Throughout the interview, NI-KI constantly talked about things he felt he could’ve done better: the year-end shows, his debut, or yet, just about any performance he has ever put on. He says he would go back in time, even if it would mean canceling out all the hard work he’s done and starting all over again, because “[he] feels sad when [he] thinks about what [he] could have done but didn’t.” Because he wants to make sure ENHYPEN puts on the kind of performances that will “make ENGENE proud.”
I saw NI-KI’s Red Night stream. Is it true that you broke a mirror while playing baseball? (laughs)
NI-KI: I play baseball every time I go to the practice studio to warm up but JAKE missed a catch and the mirror broke! I think he missed it on purpose—he was right there! (laughs) So now I use a foam ball instead. I usually play with JAKE but these days SUNGHOON is into it too saying he wants to be a pitcher. He hasn’t done it before and doesn’t know much about it so I’m teaching him everything. Oh, but JAKE doesn’t buy his own equipment. I buy everything—even the gloves. Please make sure this makes it on the magazine. (laughs)
I heard you wanted him to go with you to buy a tennis racket recently. Did you pay for that, too?
NI-KI: I didn’t buy one yet, so maybe I’ll ask him to buy it for me. (laughs)
I heard you two share clothing too.
NI-KI: JAKE and I have similar tastes and like the same brands, so we share clothes all the time. He wears some clothes I don’t wear anymore and I wear his clothes as well. JAKE wanted to wear a yellow checkered shirt of mine a little while ago so now we both wear it. But fans got it backwards and said, “NI-KI’s wearing JAKE’s clothes again!” It’s actually mine! I wore it for the first time, at the airport, but people don’t know about that. Please make sure this stays in, too. (laughs)
I’ll make sure it stays in. (laughs) I don’t know if it’s because you two are so close, but you don’t even seem to pay attention when he nags you while you’re grilling meat. You’ve said that there were many times when the other members would point out something you need to correct and even when you didn’t want to admit to it you realized they were right after thinking it over, and that now you’ve learned to listen to them better.
NI-KI: I think I can admit now that I was sort of being a moody teenager back then. That’s why I didn’t want to listen to anyone, but now I try to do things the right way so that I won’t get nagged to begin with. They still jokingly nag me not to play baseball in the practice studio but now I read the room to figure out if it’s a good time to play or not. (laughs)
You clearly like being active. It seems like you enjoy sports just for the fun of it rather than the competition. You were always looking out for SUNOO while playing jokgu on EN-O’CLOCK.
NI-KI: The most important thing is teamwork. You have to have good teamwork if your team’s ever going to improve. SUNOO isn’t that into sports so we all look out for him when we play.
It seems that teamwork and attention to detail really make your performance shine.
NI-KI: I hope our efforts translate to us showing what really makes us unique. Last year we had to get ready for the year-end performances while on tour, and it wasn’t easy preparing a high-quality show with so little time on our hands. I think our Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) performance from two years ago really helped us put our name out there, which is why I feel like last year’s performance could have been much better. I certainly want to do better this year—to put on a mesmerizing performance so people can see ENHYPEN’s strengths instantaneously. There are other artists and their fans at the year-end shows, and I want to make ENGENE proud.
It sounds like you’re improving by reflecting on the performances where you felt you could’ve done better. Is there anything you used to feel you weren’t good enough at that you can do better now?
NI-KI: I think I still had a lot of room for improvement when I debuted. I have more experience now, so I feel like I can bring to the table better performance and visual appeal. In a sense, the idea behind this album is similar to that of our debut album, so it’s like we’re going back to the beginning and starting over. This album is meant to express how thankful and grateful we are for ENGENE so I wanted to show that we’ve truly had an upgrade since then. And now that my voice has changed, I can sing in a deeper voice than when I debuted. (laughs) Lower notes sound cool to me, and now that I feel more confident delivering them, I can showcase some of that ability in our new song “Bills.”
That’s your favorite song off the album, right? (laughs) You even said before that you want to come across as cool rather than cute. But I remember you also said you liked how the fans always called you cute.
NI-KI: Oh man, did I? (laughs) There are people who like how different I am when I’m on stage versus when I’m in vlogs and other videos. I want to come across as charismatic and cool when I’m on stage but natural and laid-back otherwise.
Just like you come across differently in this interview than in the new concept trailer? (laughs) I loved NI-KI the villain.
NI-KI: I think I’d make a pretty convincing villain with my looks. Just a tiny bit. (laughs) I think I’m good at conveying dark themes through dance so I want to nail it every single time. The director wanted me to move in somewhat of a grotesque way, like a zombie, for the part where it switches from JUNGWON to me. I had to express myself through dance for that part, so I tried to look tenser and colder than when I debuted. I’m pretty good with my body so I delivered the stunts quite well, but had a harder time with the facial expressions. So I took time to think about it on my own, and watched the movie Twilight to study the evil expressions the vampires make during battles. There are vampiric elements incorporated into the new album which I wanted to embody better than I did during my debut, which was a reason I watched Twilight for reference.
If you watched Twilight to study their facial expressions, which artist gave you inspiration for the dance?
NI-KI: I love the way JIMIN from BTS dances so I make it a point to study him very closely. The song “Bite Me” is very conceptual and we have to convey that through our movements, which I think JIMIN does very well. So I use him as my reference during our practices. I still can’t believe we shot a TikTok together. (laughs) I auditioned with his song “Lie” so it was a huge honor to film a TikTok with him, just the two of us. He was so kind and nice. I enjoyed every second of it.
It makes sense that you’d nail your role, given how much you thought it through.
NI-KI: I think it has helped me portray that dark and chilling image that people associate with vampires. I used to be so preoccupied with putting in my 100% that I would often get over-excited and put maximum amount of force into my movements, which wasn’t always aligned with the concept. But I thought the best way to get the idea across for “Bite Me” was to dance more gently rather than too passionately, so now I’m finding a happy medium by loosening up for most of the chorus and only using a lot of energy for the parts that need the most impact.
You also helped make the choreography for “Bite Me.”
NI-KI: So there’s a part in the hook where I go to the middle, right? That’s the part I created so I wanted to make sure it looks really good. And especially since all seven of us dance together for that part, I tried to bring forward as much energy as possible to create a big impact.
Are there other parts you choreographed?
NI-KI: There’s a part where JAY dances that I put a lot of thought into. And it made it in, so I was super happy. That is the part where the hook transitions into a more “hip” sounding melody, and I thought it could appear monotonous if all the choreo up to and including that part was purely conceptual. I thought it would be good to have more trendy movements for that part, and I gotta say I’m pleased with the final result because it managed to deliver that while still melting seamlessly into the album. The other members still tell me it’s difficult. It’s something that ENHYPEN’s never done before.
So you were splitting up your time between the world tour, practicing for the year-end performance, and making choreography?
NI-KI: Yes. I’m the kind of person who needs to do everything I want. I saw how JAKE had his lyrics make it into the last album, and I aspire to become an artist who actively contributes to creating an album, even if just a little. So I tried my hand at choreography. I’ve always wanted to try it but didn’t have the time. But when I heard the demo version of our song while on tour, I felt this surge of determination. I put together my choreography in the hotel room and filmed it in the practice studio as soon as we got back to Korea, and lucky for me, it made it in.
ENGENE must be very endeared by all the effort you put in. You said you went to buy snacks at the convenience store while on tour and there wasn’t any NI-KI merch left. (laughs)
NI-KI: There was merch from the collaboration we did with Coca-Cola. It was wild seeing them in Japanese convenience stores.
I heard you were recommending snacks there for the other members.
NI-KI: There’s nothing left to eat at convenience stores if you go too late at night, so if you’re going there, it’s best to go early. ENGENE, if you go to Japan, make sure you stop by the convenience store before going to your hotel. The triangle kimbap is really good. Salmon and salmon roe are great, and so is yakiniku kimbap. (laughs)
Even though you recommend Japanese snacks, I heard you’ve become so used to living in Korea that sometimes you even forget Japanese. (laughs)
NI-KI: I couldn’t speak Korean well when I was on I-LAND and I used Japanese more since there were some other Japanese members on the show. But now I’m the only Japanese member, so I don’t get to use Japanese that much. Now, when I have to use Japanese, I have to refresh my memory. While Korean and Japanese do have similar grammar, the way of expressing things is different, so I find it hard to switch between the two. My Japanese is so weird now and my accent has changed too. It’s like I have become a foreigner. (laughs)
Then I guess all the time you spend on the phone with K must be a good Japanese refresher for you.
NI-KI: I’ve been so busy with the world tour lately that I haven’t had the time to call him but we used to talk on the phone all the time. I reach out to K a lot because he is easy to talk to, and we went through some hard times together, so I want to support him and wish him well.
You said on Weverse Live that you gave K and TAKI gifts to celebrate their debut.
NI-KI: I have a pair of wireless headphones that I really like, and I thought it would be nice if those two could listen to lots of music. And it can be hard not to have any music when you are on the road so much, so I gifted each of them a pair with their name engraved on it. But I thought it might be a little embarrassing to have your name engraved in huge letters, so I went with the smallest font. You can barely see it. (laughs)
You go to the studio by car every single day. I remember you saying before that you would see birthday banners for you hanging outside coffee shops next to the label’s building on your way to work, and no other gift on earth could ever make you happier.
NI-KI: I see those coffee shops every time I come to the studio and leave. I think the fact that our fans go to those lengths shows just how much they love me, and those banners are a reminder of that. So I’m very touched whenever my birthday comes around. That is why I want to perform well enough that I’m able to repay them for all of their love. They can count on me to keep working hard. Thank you all.
Even harder than you do now?
NI-KI: There’s never been a performance I was 100% satisfied with—a perfect performance. Even if it’s a song I’ve performed a million times, there is something more to be desired, so many areas for improvement. If I focus on one thing—whether it’s locking eyes with the camera, my facial expressions, singing, the choreography, the clothing—then something else would be lagging. There’s always something amiss. My mind used to go completely blank at times, but I’ve grown a lot thanks to the world tour, and I think I’m slowly getting closer and closer to perfection. I want to do better on stage, especially when we need to prove ourselves on stage. But there’s still a long way to go.
That makes me think of something you said in your interview with GQ: “I look back to my trainee days when I would practice alone really hard before the monthly evaluation. I think I would do much better if I could go back to that time now.”
NI-KI: I regret how I didn’t think things through and only practiced the things I was told I had to practice. When I first came to Korea, I wanted to challenge myself to do things that other people my age couldn’t—things nobody else could do—even though I was only in middle school. But when it came to monthly evaluations, I only focused on singing and dancing. I wish I could go back, because there are so many other things I could have worked on, like choreography and songwriting.
You’ve already put in so much effort. Are you sure you would want to start all over again?
NI-KI: I’d like to go back anyway. Of course, I don’t have any regrets. It’s just that I feel sad when I think about what I could’ve done but didn’t.
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