WOONHAK’s lively energy seemed to illuminate the whole space from the moment he strutted into the venue for the interview and greeted everyone in his ringing voice. His schedule is fully booked with his debut right around the corner, but he isn’t tired one bit, he says. I realized where his energy came from as I listened to him talk about his achievements, and what he will be filling his life with – his childhood, life at school, dreams of becoming an idol, living as a trainee, debut song, team, performing, and fans. Every word that he uttered with the biggest smile exuded with self-confidence. He had a glowing passion and candor that didn’t just come from his determination as a new artist.
Luffy, the character that best resembles me!
WOONHAK: I was the kid who raised his hands for everything. I always went up to my friends to talk to them. If I were a cartoon character, I’d probably be Luffy from Once Piece. I'd go to the kids in the next class over, and say, “Hey, wanna be friends?” or “Wanna go play soccer?” “Do you like this song? Wanna sing it with me?” I was like, “Hey, join my crew!” (laughs) I don’t think I can do that now, though. (laughs)
A model student
WOONHAK: I was the model student who got bad grades. (laughs) I really respected my teachers. They’re trying to teach 30 immature kids all at once! That’s just amazing. I loved talking to my teachers. I’d even go to them during lunch break and talk to them about what was on my mind. I got into a lot of trouble, too. (laughs) I think I’ve grown to be a healthy stand-up guy thanks to their instruction and guidance.
A boy who loved his friends and music
WOONHAK: I loved spending time with my friends and getting recharged from them. When I was in sixth grade, I listened to a lot of hip hop that we could easily relate to. It’s really fun to express that energy you feel when you listen to music with your friends. I looked for more ways to express that energy even better, and to have even more fun with my friends, and that’s why I started getting dance lessons. I wanted to really have fun when I listened to music. I really loved playing music and singing, dancing and rapping with my friends during lunch time. I even asked the teacher if I could come back to the classroom after lunch to listen to music and hang out. My buddies and I got everyone’s permission, pushed all the desks and chairs to one side, and just sang and danced.
Dreaming of becoming a K-pop idol
WOONHAK: I really loved getting my friends’ attention when I sang and danced. That was a huge source of energy for me. I performed a K-pop medley for a school festival when I was in middle school, and I was so happy when my friends told me how awesome I was. That's when it clicked. “This is what being loved feels like!” That’s when I wanted to become a K-pop idol – to be loved even more. “What would it feel like to perform on stage with a million, or even five million people in the audience, when performing at a school festival feels this amazing? I gotta know.” Curiosity got the better of me. Before that, I wanted to be a rapper, composer, or dancer, but I realized that I could do all of that if I became a K-pop artist.
Audition and confidence
WOONHAK: I had been taking lessons at an academy for about six months when the company came to the academy to hold auditions. But I slept in... (laughs) so I missed it. But thankfully, the company contacted me directly, saying that they missed me at the audition. So, I went to the company to audition. I danced, sang, and rapped but the main things that I showed them were confidence, confidence and confidence. I was that sure of myself. I thought that I would absolutely crush it if I debuted after training for a few years. I really was a naive kid who had no clue. (laughs) So I told them, “I know I can do this.”
How to enjoy your life as a trainee
WOONHAK: I just realized; I became a trainee three years ago tomorrow! I have a lot of fight in me, and my passion burns up when I get feedback, so being a trainee wasn’t tough at all. I always had fun. Getting ready for our monthly evaluations, and the evaluations themselves were so much fun. They were opportunities for me to show the company why they needed me. I was always determined to show them what I was made of. I was never let down from getting negative feedback, it was my fuel. I’d take what they said, and practice even harder so that they wouldn’t be able to say anything bad next time. I was filled to the brim with drive. (laughs) If I ever got negative feedback, I would get super focused, and practice madly over the next month until I got the positive feedback that I just had to get. I got even more confidence from that experience. I kept working to improve in areas that needed work.
WOONHAK: I never once thought of my trainee friends as my competition. To me, they are like family, and being around them gives me energy. My mind was set on surpassing the established pop stars. I thought, “If I could surpass these stars, if I could become that unique and unrivaled, I might have a chance at debut.” Whenever we had to practice a song for the monthly evaluations, and I would practice imagining performing the song even better than the original artists.
WOONHAK: Don’t the six of us look like guys you might have seen somewhere, from our appearance down to our personality? But in fact, if you take a closer look, we all have very special qualities. We’re the ultimate boys next door, and you feel like you’ll probably run into us anywhere. And soon enough, you’ll start to think that you need to have us around, and that we’re irreplaceable. That’s what I think BOYNEXTDOOR represents.
Writing the debut tracks
WOONHAK: I focused on stage practice for two years straight, but then I started to ponder and look for ways to be a better musician. It occurred to me that to overcome my current limitations, I should take on the challenge of learning to write music. After about two months of working on composing, producer Poptime asked me if that was something I wanted to do. I played him some of my music and he told me that I had my own style. From then on, TAESAN, JAEHYUN and I joined Poptime in his studioto write the top lines and lyrics for our debut tracks. We knew that we were the best at expressing ourselves, so the three of us contributed a lot to the parts that needed our unique touch.
What WOONHAK can do at age 16
WOONHAK: I wrote the super cheesy lines in “But I Like You” like “I saw you linking arms with him.” (laughs) If you find the lyrics a bit blunt and childish, I’m probably the one who wrote it. I wanted to do what I could at my age. I thought that was something a 16-year-old kid could come up with, which is what I am. It’d sound a bit weird if, say, I were 24 and said those things. (laughs) I wanted to capture that innocent feel in the lyrics when I imagined that I was the protagonist in the song. That’s why I wrote it like someone would speak. I used colloquial language on purpose for “But I Like You” and “Serenade.” I really immersed myself in the world of the story because I wanted to sing the songs as if I were actually speaking as the protagonist of the songs. The more I recorded, the more I thought that my voice had a unique color to it. I put in a lot of energy into sounding fresh and young, and adding my own touch in the way that only I can right now.
WOONHAK: When I dance, I don’t pay much attention to the details or stage blocking. I get immersed in the music and let it take over me. It’s more fun that way. I think it might be something only I can do. So, to be honest, I don’t think I'm acting when I'm making exaggerated motions and facial expressions that are interspersed in the choreography. The character in the song is truly a reflection of myself, and I am showing myself through the song. If I were to say the lines of the lyrics in real life, I don’t think that my expressions would be all that different. I hope that you take what you see as true expressions of myself.
First experiences with acting
WOONHAK: How I appeared in the trailer film wasn’t actually acting, either. The moment I try to act, it becomes awkward, so I thought that simply showing myself turned out more appealing in the footage. It was much easier just thinking that it was me in all of the scenes. Even in the scenes where I look shy, that’s just me being shy in those situations. Oh! But I did act in the last scene. (laughs) I don’t think I would ever go to the bathroom by myself and shout, “I like you!”... (laughs)
WOONHAK: Don’t you think my smile is really charming? (laughs) But... I hope people don’t see me as someone who is only cute. (laughs) I don’t think 16 is that young, to be frank. I’m not sure if 16 is a “cute” age. I am infinitely grateful if you do think I’m cute, of course! That’s something I can only enjoy now. It’s just that I get a bit embarrassed. (laughs)
The happy youngest member of BOYNEXTDOOR
WOONHAK: I love that I’m the youngest member! The older members are so attentive, and they cut me some slack sometimes because I'm “still young.” That's why I act even more like a kid when I'm with the older members. I do want to grow more mature and responsible, though. (laughs) We mess with each other and bicker, and we’d get super considerate of each other. I like to imagine this is what it would have been like if I had older brothers. I want to give back all the kindness they’ve showed me.
The reliable first born
WOONHAK: At home, I’m the reliable eldest sibling. I’m the oldest, my family sees me as the mature one. I used to play so much with my younger sister, but now I miss her because I don’t get to see her very often. She’s my favorite person in the world. My family was really proud of me when I got to debut. Since my trainee days, I’ve always been saying with confidence, “Don’t worry, Mom, I know I will definitely make it to debut.” (laughs)
Different levels of energy
WOONHAK: I think my energy level changes depending on the situation. When I’m with the other members, my energy level reaches an all-time high, and even my tone of voice goes up, like, “Yes, sir!” But when I’m alone my voice gets deeper, and I get serious thoughts. Things like, whether or not I hurt someone today, or ways I can be a better person to those around me, and what I can do more to become a better singer. I think of ways to contribute more to the team these days.
WOONHAK: Our Weverse opened just yesterday, and it’s already filled with so many positive comments! I am absolutely bewildered, and grateful. Reading them makes me feel so special and unique. I know that it isn’t easy to show this much support, and watch every single content, even if you like somebody. I can’t wait to meet the fans, because I want to show them how much I appreciate them.
WOONHAK post debut
WOONHAK: I want to be more than an all-rounder. I want to be a great performer in all aspects – not confined by areas like dancing, vocals, rap. I practiced a lot to become like that. I hope that many people can resonate with the emotions that our music conveys. I became a singer so that I can console people and send them lots of happy energy. In the long run, I want to be someone who a lot of people look up to and dream, just like I looked up to the musicians and dreamed. My motto is “Keep challenging yourself.” Living life without challenging myself is boring. That’s why I’m excited for what’s to come. (laughs)
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