BET ON REAL
You’re back after 7 months with your new mini album One of A Kind, tell us what it means to you.
Jooheon: One of A Kind means exactly that, there’s only one in the world. So I wondered, what is the identity that only we have? First of all, I wanted to show off how talented all our members are, and then I wanted to make this album a final statement to demonstrate exactly who we are, so that we’ll need no further introduction.
Kihyun: We filled these songs with music and choreography that only we can do, on this album more so than any other.
How did you come up with the title and themes of “Gambler” and what message did you intend to convey with this song?
JH: I go through a lot of stuff here and there on the internet and I happened to start listening to the theme songs from the James Bond movies. And it hit me that this was it and I was thinking about how to adapt these themes to Monsta X when the 007 game popped into my head as well. I started fitting those puzzle pieces together into a design in my head and the lyrics ‘Zero zero lucky bang’ came naturally out of that. For Monsta X, “Gambler” symbolizes how we’re ready to bet our lives on our performances, music and fans. There’s a line in the lyrics, ‘If you don’t know, now you know. Ok? Deal.’ That means, if you don’t know us, you should get to because we’re here and ready to put everything on the line.
“Gambler” is the first title track by Jooheon. Did you produce this track intending for it to be a title and how do you feel about it becoming one?
JH: To give you a peek behind the scenes, this song was originally picked to be a b-side. I worked extremely hard on it so I tried to accept that but I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. Afterwards, we were discussing title song candidates with our agency and the members spoke up and with their suggestions and support, we eventually settled on “Gambler” as the title song. I was in my studio when I heard about the decision and I was so grateful that I almost cried. It’s a lot more meaningful to me because of that. I would never say that it’s all because I made a good song and I did a good job. But I did work very hard so I hope people will like it.
Did you do anything special to prepare for this album? Or make more effort in a certain area?
KH: I didn’t do anything particularly special but as always, I took good care of my physical condition by exercising and eating healthy. Our choreography is usually exhausting and this one was no exception, so if we don’t build up our baseline stamina, there’s no way we can even keep up.
JH: That’s true. I wish more people would appreciate that. Everything that goes into preparing an album, the song and dance and rehearsals, it all comes second to physical conditioning. The quality of an album will vary wildly depending on the shape that we’re in when we make it. All the members are taking good care of themselves in that way and I’m very happy with how well we recorded this album. Personally, I wanted to show off more of our vocal abilities. I really love to sing and I’ve always wanted to so I thought I should go for it on my own title song. So Kihyun and I recorded the ad-libs together and Minhyuk also pushed himself to pull off some very high notes. These were all new challenges I wanted to try together with the members.
Kihyun’s refreshing and powerful vocals were already the total package since your debut. How did those strengths contribute to this album?
KH: Recording for this album was fascinatingly easy. I think it’s because most of the songs, including the title, are in a musical style that I like. That made it more enjoyable and it was easier to focus and finish recording quickly. In particular, Jooheon knows exactly what I like and gave me parts in the title song fit me really well. It was a lot of fun to record so I hope a lot of people will listen to it.
JH: I believe this is really important. Finding that overlap between what you're good at doing and what you like to do helps you project the best energy on stage. I paid a lot of attention to that.
Jooheon, what did you want to express as a rapper through this album? You seemed to cross through many genres.
JH: I put a lot of the range that I want to demonstrate into this album but I also practice a lot to try and expand even more. To be honest, I used to insist on my rapping being technically difficult, in my own style, something that only I can do, but now I’ve come around to thinking that it should always be simple and easy. Because we’re making popular music for the masses. Now I try to maintain my own style but also want to make sure people can easily understand my lines as well. This goes for all the the songs on this album. I sang as well on the track "BEBE" and that went pretty smoothly.
I would guess that creating something that many people can easily connect with is actually harder than making something ostensibly complex.
JH: I would agree. But there are exceptions. A few days ago I saw they used my lines from “Shoot Out” for a round on Amazing Saturday. I actually don’t expect anyone other than me or the members to know those. People might wonder, why write lyrics that others can’t understand, but despite what we just discussed, I think it’s a musical style that’s unique to me.
How do you deal with those moments when things aren’t going well during production or recording?
KH: I take a quick break and start again. When you’re recording, it’s not like you can call it a day and try again tomorrow. I tend to get mad at myself when I’m not doing well so I take 5-10 minutes to calm down. After some rest and water, things usually pick up pretty quickly. When you’re in the recording booth, you have to do the same thing a lot of times so you can fall into making the same mistake over and over again. Taking a short break helps.
JH: I’ve tried all sorts of things while producing. If I really get stuck, sometimes I’ll just turn off the computer and watch a movie with a cold beer. But even then my mind is still on producing. The computer just happens to be off. As soon as something inspires me, I’m back in my seat turning it back on. I’m always trying to stay open and aware so I wouldn’t really say things don’t go well. It always works out somehow.
So Kihyun turns the switch off for a moment, while Jooheon keeps it on.
KH: That’s right.
We can’t discuss Monsta X without talking about your stage performances. What can we look forward to with "Gambler?"
KH: Our choreography for this song is really satisfying. I think a lot of people associate us with explosive performances but this time around the song and dance is still strong but more subtle and fits the 007 theme really well. There are a lot of talented idol teams out there but our performances are definitely unique. People always say they’re hard to follow but there’s even more of an ebb and flow to this one, threading the line between sharp and powerful. I hope people take note of that.
JH: I’m confident that we’re unrivaled in our performances. We don’t lose out to anyone. In "Gambler" as well, there are aspects that I think anyone would find impressive.
What’s something you’ve tried in your life that felt like a gamble?
KH: My first audition for Starship. I wasn’t originally planning to audition. But they kept persuading me to come and I debated about it a lot before going. At the time, it wasn’t easy to commit to this road, but I ended up auditioning and it brought me to where I am today.
JH: I’ve made so many gambles in my life but I would pick Crossfit. People ask me, how do you do it? Isn’t it hard? Don’t you get hurt? I started it knowing that it would be hard so it was a gamble for me. I thought, how long will I be able to do this? It’s going to be really tough. But my mind and mental state have improved a lot through Crossfit. I usually work out in the morning and after starting off the day with something that exhausting, every other physical challenge after that feels like nothing. I’ve been doing it for about two years now and it’s been great for my sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.
What has changed about your mindset between your debut seven years ago and now?
JH: It’s the same. But it used to be that we just tried hard at everything with no real idea what we were doing. We were chaotically busy and we just did everything we could. Now we can discern what is helpful to us and distinguish between how we approach things. But my basic mindset hasn’t changed. I want to keep showing off everything we can do as Monsta X until the end. I think keeping up that rookie spirit and ambition has kept us going the way we have been.
KH: I’ve changed a bit. I do agree with what Jooheon said, that when we were rookies we just worked as hard as we could, no questions asked. That’s still the same but we were pretty clueless back then and now I’ve figured out how to work more efficiently and what make fans happy and what works well for me. And I feel the need to take care of myself as well these days. That makes me happy.
With your level of experience, it would be easy to fall back on taking shortcuts but it’s impressive to see you still care about doing it right. Even today, it was clear you were both working your hardest at everything.
KH: We taped Weekly Idol yesterday and the staff gave us a round of applause, saying they’ve never seen a seven-year-old group that put that much hard work into performing.
JH: We danced hard enough to break bone and we were panting when we were done and they loved that.
KH: If we'd just half-assed it, think how embarrassing it would be to have that air on TV.
JH: Exactly. We always keep that in mind. We don’t want to be ashamed of ourselves and all our members believe in showing off what we can do with the utmost sincerity, no matter what the tangible results may be.
In your Youtube content and interviews, you indicate that you listen to quite a lot of music. What songs are you listening to these days?
KH: There’s a Youtube Music chart called the World Best 100. There’s music I typically listen to and also Latin and Indian music, songs that are popular in Europe or the Americas. It’s very diverse and it’s more fun to listen to than I expected. Recently I’ve been on a throwback to the songs I liked 10 years ago. I listen to them and remember, oh yeah this is how I wanted to sing.
JH: I listen to a ton of different music. The members ask me what is this song, and it’s from a playlist for dogs, or what is that song and it’s the OST from an anime. I also have a playlist for drama and movie OSTs. I love movie soundtracks in particular. There’s something majestic about them and it’s fascinating how the music I hear with my ears can transform the world I see with my eyes. When we were in London for our world tour, I was walking down the street listening to music from the Harry Potter movies and everything around me started feeling like I had walked into that world. That made me realize that unique power music has. I also love music by Paul McCartney and Dominic Fike. I really recommend Dominic Fike’s song “The Kiss of Venus.” And of course Paul McCartney is a total legend. The fact that he’s still making the music he wants to is truly amazing.
Any Korean or foreign artists you’re taking note of? Any dream collaborations?
KH: My favorite artist these days is Stevie Wonder. He’s been inspiring and moving people with his music for an unbelievably long time. I saw a video of him performing from about a year ago and his voice is still incredible. If we could ever work with him, it would be the honor of my life.
JH: I’m a huge fan of Omega Sapien from the hip-hop crew Balming Tiger. I’d love to work with him and I’m actually in the process of reaching out to him for a collaboration. I’d also like to work with george (죠지) or CL someday.
We know Kihyun’s voice works very well for OSTs as well, any particular genre you’d like to sing for?
KH: Maybe something in the vein of the rock songs that I cover sometimes? I’ve talked about it a lot but I actually have yet to release my own song under my own name. And my genre preferences tend to switch a lot these days. They’re usually not my favorite but lately I’ve been wanting to sing ballads all of a sudden.
JH: It’s gonna be a big deal if Kihyun starts singing ballads. He’s really good.
Then what kind of movie or drama plot would that work well with?
KH: Maybe a romcom? Something like About Time?
JH: No, more than that, I wish he’d sing for a sageuk (historical drama) OST. Just because I really like sageuks.
This past Children’s Day, Jooheon became the last member to start his own Instagram account. I’m sure you put a lot of thought into your first post, so what kind of space did you want your account to be?
JH: My first upload was a video that I asked a friend to make for me. I added music that I produced but the reaction was pretty split. You know how people hang celebratory banners in front when they star a new business or open a shop, kind of like that, I wanted to start my Instagram with some fanfare. On Children’s Day. I put the phrase “all-round player” in my bio and true to that, I want to show people things that make them wonder, what can’t he do? What isn’t he good at? I mean, I don’t know if that’s going to work or not but I’m trying. Truth is, I’m an Instagram newbie.
But why on Children’s Day?
JH: I really like kids. I always consider sincerity and innocence to be very important. Children are the most innocent beings on earth and they’re our future. I like the day that celebrates them.
It’s a lot of fun to watch Kihyun Minhyuk and Hyungwon, the so-called “fake 93s,” bicker amongst themselves. How would you describe your dynamic?
JH: Those three. Oh, they are unbelievable.
KH: These members are the source of all the incidents and jokes that come up within our group.
JH: They’re a trident! They’re basically forks that are constantly poking me.
So they’re three forks?
KH: In short, I guess you could say we’re the instigators of all the things that happen amongst Monsta X? Whether that’s making fun of each other or setting a certain vibe.
JH: That’s correct. It always starts with something that one of those three tosses out.
KH: We each have our separate roles. To use a metaphor, Minhyuk is the one that first throws the ball, Hyungwon is the one that rolls it along and makes it snowball, and I’m the one that hits it out of the park. That’s always the routine. And it’s usually Jooheon or Changkyun (I.M) that goes flying (laughs). Shownu throws himself.
JH: But it’s not just those three, all our members tend to pile on when we’re joking around so it’s always super fun when we’re together.
KH: There were times when we were laughing so much we never got around to actually practicing.
Kihyun is very active in communicating with fans. Even for an idol, that’s not an easy thing and it takes quite a bit of effort. What drives you to do that?
KH: At first I made up my mind just to communicate with them no matter what. That’s what I thought I should do. For example, I decided I was going to post to the fancafe every day but then at some point I started feeling like maybe I was being too perfunctory. Obviously communication involves a sense of mutual connection so now I’m just trying to make sure our fans know that we honestly think of them often.
Jooheon is known as Minhyuk’s clear favorite within the team and we’d like to know how you honestly feel about that.
JH: Minhyuk cares about me a lot. This is a bit of TMI but a while ago he gave me a present all of a sudden. We were getting hair and makeup one morning and suddenly he comes to me like, here Jooheon, I got you something, I had it shipped in from abroad. It was a child’s umbrella with bumblebees on it. I thought to myself, are you kidding? I’m 27 years old, why is he giving me a kid’s umbrella? I opened it and it was just barely big enough for me to fit under. I don’t think he knew it was kid-sized. But when he does stuff like that it I do feel that he really does like me a lot, sometimes even too much. I’m going to take a good picture of it someday soon. But honestly I wish he wouldn’t come up to me and start pinching and messing with me so much (laughs). Of course, I like to do the same to him too.
One thing that always comes up about Kihyun is how neat and tidy he is. Do you think of yourself that way? When do those traits most often come into play?
KH: I’m not really sure that I am. In fact, my own room and space has its own set of rules that I keep to but it’s not actually that clean. But I do really hate it when someone doesn’t clean up after their self in a shared space. I consider that to be such basic manners that when that happens I can’t stand it and end up cleaning it up myself.
JH: Which one of us is the worst about that?
KH: Oh come on, you know (laughs). The fans all know too.
Do you clean up all the messes the other members make?
KH: Obviously I clean up after myself but these days I don’t clean for the others as much anymore. I used to do it all the time but I gave up on them.
So it does sound like you’re in charge of keeping things tidy even though you say you’re not.
KH: I think other people just tend to think of me as more meticulous than I am. I’m not so sure myself.
Kihyun is also known as a homebody with a lot of hobbies, like photography and raising houseplants. Is there something new you’d like to try when promotions are over?
KH: I’ve been spending so much time at home that now I want to go camping.
Are you no longer a homebody then?
KH: I’ve actually got a really active personality. I want to go somewhere out in the wilderness like the mountains or riverside or woods, not just a campground. I’ve been at home too long.
During the W YouTube Live broadcast you did with us, Jooheon seemed quite good at organizing everything that’s going on.
JH: I think keeping things organized and running on track is crucial to a show overall. It helps raises the quality of the show from the viewers’ perspective.
Are you like this in your daily life as well?
JH: I am. I care a lot more about keeping things orderly and organized than you might think. Once our stylists happened to see my packed luggage for our world tour and they were surprised because it was so neat and efficiently organized. People probably think I’d just throw things in any which way but I put a lot of care and time into organizing.
KH: Let me give you a clear example. I mentioned this for the YouTube interview we filmed today but recently I made jjampong for Jooheon and jjajangmyun for Minhyuk. Jooheon enjoyed his food, then washed his dishes and cleaned up after himself. But Minhyuk ate what I made for him and then left the dishes, spoon and chopsticks for me to clean up and wash (sighs).
Haha, well, that definitely gives us a sense of their personalities.
KH: Please promise me you’re going to print that (laughs).
The other members have mentioned here and there that Jooheon tends to pout or sulk easily. That seems like it comes from having so much affection and attention towards the others. Do you prefer being with other people to being independent?
JH: I have both sides to my personality. I’m incredibly independent about some things but I also crave connection with others a lot.
KH: And the members know this well. We like making fun of Jooheon because his reactions are so entertaining. Especially the fake 93s (Minhyuk, Kihyun, Hyungwon).
JH: I usually react really big so the others like to say I take a lot of damage (laughs). I yell out loud and act funny so the hyungs keep that ball rolling. And then naturally I get madder. Of course, it’s not like I’m getting genuinely upset over petty things every day. I think a lot of fans have come to believe I get upset or sulky over every little thing but I swear that’s not true. I really hope they don’t get the wrong idea. And I do call the members at really early hours to get their opinions on my music and I do feel a little bad but it’s a way of expressing my affection for them. I always want more of the members.
Is there a difference between who you are as Monsta X in public and who you are when you’re just Yoo Kihyun and Lee Jooheon?
KH: That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When we were starting out, a lot of sunbaes and elders around us advised me that it would be vital to distinguish between being Monsta X’s Kihyun and just Yoo Kihyun the human being. That didn’t really resonate with me back then. I thought I should just be honest in every situation. And I’ve kept that up so far but lately I’ve started to feel like, ah, I really should make a distinction. Of course I’ll still be honest when I’m being Monsta X’s Kihyun but I’m starting to understand what they meant about that need to compartmentalize. There’s a lot of responsibility and effort that goes into being a member of Monsta X but I think there’s also a way to exist as Yoo Kihyun the person by taking care of myself and what I need outside of that. But I haven’t really figured out how to do that yet so it’s just something I’m thinking about.
JH: The second I step out there as a member of Monsta X I’m ready for battle, so to speak. The ambition that I have to go further and do better drives the heat inside me, the energy that I let off onstage, the belief and ability that we can do things no one else can. Let’s call it confidence with courtesy. When I’m just Lee Jooheon I’m pretty much like a kid.
You mean like an innocent child?
JH: Yeah, I’m pretty childlike and then completely transform when I’m Monsta X.
Does that time you spend being like a child help sustain Monsta X’s Jooheon?
JH: I think that time provides me with the energy that I project onstage. I’m actually someone who worries and overthinks a lot. But I try not to think like that and tell myself to be confident, don’t get scared and just go for it, run at it.
Are there any aspects of the members’ personalities that you wish your could learn or have for yourself?
JH: Everyone as at least one. Kihyun is extremely sensible in how he considers situations, makes decisions, solves problems. And he has his own kind of finesse in how he tells it exactly like it is without making the listener feel bad. I wish I could learn how to do that. That and how well he treats his parents.
KH: Jooheon challenges himself constantly. In music, in fashion, even in doing a sport like Crossfit. He challenged himself in producing "Gambler" as well. This is something I think a lot of people can learn from, not just me. It’s not easy to put your words and ideas into action the way he does.
Where do you think you will be in seven years?
JH: Let’s say this for one another. Wouldn’t Kihyun be someone very important at Starship by then? That’s what I think. He’s going to be the next K-Will.
KH: That sounds pretty good. I’ve semi-jokingly said before that I intend to become an executive at Starship (laughs). I think Jooheon will be the same as he is now. I’m not sure what he’ll be doing but I have good reason to believe that. The most constant members of our team are Jooheon and Shownu. Have you seen their childhood pictures? They look the same as they did back then and they act the same as they always have. I think even in seven years, he’ll call out hyuuuung whenever he sees me and video-call me at ungodly hours. As people age, some of them grow into their age, some stay as they are, some even regress, and I think Jooheon will still be the same. By the way, Jooheon’s father is also incredibly hip and stays young. He’s super stylish, he dresses a lot like we do. So I think future Jooheon won’t have changed much.
JH: Some fans brought this up around the time I started writing songs for Cravity. They said they think I’ll be a producer in the future. But who knows exactly what I’ll be doing.
Source: W Korea 1 2 (my translation)
It’s cracking me up that 5/6 members of this group have slowly but surely become slabs of beef (hang in there, Min)
Another great interview with our favorite main vocal and main rapper and jfc do they both have a lot to say 🥴