When K-pop super rookies Tomorrow X Together (TXT) were named one of the Top 10 in the Worldwide Fans’ Choice category at the Mnet Asian Music Awards last month, the band reacted with almost comical levels of shock.
Taehyun and Beomgyu both looked like their jaws might hit the floor, questioning fingers pointing back at themselves. Blue-haired Yeonjun’s eyes grew cartoonishly wide while it took a second for youngest member Hueningkai to even realise their name had been called. Only group leader Soobin reacted as if this might be a completely understandable turn of events, immediately getting up from his seat and offering deep, respectful bows.
TXT’s placement in the category might have surprised the band themselves but for anyone who has been watching them over the past year, it made perfect sense. Since their debut in March with EP ‘The Dream Chapter: Star’, they’ve shown themselves to be one of the most promising new acts around. That EP and October’s debut album ‘The Dream Chapter: Magic’ presented an eclectic array, from summery R&B to new jack swing, old school hip-hop and tender acoustic lullabies. Their performances – both on TV and live – are powerful and full of infectious joy, while their bright, cheeky personalities shine through in everything they do. Simply put, they’re a group of young men (Yeonjun is the oldest at 20, Hueningkai the youngest at 17) who seem like they’re having the time of their lives making music that charts the highs and lows of growing up.
Passion plays a big part in TXT’s success so far. You can sense it even when they’re not explicitly talking about it – ask them why they wanted to become musicians in the first place and Soobin replies: “I’ve always held a keen interest in K-pop as a whole. For a while, I knew almost every song and choreography there was to know. It’s thanks to these interests that I’ve been able to become a singer.”
“When I was fifteen, I joined the dance team at school,” says Yeonjun of his own story. “We used to perform during school festivals and I still cannot forget the thrill I felt from being on stage. As I immersed myself in dance rehearsals, I realised I had never been more passionate for anything else in all my life.”
Emerging K-pop acts, particularly those signed to the biggest agencies, will have eyes on them from the second they release their first piece of music. But for Tomorrow X Together, the number of people watching was amplified thanks to their position as the first boyband to debut on Big Hit Entertainment since BTS. When Yeonjun was revealed as the group’s first member in January 2019, his introduction video racked up over 6 million views in less than 24 hours. A year on, they seem to be taking the pressure that comes with being the hoobaes (juniors) to being one of the world’s biggest bands. “We know that BTS and Big Hit Entertainment have given us great wings to soar with and also that in order to soar we must bear the weight of our wings,” they say in our email correspondence. “It would not be truthful to say there wasn’t pressure, but we wanted to give back the support we’ve received from day one, so we’ve focused our efforts on improving our skills.”
The only way to improve is to get out there and do it, and TXT have done just that. Last May, they embarked on a sold-out headline tour across the US (“We couldn’t believe it at first,” they say, adding that hearing fans copying the barking in ‘Cat And Dog’ was a “pleasant surprise”) and have turned out a handful of captivating music videos over the last few months. Aside from their performance skills, though, they cite their mindset as being what’s changed the most since their debut. “Before we used to get nervous because we didn’t want to make any mistakes on stage. Now, we’re even more eager to be perfect at everything – from singing to dancing, facial expressions, and live performance skills. We feel confident now.”
That confidence is abundant on ‘The Dream Chapter: Magic’, which continues to carve out their path as a unique new act and only strengthens their storytelling. A common theme is the idea of a “magic island”, both in the lyrics for Harry Potter-inspired new wave banger ‘9 And Three Quarters (Run Away)’ (“Bibbidi bobbidi the train is departing/Bibbidi bobbidi our magic island”) and in the soft, chilled pop of ‘Magic Island’ itself. “The magic island is a special place that is open to only me and my friends,” Soobin explains. “It’s like a safe house.”
“No matter how sad and difficult a situation may be, going to that place would make me smile and be happy,” Beomgyu adds, while Hueningkai sees it is “a place where everything you imagine turns into reality.”
Fittingly for a band who’s album is called ‘Magic’, TXT count one of their number as a magician. “I was drawn to magic because it somehow defies logic and does the seemingly impossible,” Taehyun says of his hidden talent. “I thought that the world could do with more imagination, and magic makes you question and think outside of the box.”
Currently, TXT have taken a clean sweep of rookie of the year awards in all ceremonies in the 2019/2020 run, with only the Seoul Music Awards left to be announced on January 30. As they prepare to enter their second year in the spotlight, they have plenty of new experiences left to try, like holding their own concert in Korea, and showing their fans (known as MOA, short for ‘moments of alwaysness’) their own songwriting and production. So far, only Hueningkai has a songwriting credit on the fresh new jack swing of ‘Rollercoaster’.
“All five of us have been practicing writing songs and lyrics from before our debut,” they explain, saying they feel like they still need more practice. “We really wish to present our fans with our self-produced music, because we think that writing music is one of the most effective ways of expressing ourselves and our thoughts to others.”
In the future, they say they’d also like to explore even more sounds, from rock and lyrical ballads (Hueningkai) to something led by piano and guitar (Beomgyu). “I personally really like the music of DEAN,” Yeonjun says, citing the Korean singer’s future R&B style as something in his sights. Soobin, meanwhile, is keen to try out acapella. “I recently watched a clip from an audition programme and was shocked that the human voice alone could create such rich and full sounds, as well as imitate so many different instruments,” he says.
Armed with the expertise of Big Hit and their own innate curiosity and passion, Tomorrow X Together should be able to pull off whatever they try their hand at next. After all, if their first year in the spotlight has shown us anything, it’s that these super rookies can rise above the pressure and put their best foot forward always.