For all the stunning visuals and technically perfect performances that the K-pop scene is known for, Jaehyun had good reason to simplify things for his first solo single.
The singer-actor is one of the most well-known members of NCT — the 23-member boy band that’s scored multiple Billboard 200 entries as part of its ambitious and experimental music and concept with an unlimited number of singers and splinter groups. Earlier this year, a new project called “NCT LAB” launched to spotlight individuals from the superband and their talents in songwriting, composing, dance and beyond. For Jaehyun, it was his chance to build a bridge for fans to see the person off the stage better.
“Forever Only” is the snappy, acoustic-leaning R&B-pop track that puts the 25-year-old’s silvery tenor at the forefront. The single comes with a grainy, gray photo of Jaehyun and a no-nonsense, sans-serif text for the single title — a far cry from his album covers with NCT 127, where he glows in neon green or sports flashy streetwear. Even speaking over an afternoon Zoom call, Jaehyun looks cozy in his beige collared shirt that pops nearly enough from the all-white office walls from where he’s speaking.
In addition to the lyrics, Jaehyun took an active role in the styling and visuals for “Forever Only” where the star displays his fondness for simplicity across multiple creative avenues. But Jaehyun doesn’t keep things simple from lack of experience: instead, the singer takes an active interest in learning the process behind any areas he’s involved in — music, acting, fashion, hosting, production — and presents his learnings in the clearest of terms.
Jaehyun sees “Forever Only” as the first step in sharing more of himself as a human, but the work in his career has all been crucial in helping him get to this point of self-expression. Read on to get to know the NCT star better.
Billboard: Congratulations on the new song with NCT LAB. How does the project work and how did this song come about?
JAEHYUN: I’ve been working on music for quite a long time and I always wanted to share a song with my fans that was filled with my voice and emotions. NCT LAB is a great opportunity to share my own emotions and songs, so I was really thankful to have that. I thought “Forever Only” was the right track to start off my career for solo music [because] it was an R&B track — I had lots of songs that I wanted to share but I wanted the first song to be more catchy, very simple and filled with my true personal tastes and styles.
Are those the music and moods you’re drawn to these days?
Definitely, music-wise and style-wise. I also participated on the music video concept and styling for this song. So, I really wanted to show my true side of myself and my taste. The fashion that I wear is definitely the style that I usually wear casually — and it’s fashion that I like too. While writing the lyrics, I talked about the image of lights and the sea and that also comes out in the music video. I really like how we filmed it. I really tried to be as simple as I can and deliver the emotion.
Some might say that’s surprising, especially in a group like NCT that is so ambitious in its concepts and sounds. Are we seeing more of the real Jaehyun?
Well, I also enjoy trying more like challenging lots of concepts, but I always wanted to share the other side of being an artist. I always wanted to share my side as a human being with other people. I think it’s really great to start with this song.
How long had you been working on “Forever Only”?
I’ve always wanted to share the music I’m working on, but I didn’t have the right timing. But I thought now was the right time to start so I shared with the team around me that I wanted to release the song right now. “Forever Only” is really recent. When I first heard it, it took about one or two months to prepare for this one.
How do you usually work when it comes to making music? What’s your process like?
Personally, I think nighttime’s better to work because I like the mood when everything’s really calm and quiet. Usually, I think of the theme first and then do the melody. Or sometimes, I work on a track — like with producers or pianists — but for “Forever Only,” I only participated in lyrics. The first time I heard “Forever Only,” the sound and the melodies were really positive, kind of bright and energetic, but I had the feeling of being a bit lonely. I felt lonely inside of that kind of mood so I wanted to make the lyrics lonely yet charming.
I really used to focus on my vocals first, and then, while making music, I kind of found my own style. But I think while doing toplining or while doing melodies or lyrics, I get to know what I really like, what person I am, or what kind of emotions I have. I think that also helps while singing, so I kind of focused and narrowed in on my style through making music.
Was there anything you learned about yourself while making “Forever Only”?
Well, I recorded and made the music like I always do, but I got to know more about the real process of releasing a single album or song. Because this time, I met the music video director way before filming it, I got to put in more opinions of what I really wanted to show and share. So, I got to know the process more particularly how it works. There’s so many people that help and work hard to make one song come out.
It sounds like you’re learning about yourself in the process. I know you have a background in piano. Do you remember when you first realized you could write songs or compose?
Well, I was a child who liked to sing in school festivals and on stage, but I never thought of being a singer like my job. I had a friend of mine that plays guitar and I used to play a bit of piano so we always jam and just cover songs or sometimes just play with instruments. And I think that was the first time that I realized that I really like music. But professionally, starting to make the music was maybe two years after my debut working with producers.
Is this the first kind of test into the waters of maybe a full solo project one day?
Of course. One day. I’ll be really working on what I’m doing and I really want to share a full album one day to our fans.
Beyond music, you’ve been so busy balancing so much in acting, fashion and hosting. How do you find balance?
I feel that singing, acting, and fashion are all related. For instance, when I do sing, I really think about the fact that fashion and acting are really important parts of the music. On the other hand, when I work hard on acting, then I can see another part and learn other parts of singing and fashion. So, I think it’s really important to do my best whatever I’m doing because it’s all related.
How was your experience with the drama? I know it got delayed, but fans finally saw it this year.
It did, it did come out. [Laughs] I think my people around me liked it more than I did because they had lots of comments. I was really thankful because I was always curious about how filming works — like how like dramas or movies work so it was really nice to be in part of it. It was quite challenging for me because it was my first time, but I really wanted to concentrate on how it all worked and on the character work. It was quite challenging but really meaningful for me. And it was fun because it was a story about college friends. I actually haven’t been to a real college because I debuted [in music], so it was an experience of being in college for me to think back on.
With the delay of Dear.M and another drama being canceled, how do you overcome these bad-luck setbacks to keep pushing forward and stay positive?
There are definitely some hard times, but I try to concentrate on what I can do at this moment — that’s what I try to always focus on.
That’s the right attitude because we’ve seen you expand in what you do with fashion. You’re an ambassador to Prada and attended its menswear show at Milan Fashion Week. I’m curious about your interest in this world.
Well, first of all, it was really nice to be a part of that because I really got lots of inspiration through my experience and I really learned a lot. It was my first time attending a show, but the energetic vibes in the place, the strong music and the energy of the models, everything going on was really energetic and exciting. That really inspired me a lot while watching Prada’s show.
What’s your connection with Prada? Is it a brand you’ve liked or feels it represents your style as well?
What I always liked about Prada was that it’s really classic but unique. It’s not a commonplace brand that you might think of in particular. And that’s what I think of myself because I always like things to be simple but not common. And I kind of enjoyed doing stuff that’s challenging or not common. But I think that it’s what part is also me — the style of Prada.
Is there anything teasers you can share about the upcoming NCT 127 album 2 Baddies or the shows that are coming after your single?
As NCT 127, we’re almost on the last part of the comeback preparing stuff. And also after that, we’re planning to go on a tour so, hopefully, we’ll have a chance to meet our fans all around the world. And after that, I want to share more of my sides and colors through music. So, I hope you all stay tuned. I’m always so thankful to have lots of opportunities thanks to my supportive fans.
Did you do any writing or produce on the upcoming album?
Not music-wise, but the style of choreography this time is kind of free; where you can express more of your own dancing style and stuff. So, I concentrated on those free parts where I can express myself through dancing. It was really fun to do the choreography this time.
Are there any other personal goals or plans of creative itches that you have?
I always like to learn stuff, but I want to share more of my personal feelings or emotions in a lot of ways, but especially in music. As a human being, to make all the people know that we feel the same way and we think similarly — I have ups and downs, I want to share more of those kinds of parts of me to my fans.
If “Forever Only” is the first step in that goal, what will you say to people who might be surprised you’re showing this side of yourself?
It’s definitely the first step and I think I’d enjoy it if people are surprised or if people are talking about that. It’s interesting and always fun. I really wanted to share more about the music through interviews so thank you for having me.