Wonho’s just moved into his new apartment in Seoul recently, which, from the vantage point of a Zoom video originating in Mumbai, looks like a mellow, calming space washed in dove grey and taupe. The reason why we know this is because he, somewhere in the middle of the interview, suddenly asked about a candle housed in a birdcage in the background. He was curious about how the glass cylinder got in the closed casing. Many wouldn’t notice it, but Wonho – the acclaimed K-pop idol, performer, lyricist, producer — did, unblurred his settings and exclaimed, “ I really like your house!” Add a keen eye for home decor to his many talents and interests. A multitude that has clearly manifested itself in his latest genre-bending record, Facade.
Imagine spending a hot summer’s day at a carnival with the people you love. There’s drama, adventure, a sense of freedom, curiosity and playfulness. That’s the attitude Wonho went in with Facade, not just as the artiste, but as a songwriter and producer too (he’s contributed to each of the five tracks, alongside producer ENAN, vocalist and musician Sun Ahn, and singer-songwriter Brother Su ). “Honestly, this album doesn’t really go in line with my previous albums,” he reveals. “This album’s for itself … like, right this moment. ‘Facade’ is more like a message that I want to say to my fans; a message that invites my fans to spend time together as if they’re spending the day together with me through listening to this album.” The concept also takes on an added layer once you put it in the context of the pandemic, and how the last two years have been spent largely indoors. But times are changing. For artistes (and audiences), offline concerts are back, as is travelling. Does life imitate art, or, to be more precise, is this shift mirrored in his music? “I would have to agree that there are various mixed emotions in this phase of my life,” he muses. “I am anxious, but I’m also very excited at the same time for this new release.”
That range of emotions transmuted into the opening track, the enigmatic Intro: 9 AM, which feels like the trailer to a mystery movie. “I wanted to give off that feeling of the beginning part of an orchestra that can be like heard at a very big festival,” he explains. “ I wanted listeners to feel as if they were entering a very mysterious place, maybe like a carnival, or an amusement park. You know how, with the rides, you can hear the cranks when they’re operating? I wanted to give off that vibe as well.” Crazy, the title track, follows, with its funky chords — Wonho even threw in some breakbeat in there. The corresponding music video serves as a reminder of what a strong, fluid dancer he is; it’s a performer’s dream. “Everybody go crazy, when I take them on a trip,” he sings, and, honestly, the man has it straight. “I am very satisfied with how the song came out! I took on new challenges in this song and I really like how it came out – the final result,” he grins. “But now that the song is out there and prepared, new ideas come up in my mind and I’m actually very sad about it. Like, why didn’t I think of it? Why couldn’t I have tried this style? But I do (know) this, simple is best so I’m very satisfied with the current song.”
Close is next and hits you right in the solar plexus. It’s hard not to see yourself in a song like that because it’s about the push and pull of loneliness. Of not wanting to be in a situation by yourself but also of finding the courage and the heart to go after what you want. Wonho always has a way of cutting straight to the heart of a situation. “So, because I’m expressing these emotions through a song, making a song that people would like to listen to is the first and foremost, the most important thing, I think,” Asked about his EQ, he responds, “I, basically, make a song that has a good melody and then write lyrics onto that. So, in some sense, that is somewhat like an easy thing for me, and somewhat comes naturally to me. I agree that lyrics are what people ultimately remember in my songs.” The penultimate track, White Miracle, is the Korean version of the Japanese song he released in December last year as a surprise gift for fans; a sparkling, magical present that makes you feel like you’re in an OST. “It went along with the overall mood of this album very well and this song was also something that my fans have been wanting to listen to in Korean for a while,” he says, adding, “That was the ultimate reason why I decided to include it and I also wanted to make songs that fans could enjoy listening to in the winter time later!”
Facade closes out, neatly, with Outro: 9PM. “You know how the parade of the last festival when you’re watching it, you don’t want it to end? You want it to be stuck in that moment for a long time? I wanted to capture that similar emotion in this song, the outro,” Wonho says, defining the story of this album. For someone who creates such diverse sounds and is so unafraid of genre, he’s entirely sure of who he is and where he’s going. “I actually enjoy getting songs from outside songwriters or producers. But then I also make songs myself to show that I care for my fans. I want to show them that I am sincere about them and my music,” he says of his process. “It’s nice if the songs that I get from outside sources are good. But then what I do is that I prepare a song myself, and then also prepare the song that I got from an outside source. Then I compare which one is better! Sometimes my own song is better compared to the other ones, so that’s how the process goes!” That’s twice the amount of work! But it also reflects an openness that explains why he’s so comfortable with a wide sonic spectrum, something that’s becoming a hallmark for him.
The lead-up to what is his third mini-album in two years – a period which has provided ample evidence of his capabilities and critical acclaim – was a precursor to this heterogeneity. While Wonho might have emerged onto the scene with K-Pop dynamos Monsta X in 2015, his first solo mini-album was released over two parts. Love Synonym Pt 1: Right For Me dropped in September 2020, and heralded a whole new start for him, post his departure from the band. As a soloist, he was a revelation with tracks such as the slinky, 808-fuelled bop, Open Mind. The more vulnerable Losing You, on the same EP, was an indicator of his range. The mini-album’s second half, Love Synonym Pt 2: Right For Us, followed in February 2021. On it, Devil was a glitchy dreamscape, Lose was a vocal flex, and Ain’t About You was a surprise, perfect collaboration with American singer-songwriter, Kiiara.
Blue Letter came next in September 2021 and was a startlingly sincere look into Wonho’s heart and mind. His most recent offering was a singles album called Obsession that had two tracks – the sexy, borderline tech-house Eye On You, and the more sensitive ballad Somebody. There’s so much in his emotional slate, whether soft versus powerful, introspective or playful. “I think that it is important to keep my style consistent, and to also have various contrasting styles of music. It is also important because it gives the listeners some fun and something to look forward to,” he smiles. Something else that is extremely exciting that they should be looking forward to is his musical debut with Equal where he is playing the role of a doctor, Theo, very soon. The musical is set in 17th century Europe and revolves around the friendship between a patient and a doctor. “I thought fans would really like seeing me participate. Through this opportunity I get to show a different role, a different character on the stage apart from Wonho. That would be one of the biggest accomplishments through this opportunity, and I have to learn a lot of new things because it is completely different from singing and dancing on stage. I have to actually act!” he discloses. “Oh, you can actually stream the musical online, so you should definitely see me!” he smiles, when dismay at not being in Seoul for the show was spoken of.
Wonho, at ease, is still impeccable. He has poreless skin that can’t be hidden behind thick glasses, or under his navy cap. He has on a dark, form-fitting t-shirt, casually showing off the sculpted physique he’s so well known for. But that’s just the external – the visual. The man is genuinely one of the kindest, nicest people to speak to (his global fan base – Wenee – will attest to the fact, as will anyone who has interviewed him), and an artiste deeply invested in his craft. While he might be multi-hyphenate, all these extensions have their place. “Well, to be honest, I am a idol, an artiste and a celebrity only on stage; when I’m off stage, I’m like a normal regular person that you can meet on the streets, who’ll go work out, eat delicious food and just enjoy life like you would,” he asserts. “The only difference would be that people recognise me and my boundaries are limited, and I have to be more careful in my actions and words. But, except for that, all else is the same. Off stage, I am just like a regular person.” Since we’ve been referring to his fans through the conversation, a curious thought emerged as we wound down. Given how global his fanbase is, and how diverse, is there an aspect or trait that he finds is shared by human beings across the planet? “So, obviously, people all love food, they love delicious food, they like eating it. But I think that people, no matter where they’re from, they all like Wonho and they all have the power of love,” he says with the biggest grin. “I think that the power of love is very universal, and that power energises you. It’s across all countries. I guess you can say that the power of love would be the most universal truth.” It’s true. They all really do like Wonho, because it’s impossible not to.
Also Read: Wonho And The Infinite Blue
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