Behind THE 8’s cool expression lies a quiet but firm confidence—one only someone who has long questioned and agonized over themselves can have.
You shared the line “each season with its own beauty” not long ago. It felt like a line from a poem.
THE 8: I like poetry. I usually try to read books instead of just playing with my phone when I find the time. Poetry in particular is so beautiful, though. (smiling widely) All the scenery in the world can be found in one short piece of writing. Flowers, wind, the sky, the moon, water, rain—these little, everyday things are expressed beautifully through poetry. Sometimes, if I read a poem and catch a glimpse of the peaceful world I used to dream of, I feel an unexpected sense of joy. It feels as if the world is full of love all of a sudden and turning into a beautiful place.
And you also shared the following passage with HOSHI: “Be a leaf, falling gracefully when it’s time to let go.”
THE 8: That’s something I wanted to tell myself when I shared it. I’m usually very ambitious with my work. But when I discovered that line in a book, I actually saw a dead leaf falling in real life. That’s when I realized I could find the meaning of life and enlightenment even in entirely trivial things.
The “ONE MILLION WON” episode of GOING SEVENTEEN was just for fun, but you took it very seriously. Even though it was a situation where you had to calculate the gains and losses, you held onto your beliefs, saying to JEONGHAN, “It's kind of—I have my life priorities.”
THE 8: I used to just try to have fun when we do variety shows, but these days I want to be more frank. It might not work as well on variety shows, but that’s just how I wanted to be at the time. That’s why I was acting a bit serious. When I thought back on it, I thought, Everyone else is goofing around. What am I being so serious for? (laughs)
Sometimes that kind of straightforward attitude can be funny, though. Like when you said, “You’re not a tiger—you’re a person!” to HOSHI, for example. (laughs)
THE 8: (laughs) I’m not doing it on purpose. I guess it’s just built into my personality. I don’t talk quite as freely now as I did back then, but CARAT enjoy it, so I do, too. But on the other hand, sometimes I wonder if I lack the ability to empathize. (laughs) HOSHI knows he’s a person, but he calls himself a tiger to flex his image. Anyway, I said what I said. Those kind of moments happen sometimes.
It’s nice to see you getting along with the other members. (laughs) A little while ago, you and JOSHUA did the styling for the other members in a photoshoot for SEVENTEEN’s self-published magazine GOING.
THE 8: I was so proud of myself—using my skills to help the others. My first priority was to dress them in my favorite styles, and my second priority was to make sure the styles suited each member. I tried to give each of them something that would be new to them but that they’d still be able to pull off. That way, they could all discover a new side to themselves. It was a great experience.
I understand you’re very interested in fashion, too.
THE 8: I’m still trying to figure fashion out for myself. I usually choose my style based on how I’m feeling that day or what the weather’s like—like, if the weather’s nice and I’m feeling good, blue; if I want to look cool and collected, black. If I’m feeling peaceful on a given day, I might wear yellow or white. I think fashion is its own language. It’s not like I’m trying to express anything life-altering with my clothes, just expressing the way I feel every day. (laughs)
You did a V LIVE on your birthday in November and said you were learning how to paint.
THE 8: I originally started painting so I could express the emotions that I couldn’t put into words. The painting’s aren’t much, but they energize the people around me, which energizes me in turn, which is pretty exciting. But then one day I realized I started painting with the intention to show it to other people. So I learned more by looking into other artists and going to exhibits or watching documentaries about them. Then I thought, “Wow, I’m really shallow.” I was painting things just to show them to someone else, and that made me feel shallow. And I lacked technique. So I learned more, but that just ended up stressing me out more. It felt like I couldn’t enjoy painting anymore. Right now I’m taking a break from painting or learning any more about it. I was worried because, if I start to feel resistant about painting, then the hobby will disappear. I try to paint again whenever I feel the urge.
You seem to show a lot of interest in contemporary art, and the costume choices and directing for your Contemporary ART series are impressive. I was especially impressed by the green clothes you wore in the forest setting in “本 [Ego]” as you scooped up dirt and danced to the music of the geomungo.
THE 8: I didn’t make “本 [Ego]” so much to show it to somebody else; it started as a way just to pluck out the feelings from inside me and do something solely for myself. I was trying to show how everyone has their own kind of wide, open forest in their heart. Some people don’t even know they have a forest. And then there’s the people who know they have one but get lost or just wander around like they’re in a maze. I wanted to explain how, even though the world outside is of course beautiful, the forest in your heart—this beautiful, peaceful place inside you—can grow. I wanted to feel that completely, so I wore green clothing to match the forest and scooped up the dirt, and started dancing when the wind picked up. That’s back when I was thinking about my roots. No matter what I’m trying to express, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m Chinese. I also came to Korea at a young age and experienced Asian culture, and I’ve been to many regions all over the world. Even though I can’t explain it perfectly, I think I was reflecting those experiences in a visual way.
But you also released the love song “Side By Side” in both Chinese and Korean, which had wide appeal.
THE 8: Some CARAT really like my performances, and I like to try new, artistic things, but I thought I could send people some positive energy during this difficult time through a song with a universal theme like love. So I thought it through and decided to try making something uplifting and happy. And I thought carefully about how to show off a side of me that’s been hidden throughout my run with SEVENTEEN. I tried to convey the idea of love itself through simple means by using devices like playing piano and acting in musical theater rather than aim for any one genre.
The choreography for “Side By Side” looks easy, but I’m guessing it’s actually very difficult.
THE 8: When I first saw the choreography, I thought it was going to be easy, but after giving it a go, it was hard to get the right feeling across. By that I mean, I felt the choreography had to look free and easy when I was dancing, because the performance works best when I completely relax my body and that feeling of love comes across. We’ve never tried that style of dance in SEVENTEEN before, and it was also a challenge for me to do a partner dance with another dancer, and to act as well.
Given how interested you are in “pure” art, it’s impressive that you still keep popularity in mind.
THE 8: I think I can focus on improving my own world and philosophy and the popularity will follow. But those two paths are branching away from each other for me right now. I’m on the path to popularity right now, but I think I should continue to study and experience the artistic side of things as I move along, too. I’m also not as talented as I could be yet. My intentions are there, but I’m not able to grasp enough about art yet. So for now I’m trying to be true to my work as a popular artist, and I think if I consistently try to express what I’m feeling inside, then one day the two paths might become one. So, I want to be able to do both well. Even if I manage to express my inner feelings, I think I have to keep learning in order to make artwork that everyone can sympathize with.
How was preparing for your comeback album, Your Choice?
THE 8: The songs were really hard. I had to sing up high, and there’s a part where I had to switch back and forth between falsetto and my real voice, which wasn’t easy to do at first. I even said, What? You want me to sing this? It’s so hard! But I felt like I better do it. Actually, my pronunciation is a lot better than it used to be, but I felt this time, too, that I’m still not a good enough vocalist. But it’s okay. I don’t need to get stressed out, just do better. That much is clear to any artist. I do have some regrets, but I think that also means I still have a lot of room to improve, so I’m trying really hard.
Did you give any ideas for the album while you were working on it?
THE 8: I usually talk about the choreography when I have ideas, but I don’t remember each and every thing I said. Everything I said is for SEVENTEEN, though, never for me. I tend to think more about how the team will look than what I should do. I’m the one who came up with the style for “Wave,” the performance team’s song. My original plan was to do it as a solo song, but then I got together with the performance team and talked it over and figured it would be better if we all did it together. And they thought so, too. I’m glad I could contribute a lot to the song.
The lyrics to “Wave” make me think of your older songs, “Dreams Come True” and “Night and Rain,” as well as “MY I” that you did with JUN. They’re all a little different, but they all explore inner feelings.
THE 8: “Wave” is actually a pretty unique song. We wanted to put poetic and philosophical lyrics on top of a deep house track. The four of us on the performance team want to put a performance out into the musical world beyond what people have come to expect from music, so that when they see it they’ll think, Wow, I can’t believe this exists! I guess that could be seen as a kind of cute idea. (laughs)
You like to practice tea drinking and meditation. Do those have an effect on the way you explore your inner emotions?
THE 8: I used to think that people don’t really change, but after practicing meditation for a while, I changed a lot. I’ve become more honest. I was always worried about how I should present myself to others before. I wanted to be impressive and good-hearted, but I was letting other people judge me by their standards instead of my own. But now everything starts from me. That’s why I always tell CARAT to love themselves first and foremost. There are no right answers, but you need to love yourself in order to share that love in a healthy way with the important people in your life.
You’re a member of SEVENTEEN; at the same time, you have a well-developed sense of art as an individual. How do you maintain a balance between the two?
THE 8: I actually thought a lot about that. Sometimes it’s hard to do the things I want to do from within the group. It used to be that the real Minghao and SEVENTEEN’s THE 8 kept clashing with each other. But then one day I thought, THE 8’s me, Minghao’s me, I’m me—they’re all me, so why should I like some of them more and dislike others? The reason Minghao is looking for his own distinct personality today is because SEVENTEEN’s THE 8 exists at all; it’s not just due to Minghao himself. I thought I had to do well and enjoy myself as SEVENTEEN’s THE 8 in order for the inner Minghao to be able to do more and be happy, too. That’s when I started to think more about the team. If all 13 of us act as individuals, then it’s not a team, is it? We have to be considerate of one another, work together, and work towards the same goal that we choose together. So I’m trying to strike a good balance between being a part of a team and being an individual.
It seems like you’ve grown a lot over the past seven years.
THE 8: I’m grateful for my past self; I think every step along the way has been meaningful. He put up with everything well and had a lot to overcome. It wasn’t easy to make it here. I’m convinced now that people can change for the better. Because I’ve changed. I’ve received love from so many people while working in the public eye, and I think I need to repay that positive energy. If I can be a good person and it leads to even one person enriching their mind, and then they can do the same for someone else, it would be a beautiful world.
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