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TOMORROW X TOGETHER: How K-Pop’s Lost Boys Found Themselves — and Global Stardom

May 11, 2023 | 10:15am ET

The Umeda neighborhood of Osaka, Japan is a trendy place. In recent years, the entertainment district has become home to a number of top restaurants and luxury stores surrounding the already legendary jazz clubs for which the port city is known. With its wanderable alleys lined with abundant food marts and vintage shops, Umeda is on the forefront of culture – making it the perfect place to meet up with one of the most voguish musical acts currently working.

The members of South Korean pop group TOMORROW X TOGETHER are in Japan smack in the middle of their 2023 “ACT: SWEET MIRAGE” world tour. It’s mid-morning the day before the show when the group rolls into a cozy hotel suite one by one, picking from the mountain of snacks and juices in the corner and bowing politely as they sit.

There’s Soobin, the soft-spoken, painfully endearing leader of the group, who reaches for a small bag of candy upon entering; Yeonjun, who can deliver a wink or a wave with professional precision; Beomgyu, the contagiously cheerful baritone; Taehyun, strikingly smart, with wide eyes constantly monitoring his bandmates; and Hueningkai, the sweet-voiced, hardworking youngest.

During our two hours of individual and group interviews, the members of TOMORROW X TOGETHER (often referred to as TXT) are markedly unguarded — it’s the most relaxed I’ve ever seen a K-pop group. Soobin’s hair is still tousled from sleep; Yeonjun is lounging on the couch in a loose-fitting black tank top. More than one member appears to have slid into the hotel slippers in lieu of footwear, and all are bare-faced. It’s a rare level of vulnerability and trust in an industry that values highly intentional aesthetics for its stars. The members appear not as the coiffed performers they can also become, but simply as five young men who just woke up, chatting about a particularly thrilling chapter of their story.

The group’s most recent mini-album, January’s The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION, finds them stepping into new adventures. The album’s closing song, “Farewell, Neverland,” ties together the effort’s concept and styling, inspired heavily by the story of Neverland’s very own Lost Boys. The Lost Boys, notably, are not Peter Pan, a figure alluded to in the song “Devil by the Window” — “Temptation touched my tongue, spread the wings of desire/ He's whispering, ‘Give up, don't you put up a fight.” Rather, the story of the young adventurers surrounding Pan does feel like a better analogy for this moment in TXT’s story: Lost Boys are brave and individually talented, defined by their camaraderie, and, in some tellings of the story, they eventually choose to leave Neverland and grow up.

Asked how they’d explain this new era to fans, Beomgyu points to the lyrics of the The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION anthem “Happy Fools” featuring Coi Leray, with its chorus of, “Even if it’s a little delayed, I’m not afraid/ I’m happy every day.” Says Beomgyu, “I really want to tell them that we once wandered, and overcame this teenage phase, and are still growing. Those are the stories and messages we want to convey.”

K-pop’s Lost Boys are indeed growing up and blowing up in the process. The quintet arrive in Japan at the top of the steep and steady upward trajectory they’ve been on over the last few years. It began with their 2019 debut, The Dream Chapter: STAR, which introduced the world to a refreshingly joyful sound from a group ready to explore the highs and lows of youth through a different lens than many of their K-pop peers.

While some other groups at the time leaned into rebellion in their lyrics and noise elements in their sounds, TOMORROW X TOGETHER arrived on the scene with hopeful, playful pop. Their very first release, “CROWN,” takes the stress of feeling different and turns it into a strength: “There's a horn rising out of my head/ But I love it/ You became my crown.” Some artists distance themselves from early material, but that first EP’s “Cat & Dog” and “Our Summer” both appear on the setlist for this year’s “ACT: SWEET MIRAGE.”

Even the screeching halt of 2020 didn’t prevent the members from building on the momentum from their debut. Although they couldn’t connect with audiences in person, their sparkling pandemic-era release, minisode1: Blue Hour, with its particularly addictive title track, helped the group find a footing in the global market.

“When I Saw Our
Name the Biggest It
Could Be, I Thought
‘Could This Be Real?’”

“When I Saw Our
Name the Biggest It
Could Be, I Thought
‘Could This Be Real?’”

By the summer of 2022, they’d stepped onto a yet larger world stage. They became the first K-pop act to perform at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, delivering such a successful set that they’ve already been bumped up to headliner status for 2023. The “ACT: SWEET MIRAGE” tour, which arrived in America in early May, is also an exciting step up from the group’s previous trek, 2022’s “ACT: LOVE SICK.” While the last tour had TXT in theaters that sold out comically fast, this year sees the group upgraded to arenas.

“I can feel that there are literally more MOA in numbers, right in front of my eyes,” Soobin says, referring to the shorthand for the group’s beloved fandom, Moments of Alwaysness. “The scale is bigger — I think it’s flashier.”

“Since we have more MOAs this time, we can have even more fun,” confirms Yeonjun.

The day after our conversation, the members take the stage at the 10,000-capacity Maruzen Intec Arena, where deeply immersive sets, dramatic lighting, pyrotechnics, moving platforms, and dazzling costume changes make for a hypnotic three-hour spectacle. When they return for a recently announced Osaka show in July, they’ll be at the Kyocera Dome, which has more than triple the capacity at 36,000.

Speaking to how the show will translate to their upcoming Lollapalooza set, Taehyun shares, “There’s still time to set some specifics, but you’ll get a lot of hints from this tour.”

​​”When we were performing for the first time at Lollapalooza last year, I felt a little pressured and worried, rather than excited, because I had to perform in front of a lot of people that don’t know us,” Soobin recalls. “But last year, I saw that people were just there to enjoy, and they enjoyed our show — so now that we’re going back with the title of headliner, I’m not worried this time. It’s also a good opportunity to present ourselves to people that don’t know us, so I think I’m going to enjoy myself even more this time.”

There’s a palpable sense of excitement among the bandmates around that idea of headliner status. “When I saw our name the biggest it could be, I thought, ‘Could this be real?’” says Beomgyu. “When I was performing there last year, I remember thinking, ‘Could there be more people than this?’”

Considering half of their four-year public existence was during lockdowns, TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s ascension has been remarkable. As K-pop has become ingrained in the musical mainstream and the crowd of idols continues expanding, there’s a clear global demand for TXT: Not only are they major festival headliners, but The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION was the group’s first project to land at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. “I think I got more confident in our next album, and promotions, too,” says Taehyun of this latest achievement.

TOMORROW X TOGETHER formed through the former Big Hit Entertainment, which now exists as BIGHIT MUSIC under the umbrella of HYBE. If those names ring a bell, it could be due to the fact that HYBE is also the company behind BTS — but, although the members of TXT would be the first to heap glowing praise and thanks upon the artists they refer to as their “seniors'' in the industry, the two groups don’t have much in common beyond the offices they all share in Seoul.

HYBE founder Bang Si-hyuk, a businessman with an evident passion for songwriting, oversaw the formation of TXT and even co-penned the lyrics to that first track, “CROWN.” Under the direction of Bang, HYBE grew from a humble underdog running behind the other major K-pop players into an international force. The corporation has been named on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Companies list two years in a row now — and TXT’s own story is a major part of that journey.

“It's incredible to see how much they have grown to be incredible artists over the years,” shares HYBE producer Slow Rabbit when reached over email. He calls it “an honor” to have been working with TXT since before they were introduced to the public. “Looking back, it's surreal to think that they were the last group to debut in a small office building in Gangnam before moving into the HYBE headquarters in [the Seoul neighborhood of] Yongsan. It feels like we've been preparing for their success for a very long time, but it's all been worth it.”

As K-pop has broadened its global reach, it’s arguably become more competitive, too. With all the varied sub genres, aesthetics, team dynamics, and performance styles, fans can practically cherry-pick their ideal group. Ask MOA, and they’ll say there are a few things TXT do exceptionally well: There’s an unabashed joy woven into their sound, from the dreamy haze of 2019’s “Our Summer” to the infectious cheer of the dance break in 2021’s “No Rules.” As for their performances, TXT engender a communal feeling through constant engagement and communication with the audience, enticing their fans to join their young crew – if only for the duration of the show.

Since first coming together in 2017, the members have developed a tight-knit dynamic that makes them that much easier to root for, and makes MOA feel like more than just supporters. It goes beyond “fan service,” as TXT are always striving for authenticity in how they communicate with MOA. Beomguy notes the members “get a lot of energy from Weverse,” HYBE’s proprietary communication platform allowing direct communication and media sharing between artists and fans.

TXT’s pixie-dusted team dynamic, immediately discernible, also differentiates them from other K-pop projects. There are some that operate playfully, displaying their rapport through good-natured teasing. Others take a strictly professional approach, reasonably regarding their teammates more as coworkers who clock in, put on great performances, and clock out. TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s relationship could best be described as familial, displaying a reassured ease that stems from years of safety and trust. It’s a camaraderie that begets fearlessness, knowing that members of this brotherhood have each other’s backs.

“When we are on standby behind the LED screen between sections of the concert, I’m so out of breath,” says Soobin. “But when I hear the members’ voices in my in-ears, saying, ‘Hold on, we can do it, we’re almost there,’ they cheer me up and bring strength to me.”

“I’ve started leaning on my members,” explains Beomgyu. “Rather than feeling the strength of just one member, I feel the strength of the team.”

Throughout an incredibly demanding tour, which has a setlist of over 25 songs (most requiring intense choreography), that reliance on one another is essential. “The things we have to do every day are not easy,” says Taehyun. “There are challenges on this tour that we can only do as a team.”

Hueningkai, who was only 16 years old when the group debuted, describes his bandmates as his “second family.” “Since we are five different people with five unique strengths, there are so many things to learn from each other,” he says. “I think I learned from Yeonjun how to use the stage as a whole and enjoy it — I don’t think I actually had a good sense of how to do that during the ‘ACT: LOVE SICK’ tour, but I learned from watching Yeonjun.”

Taehyun immediately jumps in, ready to hype up his bandmate: “Since our setlist this time is so demanding with a lot of dances, I see Hueningkai and realize that he’s stronger than I thought — he has a lot of stamina.”

The members often spend their downtime with one another, too. Beomgyu shares that they enjoy going shopping and swimming, despite the fact that studio time, rehearsals, dance practices, and press moments already require them to be together nearly constantly. When asked what part of their work they most enjoy, dance practice or recording new music, Beomgyu goes with option C.

“Being home, in the dorm,” he says. Across from him, Soobin nods. “That’s a perfect answer.”

Although they enjoy their spare time, the boys come alive on stage – though the Japanese crowd behaves differently than what an American might find familiar. A concert here, even one at an arena like Maruzen Intec, is treated more like a Broadway show; upon checking in, a staff member explains that there is absolutely no video or photography permitted.

The lights go down and the Twitter meme “not a cellphone in sight” becomes unironic reality; throughout the nearly three hours the members spend onstage, I don’t spot a single mobile device or camera. The staff don’t even feel the need to lock up phones or provide the magnetically-sealed Yondr pouches you might see at certain shows in the US. People respectfully keep their technology tucked away.

I’m told to expect a difference in the way Japanese concertgoers interact with artists compared to crowds I’m more familiar with, and it’s distinct. There’s polite applause and a smattering of cheers between songs, but the audience often quickly falls silent enough that the sound of the members’ shoes squeaking across the stage is audible. While it might not have quite the adrenaline rush associated with a US show – “American MOAs really know how to party during a concert,” according to Yeonjun – there’s something undeniably intimate and sweet about the experience, a personal aspect that’s all too rare in the digital age.

As performers, understanding nuances like this and being able to tailor a meticulously planned show to global audiences requires hard work. The day before the concert, following our chat, TOMORROW X TOGETHER hold an extensive rehearsal in the empty arena. They run through almost the entire show, choreography and all, carefully preparing their comments in Japanese. (The members’ native language is Korean, and they’re also practicing their English, making this the third language they’ve worked with in just a few hours.) The concert’s Japanese lift includes introductions and opening comments, transitions between songs, audience interactions and games, and heartfelt closing remarks. While the bandmates take turns with the phrases, Taehyun diligently watches the monitors, quietly noting errors and helping when someone encounters a linguistic challenge.

In contrast with our time at the hotel, where only an interpreter and single HYBE employee accompany TXT, the arena is a flurry of equipment and criss-crossing staff. Despite their age — even the oldest of the group, Yeonjun, is just 23 — the bandmates move through the backstage maze of scaffolding and string lights like the seasoned professionals they are.

Throughout the days spent with their camp, staff members in their closest orbit speak of the group with utter fondness and pride. When showtime comes, and the same boys who took turns finding their light during rehearsal transform and step onstage in princely outfits, not a hair out of place, it’s easy to see why the people around them find such satisfaction and joy watching this young group of men band together and flourish.

TOMORROW X TOGETHER are similarly diligent in all elements of their career, particularly songwriting. As with past releases, the members were heavily involved with the development of The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION, which isn’t always the case in K-pop. That personal touch paid off in an album brimming with maturity, audible evidence of the group’s continued evolution.

The focus track, “Sugar Rush Ride,” is a high-octane jolt of adrenaline with eye-catching choreography that feels urgent and fresh, a true accomplishment for a group that has conditioned fans to expect top-tier performances. “Devil by the Window” kicks off the album with a throbbing dance beat and pushes the members into their lower registers to deliver lyrics wary of “a wolf in sheep’s clothes” seducing them to “stay when you’re tempted to leave.” “Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)” is an exceptionally smooth bossa nova bop delivered with bewitching confidence.

“When I look at the individual members, I see that they are all improving in their own unique ways,” observes Slow Rabbit. “Their songwriting, lyrics, and producing skills continue to mature with each project they undertake. They are constantly striving to get better at what they are good at… They have the confidence to experiment with bold ideas.”

“We’ve been performing a [new] song called ‘Blue Spring’ during our tour,” shares Beomgyu. “We started from toplining and incorporated the lyrics the members wrote, and the entire process was so fun and interesting. In the future, I hope I can write an entire track myself and continue to grow.”

Hueningkai wants to do more songs in the future that have a “band vibe” — think the group’s stellar track “0X1=LOVESONG (I Know I Love You)” featuring Seori. Yeonjun and Beomgyu want to dig into the hip-hop sound they played around with more during their debut era. Taehyun thinks the members would do a great job with a jazz song. He’s also grown to love toplining and lyric writing, and shares that he wanted to lug his production equipment on tour with him (it was, unfortunately, too heavy for his carry-on).

“I Think Right
Now, This Moment,
TOGETHER’S Momentum.”

“I Think Right
Now, This Moment,
TOGETHER’S Momentum.”

Following an album inspired by one of the most famous stories about fighting the temptation to never grow old, the group is determined to keep developing as they leave their “teenage phase” further behind. It’s only by maturing that they’ll continue to find new ways to explore the wide-reaching experiences faced not just by the group, but the audience growing up with them. Receiving the reactions to The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION has invigorated them and filled them with hope for the next stage of their career.

“I think right now, this moment, is TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s momentum,” observes Taehyun. “All five of us are ready — and we are confident.”

American fans who snagged tickets to the “ACT: SWEET MIRAGE” tour will be taken on a journey through TXT’s discography: the energetic, youthful Dream Chapter; the hard-hitting, sprawling Chaos Chapter; a dip into the playfully bad boy era of Thursday’s Child; and the recently introduced Temptation Chapter. With the setlist weaving in and out of these different periods, we witness firsthand how their various chapters are all part of an epic that’s still being written.

As Soobin mentioned, there are instances between dance numbers where the members are heard trying their hardest to catch their breath, offering the briefest glimpse of the hours of hard work required to pull off such an intense production. Details like the orchestral flourishes added to “Blue Hour,” a new dance solo for Hueningkai, and backdrops that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Disney theme park create an otherworldly, mystical atmosphere.

Eventually, though, the lights come up, the show ends, and the crowd begins to spill out as the streetlights of Osaka flicker on. By morning, the last few scraps of confetti on the arena floor will be the only indicator that the members of TOMORROW X TOGETHER were there. But that doesn’t mean our Lost Boys have returned to Neverland, never to grow up. They have too much still to learn and too many stories still to tell for that.

They’re only flying higher.

MOA and fans of this cover story can pick up a limited edition collector's box at the Consequence Shop. Featuring our first-ever print edition, the box includes a 40-page magazine collecting the cover story and individual TXT member profiles, as well as archival interviews with the group. Printed with six variant covers, the magazine is presented alongside five exclusive photo prints and a sticker sheet. Get yours now while supplies last!

Photos courtesy of BIGHIT Music
Credits photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images
Illustration by Steven Fiche
Editing by Ben Kaye and Wren Graves