There are no gaps on SHINee’s stages. Instead, it is filled so completely that it has become a concern (‘homework’) that SHINee must solve. However the Onew we met off the stage was loose and easygoing. 24 year old Onew is a random young man who is most happy when he buys his friends food with his own money and falls asleep at the bedside having put down a book on anatomy.
“I’ve found an obsession with time after debut. It’s because of the thoughts of how to spend time if free. There’s been a lot of times where I went out just for a cup of coffee or took the subway and wandered alone.”
Most of South Korea’s idols mature in similar stages or experiences. Passing from the awkward and cute entrance of debut to slowly becoming more mature and defined, and then realising at some point that it is time to show the striking nature of the feral man or sexy woman. Yet the fast track in showcasing an adult image doesn’t always feel good. SHINee, even out of the idols, is famous for having debuted at a young age. At the time of debut, maknae Taemin was a middle school student, the rest of the members all high school students. In fact it is true that I even thought that it would be overbearing for them to become a ‘sexy guy’ or ‘homme fatal’ in just 2-3 years. It is also obvious that the fans wishes are ‘please don’t change please don’t move on so fast’.
But thankfully Onew did not have the want to become an adult. I was relieved at his words “I want to be young for the longest time possible”. If he had replied “I’m sad because there are still so many people who consider me a child” the interview would have derailed. This is why the conversation with Onew felt warm and comfortable. It is because I felt a pure desire in him to not be an idol who wants to grow up too quickly but one that wants to simply feel and enjoy his present. Because of this, I feel that SHINee’s fans will be happy for a long, long time rather than it being a flash.
Even SHINee’s maknae is now 20. But SHINee still feels like a bright teenage band. Are there times that this image is annoying or you want to escape from it?
Ah, now that our maknae has reached 20 we’ve grown quite a bit. It is true that to us, rather than the macho image, the youthful image takes precedence. Even in real life, when I eat, I’m the kind of youth that unknowingly starts smiling largely because it’s so good to stand on stage. I don’t want to replace the laughter that comes unwittingly for a pretension of strength, coolness, toughness. That’s why up until now I am still enjoying the image. When it gets burdensome, the worries can be at the forefront, but when I stand on stage I realise I’m smiling like a child again.
It is KPOP’s season. What is the passion like in reality as you go around for world tours. Isn’t it too early an age to have already taken over the earth? I feel that sometimes there could be a sense of conceit.
The phrase of ‘taking over the earth’ is one that really doesn’t suit, Writer-nim. Hahaha. Of course it’s a really great chance and experience. We want to try feel that passion in every nation. Of course stages are stages, but through such a chance being able to go to various countries and eat various delicious foods makes me happy. Conceit? There’s not really much of a reason for that to occur. On TV you only see us surrounded by loudly screaming fans, but in reality, there are times where we’ve been disappointed at the lack of fans at the airport. Hahaha. I can’t forget the concert we did at New York’s Maddison Square Garden. To have performed at the place I got to know because of ‘Rush Hour 2’, I still can’t believe it.
Would it be because of the title song ‘Noona You’re So Pretty’? SHINee, and in particular, Onew seem to be the noona’s fantasy.
There are many noona fans who love me for my voice more than my appearance. To be honest, in the old days, I really hated my voice. It is because a voice with a rare colour can’t give various feels. When I was young I wanted a technical voice, but now I’d rather have a voice that can highlight emotion. Maybe it’s because of that reason that even if my voice doesn’t have artifice, it has a lot of pros to it.
That’s right, even if you listen to the songs in SHINee’s album, you can distinguish Onew’s voice right away.
I hear often that my voice has a rare quality to it. It is able to grant a sense of life to the music. Even if I’m not the group’s main vocal, I’m happy that I can do this kind of role. Talent in terms of singing? Hm, it’s rather that I always liked singing ever since I was a kid, I didn’t really think deeply about wanting to be a singer. If my father turned on a casette tape in the car I would follow along enthusiastically, and often sang in front of my family. I hadn’t dreamt of being an idol group member. I thought of wanting to be a person that wrote and sang songs. Because I had dreamt of entering and debuting through ‘Yoojaeha’s Yojae’.
Who are your close celebrity colleagues and what do you do when you meet them? I’m interested in what kind of person you are in an average personal meeting. Do you maybe have a music mentor?
In a private place, I return 100% back to Lee Jinki! It’s mostly Lee Joon and Go Ara, but everyone’s really kind. I’m more the type to change in personal interactions depending on my mood. It may be due to my emotional O blood type self, but a different persona emerges every time. So in a way, I guess people could think I just do whatever I want. In terms of music, it’s Kim Yeon Woo sunbaenim. Having met him doing music, I want to follow his emotion. Because everywhere I went I always said I liked Kim Yeon Woo sunbaenim, I heard the fans made a CD of songs I’d sung and gave it to him as a present. But I have a feeling that he probably wanted a girl group’s like SNSD. Hahaha.
I heard that idols receive heaps of presents on anniversaries like birthdays! I feel that in terms of financial wealth you wouldn’t be lacking, so what is the thing you feel you need the most now?
I of course receive a lot of presents. To the point I rarely buy clothes. The clothes I’m wearing now? Just in luck today’s clothes I actually bought myself. From Hollywood! I tend to wear things of a more comfortable style that are gifted from fans. There is a large range in presents – computer, bike, CD, headphones etc – but most of it suits my style. So I don’t lack in anything. Instead, there have been a lot of times I’ve returned things because they were too expensive. Something I consider myself not to have? Ah! It is time. It seems unknowingly I have created an obsession. If I have even a little time left over I always get out of the dorms.
It’s already been 5 years since debut, what has changed most from Then-Onew to Present-Onew?
In comparison to early debut period, I’ve become more social. That I fare well with the staff without any hesitation. In the past I was only prickly but now I’ve become more comfortable.
The Onew we think of is of a smart image. It seems like you’d be a good son at home and a calm sweet boyfriend to your girlfriend.
To my girlfriend? My family? I wasn’t actually like this, it is more that an obsession had been formed that ‘I should act like Onew (gentle, kind)’. The moment I felt that though, it dawned on me I should grow out of it. So these days I strive to simply show my bright, active, convival self. A smart image though, maybe just to the point I read books on anatomy? Hahaha.
What would you be doing now if you had spent an average student life? Maybe studying hard at the library? Or in a passionate romance?
Because above all else I have a lot of curiosity, there are many things which I do and regret later. So I can’t really figure out what I would have done. Until 3rd year of high school, study was fun. So these days I miss the times of studying. I continue to have an interest in geology and astronomy. I guess if I wasn’t a singer I’d probably be studying?
What do you feel, being an idol member, and a leader at that. It seems that each and every day would not overwhelming.
Before and early debut, I had a lot of worries about being leader. I thought I’d always have to be in the leading position. But stopping one moment, I looked around and realised the other members were doing well (without my help). Hahaha, other than the daily and small things the rest get solved well without me. As I have a rather optimistic personality, I don’t feel much competition with the members or other groups. Just to a point of curiosity like ‘Oh, they even do things like this?’ Because there is no jealousy, there is also no sense of rush.
Is there an ideal type or woman that has caught Onew’s attention?
This is a hard question. It is because I do not have a chosen ideal type. Just that there are times when I think ‘Wow, this person is alright’ as I pass someone by. But in a bit, I forget, and think the same with a different person the next day. I think rather than liking a certain style, I just like someone with a good feel. At the basic level, someone who can share with me on music, someone who can sing together with me would be good. To add something else, it’s good if she has parts that I don’t so I can continuously change for the better. If she has pretty hands, even better, if there is recently someone who’s tugged my heart it would be actress Lee Na Young noona. I fell for her whilst watching her character on ‘Muhwandojeon’. Ah! And Kim Jung Nan noona! We even recorded Radio Star together. I like a person who likes me. Noona, are you watching? Hahaha
Onew with Staff Singles magazine