The world changed so much during the pandemic. How did COVID-19 affect your daily life?
TAEHYUN: I always liked staying home but nowadays I stay at home way more. I can’t see my friends very often since they’re all in their final year of high school. I just order delivery food and eat with HUENINGKAI or play games.
I saw all the food pictures you posted on Weverse lately. (laughing)
TAEHYUN: That’s right. I ordered so much delivery food. I think I probably reached the highest ranking on the delivery app now. (laughing)
Before your comeback, you uploaded a picture on Weverse showing a bit of your six-pack. You must be working out a lot, considering all the food pictures you’re posting.
TAEHYUN: I’m just trying to stay alive. (laughing) It’s really hard to walk and sing, and dancing and singing is even tougher. But this is what I like to do. I started working out more because I wanted to look good when I’m all dressed up. Now I feel kind of nervous when I don’t work out. I think I look better since I have less body fat, even though I don’t have a lot of muscle. It’s hard for me to bulk up because of that.
Did all the working out help you perform better? In your Weverse diary, you said you want to have a higher vocal range.
TAEHYUN: I think my vocal range went up a lot. When I was singing “Crown,” I think I was lucky to hit three to four notes higher than before. It’s like upgrading your game character’s abilities: you might go up higher, or you might strain your vocal cords. I’m not sure if I can keep chancing it. (laughing)
What kind of songs do you use for practice?
TAEHYUN: I try songs by male artists that feel a little difficult for me. Sometimes I practice songs by female artists that have a low range, so I get a better sense of where to put some emphasis. I don’t think I’ve figured out how to sing really high notes with an alluring voice yet.
You hit some incredibly high notes in the title song “Blue Hour” on the minisode1: Blue Hour album.
TAEHYUN: It depends on the genre, but I think rhythm and nuance are key. For disco, I think it’s important to understand the rhythm and get into the groove. “Dynamite” by BTS is a fantastic example. I tried to use a more boyish voice when singing that.
Did you study any specific artists to come up with that kind of interpretation?
TAEHYUN: It was Jung Kook. I think he has really unique, unbeatable vocals. He has this incredible and diverse spectrum to his voice and I get inspired every time I listen to his songs. When I dance, I put 120% of my energy into it even if it takes 100%. That kind of attitude got me positive feedback when I was a trainee. Nowadays, I realize it’s better to consider the dance as a whole motion rather than emphasizing each movement individually. In hindsight, I think all songs are like that. “Doing well” and “looking awesome” aren’t the same things. I think now I can tell them apart a little better.
What do you think your fans will find “awesome”?
TAEHYUN: Definitely the dance break. I was inspired by Jimin at BTS’s recent concert. I felt he looked really amazing in “Filter,” so I chose to wear a hat and coat as props. As long as I’m enjoying the moment and don’t try to dance too intensely, I think it looks really cool.
How would you define being awesome?
TAEHYUN: If you’re an awesome person, your dance moves are automatically awesome as well. Of course, you have to practice a lot, and it takes time. I don’t think I can really be considered “awesome,” but I think the choreography and the song really helped me get closer.
TAEHYUN: It felt new. The story behind The Dream Chapter was different from minisode1, so the emotions in our voices also changed. You can feel the difference when we are laughing while recording and when we’re not I think, this time, I laughed a lot while I was singing the title song.
The Korean title of the title song is really long again. (laughing)
TAEHYUN: The title was originally going to be even longer. (laughing) When I saw the longer one, I thought, “Wow, this is a bit too much.” (laughing) YEONJUN texted me and asked, “Do you want to see the title?” I texted back saying yes and went to the bathroom. When I came back and checked the message the text was so long that it was cut off in the middle of the message preview. I said, “Seriously?” and checked the entire title, and it was so long. At the A&R meeting, they told us that the title was tentative and would be shortened. I like the current shorter version. (laughing)
I hear you wrote some of the lyrics for “Ghosting” and “Wishlist.”
TAEHYUN: When I write lyrics, I usually write the entire song from the beginning to the end. If there’s some good part in there, it’ll be selected and inserted into the final song. Luckily, the parts I wrote were selected as the choruses for both songs. I think the songs that come out of our company tend to feature unique themes, like in “20cm,” “Poppin’ Star,” “Roller Coaster” … There’s a lot to consider when I write lyrics. The content needs to be good, of course, but it also has to sound good when I sing it. That’s why I pay attention to the rhythm of each syllable and look for chances to rhyme.
That reminds me of the “You disappeared, dis-disappeared / Like a faint ghost” lyric in “Ghosting.”
TAEHYUN: That was a really difficult part because it was hard to match the syllables. I wanted to express my thoughts in a full sentence, but when the phrase is “you disappeared,” it’s so hard to find a good rhyme for that specific word.
The lyrics for “Ghosting” are really impressive, though. The song is about how you were blocked on social media, even though you didn’t do anything.
TAEHYUN: I’ve seen lots of friends who got ghosted. I think that’s way more upsetting than just being sad. I wrote the lyrics by thinking about how I would feel if I had to deal with that situation. I think our songs express the feelings people our age often go through.
In your songs and music videos, the most important stage is the school. What kind of student were you?
TAEHYUN: I can’t really say that I was a normal student. I was kind of eccentric. (laughing) I’m not shy, I smile a lot, and I always try to be cheery with people, regardless of who they are—seniors, juniors, even teachers. I think I was a happy student. I’m still in contact with my middle school teacher, too. He was a math teacher, but I never took his class. One day, I said hello to him and he said, “I’m one of the math teachers. Come talk with me sometime!” Teachers just say that kind of thing, right? But I really went to see him. We became pretty close after. Once I became a trainee I didn’t have as much time to study as I had had in middle school, so sometimes I would just answer multiple choice questions at random. I told that teacher once that I used to be good at math and he didn’t believe me. After that he said he would check my answers on the final exam that he made.
TAEHYUN: I just selected “A” for every multiple choice question, but I wrote a perfect answer for the essay question. I thought that would be a great answer to show him. I almost missed the exam the next day because I woke up so late. Then I got a call from my math teacher; my homeroom teacher couldn’t call me because he was proctoring the exam. My math teacher told me, “I’m calling because I went to your classroom before to compliment you on your written answer, but I couldn’t find you.”
Being friends with your teacher and doing that well in math does make it sound like you stood out. (laughing) But I heard your dream in elementary school was to become a wizard, and in middle school it was a magician.
TAEHYUN: There were three reasons for that. First, I wanted to get a job that would make people happy. Second, I was blown away when I saw magic tricks. Lastly, I wanted to be good at speaking. I think the last one was the biggest reason. That’s maybe why all of my dream jobs were related to talking, like how I wanted to be a lawyer once. I think you need to have good conversational skills to be an idol, too. And I think practicing magic really helped my current career: as a magician, it’s important to hone your skills and put on a well-structured show that leads to a dazzling finale. I think being an idol is similar in that way.
TAEHYUN: It feels fantastic. I think I need to study more, though. I keep feeling like my vocabulary is somewhat limited, so these days I try and make up my own words sometimes. For instance, I’ll try to use a noun as an adjective instead. If some song reminds me of a desk, I’ll say that it feels “desky.” I try not to sound too simple or generic, but at the same time I think it’s important to keep a good balance between what I share with other people and the ideas that are just for me.
Speaking of balance, I heard you boxed until middle school. Are you trying to maintain a balance between being intellectually and physically fit?
TAEHYUN: Not exactly. (laughing) No matter what I’m doing, I always think balance is important. When you’re a singer, you can’t perform well unless both your mental and physical health are good. When I learned boxing, there was a big banner hanging on the gym wall. It said, “Mind, Virtue, Body.” I learned boxing at the same time I developed my ego. I also had a good boxing coach and that helped me a lot with my focus.
Why did you decide to box?
TAEHYUN: All of my family members swim. My sister and I learned swimming as little kids and we were on a baby swim team. Then, I fell off a slide on a playground and injured my jaw. I got a couple of stitches and was advised not to go into water anymore. I didn’t want to stop working out, so I started learning boxing at a gym where my friend went.
How did you start dreaming of becoming a singer?
TAEHYUN: I wanted to be a boxer or a magician, but I also wanted to become a singer. I didn’t want people to start asking me to sing all the time, so I kept my dream a secret. I took a chance trying out in a singing audition because I didn’t want to regret not trying at least once.
When did you notice you had a talent for singing?
TAEHYUN: I wouldn’t say I’m talented—it’s really all about effort. I love that I can’t see any limit to the amount of effort I can give. It’s nice to always come in first place, like, you know, in a math exam. There’s something appealing about working on something that has a concrete answer, but I think art has no end goal or answer. That’s why becoming a vocalist is so attractive. I always thank my vocal teacher and the producer Slow Rabbit. My teacher helped me keep my interest in music and singing, and Slow Rabbit never lost hope on me. That’s why it’s important to me that I always meet his expectations.
Do you remember how the other members reacted when your hard work paid off and you passed the extremely difficult debut evaluation?
TAEHYUN: YEONJUN cried, and I called my sister. My father was a bit against my dream, but my sister stood up for me. She told Dad to let me do it if there was an opportunity. I called my sister because I thought she had really been rooting for me to debut, and now I finally could. Then, I teased YEONJUN, like, “Are you gonna cry?” But he really did. (laughing) All of a sudden, I realized what a hard time he must’ve gone through, too.
TAEHYUN: I have both S and T, which could have been troublesome. (laughing) We went through the sort of minor conflicts that any emotional and logical people will normally have with one another. I like being efficient and focus on how to achieve good results, but later on, I realized that a good result isn’t always the point.
How did you communicate with HUENINGKAI? I think the way you two would interpret something would be totally different, even while working on the same task.
TAEHYUN: I think HUENINGKAI was the toughest to get on the same page with at the beginning, but now I’m incredibly thankful to have him and I have nothing but trust in him. He’s really been supporting me emotionally ever since my debut.
Were there moments when you thought, “Yep—this is my team, for sure”?
TAEHYUN: In the past, I thought we’d be fine as long as each of us did well as individuals. But that was not true. In reality, we can’t perform at 100% on our own. Someone can be 80 or 60% competent in one area, then the other four members will pick up the slack. If one person is struggling, it’s up to the other four to encourage them. In those moments, I realize, “Ah! This is a real team!” I also think we managed to come this far because our perspectives overlap. For this album, it felt like we all had the same goal in mind. We had a team meeting before the comeback where we were all honest and talked about our concerns and what we needed to focus on from the beginning.
Do you feel more confident now that you’ve developed as a team, compared to when you did the debut evaluation test?
TAEHYUN: I think we’re about the same. Our group is still new, and now there’s no way to meet our fans. It’s hard to see how we’ve progressed.
“We Lost the Summer” takes a serious look at the world after COVID-19.
TAEHYUN: That song is like the story of our lives right now. Fan meetings and performances are all on hold. We always say we’re happiest and have the most fun while on stage. But we’re not really on stage unless we’re in front of MOA.
When you meet your fans again, what do you want to do for them?
TAEHYUN: A concert. I can tell our members are really tired out because of COVID-19. This is what happens when we can’t see our fans for so long. I wish we could put on a concert and make everyone happy again.
Do you have any recommendations for songs or movies for all the fans you can’t meet?
TAEHYUN: I would recommend Official HIGE DANdism, a Japanese band. Their songs are great and the lyrics are very philosophical. For movies, I would recommend American Sniper. It felt ironic to me that snipers are heroes and close friends to who they’re fighting with but demonized by who they’re fighting against.
Here is my last question: You described TOMORROW X TOGETHER with the words “twinkle twinkle” before. What word would you say best describes your group now?
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