What does it take to trust in the good of life and its whims while being well acquainted with the constraints of reality? What does it take to acknowledge the risks of chasing dreams and embracing the unfettered freedom of youth, and still go ahead with both of them anyway?
Courage, gratitude and a generous dollop of passion it seems — according to SUNGHO, RIWOO, JAEHYUN, TAESAN, LEEHAN and WOONHAK of BOYNEXTDOOR. First introduced to the world earlier this May, the idol group stands refreshingly apart from the times’ intensely charismatic and feisty peers, giddy with hope and brimming with a sunny disposition; embodying a kind of boyish charm that the K-Pop industry once stood by as a conceptual form of rite of passage.
But a conversation with the rookie six-piece reveals anything but blind innocence and immaturity — each member offers candour, wit, wisdom and a healthy amount of contagious wide-eyed wonder, knowingly grasping at the privileges of being in the pink of youth by choosing to live in the present. There is a learned self-awareness that makes speaking to them pleasantly surprising; they continue to dream and get lost because they feel they not only can but should, and this love of dreaming manifests in curious doublets.
Further along this story, the interview breaks into three sections in hopes of honing in on the charm of said pairings: RIWOO, the performance leader and youngest, WOONHAK, take on questions about living the dream and its expression on stage; TAESAN and the oldest, SUNGHO, tap on their lucidly introspective compasses to guide us through their takes on youth; leader JAEHYUN and the eccentric LEEHAN muse about the surrealism of dreams, offering a buoyant showing of the group’s sincerity towards celebrating boyhood.
You’ve made it to the end of 2023 as BOYNEXTDOOR. How has your run as idols been so far?
JAEHYUN: We are forever grateful for the love and support we received this year as BOYNEXTDOOR. Every moment is a continuum of our dreams coming true! And we’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has supported us since the beginning.
TAESAN: As we always say to ONEDOOR, let’s stay together down the road for the next 400 years — no less, no more!
It must have been surreal to see how far you have come from trainee to debut — what was your audition story like?
SUNGHO: I always had my eyes set on this dream of mine because I loved singing and performing on stage ever since I was little. I started auditioning after I turned 17, and saw that KOZ Entertainment was holding auditions. I used to be in a band in middle school so I played my guitar and sang. I sang Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning. I was a bit more confident in singing, but I’ve never learned to dance then so I showed the label a simple move or two. And here I am now about four years later!
What was the most unexpected charm about being an idol that you didn’t know of before?
LEEHAN: More than anything, it’s our fans. We did expect that it would be great to have people who support us in everything we do, but it’s completely different to experience it firsthand. It’s probably some of the most beautiful experiences someone can have.
What’s something new that you learned about yourself this year?
WOONHAK: I’ve learned and realized how much I want to grow as an artist, and how much I want to outdo myself every time. We are continuously working to thrive in various fields, and I am grateful we are given the opportunity to do so.
RIWOO: I think it was a year of coming to learn about my fortitude as a person. I think I’ll always be able to move forward without hesitance, knowing that I can stand still, come what may.
What was the most fun part about preparing for the first EP WHY..?
SUNGHO: WHY..? was all about a boy ‘trying’ to be mature about a situation he’s been put into. It was both challenging and fun to really immerse ourselves in it and express the emotions this boy goes through after his first breakup. We put a lot of thought into expressing it in ways that feel the most genuine to us, and that process is always what I love the most in making music.
On music and performance
Let’s backtrack to your debut. What was hearing the first completed song you guys recorded in the studio like?
WOONHAK: I was supposed to not sing our songs in public because they weren’t released yet, but I kept walking around singing them because our songs were too good not to! [Laughs]
RIWOO: Among ourselves, we always talked about how we want BOYNEXTDOOR to tell the stories only we can tell, and these songs really did the job. It was so well-executed that we kept going ‘Oh, this is my story’, ‘This is yours.’ We were all deeply immersed in them.
How was it like sharing that with your friends and family?
WOONHAK: Everyone loved it! I would play it, and they kept asking for more or to repeat it.
RIWOO: They assured me that it will be a bop! They love our music.
Which member do you think has grown the most over the past few months of BOYNEXTDOOR activities?
WOONHAK: We all have evidently grown so much and it surprises me here and there! The extent of how much we think of each other and the group has also changed, and I am truly proud of who we have become as a group.
RIWOO: I think LEEHAN. I know he was worried at times because his time as a trainee was shorter than that of our other members, but everything he has accumulated and worked hard for is shining through lately. I’m very proud of him.
What is a song or artist you want to recommend to your fans?
WOONHAK: Dominic Fike’s latest album Sunburn. The album keeps lingering in my head. It’s comforting in its own way and leaves you with a sense of emotional resonance.
RIWOO: I’d like to recommend Lucky Daye. He’s an amazing artist who just mesmerises the listeners instantly with his music.
You guys work closely with ZICO to produce your tracks. What has working with him been like?
TAESAN: It’s truly an honour to have such a well-respected artist and producer by our side. He always supports us in what we do, but also makes sure that we learn not to confine ourselves to what we can or cannot do.
What is the most valuable piece of advice he has given to you guys?
WOONHAK: It wasn’t advice he gave us in words, but we got to witness ZICO’s attitude towards music while recording our albums. Seeing that firsthand inspires me to think a lot about what an artist is, the artist I want to be, and how to become better overall.
If BOYNEXTDOOR or yourself could do a collaboration with any artist, who would that be and why?
WOONHAK: Drake! I look up to him so much.
RIWOO: I would love to collaborate with Bruno Mars one day. I’ve admired him since I was young, and there are so many songs written and performed by him that are my all-time favourites!!
What do you think makes BOYNEXTDOOR most lovable?
TAESAN: I think our love and passion for music and performances are well relayed to our fans.
SUNGHO: We tell stories that only BOYNEXTDOOR can tell, in our own ways. So we feel grateful that our music has resonated with a lot of people.
What is a side of yourselves you want to share more about?
TAESAN: This isn’t just about me, but anyone would be surprised to see how much work we and our staff put into planning out even the smallest details behind the scenes!
SUNGHO: I’ve mostly shown the bright, bubbly sides of me, but I do have more cool-headed, perhaps even coldhearted sides that not a lot of our fans know about yet. I would love to also show these sides to our fans.
What was one of the biggest challenges that you faced and overcame over the past year?
TAESAN: After our debut, I felt like I was seeing a pattern in how I perform and move at certain points and it sometimes felt staged. Breaking out of that was one of the biggest challenges I faced this year on a personal level. We do want to put a lot of planning into how a performance comes together, but at the same time, I want to make sure we are not boxed into anything on stage.
SUNGHO: I personally think everything we did since our debut, including our first comeback, was a challenge. We’ve learned from every single one of them, and no matter how much we plan ahead to present the perfect performance, we run into different situations outside of our practice rooms. I think that’s when we grow as an artist, and I am very grateful for all the challenges we’ve had.
What is your favourite part about being a youth now?
TAESAN: I like that the idea of ‘youth’ isn’t actually confined to a certain age range. When I look back from a much later stage in life, I think I’ll recall the days I’m spending now to be the most beautiful days of my life and I’ll always think of these days as days of my youth. Youth can be when you feel you are living the most beautiful moments of your life.
SUNGHO: My favourite part about being a youth is being able to wander. As we grow older and become adults, I think the pressure to not make a single mistake grows. I think youth is truly the period of your life where you can freely experience life, wander, get lost, then still find your way back.
What is something about your youth you would want to carry on into adulthood?
TAESAN: I love reminiscing and taking trips down memory lane, so I take many photos and videos. I want to make sure this habit stays on even when I grow older because it’s only natural that memory fades, but the act of trying to cherish every moment and memory is beautiful regardless.
SUNGHO: I want to become an adult who still has a questioning and avid mind to the new [experiences]. The positivity and excitement I have when I encounter new experiences in life is what I’d like to carry on into adulthood.
What’s a dream that you had and wished it was real life?
TAESAN: I recently dreamed of us putting on a performance in front of a huge audience, and I was in tears on stage. One day, I would love to perform at some of the iconic venues that every musical artist dreams of.
SUNGHO: I dreamed about our first concert, and all the members were in tears. I’m hoping the dream will become a reality for us very soon.
Which artist do you look up to as a driving force of inspiration for chasing your dreams?
JAEHYUN: I’ve always had so much love and respect for Jung Kook. I practised his songs growing up and dreamt of becoming an artist. I recently did a cover of his new music and not only did he see it, he complimented it. It was a surreal moment for me.
If you could choose a recurring dream that happens every night, what or who would you want to dream of when you are asleep?
JAEHYUN: If I had to choose one, I’d like to be on stage looking at our fans. I love being on stage and I would hate to not be on it even in my dreams.
LEEHAN: I want to sleep well and comfortably in my dreams. I think if I do things that are too fun and exciting, I could find my everyday life boring or lethargic. I want my every day, as it is now, to be as happy and fun as it can be.
What’s something strange that you find beautiful?
JAEHYUN: The missed calls from my mom. It’s the most precious and beautiful thing to me, and it gives me the strength to go forward.
LEEHAN: Man-made things. Isn’t it amazing and beautiful that people created these objects? I see a chair in front of me right now, and I am noticing its shape, texture, material, smell, colour, and more…every element of it is beautiful. I am curious to know why things are made, and how they invented it. I often get lost in thinking about these.
When was an instance or memory that made you think magic could be real?
JAEHYUN: I think the definition of the word ‘magic’ is open to interpretation. I would say BOYNEXTDOOR meeting our fans was also magical!
LEEHAN: I sometimes imagine myself waking up as a wizard. I have so many questions I want to ask if I ever get a chance to meet one. To all the wizards out there on Earth, please email our label if you are ever available to talk. I would love to meet you!
What was a moment in time that you wanted time to stand still?
JAEHYUN: I take walks to Namsan when I have time off, and this one time, I just sat there by myself to take a beat on top of Namsan. I wanted time to stand still then.
LEEHAN: I think happiness and sadness always coexist in oneself. Many people must be living with these opposing emotions right at this moment. We can’t truly feel sad if we haven’t been happy before. With all that said, I try to just live in the moment the best I can and feel all the emotions that come along the way instead of wanting the time to stand still!
What kind of person do you dream of becoming within the next five years?
JAEHYUN: In five years, I want to have grown and improved in everything I do now — as an artist, a producer, a host and all. I want to make our fans proud with my growth, all the while always giving love to our fans as much as I can!
LEEHAN: A happy person. I feel blessed and lucky to be doing what I love. I want the happiness I have now to last for a very long time, beyond the next five years.
What is a project or album concept that you are excited for BOYNEXTDOOR to try in the future?
LEEHAN: We keep saying our goal is to tell stories that only we can tell, but it’s also important to us that we don’t limit ourselves to a certain project or concept. I think because they’re our stories told in a manner that feels authentic to us, our growth and experiences as time passes will naturally be reflected in our music. We’re also really excited to see what the future holds for us.
Photography | Song Siyoung
Creative Direction & Styling | Izwan Abdullah
Interview | Charmaine Tan
Grooming & Hair | PRANCE Sinsa
On-set Styling | Lee Ha Jeong
Fashion Coordination | Manfred Lu
Production | Oh Seoyul | SY Production
This article originally appeared on Men’s Folio.