SOOBIN spoke carefully and deliberately. He took a moment to step back through his memories and organize his thoughts before answering each question. And yet, without a moment’s hesitation, he could name everything important to him: music, performance, his team, fans, family, hard work … and his new album, minisode1: Blue Hour.

You must have been very busy getting ready for your comeback.
No matter how hard we tried to stay positive it’s been difficult to get through our performances without an audience. That kind of setup has its limits. But this time I think we’ll have fun performing on stage together. It used to be we would dance and sing in front of MOA, chug some water and try to catch our breath. I miss feeling out of breath like that.

You must have really related to “We Lost the Summer” since it’s about losing your normal life to COVID-19.
 I went out to see a movie but as soon as I got to the theater I turned back. I thought, “What if something bad happens?” and gave up. It used to be a place I could go anytime I wanted. Now I miss all the places that I can’t go. Not just traveling far away like to other countries, but also the small, everyday places I can’t visit.

The messages from your fans must be very uplifting. You almost cried when you read one comment during your V LIVE that said, “I’m happy—I’m SOOBIN’s fan”.
 I think it’s great when a singer does what they want for the fans and the fans in turn feel more optimistic from watching them. That’s why I try to share every detail of my daily routine. I used to restrict the pictures I post on social media to flattering selfies, but these days I try to post more often about my daily life.

Do you tend to look up fan reactions a lot?
 I did it so much that I was nicknamed the Search King when we were debuting. But I kept running into more and more hurtful comments. Sometimes I would be in the middle of talking and I would think, “Wait, someone said that they didn’t like it when I said this” and such. So I decided to search my name less, thinking, if I can’t ignore the comments, it’s best not to look at them in the first place. Now, I tend to just go on Weverse when I wonder about how MOA thinks.

I guess you could say that you worry about negative feedback but you love being on stage even more. I heard that you decided to become a singer after you got up on stage during a school event.
 My friends asked me to go up on stage with them, but I turned them down. Then after that, they put my name on the sign-up sheet without even telling me. Renting a practice studio and rehearsing with friends, and sometimes fooling around—the whole process was so fun. I thought I would regret it if I gave a dialed-back performance just because I was shy, so I put my whole heart into it. I was happy when kids I didn’t even know came up to me and said that they enjoyed our performance. That’s when I thought, “I wanna be on stage again.”

You must have practiced a lot for the stage.
 I improved more slowly than others. When I started out as a trainee, while others were progressing up to the top levels, I was stuck at the lower end. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and got stressed out. So finally, I cautiously mentioned in passing that I wanted to quit, and the company showed me my monthly reports. My scores were climbing consistently, even if only in very small steps of 0.1 points. They told me, “It will get better. It might feel slow, but just keep up the hard work.” I was very grateful they told me that. I didn’t give up and I tried my best, and by the time I was through with monthly evaluations, I had surged to the top. 

Will we be able to hear the fruits of your labor on this latest album?
Yes, in the chorus of “Blue Hour.” Maybe the other members wouldn’t consider them high notes, but for me they were crazy high. (laughing) I got my part and sang it through several times, but I was off-key. But our producer, Slow Rabbit, kept saying he really wanted me to sing that part, and was cheering me on—“One more time! Just one more time!”—like that continuously for more than a week. By the second week it was half-and-half; sometimes I would get it and then the next take I would mess up. I constantly told the producer, “I think I can do it!” and eventually I really did. I was always so frustrated with my low range, so I was happy when I broke through that barrier on this recording.

And you also sing the first bar.
Yeah, the producer had already told me that the first part is the most important, so I felt a lot of pressure, but he helped me through. As I have a low-pitched voice, the high notes sound a bit strained, but our producer said it actually sounds more sorrowful that way, and I liked that.

The title track is a disco song, which is something of a departure for TOMORROW X TOGETHER. I suppose the process of getting ready for this song must have been different as well.
Since our debut, our team had this one overall kind of framework set up to work within, but at times we also wanted a chance to show off the exciting pop music dances we used to practice before we debuted. And that’s exactly the kind of choreography we did this time. We had a lot of fun. It was the first time since the year-end awards where we were clapping and shouting with the dancers during practice and it really brought our energy up.

Is there a specific process you need to go through to bring to reality the picture in your head?
On the day we go on stage, we practice in front of a mirror with our hair done and makeup on. Every day our hairstyle and makeup changes, and so does the atmosphere. The right side of my face is slightly different from the left side. The left side has sharp features, while my right side looks soft and gentle. If my bangs are pulled back then I show my left side, and if I let them down I show the right. So at the end of the performance for the title song, I sometimes end by showing my left side and at other times my right.

You must have prepared a lot for hosting Music Bank.
I’m known to MOA for jumbling words around and changing them in awkward ways, so I was worried when I was offered the role. But I figured I would never get another chance to host it, so instead I watched videos of former hosts and borrowed their scripts to practice with. In the end the practice paid off.

The clip from that show where you sing a duet of Oh My Girl’s “Dolphin” has over 15 million views on YouTube. How do you feel about that kind of response?
I just thought, “No matter what the concept is, I have to own it. Showing a different side of myself isn’t a problem as long as I put on a memorable performance.” I hope fans enjoy all the different looks we try on for them.

In one interview, I remember you saying, “The other members think I’m cute, but what I really am is sexy.”
Honestly, I considered my look to be a more “innocent” kind of image, but without even knowing it I was giving off a very different vibe on stage. (laughing) “Crown” is a cute and bubbly song, but when I suddenly pull out a serious face in the video, my expression seems to suggest an entirely different mood. So I thought maybe I found something new in me. That facial expression just happened naturally, so I thought, “Am I sorta sexy?” (laughing)
Are there any other surprising aspects to your personality?
MOA worries that if they don’t protect me something might happen to me. (laughing) But what I learned after debuting is that I’m more determined and stubborn than I thought. I thought I would follow what others are doing and go with the flow, but at some point, I found myself really speaking up. Anyway, as the leader, I need to talk with everyone, and so it’s inevitable that I have to be firm here and there.

As the leader, how do you view the other members?
HUENINGKAI is like my safe haven. When I was a trainee, I had difficulties adapting to what was, to me, a foreign atmosphere, but after four or five months, HUENINGKAI came and we were the first to become friends. We overlap a lot in personality and taste, which immediately brought us closer together. Once I met HUENINGKAI, I found a lot of comfort in my life as a trainee.

So HUENINGKAI is your safe haven, and you and TAEHYUN are the “Trustiez”?
I always say that TAEHYUN is the neutral and realistic one. If I get overwhelmed by emotions and feel nervous, he steps in to help. I often take an early morning walk with TAEHYUN and talk about performing, our members, the company, and more. He always gives a level-headed view of the big picture.

And you thought it surprising that BEOMGYU has the exact opposite of your personality?
When we were trainees, BEOMGYU was really hyper about becoming friends with all of us. Kind of the cool social butterfly. The two of us had completely opposite personalities back then, but if I stop and think about it, I’m kind of sociable now and he’s a little more calm. BEOMGYU’s greatest strength is his tolerance. When someone else tells him how they feel, he always replies, “Oh, you’re, right, sorry. I didn't know.” And he immediately accepts what they have to say. Sometimes I’m afraid that the others might misunderstand me, being the leader, but then BEOMGYU helps me out a lot.

What about YEONJUN?
I tend to fight with YEONJUN about pointless things. (laughing) I suppose he’s the closest one to my personality. He’s pretty shy and introverted. He not only puts a ton of effort into self-improvement but also his interpersonal relationships. When he sees something that needs to change, he always takes the time to fix it. He’s already a good person, but over time I think he’ll become an even better person. Me, on the other hand, I love my weakness for what they are, although some might look at me and assume otherwise.

If someone loves even their own shortcomings, doesn’t that mean they must have high self-esteem?
I can love well because I’m loved well. It could be because I was born last in a big family: I was loved not only by my parents but also my brother and sister, so four times the love. I want to share the warmth and affection I have received with other people, especially the other members. I was talking with them recently and suddenly felt I must love them even more than I realize. So I told them how I felt. (fighting back tears) They’re so important to me, I don't think I can live without them.
Aside from the power of love, what other life lessons did you learn from your family?
I still remember clearly when my mother called up a donation hotline in tears while watching TV. She told me, “When you grow up, you should always be kind and help anyone in need.” My mother has been a huge influence in my life. She’s like a saint to me.

Come to think of it, all the webtoons that you said you enjoy are mostly social satires.
Deus Ex Machina from the webtoonist Kkomabi left a strong impression on me. It’s a webtoon about people and religion. It helped me out when I was having trouble organizing some of my thoughts recently.

Did anything else strike you as impressive lately?
Yesterday I watched a documentary on Netflix called My Beautiful Broken Brain. It was about living life after a sudden stroke. The main character couldn’t remember the people around her or the words she needed to speak. But it was great how she overcame it. Oh, the song “Age” by Yoon Jong-shin. I like it now, but I feel like I will appreciate it even more as I get older and older. And I also like “Wishlist” off our new album. I like it so much that as soon as I heard the melody the first time, I went right to work on the lyrics.

You helped write the lyrics to “Ghosting,” too, also on this album. I thought the way you describe the situation and the emotions surrounding it was interesting, how someone can be completely blocked on social media.
When I first started to write the lyrics I tried to be stylish and grandiose but I was rejected repeatedly. They finally used my lyrics when I wrote more realistically about my daily life instead. I especially like the line, “Still only the number greets me, just ‘1.’ ” I wrote that part. (laughing) That’s the little number “1” that stays next to your message until the other person reads it. If the “1” is still there after a whole day, you end up scrolling up to double-check what you wrote. That’s what I had in mind when I wrote those lyrics.

What kind of lyrics would you like to write in the future?
Sorry if you’re sick of hearing me mention this one, but it’s called “Way Back Home.” It’s about someone who’s just starting out and spilling their guts after a hard day. Even now, when my day is finished and I’m on my way home, I listen to it no matter what. It also inspires me to write lyrics every time I hear it. And in the same way this song has been a big comfort to me, I hope my lyrics will give other people comfort and hope as well.

You said you saved a famous quotation from the cartoon Peanuts on your phone.
There’s a scene where one boy says, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” I saved it on my phone when I was in training, and whenever I felt bad for myself I would read it and get my confidence back little by little.

All right SOOBIN, what would you like to tell your fans?
This is what I always say: “We miss you lots, too!” I say it so often, it might sound like a formality at this point. But it’s true. We miss you too.
Article. Hyunkyung Lim
Interview. Hyunkyung Lim
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Visual Creative Team. Lee Hyunju Lee, Rakta(Big Hit Entertainment)
Photography. Heejune Kim / Hanna Kim, Soojin Kim, Myungjun Yang
Hair. Seungwon Kim
Makeup. Areum Han
Stylist. Gyunam Kim
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehee Son, Ayoung Kim)