SUNOO kept on dancing to the music playing in the studio. But once the photoshoot began, he buckled down and began to focus. When I asked him how he could focus so quickly, he replied: “I just went with the flow.” The 17-year-old boy with a happy face had a deep soul that occasionally flowed like the ocean tide.

Yesterday (December 4), you filmed an episode of KBS Music Bank. It was your first appearance on a music show - how did you feel?
SUNOO : I have a sister who is three years older than me, and when we were young, we would have music shows on TV, and we sang and danced together. That’s when I started dreaming of becoming a singer. So I couldn’t believe I was actually going to go on a music show. I was nervous, but I was excited more.

What about being on television intrigued you when you were young?
SUNOO : The people who were singing and dancing on the colorful stage looked really happy. I thought, “Wow, I want to be like them.” “I want to be on that stage.” I think I was born with that dream. (laughs) My sister always watched music shows with me, but she never wanted to become a celebrity.

So was it your dream to become a singer since you were little?
SUNOO : Yes. I sang pretty well when I was in elementary school. (laughs) I memorized songs really fast, too. So I heard that my teachers would talk to my mom about putting me on music shows or TV programs. But then, when I was in 7th grade, I gave up my dream because I hit puberty, and my voice started cracking. Even when I sang, it wasn’t as exciting or fun as before. But when I got to 8th grade, an entertainment agency offered me a chance to audition. I didn’t get in, though, because my voice was still cracking, but they suggested that I audition again a year later. They knew that’s what I wanted. A year went by, and they really called me back. I started going to different auditions from then on and tried this and that, and that’s how I ended up here.

You must get a special feeling when you see yourself on TV.
SUNOO : I thought I had a “cute face,” but when I saw my photos, I was surprised because my eyes looked longer than I thought, and they looked cold. When I see myself on TV, I notice many things that I haven’t before.

You are famous for having an “expressive face.” Have you been practicing these expressions since you were younger?
SUNOO : I think it’s because I grew up watching all kinds of music shows. I’m very emotional too. I would cry when I see someone crying in a movie or drama, and I would tear up when I listen to sad music. When my friend cries, my heart sinks too. (laughs) Our facial expressions reveal our personality. So I think they just come naturally for me.

On I-LAND, you said, “I was an ordinary student just a year ago.” What sort of student were you?
SUNOO : People saw me as a “high-spirited” kid with lots of talent. My middle school hosted a choir competition every year, and I was always the first one to sign up because I loved dancing and singing. Sometimes I danced in the hallway because I liked getting attention, and my friends would go, “What’s up with you?” (laughs) My parents didn’t want me to go all-in on becoming a celebrity when I’m still a student. So I focused on my studies, and I got a perfect score on the math test for the first time in 8th grade. The questions were relatively easy, but there weren’t that many students who got everything right! (laughs) But then I started losing interest in my studies because I couldn’t follow my dream. So in 9th grade, I quit cram schools and did what I wanted to do instead. In high school, I was an ordinary student who liked watching K-pop music videos. I was also a member of the dance club, and my friends and I sometimes did each others’ hair for fun. 

I saw you doing the members’ hair quite often.
SUNOO : From when I was young, I braided my sister’s hair and bought a hair iron to do her hair. There was even a time when I dreamed of becoming a hairdresser. I think I was influenced by my mom and sister because I saw them knitting and cross-stitching very often. I also played with stickers and did a lot of coloring and paper folding since childhood. The reason I’m interested in scents is also because of my sister. I saw her buying and wearing perfume, and that got me interested. I like light and refreshing scents, like the scent of lemon. Now that I think about it, I think I’ve always been interested in beauty. (laughs)

SUNGHOON didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the hair you did for him at the DEBUT SHOW. (laughs)
SUNOO : (laughs) Maybe it’s because I’m more used to styling long hair or bobbed hair. I did my sister’s hair a lot, but I didn’t do mine that often. I started doing my hair in middle school. I had a female friend who had short hair, so I would do her hair, and I would do my male friends’ hair too. So I did all sorts of hair, like short hair and long hair, and I think I’ve learned a lot in high school.

On I-LAND, you said to SUNGHOON, “I want to be friends with you too.” Well, have you two gotten closer now?
SUNOO : I can say this with absolute confidence. (laughs) We’ve gotten really close. We were awkward at first, but the more I get to know him, the more we have in common than we thought, and I play jokes on him a lot too. I’m quite sure he thinks I’m cute. So I often think to myself, “Am I really that cute?”. (laughs)

Does NI-KI still sleep on your bed these days? (laughs)
SUNOO : Yes. It was awkward having someone sleep next to me at first because I’ve always slept by myself. But NI-KI always asks me with confidence, “You’re sleeping next to me, right?” (laughs), so we kept sleeping side by side. But these days, I feel a bit lonely when I sleep alone. I guess I’ve gotten used to it. (laughs)

On I-LAND, I noticed how you took good care of the other trainees.
SUNOO : I think it’s because I like people. I like being around people more than being alone, and I’m interested in other people, too. When someone looks a bit down, I get concerned and think, “Is something wrong?” You know those friends who don’t give you any practical advice but are there for you and cry with you going, “Oh, no”? (laughs) Well, that’s me.

JAY once described you as “a friend who does things for him without ever complaining.”

SUNOO : Maybe it’s because my attitude changed while I was practicing as a trainee. My sister also told me, “You were so immature, but you seem to have grown up these days.” (laughs) When I first started practicing, I would often hear people say that I am not good because it hadn’t been that long since I became a trainee. I wasn’t feeling well at the time too. But I didn’t want to give up, and I was quite depressed. But I kept going because whenever I struggled, my mom told me, “This is what you love doing, and I know you want to do this. So don’t give up, and I hope you don’t have any regrets.” I guess I’ve become more mature over time. In the past, I wasn’t able to stick to one thing for a long time. I would get tired of it and quit. But now I tell myself, “let’s keep going.” I think I’ve become a more positive and patient person.

When you were first eliminated on I-LAND, I remember how you graciously accepted it and how composed you were in the video log series “-note,” when the staff gave you negative feedback.
SUNOO : You can’t change what has already happened. So I try to accept the feedback for a better future and think, “let’s do better next time.” I used to have a lot of regrets. If I give you an example of food, I used to starve myself to eat more at a buffet. But when I got there, I would get full so fast and regret it. (laughs) Every time I did that, my mom told me, “Why do you always regret everything? Whenever you say things like that, it will affect the people listening to you, and it’s not good for you either.” So I stopped saying those things and learned how to accept reality.

You eventually learned the worm move you had trouble with at the beginning of I-LAND,, and on V LIVE, you mentioned that you were sick while performing “Save ME” as a vocal unit. How did you get through it?

SUNOO : I was able to do it because I kept thinking about why I decided to do this in the first place. I thought, “I’ve already come this far, so how can I give up?” If I become weak, everything I’ve done would become a waste of time, and I didn’t know what I would do if I didn’t do this. I was sick, but I couldn’t think of anything else other than getting my job done. So I did it. You can’t quit, can you? I thought, if I’m going to do this, I might as well try harder.

The day after your debut was announced, you said, “I’ll always remind myself of why I chose this job and become a good artist.” on “-note.”

SUNOO : I thought that’s the kind of mindset I should have to live a happy life. When I was younger, I loved dancing and singing along to music on TV, and that’s why I chose this job. I kept challenging myself because I thought I’d be happy and have no regrets if I chose this path. It can be hard sometimes, but if I keep going, thinking about the happiness I got from it, I think I’ll be able to enjoy my job more and do this for a long time.

I was impressed with how calm you looked wearing the wire harness to film the debut trailer.

SUNOO : Oh, I was really scared, actually. (laughs) I was more afraid of heights than I thought. It was also my first time wearing the wire harness. I had to let my hands go and flip over in mid air. Honestly, my hands wouldn’t budge at first. But then I saw all the staff who were there for the filming, and it occurred to me, that if I don’t let my hands go, I might delay the schedule. So I made up my mind to just get it over with, and fortunately, it worked out well. And if you think about it, not everyone gets to film a scene wearing a wire harness. So I thought I should put more effort into it.

Can you share some of the memorable moments from when you were preparing for the debut album?

SUNOO : In “Given-Taken,” there is a choreography where I dance with SUNGHOON and JUNGWON while singing, “That light burned me.” At first, I wasn’t given the center position. The parts get finalized after all the members try out different positions. The three of us practiced the choreography after our parts were confirmed, but it wasn’t easy because of the difference in our energy and style. And because SUNGHOON and JUNGWON trained longer than I did, I had to make up for my shortcomings. It was hard at first, but we practiced over and over again and got it right in the end.

Your deep voice sounds attractive in that part.

SUNOO : HEESEUNG’s part was all about gently starting off the song, and in my part that came right after, the key was to signal the change of mood. The producer emphasized that it needed to be intense. So I tried to get rid of my usual soft tone and sing with as much power as possible when we were recording. And the deep voice was what we got in the end. (laughs) It was relatively easier to record songs like “Flicker” and “10 months.” But there were particular details to the other songs so I had to practice more to produce that exact feel.

After a lengthy preparation period, you finally met ENGENE online through the DEBUT SHOW.
SUNOO : It felt like I was meeting ENGENE in person. That’s how thrilled I was. I felt like my hard work was finally paying off with all the love coming from our fans, and I teared up thinking about everything I’ve been through. I was so thankful, and I really wish I could meet them in person. I took part in choir competitions and a dance club when I was younger, so I know exactly what it feels like when you perform in front of the audience. I was happy, but I felt the absence of our fans.

What is the first thing you want to do when you meet your fans in person?

SUNOO : I think I’m going to ask them how they became interested in me and how they’ve come to like me. (laughs)

I noticed how you looked for the fans’ reactions and responded to them quite often on V LIVE. Can you share some of the memorable responses or comments you got from your fans?

SUNOO : I remember the handwritten letter I got from a fan while filming I-LAND. It said something along the lines of, “You must be having a hard time, although you don’t show it on screen. I hope you don’t force yourself to look cheerful. I just hope you’ll be happy doing what you love.” When I read the letter, I felt that the people who are interested in me and think about me know everything about me. I was really grateful.

What does the stage mean to you?

SUNOO : The place I always wanted to be on and dreamed of. Whenever I’m on stage, I feel extremely happy. Oh, I’m not sure how to put this into words. On the DEBUT SHOW, I felt the endorphins running through my body when we performed “Let Me In (20 CUBE).” Of course, it would be best if we could perform while hearing the cheers from our fans, but the situation these days just doesn’t allow it......

So the stage holds a special place in your heart.

SUNOO : Yes.

Article. Rieun Kim
Interview. Rieun Kim
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Visual Creative Team. Gunhee Lee(BELIFT LAB)
Photography. Sunhye Shin / Assist. Seungjo Baek, Minseok Kim, Sangwoo Kim(@co-op.) (Digital camera), Yurim Jeon(Film camera)
Hair. Iljoong Lee, Minjeong Kyung
Makeup. Sunghee Ahn, Sojeong Kwon
Stylist. Kyungwon Choi
Video. Ujeong Bang, Surin Kim, Jibin Yeom, Yujeong Kim, Yeongeun Min(Big Hit Three Sixty), Yeongjae Cho, Jaehyeong Kim, Taehun Kim(Brandhood)
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2020.12.27