshing in a summer way, but in a different, fall way. And I tried to bring that out in my vocals by making my voice sound clearer and more open. I thought that was the way to make sure people who listen to the song can feel its refreshing vibe. All of us in ONF wanted to be sure we show how refreshing our group can be for all seasons. So we worked really, really hard to absorb the material and convey the atmosphere of every song properly.
​“Be Here Now”
Hyojin: The lyrics to “Be Here Now” explore what concerns we’ve had and a little bit of the baggage we’ve been holding onto. Like, “Weren’t you surprised by us being gone for 548 days? / But now we’re back all at once.” Or, “Thank you for U / For filling up the empty space alone / Now we’re back together, you don’t need to worry anymore.” So we could sing this song with more sincerity and honesty. Even when we were practicing it, it hit me that I could just sing it exactly the way I felt. I was already emotional while recording just thinking about the live performances, and then I actually did cry while performing on stage. I’m known for never crying but apparently I was holding onto a lot. So I felt emotionally overwhelmed whenever singing the song. The lyrics are already meaningful on their own, but they become even more meaningful when we sing them together with our fans. It’s as if we are speaking to one another.

Dreaming until the day he could see FUSE again
Hyojin: I love talking with FUSE on Weverse Live about everyday things, like good things that happened that day, what we ate, what’s going on—and so on. So I did Lives a lot before I was in the army. So not only did I keep up the habit after getting out, but I wanted to make FUSE feel happy every single day after they waited so patiently for us. I feel relaxed when I do Weverse Live and now it’s a part of my everyday routine. And I’m looking forward to having more chances to see fans face-to-face! I really missed hearing their voices when they cheer and sing along.

ONF’s second act unfolds
Hyojin: I feel like ONF keeps on growing little by little. From now on, I want to show people that we’re going to keep improving and that there’s no way but forward for us. And most importantly of all, I want to let our fans know that we’ll never be apart again. It's like we sing in “Be Here Now”: “The reason I chose the road untaken is because you were there believing in me / Now let’s sing all night long / Let’s dance and shout together.” I’m always thinking about how we’re going to keep going through the night without stopping, with FUSE by our side. Our new album, LOVE EFFECT, marks the official start of our second act, and we’re going to keep promoting and working hard for them.
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2023.10.05