When SUNGHOON talked about practice during the interview, he spoke like it isn’t a hard thing, but just something that has to be done: “I practiced so much for so long that I apparently just got used to it.” That attitude overlapped with the way that, after finishing his photo shoot, he sat quietly with a serious look in front of the monitor for a long time as he reviewed his pictures.
Do you feel different now that you’re an adult?
SUNGHOON: I feel a bit sad about turning 18. I couldn’t have a normal school life like other kids because I was already figure skating. Nowadays I wear a school uniform as a costume a lot and I regret that I don’t have those memories. But I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it, either. I haven’t really grown up, but I guess I want to believe that I have. I want to be more of an adult than I am now, but I think I still act like a kid a lot of the time. I think that’ll change by itself over time.
How are things with 02z, the other members born in 2002?
SUNGHOON: We’re as good as ever. All three of us are really into fashion and we like hip hop, so we talk a lot about what’s new. JAKE and JAY both like cooking, so they cook dinner or make us ramyeon. And right now we’re really into the show Vincenzo. JAKE and JAY started watching it first and kept telling me how good it was and that I have to watch it, so I caught up by watching the episodes in reverse order.
By the way, have you chosen anyone as the 02z leader? (laughs)
SUNGHOON: Well I came up with the idea first, so I guess I’m the leader. The youngest member has already been decided: it’s JAY. He hasn’t accepted it yet, but we already know the truth. (laughs)
I saw that you’re all so close now that you know all these little details about one another.
SUNGHOON: It feels like we’re a family all living under one roof now. I found out who likes what and what makes them uncomfortable, so now I want to give them more of what they like and try to keep in mind what makes them uncomfortable. Now I can tell what any of them will do in any particular situation. Sometimes when we’re messing around or being too loud, HEESEUNG will just say, “Guys”—in a serious voice. He doesn’t get mad at us or say anything bad just because he’s the oldest. When that happens, he tries to lighten the mood by making even more noise instead.
I’m sure you’ve been busy preparing for your performances and comeback, but did you have a chance to take a break with the other members?
SUNGHOON: Well, there wasn’t much downtime, really. I took some small breaks between recording and practicing, and I had one or two vacations. They weren’t long, but it was enough to visit home for a little while. I saw my family and my dog. Gaeul was really happy to see me.
What did your family say about everything you did for your last album?
SUNGHOON: My parents are always keeping up with me. After seeing the photos and interviews in Weverse Magazine and Dazed Korea they said things like, “This looks great”; “That’s a good look on you.” And my sister’s a teenager now, so she’s less interested in me. (laughs)
You won four awards for best new artist during your last round of activities.
SUNGHOON: Even before we debuted, we had no expectations for that year, actually. We were thinking about this year instead. I think I became a bit more confident because we were lucky to have won the best new artist award just a few weeks after our debut. It was great—I only ever saw that on TV, but then I got to experience it in real life.
What did you guys talk about at home that night?
SUNGHOON: The day we won the award—JAY cooks for us sometimes, and while we were eating, we said supportive things, like, “Looks like we’re doing all right,” and, “Let’s keep it up!” Or, “I’m so proud of ENHYPEN.”
Do you ever have moments where you realize how popular you are?
SUNGHOON: It’s hard to feel how popular we are since we can’t hold any concerts or live performances. But I heard there were over 450,000 preorders for this new album, so that gives us some idea.
I’m sure you’re excited about the comeback, but you must also be curious about the reaction to your hair, since you changed it completely.
SUNGHOON: At first I tried to do blue highlights, but they ended up blond somehow. Still, I think it looks good on me. I want to bleach my hair completely someday like SUNOO, but I’m sure I’ll be dying my hair a lot for my work (laughs) so I’m saving it up.
And how did shooting the concept photos go? You shot three different concepts.
SUNGHOON: I had to get into a different frame of mind for each concept. For the UP version, one of the staff members showed me things from the show Bridgerton to help me capture the feeling of an aristocrat or a member of a royal family. I had to capture the feeling of the street or of being drunk for the HYPE and DOWN versions, but I don’t have those kinds of experiences, so I watched other artists’ music videos and other short videos for reference. SUNOO’s photos from the shoot turned out really well. I thought SUNOO’s hair looked good in the DOWN version, so I told him, “Yours turned out great.” The other members were amazed when they saw the HYPE one of me where I’m holding the grapes. Actually, I thought that scene where I’m eating grapes might look funny, but surprisingly the other members liked it.
What about recording the songs? I found your low-pitched and falsetto parts impressive.
SUNGHOON: “Not for Sale” was easy because it matched up with my vocal tone, but I had to use a stronger voice or add some feeling for the other songs, so they were a little difficult. Wonderkid, our producer, gave me very detailed directions while we were recording. He told me to lower my voice even further on the part in “Drunk-Dazed” where I sing, “Everything’s been turned upside down.” The falsetto part had to be loud and clear, so that was tough at first. But as I recorded, the strength of my voice improved and my vocal range went up, so it sounded good with the overall song in the end. The producer said the opening of the first verse in “Mixed Up” was important, so I recorded that part several times. I have a sort of friendly voice (laughs) so I kept thinking about how I should sing to get that rock song feeling for “Mixed Up.”
Looking at the album’s lyrics, it seems to be about ENHYPEN’s journey. There’s this sense that the group is drunk on success; “Not for Sale” and “Mixed Up,” in particular, sound to me like they could be about you specifically.
SUNGHOON: When we first started working on the album, they asked us how we’re getting along these days. Because of that, our emotions are all contained within the music, and that made it easy to empathize with the lyrics on the whole—“Not for Sale” in particular, because the lyrics were straightforward. “Drunk-Dazed” is more abstract, of course, and the concept is more challenging, so it’s really the result of a lot of practice. When we were learning the choreography, we tried imagining it as a group of teenagers at home and dancing to music.
It seems like the performance for “Drunk-Dazed” must be really hard, too. Right after dancing with NI-KI on the “Till I own it, Imma ride” part, you pose with your arms in the air. How did you practice that part?
SUNGHOON: “Drunk-Dazed” is a very powerful song, with lots of highlights, so the choreography stresses power in general. For my parts, I studied what kind of gestures and facial expressions would grab people’s attention. NI-KI and I have a lot of duet parts on this album and he’s always been good at dancing and setting the mood, so he pulled us along. You know the part where he climbs on me, when we sing, “Till I own it”? We practiced that part a lot since it’s easy to mess up.
Was it difficult for all seven of you to coordinate yourselves?
SUNGHOON: Things might get a little hectic when we’re practicing, but we still try to tell each other what we think about it. Also, HEESEUNG—he trained for a long time and has this really clever side. (laughs) When we had to dance all together, HEESEUNG was like our director. NI-KI helped a lot, too. That’s what makes the dance look so good, I think.
You’ve tried a lot of new things in your performances. You rapped in “Very Good” at KCON:TACT 3 and also in “Boy in Luv” at the EN-CONNECT fan meeting performance.
SUNGHOON: The producer said my voice was a good fit so I gave it a shot. It was my first time, but I also listen to hip hop a lot, so it wasn’t a big problem. But I remember my throat hurt after because I had to make my voice raspy for the part. But anyway, ENGENE loved it, so I did, too.
You skated in your performance at the 2020 MAMA show.
SUNGHOON: Even in my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be skating at such a big event like MAMA. When I first heard about it, I didn’t even think it was real. I practiced a lot. It took a while to adjust, since inline skating is different to skating on ice. It was also a little hard because the stage floor was different from the floor in the practice studio. Still, the performance looked pretty cool with the LED lighting.
You don’t find it hard, continuously having new things you have to practice?
SUNGHOON: Actually, when I was a figure skater, I practiced so much for so long that I apparently just got used to it. I talked about it before on SUNOO’s Curiosity Research Center, but, in figure skating, in order to do one move, you have no choice but to keep falling and trying again. Actually, when I was little, I just dealt with it because I was scared of my teacher. (laughs) But really, my parents always helped me out and took care of me and that helped to motivate me. When I started training, the other trainees gave me a lot of support, too.
It sounds like you are like an icon of self-discipline and hard work for the other members.
SUNGHOON: Personally, I don’t see how I give off that kind of image, honestly. I didn’t even know the other members saw me that way because they never usually said that. It was only after I heard them say it on TV or in interviews that I found out that that’s how they see me.
How do you feel when you see all the videos of you from your figure skating days up to your time with ENHYPEN?
SUNGHOON: Sometimes I feel embarrassed when I think of people watching my old figure skating videos, but anyway, that’s stuff I achieved, right? They might see it as cute. I do try to keep in mind that anything that gets uploaded to the Internet will follow me my entire life, though. It’s really just a part of the life path I chose, so it doesn’t usually bother me.
Your first fan meeting performance will stick around, too. It must’ve been very special for you, meeting your fans in person.
SUNGHOON: That was the first time we ever performed in front of our fans. It was definitely a lot different than just doing it in front of a camera. When we first came out on stage to perform “10 Months,” and ENGENE were right there in front of us—you know qi, the energy you get from other people? That’s what I could feel. I felt nervous because with all those people in front of me, but they were cheering for me so it wasn’t hard to perform.
All the members were crying on the second day.
SUNGHOON: We were all crying because we felt thankful after seeing all the video messages. The one I remember most is one ENGENE who said, “A lot of times I feel stressed out or like I want to give up, but when I see your performances and the all the hard work you put in, I feel motivated and have the strength to get back up again.” It made me think of when we were first getting ready to debut, and Bang Si-Hyuk, the head producer , said that this is a job that has a positive influence on fans and on the public.
I bet you want to meet your fans during this tour as well.
SUNGHOON: If things get better, we can have a fan signing event in person, which is where we can be closest to ENGENE, of course. We didn’t get to have that experience last time we promoted, so I really want to do it this time. I hope we can perform in front of ENGENE this time, too. Since now I know how it feels to be on stage. I’ll feel better if I’m up in front of ENGENE.
You’ve been communicating with fans in a variety of ways.
SUNGHOON: Well, these days the way to talk to ENGENE is through social media. ENGENE like our trivial, everyday posts. Like when we post asking for a recommendation for what to eat for lunch. We also did a compliment train to show the chemistry that the members all really have with each other. ENGENE like whatever we do on TikTok—trendy stuff, cute stuff. I’m trying my best to keep it fun.
Then is there anything you want to say to your ENGENE?
SUNGHOON: We’re only here because of ENGENE, so I always want to tell them how much I appreciate them. We’re stronger because of ENGENE, and I hope they can be stronger by watching our performances too. I hope we can always rely on each other.