It’s a cloudy Saturday afternoon in London, and I’ve just arrived at the studio where the members of SuperM are getting ready for our Mischief issue cover-shoot. Some of them aren’t ready yet, taking turns to get their makeup and hair done. Two of the members are taking their own photos of each other in various parts of the large, lightly sunlit room while sipping on iced coffee and shaking off the exhaustion from the past months of touring. It’s been a rewarding six months for Baekhyun, Taemin, Kai, Taeyong, Ten, Lucas and Mark; they are some of my favourite artists in the K-pop industry, and I’ve been following their journey and watching them grow since debut. Today, I get to sit down and talk with them about their adventures. As a fan, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Excited is an understatement for how I’m feeling.
One of the first things I noticed is how exuberant they are. Seemingly mundane acts caused the most laughter among them: Taemin sneezing, Lucas adjusting his long legs causing his knee to knock against the table, Kai saying a phrase that ended up sounding like a tongue twister. These guys make you feel like you’re in on the joke. They’re tired from working endlessly for the past few months, some on more than one project, but they’re still playful and kind.
Of all the boys, the most chatty was the youngest member, Mark Lee. A native English speaker, Mark took the lead on most questions addressed to the group, answering them and occasionally stumbling on his words, letting out a slight giggle every few minutes. His personality was playful and sweet but also professional and sharp. Every so often, he’d look to his older members, or the “old blood” as he referred to them, for them to build on his responses. He’s an idol, but he’s also a 20-year-old seeking guidance from his contemporaries.
The same energy comes from Lucas, age 21, as he responds to the questions he’s asked. He held a smile on his face for what seemed like 20 minutes straight as he listened to the others speak. When it’s his turn, Lucas would speak, look towards his elder member Kai who is sitting directly across from him and after a slight nod in return, continue on with his words. Lucas and Kai both have a quietude about them. They find each other’s eyes on multiple occasions in those 40 minutes, almost if they’re seeking a familiar face for assurance. There’s a kinship there that I can’t quite explain, but it seems significant. I think back to when Mark explained to me in our interview that Kai is wise beyond his years and how he’s always open to having conversations that help him grow. He goes to him to learn about the world, parts of it that he may not have seen or experienced that Kai has. Lucas nodded in agreement. He’s an elder brother figure for both of the youngest members.
Taemin remains reserved most of the time as if he’s allowing the rest to speak. He’s been in this industry for over ten years now. He debuted in 2008, and he’s kept momentum up for 12 years, becoming one of the most respected artists in K-pop. Even with his experience in the industry, he mentioned that being a part of SuperM is a brand new experience for him and he’s been making special memories with his new members. Despite his long reign, his dynamic with the rest of the group, some of whom debuted much more recently, is so natural, giving insight to his adaptability to changes in his career.
At this point, the members are reminiscing on their favourite cities from their journey together as SuperM. From the corner of the couch, a previously quiet Taeyong is found repeating the destination where SuperM debuted excitedly, a place they all agreed is very special to them: “L.A., L.A., L.A.!” In one hand, he’s clutched a caffeinated drink, and in the other, a coloured pen. In front of him is a sketchbook where he’s been doodling until the ink in his pen runs dry. He seems reserved, but in the times when he has something to say, he’s confident and assured, much like his musical persona where his rap verses are strong and memorable.
About halfway through the time I spend with them, it’s brought up in conversation that I was born in Thailand, the same place Ten lived his life before he left for Seoul to train with S.M. Entertainment. “What? No way!” he says to me, shocked. “You’re Thai?” I let out a small laugh and nod reassuring him that I was not playing a practical joke. We held a short conversation post-interview, where we both realized we grew up in the city of Bangkok, likely not too far from one another. Our childhood homes must’ve been a few stops away on the train. Ten wasn’t obligated to speak to me after our allotted time, but his curiosity and compassion led him to start a conversation about our shared home and experiences.
“Sawasdee Krub,” Baekhyun recites a common greeting in Thai to me, one of the few Ten has taught him in the time they’ve spent together in SuperM. I don’t think he realizes it, but he’s been inching closer to the middle of the table with each response to my questions. He was on a couch with 3 of the other boys, sitting next to Lucas, who is the tallest of the bunch. It felt as he was inching closer to maintain eye contact out of habit. Baekhyun made sure to hold eye contact while speaking, even if I didn’t understand his words. There’s a particular care he puts into them, making sure the translator is explaining every couple of sentences. It felt considerate, and not in a fraudulent way.
All of it is genuine: the laughs shared, the jokes exchanged, the dynamics presented. SuperM are genuinely fun people to be around, so much so that you almost forget they’re world-famous superstars. As we wrap up our time together, Mark explained to me what’s next for them and how they’ve got so much left to show the world. As a fan, I can’t wait to see what is coming up next for this group of seven boys.