HEESEUNG now calls the place he lives with the other members home. When that shared space became home, his world became a little more comfortable and stable. We now enter the universe of one young man, who is reaching—like the famous line from his favorite movie, Toy Story, says—“to infinity, and beyond!” 

You ended up with your own room after you beat NI-KI in a game of rock paper scissors. What’s it like having a room to yourself?
I’m enjoying being with my thoughts and decorating the room. It’s cozy. I don’t decorate much, but I like having a comfortable space. I put all my favorite things in there and set up the Lego NI-KI gave me as a gift right in the window.

Having your own space surely helps when you’re writing songs and lyrics.
You’re right. Having my own time and space has had an effect. I have a laptop in my room, and whenever I think of something, I jot it down and make some music, so I think I’m improving a lot now. Lately, instead of finishing one song and moving on, I’m practicing making short sample lines and trying out a bunch of different things.

How do you feel when you take a look at what you’ve made?
Obviously it’s not perfect, but it makes me feel better. I also think I’ll be able to use some of it someday as the collection of things I make keeps growing larger. On the other hand, I also think I shouldn’t just keep on making things—I need to organize and master them and play them for people, too. I’m no good at finalizing them, that’s for sure. I want the songs to be perfect. That’s a bit of a problem.

Your music really reveals your personality. In what ways do you think your personality is reflected in your work?
I used to listen to a lot of music, so I know most of the characteristics of each genre and the patterns behind the instruments they use. But I also tend to do things however I want when I work. I don’t feel tied down by any rules about which instruments can be used in what way. If I feel some sound fits what I’m working on, I just try putting it in. So even when I listen to it myself, it sometimes sounds unfamiliar to me. (laughs)
So you’re expanding your horizons. When you were on MBC’s Weekly Idol in October, you listed books as one of your interests.
That started from watching lectures on YouTube a lot. I thought if I picked up the thoughts and know-how of famous lectures and professors by watching their talks I could become more of an expert in my own field and lead a better life. After that, I thought I should gain a deeper awareness. I haven’t been able to read a lot of books yet, but I’m making an effort to.

You previously said you like animated movies, but now you’re also watching shows like Itaewon Class on JTBC and Squid Game and Hellbound on Netflix.
I like dramas because they’re fun to watch, but shows like Squid Game have a lot of deeper meaning and it’s fun to look for it. I used to watch a lot of things just to feel good or recover, but nowadays I watch a lot of critical and insightful works as well as old Korean movies. A lot of those old films are classics.

Did you figure out your second-favorite movie, after Toy Story?
Oh man, it’s not easy to find a movie that comes anywhere close to Toy Story. (laughs) I feel like you have to watch a movie at least three times before it can become a favorite. That means it lives in your memory and has brought you a lot of happiness. I actually viewed that movie from Andy’s perspective, not Woody’s. Andy played with his toys when he was young and now he’s an adult. Since I’m in my 20s, it means we’re similar in age. That part really resonated with me. I feel sad and nostalgic when I think about it from the toys’ perspective, too.

You seem to have grown up and changed a lot, just like Andy did. When you saw the video of yourself from a year ago in “To Myself 1 Year From Now From. 2020” as part of ENniversary, you said, “I was really different from how I am now."
It’s hard to express just how much I changed. Doesn’t it seem like it? (laughs) Things are much more stable now. To be honest, everybody experiences periods of anxiety. For me, that period was a year ago, but these days I feel a lot more confident about my work, and I feel reassured about myself when it comes to doing my work. I still need more experience, but when I was on stage, I thought, Oh—it’s okay to let myself feel confident. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, in a lot of different ways.

You could see that change in how confident you were when you gave your acceptance speech at the Mnet Asian Music Awards [MAMA].
Right. I used to feel uneasy about speaking in front of others before. But it doesn’t help to just think about it—you have to put in the effort. Now I feel uncomfortable when I can’t speak for myself properly. I feel good when I can convey my thoughts properly and communicate with other people well.
I see you find confidence in many ways. You even said on V LIVE on your birthday this year [2021], “I’m a Dongwon Kang in Yongsan.” (laughs)
Ah, those weren’t my words. Other people said that—I was just quoting it. (laughs) Please tell people I wasn’t the one who said that. It’s embarrassing. (laughs)

But on Weekly Idol you also gave your strengths as “lots” and your weaknesses as “none.” (laughs)
I look at telling yourself you don’t have any weaknesses, even though you do, as a way to boost confidence. I figured it’s better to work on the countless possibilities I have rather than acknowledge my shortcomings. That way, I can hide my weaknesses in my strengths. Changing your mindset is the easiest and most effective way you can change. I was able to overcome a lot thanks to trying to keep that attitude about myself.

At the same time, you’re strict when it comes to the stage. When SUNOO asked you about what you’re concerned about on SUNOO’s Curiosity Research Center on V LIVE, you said, “I want to get better [in terms of skills].”
I admit my skills are lacking in a certain dimension. But my issue with skills has nothing to do with a lack of confidence. I recently learned something about the stage by myself: I have to act up there. I’m used to being evaluated, but that’s not a test. To sum up, I’m trying to work on the way I express myself because when you’re trying to convey things from the stage to others you need to convey a certain feeling or concept. Sometimes I use the way actors make facial expressions as a reference. I’m trying to be cooler about it.

Could it be thanks to those efforts that, after the performance you did for KBS Song Festival aired, a lot of people wondered who you, the “one with the pink hair,” was?
Oh, I was really grateful for that. I could really feel all that feedback. Like you said, I saw a lot of posts, like, “Who is that guy?” I was really grateful. I felt some pressure going into that performance. Since it was a joint performance with the TOMORROW X TOGETHER members, I worked really hard, because I was worried that if I wasn’t good enough then I would be the one to bring the whole performance down. I practiced with a mind to show people everything I’ve got. But once we all started practicing, it was really fun, what with everyone being a similar age. I’m really close with all the members of TOMORROW X TOGETHER, but I also learned a lot because I was energized and motivated by practicing on the same level with artists who debuted before us.

How did you feel about your solo performance at MAMA? The spinning you did on the ground like b-boying looked challenging.
It wasn’t as hard as you might think. (laughs) It just took a bit of time to get it good enough. Just spinning doesn’t make it look cool—it needs some kind of swag. So I practiced that part for a week or two. It wasn’t easy to b-boy on the floor, but I practiced hard.

You also have a major role in the latest single, “Blessed-Cursed.” It seems like it’s important to get the timing down for the dance you do with JAKE and SUNGHOON in the first verse.
There’s a lot of parts where I have to spin around. First we have to go into a triangle formation, then spin around and get back into formation again. Other than those parts, practice was okay. It’s rare for a dance between a subset of members to go on as long as it does there, so I practiced a lot to make sure ENGENE would enjoy watching it. My parts also don’t have a lot of movement and there’s parts where I (moving hands) do this kind of thing and end big. For those parts, like I said before, acting is important, so I paid extra attention to my facial expressions to make sure I was doing a good job.

Whether you’re spinning energetically or moving your hands at the end of the dance with JAKE and SUNGHOON, your dance moves always have some emphasis that make them feel uniquely yours. It was just like when you stick out your finger in “Tamed-Dashed” at the “even if it’s not the answer” part.
I always think strength is important when conveying a feeling. Start at 120%, and if it’s too much, drop down to 110%. I think all movement needs energy to convey some feelings. It should look good whenever you do that. (laughs)

That must use up a lot of energy.
Indeed. I actually get hurt sometimes because of that, and of course I should be mindful of my health, but I want the final product to look good, so I just do it. The dance instructor told me to relax my hand when I wave my finger around in “Tamed-Dashed,” but I thought it would look cool if I put all my power into it, so I tried it that way and everyone really liked it.

You really think through a lot of things. You also pay attention to the different genres when you’re recording, correct? In “Just a Little Bit” you sound like you’re singing R&B, in “Attention, please!” your vocals are reminiscent of rock and in “Polaroid Love” you sing relatively softly.
I pay a lot of attention to those things when I’m recording. I think, when it comes to good singing, those small things are the deciding factor, so I try to change the way I sing in every song I sing. My voice is on the thin side by nature. I have to try to widen the space and do it loftily to make my voice sound rougher when I sing, but for “Attention, please!” I tried making my vocals booming to match the electric guitar since it’s so powerful and it turned out good. And ENGENE was definitely into the singing style I used on “Just a Little Bit.” If ENGENE likes it, it works for me. (laughs)

With respect to how important ENGENE’s love is to you, how does it feel to have your first studio album go platinum just one year after debuting?
I’m very grateful, but I’m so flabbergasted I really don’t know how to react. It’s not something that most people will ever have a chance to experience. If our group keeps growing this fast, my feelings might change at some point. So I’m going to think back on my experiences of practicing in the past and try to hold onto the mindset I had in the first place. I had this popping instructor way back when, and if you see videos of him he’s wearing a T-shirt with “intention” written on it. He’s a very passionate and talented person and I was amazed how someone who’s become a professional like that still thinks their original aims are important. That’s how I ended up holding the word “intention” in such high regard all the time.

Looking back now, what do you think of one-year-ago HEESEUNG?
I was definitely having a really hard time a year ago. I didn’t know anything, and I was young, and it was my first time in the media, and I was fragile. But I had a lot of experiences and was exposed to the world, and I found out there’s people who’ll like you and people who won’t. But I’m okay with that now. If I feel intimidated by people’s negative views, I feel even more down in the dumps, I can’t even do what I normally could. No matter what opinions I encounter, I think it’s good to just realize some people think that way and move on, and be even more confident when I show off the things I’ve worked on.
It reminds me of the 12th episode of EN-O’CLOCK when you go to the Marine Tower and you’re very scared of how high up you are at first, but at some point we can see the change in your eyes and you were even able to bungee jump.
Sometimes, to keep going, you just have to turn off your mind, close your eyes and go. I was really scared for that. More than scared, I felt completely limp. But I just jumped. Once I jumped, the fear didn’t mean anything. Turns out overthinking isn’t as helpful as I thought it was. At MAMA I had to get on the floor and spin around, but I couldn’t think, What if I can’t do the spin? I had to say, Let’s just give it a whirl. That’s what I learned from bungee jumping.

All your experiences have made you a stronger version of yourself. How do you hold up now compared to your past self?
A person can’t always be strong. I’m living just the way I thought I would be, and I’m always enjoying myself. As my worries fade, I’m just left with more enjoyable things coming my way. I’ll be actively trying more things going forward and I’ll keep trying to show off new aspects of myself.

In the interview you had with Weverse Magazine at the time you debuted, you said you were “at a 30 or 40 out of 100.” I’m curious how you would rate yourself today.
Ouch! I was being really harsh. (laughs) Obviously I’m a 99 now. I’m serious about that. If I think I’m at 99, then I end up at 99. That’s all there is to it.
Article. Rieun Kim
Interview. Rieun Kim
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Project Management. Heain Yoon
Visual Creative Team. Sae Ryeun Heu, Gunhee Lee, Ara Choi, Min Soo Cha(BELIFT LAB)
Photography. Hyea W. Kang / Assist. Kipyung Chang, Chiho Yoon, Yonguk Shin, Jiwon Yang
Hair. Sohee Kim
Makeup. Sojeong Kwon
Stylist. Kyungwon Choi
Set Design. Seoyun Choi, Yehui Son, Ayeong Kim(darak)
Artist Protocol Team. Sejin Kim, Gwangtaek Oh, Yuki Hong
ENHYPEN Other Cuts