Tomorrow X Together: “Our fans are always there by our side. That’s why they’re our heroes”

They won Hero of the Year at the BandLab NME Awards 2022 by a fan-voted landslide, but the boyband remain humble with new EP ‘minisode 2: Thursday’s Child’

Five men dressed like vampiric undertakers glare at the camera as they execute forceful dance moves, blazing a path through a fiery guitar riff. A nihilistic attitude – the kind that comes when you’ve been pushed to your absolute limit and something inside of you has snapped – burns through their eyes, bringing a villainous edge to their expressions.

In the canon of Tomorrow X Together’s ever-striking music videos, it’s a far cry from that of their 2019 debut single ‘Crown’, which found the South Korean five-piece bright, fresh-faced and smiley. The title of the track that accompanies these dark new visuals says it all, though – each cherubic sweetheart of yore has been tainted by life and turned into, as per the new song’s title, a ‘Good Boy Gone Bad’.

In the time since ‘Crown’’s release, Tomorrow X Together, or TXT, have made their mark as curious genre-hoppers, dabbling in styles from the tropical house-pop of 2019’s ‘Our Summer’ to the darting hyper-pop of 2021’s ‘Frost’. Continuing that trajectory, their sublime new EP ‘minisode 2: Thursday’s Child’, released earlier this week, packs in everything from sparkling synth-pop (‘Thursday’s Child Has Far To Go’) to contemporary R&B (‘Lonely Boy’).

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

This musical exploration is part of what has led them to their status as globally-renowned rising stars, a position that’s brought them recognition at home and abroad – including at the BandLab NME Awards 2022 in March, where they were voted Hero Of The Year after receiving a whopping 40 per cent of the public vote. It was resounding proof of the impact the young band (Yeonjun is the oldest at 22 and Hueningkai the youngest at 19) are having on the world.

When NME brings up their recent award win as they join us on Zoom one Seoul morning, grins spread across their faces and the quietly mischievous Hueningkai emphatically raises two thumbs to the camera. “We were really grateful that we were voted by so many people globally,” the group’s level-headed leader Soobin says humbly, quickly following up his appreciation with a promise typical of the hard-working act: “It really made us want to work even harder and make even better music.”

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Soobin. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

They’re certainly doing that with ‘minisode 2: Thursday’s Child’, a striking break-up album. The record continues a theme they’ve been unfolding since they became the first boyband to debut under BigHit Entertainment (now known as HYBE) since the world-conquering BTS.

Over the course of three EPs and two albums, the group have shared the tales of young people navigating the spiralling rollercoaster ride of growing up, from escaping the trials of reality with your best mates (the Harry Potter-referencing ‘9 And Three Quarters (Run Away)’) to feeling isolated and ignored (the velvety indie-rock of ‘Ghosting’) and finding your first love (the full-hearted emo-rock roar of ‘0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)’).

The five members – Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun and Hueningkai – might have grown along the way, but one thing has remained consistent about the songs they’ve shared with the world. Each is infused with the band’s personal takes on life, committed to only including authentic stories in their music. “As a team, we’re all about reflecting the world as we see it or, basically, the experiences we and our generational peers go through,” says the charismatic Beomgyu.

“Winning Hero of the Year at the BandLab NME Awards 2022 made us want to work even harder” – Soobin

It’s an aspect of TXT that is often given a lot of attention, scoring praise from fans and critics alike for how relatable their records are. For the group, though, this comes instinctively. “Aren’t most people inspired by emotions they understand?” Taehyun, the band’s deep thinker, muses. “The more we understand something, the deeper we can dive into it. We’ve made a lot of progress – both musically and personally speaking – but because we’re still people who are growing, it was natural for us to address issues and experiences that were relevant to us.”

Their realistic and empathetic portrayal of youth has done more than just strike a chord with their fans, known as MOA, which stands for “moments of alwaysness” and highlights the way in which they and the band share every moment of their journeys together. Along with the members’ habit of checking in, chatting and doling out advice to their listeners online, this has provided much comfort. It also seems in direct contrast to the perceptions of polished, hard-to-reach superstars that the idol label – which refers to artists in the K-pop scene – creates.

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Tomorrow X Together on the cover of NME

If MOA look at TXT as their heroes, then the feeling is very much mutual. “They cheer for us and whenever we’re down, they lift us up, so we love them very much,” Hueningkai says sweetly, still smiling broadly. “Whenever we’re happy, we realise that MOA were always there by our side, so that’s why they’re our heroes,” Beomgyu adds in agreement.

These comments might seem like simple moments of fan service, but TXT don’t see their relationship with their fans in such a transactional way. As Gen Zers, their peer group is well-versed in connecting with new people around the world online, and those digital avenues have given the band ways to cultivate a “very deep and trusting friendship”, as Taehyun describes it, with their fanbase.

As well as social media interactions, the five-piece spend a lot of time hanging out with MOA on Weverse, the fan community platform launched by HYBE, which offers a space focused on one artist to communicate with other fans and the stars themselves. You’ll find TXT sharing candid diary entries, opening up about their own struggles and sharing words of wisdom in response to others’ posts. Where some artists might decide offering solace in their songs is enough, TXT go the extra mile to be there for their listeners in a much more personal way.

“I was really surprised by Avril Lavigne’s positive feedback on my cover of ‘Sk8er Boi’. I still feel honoured” – Hueningkai

This openness hasn’t always come so easily to the group – especially when each member was unveiled online via a short introduction video in 2019; Yeonjun’s came first and racked up over 6million views in less than 24 hours. “When we first debuted, it was really awkward to share these things with MOA,” Taehyun nods in acknowledgement. “But, as time went by, we really became good friends, and it was easier for us to share every little thing.” His serious expression slips into a soft smile: “Now, I think there’s no relationship that’s more special.”

As TXT continue to get bigger – as they have done at a lightning-quick rate – the challenge will be maintaining that feeling of closeness with an ever-growing group of followers. Hueningkai is unfazed by the idea: “I think it’s all about staying honest and opening up. We – MOA and us – have said so many things and shared so many experiences together, whether that be through our music or through all the conversations we have online or through whatever other means we have. Our bond has only grown stronger, and we’re sure it’ll continue to grow.”

The bond between the two parties feeds directly into TXT’s music, creating a full-circle effect. Although they’re keen to fill their songs with their own tales, Yeonjun concedes there are aspects of adolescence and young adulthood they can’t speak to. Instead of making up stories and hoping to get them right, they turn to their fans. “We can’t experience everything in the world, so when we see what MOA writes, we really learn how they feel and think,” the dynamic singer and rapper explains. “It’s a wonderful inspiration, and they’re a big help to us.”

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Taehyun, Soobin and Beomgyu. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

Tomorrow X Together continue to be a guide to growing up – or a reminder of the storms already weathered by older listeners – for their fans on ‘Thursday’s Child’. The new EP’s title is a nod to the nursery rhyme ‘Monday’s Child’, which assesses those born on the fourth day of the week as having “far to go” – or, in other words, are set to be incredibly successful.

That meaning might seem at odds with the record’s themes of a bitter break-up, but Soobin points to Thursday’s position on the calendar – a weekday that almost takes us into the weekend – as a metaphor for the trajectory the EP takes. “The protagonist’s journey of acceptance and self-discovery is still ongoing,” he explains. “He’s at that stage where he’s at the cusp between adolescence and adulthood, and his first farewell is a part of it. During that process, he experiences a lot of emotions like anger or grief, but in the end, he’ll be able to accept it and move on in whatever way he sees fit. The point is we’re not quite there – but almost.”

‘Thursday’s Child’ picks up where we left TXT last year on the sublime ‘The Chaos Chapter’ series – the 2021 albums ‘Freeze’ and ‘Fight Or Escape’, which entered tumultuous new territory as impending adulthood brought new challenges to their doors. On those records, they first found a love so potent it felt like they could power through any of the struggles our cruel, cold world threw at them.

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Yeonjun. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

But soon after the events of the latter album’s raspy emo-rock of ‘LO$ER=LO♡ER’, on which they declared their partner their salvation and soulmate, that first romance crumbled around them. Both albums possessed a feeling that they were searching for something missing, the catalyst for which was the British TV series The End Of The F***ing World. “We drew inspiration from the fact that the characters in the show had these holes in their souls,” Taehyun notes.

Now, they’re processing the feelings of the break-up on this new release – not least on the aforementioned ‘Good Boy Gone Bad’. Where some break-up songs might portray the wreckage of a relationship sadly and tenderly, TXT take a different tact, embracing wrath on the explosive rock song. “Gouge you out of my heart / Bleeding out the traces of you,” Hueningkai sighs. “Rather than hiding our emotions and trying to push them down, it’s a candid expression of these feelings,” Yeonjun says matter-of-factly.

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Beomgyu. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

“Candid” feels like an understatement when you take in some of the anguished lyrics on ‘Thursday’s Child’. “I’m bleeding painfully,” Taehyun and Soobin sing on the stormy ‘Opening Sequence, while ‘Good Boy Gone Bad’ is full of candidates for most dramatic lyric, not least Hueningkai’s “I’m like a zombie dead alive / Born over a tomb of love.” This EP might be the band’s first time delving into the vernacular of rage, but they effortlessly nail just how enormous and extreme everything feels in your youth.

Although this record doesn’t directly lift from the genres, it shares similarities with the resurgent spirits of pop-punk and emo – both of which coloured parts of ‘The Chaos Chapter’ era. TXT’s fellow Gen Z cohorts have brought aspects of those sounds back into all circles of music – from rock and pop to hip-hop and beyond – and Beomgyu suggests their revival is down to how they reflect the acute earnestness of youth.

“Pop-punk resonates with us because it can be very intense and straightforward self-expression” – Beomgyu

“I think pop-punk, in particular, might resonate with us because it can be very intense and straightforward in terms of self-expression,” he notes. “And as a generation that is still going through a transitional stage of growth, we do appreciate opportunities to express ourselves. Good music is good music. What draws us [as a band] back to older sounds is, in the end, whether or not we like the sound and mood it presents.”

Outside of their own music, TXT have also given props to the scene’s predecessors – in February, Hueningkai shared a vibrant, faithful cover of Avril Lavigne’s smash hit ‘Sk8er Boi’. It quickly drew attention from the Canadian icon, who tweeted her thoughts on it hours after the track had been uploaded to YouTube: “Amazing cover!”

“I’ve always liked ‘Sk8er Boi’ and, since our last release was influenced by rock music, I thought it was the perfect time to record and share my version of the song,” Hueningkai shares happily now. “I was really surprised by her positive feedback – I still feel honoured.”

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

TXT boast unquenchable inventiveness as they expand their creative contributions to their music: Beomgyu, Taehun, Yeonjun and Hueningkai secured writing or production credits on this EP. The writing process saw them draw on an assortment of inspirations: “I think about dance and movement a lot when songwriting,” Yeonjun, a budding choreographer and skilled dancer, says. “When I was working on the rap for ‘Good Boy Gone Bad’, I focused a lot on what kind of movements I’d be showing on stage. I wanted to put a lot of weight on the roughness and mania we were to portray.”

It also highlights the band’s love of world-building, which TXT craft in a similarly meta way to artists like Taylor Swift and The 1975, littering references to their old work in new tracks. This time, it’s apparent in the soft and sorrowful indie-pop ballad ‘Trust Fund Baby’, which acts as a thread to TXT’s past, flipping ‘LO$ER=LO♡ER’’s “lover with a dollar sign” lyric to “lover with no dollar sign” as they cynically dissect money’s influence on love and life.

No matter what they’ve been through in a song or record – or whether it ties back to previous releases – the five-piece have a habit of always managing to locate a positive note. ‘Thursday’s Child…’ is a perfect example, as they find inspiration in the TikTok trend #breakupglowup – a celebration of not wasting any more time crying over an ex and focussing on yourself instead – and present themselves as ready to get over their heartbreak.

“In the end, our songs are always about growth,” Taehyun explains. “So that’s the reason why they always come back to the positive side.” Beomgyu nods from the other side of the table: “It’s a part of the process of having these experiences and growing.”

NME Cover 2022 Tomorrow X Together
Taehyun. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

Since 2019’s ‘Crown’, Tomorrow X Together haven’t stopped blossoming, even with the world on pause for the last two years. They are significant players on the global music scene, rather than just associates of Korean music’s biggest export, BTS. Last year, TXT were the longest-charting Korean artist on the Billboard 200 with ‘The Chaos Chapter: Freeze’ and were the only Korean act to debut three albums on the same chart in 2021, while pre-orders for ‘Thursday’s Child’ surpassed 1.4million sales worldwide in just 15 days.

The five-piece might be on the verge of going absolutely stratospheric, but they’re not forgetting their roots, which are firmly planted in putting the graft in. Like most K-pop artists, they all worked through the industry’s rigorous training system – an often years-long process where they study singing, dancing, rapping, modelling, acting, language and more in the hopes of making it into a group. Each member, of course, impressed their label enough to be selected for the final line-up.

“Looking back, I know we worked our hardest,” Beomgyu says. “We know we gave it our all, so, although we’ve learnt a lot of things since then, I don’t think I’d want us to do anything differently.”

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Hueningkai. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

Not everything has been plain sailing for the band, mind – not least in having to learn how to meld five distinctive and different personalities harmoniously. True to form, they’ve always been open about not always getting along in their early days, citing their differing backgrounds as something they had to come to understand and appreciate. Those times are far behind them, though, with their interband relationships more robust than ever.

“We’ve bonded over the same dream of making music and performing in front of people since we were young boys, and we’ve realised this dream together,” explains Beomgyu. “We’re constantly spending time together. We share the same experiences, which means we see a lot of big things in the same way now, even if we didn’t always before. And in situations where we don’t see eye-to-eye, we know how to navigate and find middle ground. Now, we’re still working towards realising even more dreams together, which strengthens our camaraderie even more.”

“We drew inspiration from The End Of The F***ing World. The characters had holes in their souls” – Taehyun

They’ve also been bonded by the fact they are one of the acts spearheading Korean culture’s exponential growth overseas. Even in the three years since they first started making waves, Korean music, films, TV shows have become more popular with international audiences, be that BTS comfortably selling out stadiums abroad, 2019’s Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars, or K-dramas Squid Game, Hellbound and All Of Us Are Dead dominating Netflix.

“We’re very happy that we can reach more and more of the world and connect with everyone, no matter where they are,” Soobin says. “The more people listen to and empathise with our music, the prouder we’ll be.”

This summer, TXT will hit the road for their first world tour and will finally meet some of those people across the globe who have fallen in love with their music. Thanks to the pandemic, the shows will be the band’s first in-person concerts, save for a short showcase tour in the US in 2019 and two recent “fanlive” events (shows that incorporate live performances with chatting, games and more) in Seoul. Coming after virtual concerts, the latter has reminded the group of the thrill of performing – something Yeonjun recently admitted he “almost lost interest in” during the height of the pandemic.

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Hueningkai and Yeonjun. Credit: Kim Tae Hwan

“Performing is very different when there are just cameras as opposed to real people who love and support you for what you do,” he reasons. “When you’re physically together, you share an experience. The physical presence of our MOA gives us more energy than we can describe – those two nights were the best the five of us had in a long time.”

With the release of ‘minisode 2: Thursday’s Child’ ushering in what looks set to be a gigantic new era for the band, it seems unforgettable nights and big achievements will soon be the norm for TXT once more. Success might already be theirs, but they’re not getting complacent yet, with big ambitions still driving them forward. “I want Tomorrow X Together to be able to seize the room and to draw all eyes on us,” Taehyun says fiercely.

Beomgyu, meanwhile, is looking ahead to where their music could take them next. “In terms of the storyline, everything is still a work in progress, but these are all experiences people our age, or those who have once been our age, can relate to,” he says. “Whatever is next, I’m sure people everywhere will be able to relate to it.”

Tomorrow X Together’s ‘minisode 2: Thursday’s Child’ is out now via Big Hit Music / HYBE

CREDITS

Hair by Kim Seungwon
Make up by Noh Seulki
Styling by Lee Ahran