TXT's Taehyun Is Ready for His Next Challenge

TXT's Taehyun Is Ready for His Next Challenge

by Crystal Bell

PAPER is spending this week inside the minds of Tomorrow X Together (known as TXT). Check back tomorrow at 11 AM EST for our interview with Hueningkai.

Truly mastering a skill is said to take roughly 10,000 hours of practice. It sounds like a long time to spend getting good at something — and it is — but Kang Taehyun of Tomorrow X Together loves a challenge.

More so, he loves to challenge himself. The 19-year-old vocalist says his motto in life is to "try new things," which is why he has a tendency to throw himself into hobbies. He's dabbled in magic (sleight of hand, not casting spells), boxing, songwriting and soccer, among countless other interests. It's that innate curiosity that led him to join an entertainment company at a young teen when, in his own words, "I was a terrible singer!"

"I can say with confidence that I am a 'nose to the grindstone' kind of person," Taehyun tells PAPER. "It's really just my passion that has allowed me to become who I am now and develop as a singer. I had to really work hard at it."

Everything started in his childhood living room, where his older sister would watch her favorite idols perform on weekly music shows and variety programs. That's when Taehyun himself became enamored with the spectacle of stardom, specifically the allure of being an idol singer. "The first time I saw SHINee's music video [for 'Replay'] and watched their performance, I thought that they were really incredible," he says. (Taehyun's admiration for SHINee is well-documented on the internet; he got the chance to meet his idol Taemin last year, and it's one of the only times the typically calm and collected teen has looked absolutely flustered.)

Jacket: Valentino, Top: Botter, Pants: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Necklace: Beatriz Palacios, Ring: Numbering

"I never really told anyone about my dream [of becoming a singer] growing up," he adds. "I kept it to myself. Then I had the opportunity to audition for Big Hit when I was in middle school, and that's when I started nurturing this dream."

Taehyun will be the first to admit that he doesn't think of himself as a natural. Yet, during his 2016 audition with Big Hit Music, in which he sang Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" and Kim Jaejoong's "I'll Protect You," the company saw something in him despite his lack of technique. It was confidence. Kang Taehyun doesn't half-ass anything. If he wants something badly enough, he will figure out a way to make it happen, even through pure grit and bravado. He's talented, yes. But that talent is the result of a tremendous amount of work and self-discipline. "I take on challenges regardless of the outcome, but at the same time it's a learning experience," he says. "I try to see if it's something that requires this much time and effort. I constantly think about that to make sure I do my best without burning out or feeling disappointed."

It helps, of course, that Taehyun is someone who believes that knowledge is power; the more you know, the better equipped you are to deal with all potential outcomes, good and bad. He's wildly precocious. He didn't just learn how to sing and dance — he studied these disciplines inside and out. He picked songs apart and put them back together again in order to understand the difference between a good song and a timeless one.

"I take on challenges regardless of the outcome, but at the same time it's a learning experience."

"When I became part of this company, I immersed myself in music from around the world," he says. "That's when I realized that music was something that I wanted to do. Being part of the trainee process, we would be tested and evaluated and receive a lot of feedback, sometimes negative feedback. There are elements [of it] that are stressful. But never once did I lose my passion for music and performance."

He's recently discovered a newfound passion for writing topline melodies. He's a credited songwriter on some of TXT's most recent tracks, including "Balance Game," "No Rules," "Dear Sputnik" and "MOA Diary." It's a fun challenge, he says. "Songwriting is something that I really wanted to do when I was a trainee," Taehyun explains. "But at that time it was more important to focus on the singing and the choreography and the performance. But now all of us — myself, the other members, and the label — agree that we want to make songs that have more of ourselves and our opinions and our input in them. That's something that I love and want to do well."

As for his love of toplining, he adds, "Writing the melody is really important because someone is going to hear this melody." And if it's a really good melody, they won't be able to unhear it. "So you have to be able to express the nuances and the emotions to be able to sing that melody really well."

Jacket: Valentino, Top: Botter, Pants: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Necklace: Beatriz Palacios, Ring: Numbering

In addition to his bandmates and their devoted fandom, Taehyun looks to global pop stars like Bieber (now his HYBE labelmate) and The Kid Laroi for songwriting inspiration. "I try to become inspired by and look at pop artists and pop stars who are pushing the genre forward," he says, embracing the company's collaborative process: "I was able to work with a lot of top songwriters and realized that things can be done in ways that I never really thought about." Though, he does admit that he's also not the kind of person who needs constant creative stimulation. "This may seem unromantic," he grins wryly, "but I think it's also my strength that I don't really have to go anywhere to be inspired. I can just be sitting at my desk and come up with a melody." It's about trusting the process, he nods. The melodies will come."

Taehyun's practicality is how he's able to take on so many projects. Because it's also important to know when to quit. That's a challenge in and of itself. "I want to try as many things as I can while I'm young," he says. "I should try to do as many things as possible. That's why I like to take on these challenges. But when you're experiencing challenges, you have to face reality, and it's important to assess and figure out if it's possible." He pauses to ponder. "I always ask myself, 'Is this something I can do?'"

He never questioned whether or not he could become a singer. He knew he could, even when his parents and his friends couldn't see it. He saw it in himself. It was a shiny new thing worth pursuing — a practical use of his time and energy and talent.

"Being an idol is a job," he says. "But there was never a time when I didn't love dancing and singing. I don't think I'll ever feel that way. That's not something I worry about, and I actually think that's something that makes me really lucky."

Photography: Ahn Yeonhoo
Styling: Kukseon Hyun, Bokyung Go
Makeup: Han Areum
Hair: Kim Seungwon
Global communications: Yujin Yang, Judy Jang, Yunjoo Park, Jieun Lee
Visual creative: Hyunju Lee, Rakta
Artist management: Kim Dae Young, Kim Ji Soo, Shin Seung Chan, Ko Youngwook, Song Jaekeun