WONWOO’s worldview is sprinkled all throughout his answers—the music he makes with his other SEVENTEEN members, videos to capture memories of time spent with them, and words of comfort for CARAT who are dealing with the same issues he has had. WONWOO’s world expands out bit by bit like the rings of a tree, ever widening with his warmth. 

Before your new album, Your Choice, you released a duet, a song called “Bittersweet,” featuring Lee Hi, with MINGYU. You and MINGYU have both shown a lot of interest in making videos, and luckily enough Kim Jong-kwan, the movie director, directed the music video. 

WONWOO: That was great. We made “Bittersweet” in a way that leaves room for interpretation, so you can look at it from several different angles. When I watched the finished music video, though, there were lots of parts they edited out. If they were left in, you could only really come to one conclusion, but the director left room for endless interpretations, which lines up well with the message of our song. (laughs) After meeting the director, I looked up his other work, like Josée and “Walking at Night” from Persona, and watched those. I really liked the feeling and the messages. I liked both the film and the TV show because they left a lot of room for imagination. I don’t really like it when a story is too predictable.

“Bittersweet” seems like a much more mature love song compared to what you’ve done with SEVENTEEN before.

WONWOO: SEVENTEEN has had this really strong image of having youthful songs since our debut. I’ve shown a lot of different sides to myself on variety shows and I thought this time I could show off my mature side. When I talk to the other members I can tell how mature they are inside even though they come across as naive. I mostly kept that covered up so I wanted to break through my old image.

Musically speaking, the song is bossa nova. You and MINGYU are part of the hip hop team, but you concentrated exclusively on the music, so that was new.

WONWOO: It wasn’t always going to be bossa nova. When MINGYU, BUMZU and I got together to write the music, I said, “BUMZU, what if you play the piano like this?” We swapped ideas as we wrote and it ended up being bossa nova. It was a new experience to work that way, where we could discover what kind of music we wanted to make while we were working on it. (laughs) At first I was going to rap, too, but after I did it sounded like a run-of-the-mill composition. So rather than get attached to one genre we decided to just make some music start to finish, and that’s how the song ended up only having vocals.

There’s a lot of singing on your comeback album, Your Choice. I felt your part at the beginning of the lead single, “Ready to love,” really captures the emotion of the whole song.

WONWOO: I’m happy you felt that way, since it means the intention got across clearly. (laughs) The lyrics to that part are, “I met you and my heart keeps growing.” They’re similar to the “Bittersweet” lyrics. I recorded it less like singing and more like I was with someone and talking to them. My voice is pretty deep and I think I make good use of that when I rap. But when I sing, I purposely sing with an airy voice. If I just sing, it seriously just ends up sounding like rock. (laughs) It’s a vocal style that doesn’t go well with SEVENTEEN songs, so I had to study up. I’m always thinking about how to sing in a way that fits the mood better.

What was it like working on the hip hop team’s song, “GAM3 BO1”?

WONWOO: If you listen on the bridge there’s some narration that sounds like a machine speaking. We sing about games the whole time, and then there’s this message advising you to do some stretches, like, Okay everyone, you’ll get a headache if you play games for too long, so do some stretches and look out the window! BUMZU said he wanted me to talk on the bridge, so as soon as I sat down, he said, “Hey, just start talking about anything,” and he just recorded that. So I went in ad-libbing it and it ended up fitting the song really well. It was fun. (laughs)

“GAM3 BO1” is about meeting someone in a game. I know you like gaming and watch a lot of gaming videos on YouTube. 

WONWOO: I’ve always liked using my imagination. I find RPG games especially fun because it feels like I’m living in a different world. I was really tempted to put the names of characters from different games in at first. (laughs) But a lot of people wouldn’t know the characters, so I tried to put in a lot of small expressions I encounter while gaming. Me, VERNON and BUMZU put everything we had into the hook. (laughs) The melody for the chorus was already decided, so we had to try to make it stand out. We came up with these fun, catchy lyrics when it was the three of us together compared to when we worked alone.

Could it be your imagining pictures in your head that got you interested in video production?

WONWOO: Definitely. When I read books, I imagine everything in the scenes. These days I’m reading a book called Dallergut Dream Department Store and when they talk about the dream department store I can see it in my head. I imagine I’m shopping there as I read. It’s not just novels, but other books, too—for example, if there’s a sentence where Einstein’s talking, I imagine him saying it. (laughs) That’s probably why I was able to learn video production so quickly.

Recently, a behind-the-scenes video for GOING, the magazine for which you acted as videographer, was released.

WONWOO: I started out by selecting the music first, but then the music and the video didn’t line up very well. (laughs) So I watched the rough videos again one by one and found songs that would work well and lined them up that way. Each member’s shoot had a different color lighting and atmosphere so I chose music that matched the mood of each one. It was hard to use the music I like because of copyright issues, so I spent a whole day just looking on a site that has all royalty-free music. (laughs) But after I finished making the videos, I watched them and they actually all ended up reflecting my tastes and the genres I like to watch and listen to.

The video you made before, “Holiday,” is like that, too, and retro overall. Was that also a reflection of your tastes? 

WONWOO: Actually, I grew up watching a lot of well-produced videos, so I wouldn’t say I’m that into retro. It’s just that fashion videos are usually kind of retro, so it felt natural to give the GOING behind-the-scenes videos the same vibe. “Holiday,” I made completely retro. My main goal at that time was not to take up too much of the members’ time. We only had two days off while working in the United States and I felt really bad and guilty asking them to take time off to film. I’m in the same position as them so I know how precious that break time is. So I shared all seven-ish of my own cameras with them and asked them to take pictures while they were off having fun. I couldn’t really produce anything too technical since the texture of every camera was different, so I started with a retro framework and made it feel like candid video with black-and-white shots here and there. If you do it like that it can look pro even though the cameras are all different models.

I can tell you really cherish the memories you have with the other members.

WONWOO: As you can tell, I spend a lot of time with the other members of SEVENTEEN, but I suddenly started to think, Maybe after it’s all said and done it won’t be as long as I expected. Isn’t there a limit to how many of these moments I can keep in my memories? So after that I first decided to learn about making vlogs. I already like to watch videos, and I figured vlogging was the most appropriate way to preserve those memories. But the more I learned, the more these videos that were a little more cinematic than just vlogs caught my eye, and I ended up watching more of those. I actually think video is just a medium and the essence is making memories. (laughs) Music, lyrics and writing are that way, too. They’re all ways to convey my thoughts and feelings.

You’re also interested in paintings, right? You revealed that you jotted down the names of impressionist paintings like Camille Pissarro’s Sunset at Eragny and Renoir’s Outskirts of Maintenon in BAZAAR Korea a little while ago. 

WONWOO: I try to take the time to go to exhibitions as often as possible. I enjoy the time I spend there. Photos, videos, paintings—when they come together well, I can feel my imagination opening up. I went to the exhibit showing those paintings without reading up on them beforehand. I didn’t have a single bit of background information on the artists or the time period, but I could almost picture the two paintings moving before my eyes. So I ended up taking some notes. I have a habit of writing down notes as soon as I see a work of art or hear a song in an unfamiliar genre like classical or jazz that strikes me.

You wrote on Weverse a while back about anger and sadness in a post you titled “After I watched a really sad scene in a movie where someone cries.”

WONWOO: Ah, that’s embarrassing. (laughs) It just suddenly came to me so I wrote about it.

(laughs) You’re the rational one, so the other members say they want to make a “make WONWOO cry” episode on GOING SEVENTEEN. But you seem to get emotional from your favorite works.

WONWOO: You’re right. I used to be a rational person, but I became emotional once I started to make music. For someone with such an emotional job, I feel like I’m quite rational when it comes to thinking and judgment—I just cry sometimes when I’m listening to music alone or watching a sad movie. Sort of like a hybrid. (laughs)

It’s interesting that there are both emotional and logical sides to your personality.

WONWOO: We have a lot of emotional members in SEVENTEEN, so it makes for just the right balance. And my personality keeps changing, I think. In the past I was always the quiet one. Whenever I met someone for the first time, I could barely say hello. But now, not only is it easy for me to talk in new situations, sometimes I even surprise myself. (laughs) And I’ll probably continue to change, but I think it’s perfect for my music right now because of how much my emotions have developed.

You often write thoughtful responses to CARAT on Weverse.

WONWOO: I used to have low self-esteem. But when I’m with the other members, they always impress it upon me that I’m a valuable person. And when I thought about all the people around me who are important to me, the other members, my family, CARAT—I thought that I should value myself, and love myself more. And that’s how I found self-love and my self-esteem improved. I answer whenever I see those comments because I want to help any CARAT who have similar concerns. I think they tell me about those kinds of concerns every time I get on there. (laughs)

A little while back, in celebration of the sixth anniversary of SEVENTEEN’s debut, you posted this: “After climbing up six hills, I’m looking forward to finding out what kind of scenery and people will be on my next one.” How does it feel to look back on the old times?

WONWOO: From the very beginning we made our own music, but now that I’m working 100% from my own thoughts, independently, I think it’s helping me grow a lot. You’d be shocked if you saw our schedule: It’s meetings all day long—10 to 15 meetings a week. We all give our opinions on costumes, promotion, social media—everything. This time around, we revised the choreography for the lead single repeatedly, even when there wasn’t much time left, because we wanted to make it even better. Sometimes I wonder if we go too far, but we’re an ambitious bunch. (laughs) It’s great when you get the results you want after so many meetings and so much practice.

Going forward, what kind of landscape do you want to cultivate for CARAT and SEVENTEEN?

WONWOO: We’ve been preparing the land with fertilizer for the past six years, and I think now, with the seeds planted, all that’s left is to grow. Obviously we’ve been growing this whole time, but we put all the growing we’ve done until now into this album. I think all the time leading up to now was preparation. And now we’ve started to get just the right amount of water and sun, too. The only thing left to do now is to blossom.

Article. Rieun Kim
Interview. Rieun Kim
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Project Management. Minji Oh
Visual Creative Team. Inyeong Yu, Hyodahm Kim(PLEDIS Entertainment)
Photography. Daehan Chae / Assist. Junsun Bae, Hyojeong Son, Changhwan Oh
Hair. Eunhye Woo(BIT&BOOT), Hyeonchul Moon(BLOW)
Makeup. Jina Ko, Sujin Park(BIT&BOOT), Sijin Kim, Gayeon Son(BLOW)
Stylist. Team WHITE CHAPLE
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehui Son, Ayeong Kim)
Artist Protocol Team. Soyoung An, Miju Kang, Doyoun Kim, Hayoung Ryu, Kimok Park, Jinwoo Song, Hyunju Lee, Yeonjun Jeong
Artist Management Team. Nakhyun Kim, Jaehyun Sim, Inhyeok Jang, Taehyeok Song, Kyungjin Jin