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 Beomgyu.
The life of an idol is that of constant motion. That's what Choi Yeonjun likes about it. As a dancer, he's learned how to adapt, to resist inertia and move forward with grace. It's what makes him so alluring, both on the stage as a member of Tomorrow X Together and off. He moves through life with a casual coolness, the picture-perfect vision of an "It" boy — but inside, an insatiable hunger grows.
"The older I get and the more interest people have in us the more I think that I should be better," the 21-year-old performer tells PAPER. "It increases my sense of responsibility."
Yeonjun is a perfectionist, never fully satisfied and always striving to be the best. That desire has only intensified as Tomorrow X Together's (also known as TXT) influence has grown. Their ascent as one of K-pop's top-selling boy groups has been swift and maybe a bit overwhelming, but Yeonjun doesn't find it burdensome. It's a distinction he wears with pride. "I don't consider it a burden because that's the motivation that allows me to grow and to keep trying harder so that I can become the best that I can become," he explains.
He wants to be clear: "Putting that pressure on myself is what's driving me forward."
The thing is Yeonjun had never felt passionate about anything until he found dance. It was his first love. He joined the dance club in middle school without any lofty expectations. In fact, he only did it so that he could have a reason to hang out with his friends after school. But he quickly found himself immersed in the fluidity and freedom of dance. By 16, he decided to pursue dancing seriously. "It's the first thing that I really thought of as something that I wanted to do in the future," he says.
Top: Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Pants: Marni, Necklace: JW Anderson, Bracelet: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Ring: Portrait Report
Growing up, it wasn't always easy to express himself in words. He was an energetic only child who needed an outlet. So dancing became a way for him to articulate all of the things he wanted to say but didn't always know how to.
He was scouted by Big Hit Music as a young teenager, passing the second-round audition with his own self-penned lyrics. Throughout his four years of training, Yeonjun became known as the company's "legendary trainee" because he consistently ranked first during monthly evaluations in dance, vocal performance and rap. But he was far from a natural, or so he says.
"I never really thought that I was good at singing or rap or dancing," Yeonjun explains. "I never really thought that I had those abilities. It's something that I practiced. It was only after becoming a trainee that other people used to tell me that I had a unique voice and that I sounded good. I never really thought I had a talent in any of these things."
"I'm always trying really hard to show the best version of myself when I'm performing."
It's not that Yeonjun doesn't know how to take a compliment, but rather he'd like to be acknowledged for the right things. "I love myself," he says, pointedly. "But I'm always trying really hard to show the best version of myself when I'm performing."
That hard work hasn't gone unnoticed. He's been recognized as one of the top performers of his generation. His solo dance performance, set partially to Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar," has more than seven million views. It was the first time Yeonjun had to stand alone on stage, but it gave him the opportunity to showcase his burgeoning artistry. Both playful and cool, the performance was a synchronous extension of himself.
In a behind-the-scenes video of his rehearsals, an exhausted Yeonjun lays on the floor of his practice room. He's gasping for breath. "[It] isn't easy," he says. Then, a moment of clarity: "But frankly it's more fun because it isn't. It's no fun if it's easy."
Top: Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, Pants: Marni, Shoes: Celine, Necklace: JW Anderson, Bracelet: Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello, Ring: Portrait Report, Hat: Celine
It's not perfection that he's chasing; he wants to be challenged, which is why he's broadening his artistic lens and exploring new passions. He made his New York Fashion Week debut earlier this year in a virtual presentation for South Korean label ul:kin. A few weeks later he dropped his own collaboration with the brand. "I barely knew how to dress in middle school," he laughs. "I was really ordinary." Now, he says, "I feel like I dress well, but I also want to try a diversity of styles. There's more I can do!"
To him, clothes are just another form of self-expression, a way to exist outside of the binary. Fashion is as limitless and freeing as dance. In an interview with Vogue Korea, he rhetorically asked, "Who even decided what clothes are for women and what clothes are for men?"
He's also maturing as a songwriter. Yeonjun is a credited writer on TXT's most recent single "LO$ER=LO♡ER," a pop-rock song about teenage ennui. He penned his own verse. "Falling is beautiful," he raps. "I gladly sink." It's the same Yeonjun who finds joy in challenging himself, in pushing himself to the extreme.
"I'm strict with myself," he concedes. Yet, it's that level of diligence that's earned him a new nickname: "4th Gen It Boy." Truthfully, he's still trying to figure out what an "It" boy actually is. When asked about his "It" boy qualities, he takes a moment to really ponder the qualifications. "Being visible and being really good, working hard, and standing out," he says. "I think that's where the nickname comes from."
"It's a big sense of pride for sure. When we first heard this title, it really felt like we were being recognized," he adds. "For me, it's a really great title. I feel like it's something that I should strive to maintain. There's that element of pressure, but I'm really thankful for that pressure."
Who is Yeonjun if not a person who thrives under such conditions, like a diamond formed under volcanic pressure?
"It's something that I strive to be," he says. "It allows me to do more, try harder, and show the best of myself that I can."
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
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