Watching the occasional clip from a TV show or mukbang on YouTube, eating tteokbokki or bread, sleeping—at 17, EUNCHAE may still find happiness in small places, but her dreams and determination are anything but small.
There’s a steady stream of content being released now that you’re debuting. How does it feel to see the way people are reacting?
HONG EUNCHAE: I can’t help but keep checking on my phone. It was amazing seeing all the kind things all these people had to say. I was touched to see some people say I look like Yeri from Red Velvet, and there were some people who said things like, EUNCHAE is leading the way for young K-pop stars everywhere. (laughs) It felt really good seeing that. (laughs)
Have you seen the stories of your school life floating around the Internet? (laughs) They said you were student president and that you looked out for the younger members of the media club.
HONG EUNCHAE: Some people also said that if they were being that nice about me that it was probably me writing it. (laughs) I’m curious, too. I wondered who was saying all that and who knew that much about me. I still think I have made good use of my time at school. I was student president and did media club in elementary school, then in middle school I was on student council and in the athletics club. I joined the athletics club in my first year of middle school because the older girls looked so cool playing sports, and I was even in a netball tournament. And I joined student council because I thought it was cool the way the older kids put on so many sports competitions and other events, but we couldn’t do anything because of COVID-19, sadly. (laughs)
It sounds like you were really social. (laughs) What kind of student were you then?
HONG EUNCHAE: I was loud, funny, liked listening to my friends’ problems and couldn’t sit still. (laughs) I like going places so I liked to meet up with friends after school. I was close with my teachers. I remember my middle school technology and home economics teacher really well: He was young and started teaching at the school when we first got there, so he was close with all the students. There was no COVID back then, so he would buy us lots of tteokbokki and ice cream just outside the school. But anyway, I had to start leaving school early to practice once I became a trainee, so I couldn’t spend that much time at school, but I had fun until that happened.
It sounds like you got along well with everybody—your friends and teachers. The post you wrote for your dance academy instructor also went viral.
HONG EUNCHAE: I wrote a lot more than I thought. It sounds cute, reading it now. (laughs) When I went to that academy all the other kids were friendly and comfortable with each other, so we were all really close.
How did you first become interested in dancing?
HONG EUNCHAE: I always had to enter the talent show whenever we had one, and K-pop was so popular among my friends, so I listened to it a lot and naturally developed an interest in it, too. I learned K-pop dances in an after-school class when I was in elementary school, and I said to the teacher, “I love dancing. What should I do to learn more?” and she told me I should attend a proper dance academy. So I worked up my courage and sent my mom a long KakaoTalk message asking her if it would be okay for me to go to a dance academy and telling her I loved dance so much I wanted to become an idol. I’m mostly really relaxed with my mom but I was too nervous to say it to her directly. (laughs)
What was her reaction like?
HONG EUNCHAE: She said she would think about it. After all, it’s really hard being an idol. But she told me later that she contacted the academy as soon as she read the message. (laughs) She said her attitude toward me was, “Give it a try. You’re the one doing it anyway.” So it wasn’t very hard to convince her.
It’s going to be very special for your family when you debut.
HONG EUNCHAE: I have an older brother and we’re close enough that we video call all the time, but he’s more excited that I’m debuting with CHAEWON than anything else. (laughs)
Typical big brother and little sister. (laughs) How did you feel when you first found out you were going to make your debut?
HONG EUNCHAE: I had been a trainee for maybe around half a year and in the practice studio as usual when I suddenly heard I was going to debut. I honestly thought I was dreaming. (laughs) I was thinking I would be able to debut around 2024 or so. But the others already knew all the choreography and movements when I joined the group, so I felt a lot of pressure to succeed. So I started practicing in front of the mirror as soon as I got the “FEARLESS” choreography video and got it down in two hours.
Is it possible to master the entire dance for a song in two hours? Other people must have been surprised.
HONG EUNCHAE: Yes. The other members were surprised and asked me how I could possibly have done it. (laughs) When I was a trainee and had a lot of choreography assignments, it took a few days for me to pick them up. I had no idea how I was going to manage it, but more than anything I just didn’t want to be a burden on the other members. I guess I could do it because I thought I really had to do it. (laughs) It usually takes me a while until I’m determined to do something, but once I am, I usually try to do a really good job.
It mustn’t have been easy. I feel that, in many ways, the sentiment expressed in “FEARLESS” is something that someone your age might not fully understand. What did you do to understand and express the feelings in the song?
HONG EUNCHAE: I took it to be strong and confident, but when I was doing the choreography and singing it, it was difficult to express. (laughs) I’ve always loved listening to music, but I only really started learning and trying to sing since after becoming a trainee, and this album was the first time I ever recorded vocals.
I felt like your mature tone all throughout the album was very attractive.
HONG EUNCHAE: I’ve been hearing I have a good tone ever since I was a trainee, but when I was recording “FEARLESS,” the feedback was all, You have to sing with more power, more confidence! It needs more emotion! But it was hard because I couldn’t express that emotion at first. I have to sound really fearless when I sing the part that goes, “I got no fear, no fear,” but I wasn’t sure how to convey that at first. I think I just tried to sound fearless like it says. (laughs)
You have to be good at the basics to dance well to a song like “Blue Flame,” and with so many different moves coming on so fast with no break, it must be very draining. Wasn’t it difficult to practice for?
HONG EUNCHAE: The choreography for “Blue Flame” is really physically demanding. (laughs) But the song is cheerful and the dance is adorable so it was fun, and I tried to get that cheerful, fresh feeling across. I didn’t realize it when I was young and just liked to dance, but the basics are really important. I hated practicing the basics when I studied at an academy because I thought it was boring. But now I think I should have tried harder back then. (laughs)
I can’t imagine it could have been easy practicing several songs, recording them and shooting all the different photos and videos in such a hurry after you suddenly found out you were going to debut.
HONG EUNCHAE: Everything was awkward at first. And it was amazing seeing all the different outfits. (laughs) I was really nervous when it was just me with all the staff taking pictures of me for my individual photos and videos. The film captures the emotional rollercoaster that is adolescence, so I had to keep changing my clothes and makeup and I tried to be outgoing when I put on cute, bright clothes, and act angry when I was in tougher looking clothes. It wasn’t easy expressing different emotions every time I changed my makeup and clothing. I was really nervous when we filmed the trailer, too, but Kkura held my hand so I wouldn’t feel scared.
You’re the youngest member of the group, but I guess you feel like you can rely on the older girls.
HONG EUNCHAE: Kkura is sort of a kind robot. (laughs) She always quietly comes over and looks after me. When I first saw her, I thought, Wow, I just saw a celebrity! But I heard later that when she saw me struggling on the first day, she asked the instructors how to get closer to me and take care of me, and I was so thankful for that. CHAEWON seemed like more of a quiet person than she did on TV, too, so I was secretly worrying about how to get close with her, but we joke with each other every day now, and we laugh even when we just look at each other. (laughs) I’ve been close with GARAM ever since we were trainees and I’m really close with YUNJIN and Zuha too, so it’s impossible to say who I’m closest with. We were just naturally and suddenly really close. (laughs)
What’s it like living with the other members?
HONG EUNCHAE: I always liked being with older girls, even when I was in dance academy, so it was always my dream to debut as the youngest member of a group. They always dote on me, and laugh and call me cute whatever I’m doing. (laugh) Anyway, I’m having a great time thanks to knowing these amazing girls. We spend so much time practicing that we don’t have a lot of time to do anything else with each other, but sometimes when we get a late start we’ll order jjimdak or YUNJIN will slice up some fruit for us in the kitchen.
Is there anything you learned about yourself while living with the group?
HONG EUNCHAE: I think being with them has made me feel like I have to be fast when I do things like shower or dry my hair. I actually find a lot of things to be a hassle. I already knew that, but living away from my mom reminded me how lazy I am. Always leaving things out … (laughs) YUNJIN is the only one in the group whose MBTI ends with a J, so I’d say she’s the tidiest one.
I can’t not ask you this, since it’s so popular now (laughs) but what is your MBTI?
HONG EUNCHAE: I’m ISFP. I always hang out in bed. I’m sort of a lazy homebody but I’m really outgoing for an “I.” (laughs) We all talk about MBTI a lot, and since there’s so much difference between Ts and Fs, we’re always saying things like, “What makes you think that?” (laughs)
What’s the biggest difference between all of you? (laughs)
HONG EUNCHAE: N types use their imaginations a lot and love to ask what-if questions, apparently. But I can’t understand why anyone wants to ask “what if.” (laughs) When someone asks, “What if I turn into an animal?” I’m just, “What? Why are you worried about turning into an animal?” (laughs)
You adjusted to everything you have to practice and made good friends with the others very quickly. You must be full of emotion when you look back on that time.
HONG EUNCHAE: I actually cried on the first or second day right after I joined. There was so much to catch up on, and so much that I had to do, and I really wanted to do it well, but I felt like I wasn’t good enough, so I felt really sorry and got very upset. So I told the other members honestly, “This isn’t easy to adjust to and there’s still so much to learn,” and then everyone cried together. I think we really opened up to each other and became closer after that. I also missed my mom up to the third day (laughs) but I adjusted quickly thanks to the other members opening up to me and being kind.
I think you overcame that situation really well, considering you’re still young.
HONG EUNCHAE: I cried on the way home when I first became a trainee and I said to my mom, “I’m quitting.” When I get deep into my thoughts, I really get in deep, so when I feel a little upset because I’m not doing as well in practice as I want to, I can’t stop thinking about it. But I tell myself there’s no way around it and I just have to do it, and I space out and clear my head, and get a hold of myself. It’s actually been a great opportunity. I thought it was a process I just had to go through with because I knew how hard and stressful it would be and still chose to do it. Now I think about how I really, really would have regretted it if I gave up and that it’s a good thing I didn’t.
You chose to be an idol even though you knew it wouldn’t be an easy task. What kind of energy would you like to give your fans through what you do?
HONG EUNCHAE: I went to Dream Concert in 2018, and when I saw all the fans cheering so hard during SEVENTEEN’s performance, I thought to myself, I want to be up on that stage, too. And, even before I dreamed of being an idol, I wanted to be someone who could help others in person, like a teacher or a paramedic. I’m usually shy around strangers, but I want to be someone who’s bright and can give strength to other people. So I like to make the other members laugh and give them whatever strength I can when they’re having a hard time, and I want to be a really energetic and cheerful artist for the fans.
You’ll be meeting your fans in person soon. What would you like them to think and feel about you?
HONG EUNCHAE: It doesn’t really feel real yet that I’m going to be up there in front of my fans. (laughs) But we’re going to have fan signing events in the future and I want to talk about my everyday life with them. When we were filming the debut trailer, I kept worrying whether I was doing a good job or doing it right, when the instructor said to me, “Show me the cool, indescribable side of you that only comes out when you’re dancing.” That’s when I discovered that I have that side in me, too. I want people to see me as a confident and courageous person, just like the album concept.