"I Realize How I've Changed Already - Loona Heejin & Hyunjin"
Text by Hwang So-yeon
Loona had a busy 2022. They showed off an ability to beautifully combine performance and music into a whole in <Queendom 2>, and successfully completed their first world tour since debut to step up as artists with the entire world’s attention. Refreshingly adorning this summer with special mini album <Flip That> was Loona’s role, too. In a place where they must be strong yet flexible in order to pull off many concepts, Loona’s Heejin and Hyunjin seem to be more expectant than ever before. Earnest and rooted attitudes as they speak about their trials-and-errors and achievements as musicians; workaholics who never stop thinking about the next step even as they make expressions and take poses that fit them. Their heads are full of thoughts about what performances to show the fans, but Heejin and Hyunjin’s faces were full of vitality as they await 2023. Is it perhaps because of their vibrant excitement as they prepare to flip over the world.
The two of you debuted in 2016 and now it’s your sixth year since debut. The debut order was Heejin and then Hyunjin, and since you two marked the beginning of Loona, this sixth anniversary must feel special. How do you feel?
Heejin: I certainly have a lot of hoobaes now that I’m in my 6th year. It feels new but also awkward to hear us called ‘sunbaenim’. But on the other hand, I think it’s not so important how long it’s been since you’ve debuted, and I feel like it means the group needs to do that much better, so I try to work harder.
Hyunjin: As time passes, my affection for our group grows even stronger. I didn’t have these deep thoughts early after our group was created, but it’s changed after time has passed. The relationship between the members has grown tight-knit too.
Heejin: We put on a collaboration performance recently, and the hoobaes called us ‘sunbaenim’. I felt like, ‘Have we been around that long already?’ (Laughs) It’s been quite a while now since Loona has debuted too, and because we started promoting that young, we were always the maknae position wherever we went. I guess now we are playing the role of unnies.
This year you appeared on <Queendom 2>, promoted the mini album <Flip That>, the second Japanese single, had a world tour, and all these activities must have kept you busy. As your career accumulates item by item, do you feel your growth?
Hyunjin: From time to time we win these polls that the fans vote on for us. That’s how much effort the fans are putting in for us, right. I think that’s when I realize our growth.
Heejin: This year was really the busiest ever, but still it was really fruitful. Even though it was physically tiring sometimes. Given my personality, I get stressed when I’m not busy. I was actually happy to be busy in those days, and I was proud. At the same time my career accumulated, so I think it’s become a stepping stone for more growth.
Sounds like when you feel idle, that comes to you as stress or pressure.
Heejin: Right. It’s anxiety. This world tour kept us extremely busy, and afterwards we took a break. It was a week or two, but I felt anxious like I needed to be doing something. But then I looked at the calendar and it hadn’t even been a week. (Laughs)
What did you do during that week or so of break?
Heejin: I literally didn’t do anything. After the world tour ended, I’m not lying when I say I think I slept for three days straight.
Hyunjin: I missed Korea so much. Even on the tour, when I thought to myself that home was far away, I started crying like I had homesickness. (Laughs) I felt a lot of loneliness. After I came back to Korea, I spent time with family. I got kind of emotional when I ate my parents’ cooking.
I’m curious how the love received by the summer-targeting song ‘Flip That’ felt to the two of you.
Heejin: The members had never tried that concept nor a summer special album, so we were excited. But I’m so grateful to then be called summer queens. I think this expanded the opportunities for Loona to attempt diverse things musically in the future. It was a really satisfying album.
Hyunjin: On <Queendom 2> we tried a lot of image transformations, and thought ‘This bright kind of thing fits us well too!’ Naturally we felt like a summer special album could be done.
Every time you need to transform your image, do you practice some mental control?
Heejin: I think that’s definitely a thing. When we do a bright song, it’s okay to loosen up a little bit. We always do powerful performance-oriented things where sharp group choreo is at the core, so we tend to have this edge even when we do bright and cute songs. So the control I exercise is to loosen up a little and practice smiling and things like that.
The change in atmosphere from fiercely charismatic music to ‘Flip That’ did make an impression. Is there anything that you took special care towards when you prepared this performance and executed the song?
Heejin: Going from intense choreo to suddenly doing cute motions, it was a little hard to even learn. I feel like ‘Flip That’ was the hardest to learn. Doing these motions that I wasn’t used to made me feel like I couldn’t dance? (Laughs) Especially the chorus where we move our hands. It’s really dainty, so I felt like ‘How do I dance this?’ and my body wasn’t used to it.
You put a lot of care into the <Queendom 2> performances. What did you learn as you reinterpreted the performances of the original songs?
Heejin: A piece of music, in some ways, is a completed piece of work, right. It really isn’t easy to rearrange it and make it even more perfect. So what I learned is you have to add a different concept or source. And also that there are lots of things that you can’t resolve with just your own abilities. Those performances were crafted through a lot of diverse ideas from the members, and we learned a lot.
Hyunjin: All our songs have a strong color to them. We had to add or subtract certain different elements at the rearrangement stage, and I liked trying those things. For example on the first round we rearranged ‘PTT (Paint the Town)’ into a Korean traditional style, and it fit so much better than expected. I realized you can always add a different color, no matter how strong the color of the original.
I’m curious how you exchange feedback between the members.
Heejin: We have our group chat where we freely suggested ideas. We tell each other, ‘This sounds pretty good,’ make references to this and that. Yves unnie even made a PowerPoint deck that reflects our ideas and sent it to the company. (Laughs) If you set aside a time to meet, sometimes the ideas don’t actually come. We exchange feedback by freely suggesting ideas that come to you even while we’re sleeping.
You successfully concluded your first world tour recently. It must have felt really special. What kind of memory is the concert for you?
Heejin: It’s the first world tour so we went to a lot of cities and it was a tight schedule. But the energy when I stepped onto the stage never felt any different. On the stage I often felt, ‘I really do like the stage a lot.’ International fans had been waiting for us for a long time, and maybe because of that their energy was incredible. I thought, I’m such a happy person.
Hyunjin: Since it was the first tour, I didn’t have a sense of how many people would attend, how big the stages would be. As we did the concert I felt that we have so many fans abroad.
It definitely seems like concerts are where musicians feel the support of fans.
Heejin: Right. And when we went to the venues, they’d have posters up of artists who had performed at those venues. And people like Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Sam Smith would have visited those places. It really didn’t feel real like, “We’re really gonna perform here?” (Laughs) I thought, we’ve really grown a lot as artists.
It must have been especially meaningful to encounter fans all over the world through Loona’s music. What kind of memory is it now to have met many more Orbits?
Heejin: International fans are already singing along to our songs two hours before show time. The Korean language must be unfamiliar, but they were singing so well, and we were like crying backstage when we heard that at first. We were so touched.
Hyunjin: It also made me exclaim, like ‘Wow!’ when I saw the fans. They also put on a slogan event for us. It made me feel so good. Made me think, ‘This is why I perform, to see this.’ (Laughs) That’s how proud I remember being.
When you promote with concepts that have a distinct color, do you recognize yourself having changed from the past sometimes? In what ways?
Heejin: We debuted young and we’ve been growing little by little. Sometimes at concerts we do songs that we released before, and when I rewatch those promotions, it feels like watching a baby singing cutely. At the same time I can see how every single member has become more mature. We seep better into each song and express it better, and when I see that I realize Loona is really this ‘growth-oriented idol’. Sometimes we’re telling each other, ‘Hey, you’ve grown so much,’ stuff like that (Laughs)
Hyunjin: We look youthful when I rewatch old promotions, and I like that feel too. Sometimes I rewatch how we were early in debut. It feels like we’ve changed a lot somehow, but at the same time we haven’t changed.
In those times, do you realize some things that you didn’t know before?
Heejin: For me, in the past I just worked hard without thinking. My attitude towards the stage, I never thought about stuff like that. You could say I was trapped in some kind of frame, just doing my best to pull off the dance that I was tasked with. Of course I’m so grateful that people recognize us working hard, but when I wasn’t thinking deeply about performance, it was hard to find my vibe as an artist. Going hard is great, but now I want to also figure out what it is that I want to express, and put together a performance freely. So even during the world tour, I thought of that as a moment where I can really show my performance, my music, my dance. I learned how to interact with an audience, too.
Hyunjin: Like Heejin said, I also felt like I was doing the same things I’d always done. As I grow from there, I think I try various things. I think for example that if I learn A, should I try something that’s a variation of A. I think I’m making more and more of those attempts.
Both of you are quite athletic. What are your favorite exercises? I heard you also like being homebodies. Do you exercise at home?
Hyunjin: I like being at home, but I also really like outdoor activities. I go bowling or play screen baseball usually, but recently I took up yoga. I wanted to learn how to discipline myself so that’s why I started. (Laughs) I’ve had two lessons so far. I’m a yoga prodigy. Good at the crow pose too. The instructor complimented me a lot.
Heejin: Hyunjin likes aerobic exercise. Running or hitting something. But I like anaerobic ones where I can focus my mind. I think Pilates would fit the best. And weight training too, I really like focusing on the movement of my muscles.
Is there a musician that the two of you are paying a lot of attention to lately?
Hyunjin: I’ve fallen for Bibi-nim. The one-take video she released recently was so good.
Heejin: I watch a lot of stage performances. It’s pretty far from Loona’s concept, but I watched a lot of Post Malone performances. I want to try doing a performance like that, and also to enjoy one from the audience.
Is there a routine that you never forgo even during busy schedules?
Heejin: No matter how busy or tired I am, I always take my supplements, no matter what. Wake up the next day and take them again. I bring them with me to take them at the broadcast studios too, and I bloat easily so I carry pumpkin juice too.
Hyunjin: My goal is to drink a liter of water every day. There’s this dietary fiber you can take with water, and if you do that twice a day it’s exactly a liter. I don’t actually like water and only drink coffee normally. (Laughs)
Heejin and Hyunjin went to high school together. You’ve spent a long time with each other. How do you think 2022 will be remembered?
Heejin: 2022 is such an unforgettable year. We were runner-ups on <Queendom 2> and finished the first world tour well. Comeback promotions too. It was a year to be really busy as Loona, so it’s a year that I don’t want to forget and never will forget.
Hyunjin: This year is going to be so memorable. Like Heejin said, we did so many things from the survival program to the tour. Thinking about how we’ll promote next year based on this foundation, I’m looking forward to it a lot.
Have you imagined any particular kind of performance you’d like to craft?
Heejin: We don’t keep any limits musically or conceptually, so we’re also really looking forward to what concept we’ll show you next. We have this sense of responsibility that we have to always show you something new, so it’s up in the air even for us.
Hyunjin: I also want to do a lot of different concepts that we haven’t done yet. One thing I’ve thought about is a concept inspired by figure skating. I think it’d be fun.
Do you have a wish or a goal to achieve in the new year?
Heejin: Receiving a Daesang from a year-end show! And the year after that, I want us to close out the last performance of a show like that.
Hyunjin: I want us at #1 on all the music charts.
Lastly, a word for the readers and fans.
Heejin: The two of us got to shoot a pictorial as 2Jin for the first time. We had so much fun during the shoot, giving compliments to each other. It was so enjoyable. Please look forward to it!
Hyunjin: Please look forward to us lots. The year is almost ending, and I hope you’ll create lots of happy occasions. Let’s keep seeing each other happily next year!