Minhyuk's Deep Sea
We decided the concept for this photoshop should be the ocean and the deep sea. Any idea why?
Minhyuk: Those are things that I like. I like the sea, I like the depths, and I like whales. I know in some countries you can go out in the ocean to see whales in their natural habitats and I dream of doing that one day. I’m not a great swimmer but I can handle myself in the water. I used to be scared of the water but I recently got licensed for SCUBA diving. I did it once in Jejudo and someday I want to go somewhere where I can dive with whales.
The story behind your whale tattoo is lovely. How long did you have that in mind?
About four years ago, I got this tattoo to cover up a scar on my leg. I’ve always liked whales but I didn’t really assign much meaning to them. Then when I decided to put one on my body, I wanted it to mean something. I didn’t want to regret it later. Whales are obviously massive sea animals and they travel over huge distances easily. I decided I wanted this immense symbol to carry all of my people towards good things.
There’s also a rose drawn into the back of the whale, why is that?
The rose is a symbol of love. I put one on the whale’s back to symbolize the people I love.
On Naver NOW’s Vogue Ship-Show, we can often see you communicating with fans and talking about yourself in ways that are frank and unpredictable. Have you always been capable of that? Conversation and communication are such important tools for developing relationships, and you must be aware of the gravity of your words, so it seems unlikely you could do that without a lot of trust in yourself. Have you felt any changes in that vein while hosting the show?
I’ve always liked listening to the stories of people around me and doing my best to respond to them sincerely. They seem to appreciate that. If anything’s changed as I’m doing the show, I guess it’d be seeing how the things that I say freely can affect people. It's made me think more seriously and deeply about how I want to communicate. I was really moved once when a viewer wrote into the show saying that she’d been worried because her injured daughter wasn’t keeping up with her physical therapy but watching my show helped her cheer up and work harder at her rehab. From then on, I thought I should try to consider situations not only from my perspective and experiences and I’ve tried to relate more to other people’s perspectives.
Now that you’re at the end of your twenties, let’s see what will surface from Minhyuk’s sea, the depths of your thoughts. What is something you’ve been thinking about or struggling with lately?
I mean, there’s always something to worry about. Towards the end of last year, I had a lot on my mind. I was pretty burned out. I was in a slump. But everyone goes through slumps sometimes and I didn’t want to hide it just because I’m an idol. I ended up coming to the conclusion, ‘if you’re having a hard time, just have a hard time.’ Stressing over getting better just made me sink even deeper. For example, I often have trouble sleeping. In the past, I’d think, ‘This is awful, I’m going to be so exhausted during filming tomorrow.’ But now I just think, ‘Oh well, I guess I’ll be a little more tired. I can come home and rest after work.’ Once I started thinking that way, those moments became so much less painful. I realized that if I’m going to be tired anyways, how I feel about it is up to me. Now, instead of agonizing over being unable to sleep, I’ll just take the time to watch what I want on Youtube and relax. Obviously there are still things that trouble me but I think I’ve reached the point where I can let them go and pour them out.
Then who do you usually vent your troubles to?
The members. I know people are going to think, ‘Oh really, the members again? We get it, you guys are sooo close,’ but if you’re living as an idol, you inevitably end up spending more time with them than your own family. We go shopping together, we eat together, we get coffee together, we play video games together. They’re naturally the people I talk to the most so the members are more than enough for me.
That’s a very ideal response, coming from what seems like a very stable life.
Well, I’d like to live ideally and stably.
Speaking of which, we’ve heard you referred to as ‘the good son of Changshin-dong,’ is that true?
It is. I have good reason for it. Actually, even before I debuted I was really popular amongst my mother’s friends. They were always asking, “How’s Minhyuk? Where’s Minhyuk?” My family was never well-off and I think after I bought them a car and some other nice things, they went around the neighborhood bragging a bit. Sometimes my parents tell me, “you’re the best son we could hope for” and it makes me proud. I always feel some pressure as the oldest. I think I tend to put pressure on myself to live up to the expectations of people around me. So I started calling myself ‘the good son of Changshin-dong’ as a means of motivating myself to do better.
Aside from your well-known hobby of drawing, what else would you like to try?
Pilates. I usually don’t like working out but Pilates looks fun. And the SCUBA diving that I mentioned earlier. I haven’t been able to go since getting certified so I want to try it again when I have the chance.
Are you going to Pilates by yourself?
I’d go alone. I always prefer doing things by myself.
What spurs ‘loner’ ‘homebody’ Minhyuk to finally leave the house?
Other than work? I guess the timing? After a certain amount of time, I start feeling like, ‘man, I should not be living like this’ and I’ll head outside.
How often does that happen?
Once every couple months? Honestly, there’s no good reason to leave the house. I’m fine the way I am. Others may think it’s weird but I’m happy with my life.
So what do you do when you’re at home?
I’m on the computer a lot and I like watching shows about science and crime. There are a lot on TV these days. I watch Crime Trivia Encyclopedia and the Unanswered Questions YouTube channel, and so on. I play games, I draw and paint, sometimes I shop online. There’s a lot to do.
It seems like all of Monsta X are movie fans. Have you ever considered trying acting?
Yeah, I like movies. I’ve actually gotten a lot of acting offers over the years. But it just doesn’t feel right for me. Maybe I’ll want to give it a shot some day. I think I could try it if I receive a role that I really want to do or something I can express really well.
On Vogue Ship-Show, you often mention your outfit of the day. What styles do you think best suit you?
I’m not really sure yet. I try to blend the styles that I like and the styles that my fans like. The fans like things like motorcycle jackets and tight pants so sometimes I’ll wear that, sometimes I’ll wear whatever I want to wear. I like vintage fashion. And I like pairing neutral colors. That’s what I think looks best on me but the people who like me don’t seem to like those very much. Sometimes I’ll wear clothes they like during photoshoots and they’ll say, “See, Minhyuk, you can dress like that!” And I’ll reply, “See, but I don’t want to.” (laughs)
That makes sense, since you wear a lot of conventionally nice, fancy clothes for work.
Right. Fans call those my ‘handsome’ clothes and since I wear them for work so often, I don’t really feel the need to wear them in my daily life.
So are your clothes today (red bomber jacket, loose-fitting raw denim) your “ugly” clothes?
I just dressed comfortably today. To go with the nice weather!
We saw you use a wood-scented candle in your YouTube content, is that still your preferred scent?
I always like woody fragrances. I use them in the winter, fall, and spring and I just use body lotion during summer. Woody scents don’t really seem right for the summer.
Is there any particularly memorable scent for you?
There was a fabric softener that was a trend for a while. That kind that smelled stronger when you rubbed your clothes. Hyungwon and I were obsessed with that fabric softener when we were trainees together at a different agency. Because we always smelled like sweat when we were training. The smell of fabric softener reminds me of that time. Back then I used four or five times as much as I needed to.
When do you feel like you are most being yourself?
When I’m filming my show? It’s inevitably different from filming with the members. I mean I’m still Minhyuk from Monsta X when I’m alone but when we’re all together, we’re definitely more Monsta X. When I’m alone, my natural personality tends to come out more.
Can you be a little more specific?
Like when I’m giving advice on Vogue Ship-Show. Honestly, that’s hard to do when I’m in an ‘idol persona.’ I have to be very cautious about what I can and can’t say. For example, a lot of viewers write in for relationship advice that I could easily give just as Minhyuk the person. And when they ask things like, ‘Is this person treating me badly?’ it’s because they want some affirmation and empathy. If I’m too conscious of being an idol, I’d probably default to a neutral position of ‘Oh, I’m not really sure,’ but I don’t want to do that. So I just let go of that caution during the show. Responding like, ‘Wow, that guy’s trash’ ‘don’t call him back’ ‘what the hell, that’s enough to make ME mad’, that feels more like the real me.
So you’re most yourself when you’re working, what a born-to-be idol. Post-debut, you called yourself the ‘important secret ingredient’ of the group, are you living up to that?
I actually forgot about that nickname for a long time, but I guess ultimately that’s what I’m striving for. Early on, going on Weekly Idol was seriously nerve-wracking. Everyone had a label to introduce them, like the main vocal, and I stayed up the whole night worrying about how I was going to describe myself. Then I just came up with that and said it on the show and it still comes up every so often.
What would you say was the most intense period of your life? Say, something that really tested your limits.
Promoting our first album was just fun and exciting. I’d wanted to debut for so long and just the fact that we’d done it was so exciting that I didn’t even feel tired. And back then we thought, just a little more, just one more comeback and we’ll get those #1s. I mean, all rookies feel that way at first. Everyone thinks they can be the best, no one comes out thinking ‘you know what, I’ll just be in third place.’ So we had a lot of fun at first but by the time our second album came out, reality started settling in and the hardships started. Back then, sometimes we couldn’t sleep for days in a row, we’d wash up at the sauna and head back to the broadcast station with no time to go home and rest. I have a lot of respect for myself back then because I don’t think I could do that now. Of course it was painful that we weren’t more successful but the fact that I made it through those days without any real dissatisfaction is pretty impressive.
Did those days make you who you are today?
But going through times like that won't necessarily make you a success either. I don’t know. Who even gets to decide what success is? There’s no endpoint for succeeding, which is why our agency still pushes us to work hard. And I agree.
You’re now in your seventh year as a singer. Is there any specific kind of song or music you still want to try?
I’ve gotten to do a lot of the things I wanted. We’ve done a lot within the Monsta X albums, I got to sing “Have A Goodnight” with Shownu on the OST for She’s My Type, and I even got to go on King of the Masked Singers. On our American album All About Luv, we did ballads, hip-hop, EDM, R&B and the members really like a lot of those songs. If I had the chance to do a ‘90s style ballad of my own, that would be really interesting and fun.
You’ve mentioned that you’re a fan of ‘90s music. Maybe that’s why you perform soft, lyrical songs well. How do you know so much about the ‘90s?
A lot of it comes from being a fan of DBSK sunbae-nims. I wanted to know what kind of songs my childhood idols listened to and sang.
Is there a Monsta X song that you’re especially fond of?
It’s on our upcoming mini album One of a Kind. Once the title song is revealed, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Every artist seems to have some ideal image of how they want to look on stage. What is something you always have in mind when performing?
I just want to be decently good at everything. Of course you have to sing and dance well on stage, but you have to be able to act out and express songs that are brighter or darker in mood, and you also have to be a good talker to keep a show running. I want to be able to play an important role in all those aspects. Rather than being outstanding in one area, I’d rather be an artist who’s decently good at all sides of performing.
This may be just opinion but it seems like someone’s performance style reflects somewhat on their personality. So would you say you’re a perfectionist?
Not really. I do get regular vocal lessons because I want to be a better vocalist. As a result, I got to the third round of Masked Singer, I got to participate in the OST, and I’m getting more parts in our albums (laughs).
How do you feel about your fans after seven years? What are you hoping the next seven years with them will be like?
The fans have always been such good, valuable friends to me. Earlier on, I had a kind of lighthearted desire to make them happy and that’s still there too but my feelings have changed somewhat. Nowadays, they feel almost maternal. I feel more like, “Oh, I’m so grateful for everything, I have to be good to them for the rest of my life, I’m so thankful for their support, I have to pay them back for everything they’ve done for me.”
Seems like you’ll be a ‘good son’ to your fans too. You’re known for being a ‘fansign artist’ who’s excellent at connecting with fans. Some fansign videos of you have gone viral.
That clip (where a fan said she knows it’s boring but she wanted to compare hand sizes with him and he said it’s not boring because it’s the first time with her) surprised me too. I didn’t know I said that. But I always approach them as sincerely as I can and I try to be the person that the fans want. That’s more comfortable for me. We do video call fansigns now and if we do 500 in a day, maybe 300 of them ask me to do some aegyo. I’m only human, it can get exhausting. But I’ll still do it every time.
You’ve also spent over seven years with the members at this point. What would it look like if you were to paint a picture of how your time together?
The colors would have to blend together well. I don’t think we started off as bright white. We started off as black, with nothing there and nothing visible, and gradually brightened to gray, sometimes to purple, and eventually the darkness cleared and our colors changed. By the end, I hope we’ll be a picture of bright colors in harmony.
In the age of online, no-contact concerts, what it is like to perform without a live audience of fans in front of you?
To be frank, it’s always going to be harder than the alternative. When we’re doing the choreography for our title songs, it’s really hard to do it more than once at a level of energy that’s satisfying. If we do it twice over with full energy, commitment and attention, I don’t have the strength to get up off the ground after we’re done. But weirdly enough, at a concert, I’m still flying around after a twenty-song setlist. The difference is the endorphins that come from hearing the crowds cheer. I’m convinced this is scientific. But for no-contact performances, we’re just facing dark cameras. Of course we try to think of and picture fans but in the end all that’s there is the cameras and it’s just hard. I think we’re all the more starved for that connection with fans. No matter what it would be like with them, it wouldn’t be this hard.
Monsta X already ranks high on the Billboard and Oricon charts and have established fanbases overseas. I’m sure you want to pursue those opportunities but obviously the current situation doesn’t allow for that. What do you think it’ll be like when you get to perform overseas again?
I’d love it, of course. Our world tours are where I’ve grown the most. Our Korean concerts have improved and word of mouth about them has spread all thanks to our world tours. They’ve provided most of our experience performing on stage. Thus we have the most opportunity to monitor ourselves and understand what works well, what doesn’t, and what kind of performer I am. I’m incredibly grateful for those experiences. To be honest, there’s a lot about world tours that are really tough. We never get a good night’s sleep, we’re often eating cold food and flying to a new country as soon as we wake up. They’re exhausting but incredible learning experiences and they’ve gifted us with a lot of fans, acquaintances, and accomplishments.
What would you say is the reason so many K-pop groups like Monsta X have become so globally popular?
I’d say it’s our ‘message.’ Hardly any artists appeal to the entire world’s markets the way K-pop artists do. There are obviously a lot of Billboard chart-toppers. There are so many famous artists but not many specifically aim at markets as diverse as Japan, China, southeast Asia, and America. It’s natural, because most of the Billboard artists are singing in their native English. But K-pop artists are signing in Chinese, Japanese, English, and communicating the same messages in albums in different languages. And our music videos often have messages of togetherness and being one. We even record promotional clips in the different languages of our target countries. We’re always trying to communicate a message of ‘closeness despite the distance’ and I think that’s a huge factor. That’s why I don’t believe the popularity of kpop is a passing trend. Unless other artists start to do the same thing, it’ll go on. Because it’s the only messaging of its kind.
Is there anything you haven’t shown us yet? What might we be able to expect from you in the future?
I want to try being a maknae for once. I want to be a regular on a variety show with a lot of sunbaes. I’ve never been a maknae in my life. I started training pretty late so I was never the youngest, I’m the oldest son at home, I’m one of the older members of Monsta X, I was the oldest when I was hosting Inkigayo and I’ve usually been the sunbae to our guests on Vogue Ship-Show. I want to be the younger one and have the chance to follow sunbaes with more experience and learn from them.
Source: W Korea (my translation)
He looks so good and he sounds good too! The interview is long (man loves to talk lol) but he did great, he’s one of the most relatively real idols I’ve seen.
500 video calls in a day sounds like a special kind of hell though