The Boundless Dreams of TOMORROW X TOGETHER
With artistry that serves as a balm to the heartaches of youth, here’s why this rising South Korean quintet are the voice of a new generation
In 2020 I watched my father, an Indian man currently in his late fifties, find TOMORROW X TOGETHER, a South Korean boy group who are barely out of their late teens. He heard them via my Spotify playlist one day and was instantly intrigued, asking me for song recommendations and music video links. It was undoubtedly one of the hardest years of his life, so there was magic in the way he found joy in their uplifting sound and comfort in their message, even if he didn’t quite understand all the lyrics. It’s a story I share with the five members of TXT when we connect for our conversation in 2021, and they’re thrilled to hear it.
“The subjects we’ve addressed have been relevant for many people who live with us in the current generation, regardless of age,” says the quintet’s leader and vocalist Soobin. “We’ve especially had a lot of teens and youth tell us that they were able to listen to our music and see themselves in our songs, so for us, that’s a very touching statement to hear. We’re extremely happy and thankful that people all over the world have been able to relate to our songs. We want to continue to make music that can move people and reflect their thoughts and emotions.”
When Soobin, Yeonjun, Taehyun, Beomgyu and HueningKai debuted as TOMORROW X TOGETHER in 2019, they were the first artists from HYBE Corporation’s Big Hit Music (then Big Hit Entertainment) to follow global pop mega stars BTS. After the massive worldwide success of their brother group, expectations around what a new group would bring to the table were high; there was a lot of speculation around what TXT would sound like and what message they would impart. In an interview earlier this year, HYBE’s Global CEO Lenzo Yoon told Rolling Stone India that while the label knew BTS would be a tough act to follow, the key to TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s success was focusing on who they were as artists rather than pushing them into a mold. “When preparing for TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s debut, we tried not to get influenced by BTS,” Yoon explained. “In fact, we made it clear that these fellows are different from the previous group. We focused on TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s distinct musical colors, each individual’s tendency, and peer culture.”
While BTS’ work explored the connection between youth and society, TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s goal was to examine the coming-of-age journey itself, diving into a time of our lives that is integral to the formation of our personalities, but also seem rather dreamlike in retrospect. It was fresh, personal and powerful, drawing from metaphors and imagination to present a new take on life as a young person. “Our intent has always been to tell stories only we can tell through our music,” vocalist Taehyun says about their message. “So I think it was only natural that we told narratives of growth from the teenage perspective.” Vocalist Beomgyu explains further, “Our music has always been about the youth who are living through this generation, including ourselves. We were teens when we started, so naturally, our earliest releases dealt with teenagers living through a complicated and confusing era of their lives.” TXT’s message is timeless, yet wholly their own.
Divided into various chapters, each of TOMORROW X TOGETHER’S albums map a different aspect of growing up and dive into fantastical visual dreamworlds while doing so. They started with more innocent, childlike themes that hovered around imagination and growing pains — their first EP The Dream Chapter: Star and its lead single “Crown” were fresh, youthful and bright, exploring stories about friendship, self-discovery and understanding the world through the lenses of youth. Their second record The Dream Chapter: Magic and its lead single, “9 and Three Quarters (Run Away)” moved on to the next stage: high school, the complexities of friendships/relationships and the need to escape from reality as the process of understanding the world gets more difficult. The album also drew heavily from global pop culture to build its core — like most of us tend to do in our teens. The third installment in the The Dream Chapter series, Eternity, tackled the darkest aspect of life yet: breaking the bubble of youth to confront realities like broken friendships, conflict, a search of your own identity, and even fears like uncertainty, loss and death. The harrowing short film format music video for “Eternally” from the album outlines this journey spectacularly, blurring the lines between dreams and reality to showcase the growth of a young person’s mind and emotions in 19 minutes.
“They’re changing both physically and mentally, but nevertheless they have other teenagers who are experiencing the same emotions as them,” Beomgyu says about the members’ characters in the storyline throughout their music videos. “These teens develop a rapport and friendship, and they dream together… hence The Dream Chapter.” As they move into The Chaos Chapter of their artistic era, TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s work takes another shift with their latest EP. “Now, we have The Chaos Chapter: Freeze, which features these same teenagers who have grown up a bit and are now facing relevant issues for our current time,” continues Beomgyu. “It’s a universal story of growth, and I believe this album is a narrative that hits home with many young people all over the world.”
The Chaos Chapter: Freeze details the lives of young people who are on the verge of adulthood and experiencing emotions of the real world. They’re unprepared, scared and there’s no turning back, but perhaps refuge can be found in the form of the relationships they build along the way. “The Dream Chapter series is a tale of growth. It follows a boy who finds his identity among a group of friends,” explains Soobin about the connection between this era and the last. “The Chaos Chapter: Freeze is about a boy who feels fear and emptiness as his life loses all sense of normalcy due to the onslaught of the world. Within this story, the boy finds someone special to him, and he discovers the emotion of ‘love.’” One of the key themes the record touches upon is, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic and the disruption it brought to all our lives, making us question everything about our collective and individual existence as human beings. Rapper and vocalist Yeonjun further expanded on this meaning during a press conference for the album, stating, “So we have our ordinary days, but our experience of the ordinary is being shaken and these are boys who are powerless to do anything.” Certain tracks draw references and continue the story from previous releases, building upon the group’s fictional storyline and outlining their growth trajectory: “What if I had been that Puma” looks back to “Puma” from The Dream Chapter: Eternity, while “No Rules” references “New Rules” from The Dream Chapter: Magic.
In addition to the growth of their fictional storyline and onscreen characters, Freeze is also a testament to the members’ evolution as artists; all five took part in the songwriting and conception process while the youngest of the group, 18-year-old HueningKai, also flexed his production skills on the track “Dear Sputnik.” Soobin co-wrote “Ice Cream,” while “What if I had been that Puma” features songwriting credits for Yeonjun, Taehyun, and Beomgyu. “No Rules” saw the most number of members participate in songwriting, with credits for Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Hueningkai and Taehyun, and “Frost” saw lyrical contributions by Yeonjun. “We were all very eager and wanted to be part of the process from the very beginning of our careers,” says HueningKai. “As we honed our abilities, we gradually gained more opportunities to expand upon and present our ideas.” With Big Hit Music’s encouragement to guide more of their artists into songwriting and production, all the members regularly present their lyrics, production and concepts to the label to incorporate into their albums. HueningKai shares that the anthemic, synthy, rock-influenced “Dear Sputnik” was years in the making, born of a sample he created before he joined the group. “I sent it to our label with the file name ‘it’s just a sample’ and I got a good reaction, so I developed it from there and got the final result.”
The lead single “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)” is about believing in love even though the world is dissolving into chaos and there are thousands of doubts and sorrows in your mind. Co-written by HYBE’s founder Bang Si-Hyuk, BTS’ leader RM, American artist Mod Sun, and produced by Big Hit Music’s Slow Rabbit, the track is one of the most powerful and emotional releases from TOMORROW X TOGETHER and also marks their first official collaboration with another artist — South Korean singer-songwriter Seori. It features grunge rock and gritty vocals to convey maturity and desperation we haven’t seen from the quintet previously and contrasts this heaviness spectacularly with Seori’s soft, breathy voice. An acoustic version of the track released on June 25th sees TXT add rappers pH-1 and Woodie Gochild to the collaborative lineup, ramping up the rawness of the original with new verses from each artist. “It was a great honor to work with such incredible artists,” Yeonjun says about the entire lineup of collaborators, producers and songwriters who worked on Freeze. “I’d like to thank them for their contributions.”
The Chaos Chapter: Freeze earned TXT their highest position on the Billboard 200 yet, clocking in at an impressive Number Five and making them the only fourth generation K-pop group to do so (they had previously peaked at Number 25 on the chart with their 2020 EP Minisode1: Blue Hour.) Some of their accolades in their early days as a group include The Dream Chapter: Star becoming the highest-charting debut release by any male K-pop group in history, and selling out a six-city U.S. tour — both achievements almost unheard of for a rookie K-pop act. When I ask about their goals for the future of TOMORROW X TOGETHER, the answer is simple and unanimous: “Our goal is always to deliver the best music and performances we can. We can’t wait to get on stage and perform for our MOA [the group’s fandom] all over the world.”
Over the past two years, the quintet have become a guiding light for many young people around the world who are dealing with growing up, while also reminding millions of adults about their time as teens. There is a feeling that you’re not alone while holding the weight of life’s trials, and it is this the feeling that has garnered the group their massive fanbase, as well as their outstanding chart success. It’s a lot to put on their young shoulders — the members are aged between 18 and 21 years — but it’s a task TOMORROW X TOGETHER are prepared to take on. “We aren’t completely without pressure, but we’d like to say this becomes our motivation to present more good music,” says Yeonjun. They see the process of inspiration as a two-way street; while fans grow up with them, it’s important to remember they’re growing up with their fans as well. “Our relationship with MOA definitely goes both ways,” assures HueningKai. “We share our own stories that many people, including MOA of course, can relate to through our music, and thankfully our fans feel empathy with the music and give us love and support. That’s how and why our fans and TXT can see ‘selves’ in each other.”
On the subject of inspiration, we move on to discuss how each of them were motivated to pursue a career in music. “I always thought there was a special power in performances, even when I was just a part of the audience,” shares Soobin. “Singers and performers can really give people great joy. I also used to enjoy performing at my school festivals when I was a student. I enjoyed hearing the cheers from the crowd.” For Yeonjun, the journey to becoming an artist began with a passion for dance. “I was part of a dance crew as a student, and I naturally had a lot of opportunities to perform on stage,” he says. “Being on stage thrilled me like nothing else had. I fell in love with dance. I’d continue to rehearse on and on, and I came to realize the amount of passion I held for performing.” Beomgyu has very early memories of music. “My father would always play music while driving. I was also in a band in middle school, and performing in front of crowds really gave me a glimpse into the future I could have in music,” he explains. “I wanted to chase this dream, and I’m happy to say I am living it right now.” Taehyun also found a love for music through his family. “My sister was very into K-pop,” he recalls. “Naturally, I picked it up as well. I remember watching a music video of SHINee and thinking they were very cool. Then, I had an opportunity to join HYBE in middle school and was able to broaden my horizon to more diverse music all over the world.” HueningKai can’t remember a time when he wasn’t thinking about a career in music. “I think I’ve always been surrounded by music. Quite a few people within my immediate circle play instruments. I think pursuing music came naturally to me. I just really enjoyed singing and playing the guitar.”
What have they found to be the key to developing their powerful chemistry after coming together as a group? Taehyun doesn’t hesitate to answer. “It’s a big deal to know for certain you have four people who will be there to pick you up when you fall. I have every confidence in our team,” he says firmly. “We see eye-to-eye when it comes to the path and goals we envision for our group, and I think our strong rapport among one another is what allowed us to come this far. We were definitely able to hone our teamwork in the time we spent together. We’re one team and family working together to make better music and performances.”
We begin to break down what makes TXT so unique in today’s pop landscape, and the members take a moment to gather their thoughts before diving into it. “I think that our music tells the universal experience of youth everywhere,” begins Taehyun. “This is why so many people have been able to relate with our music, no matter where they’re from or what language they speak.” Yeonjun believes it’s TXT’s overall aesthetic and expansive artistry that draws in so many fans from different walks of life. “I’d say that we have trendy music, choreography, and style,” he says. “We’ve had the fortunate experience of being able to work with a diverse range of genres through our albums so far. In the future, we hope TOMORROW X TOGETHER can become a genre in itself.”
While the premise of ‘tomorrow’ etches itself into the face of TXT’s concept, they’re more determined to focus on the ‘together’ part of the message. For them, it all circles back to doing their best to be there for whoever needs them the most today–whether it’s my father here in India or a teenager somewhere across the globe. “We define ‘artists’ as people who can deliver empathy, comfort, and good energy to the world,” says Beomgyu. “We also wish to become artists who can give strength to people everywhere.” Yeonjun agrees with the sentiment, voicing his hope for the legacy they want to leave behind. “The biggest thing we want people to take away from our music and performances is energy, comfort, and empathy,” he says. “We receive much strength from you, MOA, so I hope we can be a source of strength for you too.”
Go behind the scenes of TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s June 2021 digital cover shoot for Rolling Stone India:
Photographer: Ahn Yeonhoo
Art Director: Tanvi Shah
Visual Creative: Lee Hyunju, Rakta
Stylist: Kim Gyunam
Hair: Kwak Minkyoung
Makeup: Han Areum