That idea of WayV leading a cultural shift is pervasive throughout a conversation with the seven men at SM Entertainment’s office in Seoul a few weeks ahead of their first-ever fanmeet in the country, following similar events held in Thailand and China over the past few weeks. An overwhelming sense of wide-eyed earnestness and eagerness pervades the conversation, as WayV lays forth not only their hopes and dreams but also their desire to create a new culture through their music, which has recently veered towards hip-hop and rock-inflected dance tracks in the form of singles like “Take Off” and “Moonwalk,” while “Love Talk,” which was released as their first English-language single, is a sensuous R&B song. Each album features similar sounding tracks, alongside ballads and more playful pop numbers.
“We feel that Take Over the Moon is the follow up to Take Off, so we feel that we’ve finally landed somewhere musically, so to speak. It’s a metaphor, it kind of elevates us, taking us to the next level musically,” says Kun, the eldest and the band’s leader. Their discography as a whole is genre-fluid, and the members hope that’s something each release of theirs can see in the future. Kun, who regularly is seen creating music and producing on the band’s social media channels, says they’re already thinking about what’s to come. “In the past year, we’ve released three albums and that’s a big feat for new artists,” he says. “We challenged ourselves, experimenting with different genres of music. We all contribute creatively to all our songs, like Xiaojun, Ten, and I participated in the production aspects and the rappers in the group write their own verses. Obviously our goal is to write more original stuff as a group. One thing that we want to do next year is put out our official first full-length album, hopefully. We want to experiment with even more types of music and different sounds.”
Bolstering their albums are cinematic music videos with sci-fi plotlines featuring the men as they travel the universe. “Basically, at the end of ‘Take Off’ we’re all on a plane and taking off,” explains YangYang, the act’s youngest member. “‘Moonwalk’ is basically [when] we landed on this planet, and we’re going to start- how to say?” “A new culture,” jumps in Xiaojun. “Yea, a new culture. ‘Love Talk’ is about how we’re starting this culture, and how we’re setting it up. The culture that we want to express with our music is to build a WayV culture. WayV pop. In [the music video] it’s all white, right? We basically want to say that it’s a whole new world, it’s all white and we’re trying to build something, like a blank slate.”
YangYang tossing off the conversation for another member to come in with a phrase in one language or another is typical; throughout the hour-long chat, the group flits between Mandarin and English, with the youngest serving as the primary translator for WayV’s other members, often breaking into laughter when he and the translator hired to help out both simultaneously start to translate; throughout the interview, Ten, YangYang, Xiaojun, and Hendery speak predominantly English, while the rest predominantly speak Mandarin. “Sometimes in one sentence we speak like, ‘Hello’ in English and then Chinese then suddenly Korean comes in,” says Ten with a laugh. “This kind of stuff becomes so natural among us as a team, we keep putting different languages in one sentence. For the people from the outside who hear us talking, they’re like, ‘What are you guys talking about?’” “I think for the fans it’s really stressful when they watch our livestreams,” adds YangYang. “We’re talking in so many languages, they’re like, ‘It’s WayV’s language. What are they saying?’”
Though there are linguistic and cultural boundaries that separate them, the seven men were brought together as WayV, and working and living together as a team has helped their bond grow beyond one of professionals working together and into one that they describe as familial. “Kun can have a parent’s role, and these three [YangYang, Hendery, and Xiaojun] are like the very naughty kids,” Ten says with a laugh. “He [WinWin], when one of the family members got sad is the one who goes, ‘Are you okay?’ When we are losing energy, [Lucas] is the one that’s like, ‘Let’s go out!’” In response, Hendery says that Ten is the artistic and studious one of the bunch, but YangYang, showing off their naughty dynamic, gleefully jumps in to poke fun at the elder even as tries to deny it, saying that Ten is the one who makes them clean things up when there’s a mess.
Throughout the interview, and in their live performances and broadcasted interactions, the bond between the seven men is clear even though they may at first come off as different as night and day when put together, with the enthusiastic rambunctiousness of Lucas situated oppositional to the serene calmness of WinWin, who barely says anything during the interview but sits nodding along, diligently tracking the conversation even while keeping his thoughts to himself. Later on, Ten reveals that the other man is hoping to pursue something brand new in 2020. “He’s very passionate about acting, like dramas and movies. He really loves acting. Maybe next year you can see WinWin being like the main character in a drama.” When prompted, WinWin says that he hopes he can try his hand at being an action star.
According to Kun there’s less of a rigid structure when it comes to their relationship in comparison to what others may assume because they were brought together by a K-pop company: “Because we’re all foreigners in Korea, we don’t really have levels of honorifics or hierarchy so we just treat each other as friends,” he says, referring to how in South Korea age and seniority traditionally regulates relationship dynamics between individuals, especially in academic and professional environments. “We’ve gotten so tight that we’re really more like family, and we always help each other.” “We feel that we have a very real relationship, especially because we come from different parts of the world and have come together to be in a group together,” says Lucas. “It shows our determination and passion to be together, and we also depend on each other and receive help from one another.” “There’s respect and understanding,” Hendery adds with a nod. “And one more reason,” Xiaojun adds with a grin. “Because we all truly love music.”
“WayV keeps talking about how we’re like family, and I think this is very authentic,” says Ten. “It’s not fake, it’s not made for fans to feel like we’re close. When you’re in a family, you don’t need to get along with every family member. You can just be like, I don’t like that guy. Because if you’re friends, when you stay together- If you don’t like something, you sometimes just say you’re okay with it. But with WayV, when you don’t like something you say it. That kind of stuff makes us feel like more of a family, because we understand each other and try to find the middle.”
Several members of WayV have participated in SM’s NCT acts in the past and the group remains closely tied to the other associated teams, and Lucas and Ten are both currently active in SuperM. But they say their primary group is an entirely different sort of experience, with Lucas proclaiming, “WayV’s our center, our home in a sense.” Being in SuperM, he says, is a great learning experience. “When we are with SuperM, with [members of EXO, SHINee, and NCT 127], we do kind of draw from that experience, and the advice and know-how of the senior artists, and we bring it back to WayV, and we use that to further what we do within WayV. This is home.”
Someone reading this may consider that WayV is made up of men from across the globe put together to create a pop act, and assume that all of this is lip service. But that’s one thing that WayV hopes nobody ever considers about them. For Ten, at least, his goal is to try and remove the stigma associated with “idols,” a term used throughout Asia to refer to young artists curated by entertainment companies, and it’s one of the reasons he and other members frequently post to social media and livestream with a sense of casualness.
“I feel like it’s important [to use social media] because when people see us as ‘idols,’ we have to be perfect. Maybe that’s just a stereotype, but people expect us to be perfect. But we’re also human,” says Ten. “I feel like we want to show the fans more of our friendly side. We’re friendly, but if you look at our broadcasts we’re always so carefree, so raw. I feel like we don’t want the fans to see us as, ‘Oh, they’re idols!’ I want them to see us as friends. Because sometimes, a lot of fans they need us and we also need them too. We need each other. That’s sometimes, when why we do a live and see all the fans commenting below, it kind of calms me down too. When I get so stressed out, I turn on [a livestream] and talk to them. It’s therapy for me too. It reduces my stress.” “It shows no distance,” says Xiaojun.
“We should express who we are, truly who we are,” continues Ten. “I think that’s important because if you show that kind of aspect, [fans] get more of a bond to us, they can relate to us more, and we can feel safe. What do I mean by feel safe? Like secure? You know, you don’t have to act all the time. If they love you the way you are, that’s the best thing. It’s going to last longer than if you pretend to be someone else. That’s my point. Don’t pretend to be somebody else, just be yourself. And if they love you, that’s the truth, that’s the real love. That’s why all the pictures we post, and all the stuff we talk about is very- Sometimes we need to cut it out because it’s too raw.”
Lucas, the only other member aside from Ten to have a public Instagram at this time though other members are also thinking about opening accounts, agrees with Ten. “I want our fans to get positive energy from us when they see us. I want to bond with our fans and really get close to them so that it’s not just a one way relationship, like Ten says. I feel better when I see them, I want a two-way relationship with them.” Kun follows up, adding, “I really want to show people that we’re regular people, so we post photos of ourselves traveling, us practicing and rehearsing and stuff. I want to emphasize that we’re growing together, and it’s not just us being successful, being successful idols and portraying that image, but I want to grow together with our fans and show them that.” The younger members are especially growing up with their fans; they all love looking at memes created by fans, and YangYang points to Hendery as the meme king within WayV.
Ten is the most frank when it comes to his social media usage, and is well-known among his fans as a lurker; he recently accidentally posted, then deleted, a screenshot of a tweet praising him to his Instagram account. He laughs when asked about the occurrence, and explains that he eagerly anticipates what fans are going to say regarding him and his career, and regularly draws inspiration from what they have to say. “For me, I do read stuff on Twitter. Sometimes when I get so down or I’m very tired, when I’m very unmotivated, I feel like for me fans are my motivation, my power to keep on doing what I like. Yea, that’s why I keep looking. For example, my art. When I post my art on Instagram, I don’t write my title for it, I don’t explain why I draw this. I just want to see what they think about the art, what they have in mind. What do they expect from the art. And when I read their stuff, I learn new things. Reading Twitter or comments, you get to learn new things and can improve yourself, by reading the comments.”
This two-way bond is reflected in WayV's music, with Xiaojun saying that his favorite song is "Face to Face" from Take Over the Moon. A vocal-oriented track featuring him along with Kun and Ten, the group's other primary vocalists, he says that it's an important track because, "It shows us how to love other people, and how to care about other people is something I really want to tell listeners. Love is the most important thing in the world, and love is powerful." Fittingly, their song that's title "Love Talk" is a track that's meant to show the love from WayV towards their international fans. "We know that we have a lot of international fans around the world so we decided to release this song in English so we can connect with our international fans," said Ten.
As they move into their second year, and a whole new decade, WayV hopes that the name of their band can become one that’s remembered for the ages, and one that inspires others. “When you think about waves, there are many hurdles,” says Lucas. But the ‘V’ can stand for victory, so when there are a lot of hurdles there is still victory at the end. That’s what WayV means to me.” Building off of that, Hendery adds that the members, each with his own strengths and unique characters, represents the fluidity of water, tying into Lucas’ wave metaphor. “We all like water, and when we come together as WayV it’s powerful and we can make energy.”
It’s that energy that WayV is bringing into the future after taking off in 2019, and they have immense goals for the future. “We want to go global,” says Ten. “WayV, we really like traveling and going out to different countries and experiencing different cultures, that kind of stuff. Being able to go around the world and showing them our music, while experiencing different cultures, would be the main goal for WayV. I think when we look at 2019, it’ll be how we were formed and what we experienced, what we did to be in this position, what we went through. It’ll be a reminder for us to keep maintaining the original intent of WayV and cherish every moment in the future.”