There are a few images that would describe Max Changmin pre-interview: the younger member of TVXQ!, a small and quiet voice, and the face of someone that looks well-mannered. And yes, he was quiet, well-mannered, and funny in the way that the youngest members of groups usually are. Yet that is how he spoke about TVXQ!’s present. A group where a definite boundary exists between its wild fans and public. A group that is working on re-creating its identity. Changmin calmly spoke of the stories that would have been painful for him to listen to, voicing his opinions and showing that he is thinking of what is ahead by looking back on his group past objectively. That is why the fact that he continues to move forward by telling himself ‘There’ll be something more,” seemed more like a spell than his hope. And there probably is more, even after all they have been through, for TVXQ! and for Max Changmin.
Q. How would you evaluate your second album?
Max Changmin: The songs to our fifth album “Keep Your Head Down” suited us very well at the time. In a way, we were also trying to prove that our skills are undiminished. But we had a lot of thoughts for our latest album around because both our fans and the public had the image of us as being a group that just puts on strong performances and we didn’t want to insist we keep doing such music nor keep driving things in that direction. “Catch Me” wasn’t a song with that much public appeal either – we don’t deny the fact that as much as there were people that liked it, there were also people that felt it was alien. But we need to embrace such response as well and it was something we needed to go through, as a step we need to take to expand on the spectrum of music that we do.
Q. Speaking of expanding, your performance for “Catch Me” was structured in a way that the two of you stood facing each other as if looking into a mirror, and gradually expanded it in scale with your dancers. You must’ve had to work hard to dance 1:1 against U-Know Yunho who has always been considered the strongest when it comes to dancing.
Changmin: The choreography was a new challenge for me so I think I just gave it more than I usually do. Yunho is just amazing when it comes to performances. And we needed to perform facing each other, as if looking at the other ‘me,’ so there was the possibility that the degree of completion would suffer if either one of us falled behind. I’ve never been extremely confident at dancing but Tony Testa fed me a lot of compliments. “Max, you’re really good. You have talent. Be confident.” I fell for his sweet talk. (laughs)Q. Compared to the performance for “Catch Me,” which had a perfectly set-up theme, “Humanoids” seemed to contain more relaxed and general choreography. Changmin: Tony Testa told us to express the anger I’d feel if the woman I loved left me through the choreography for “Catch Me” so I thought, ‘Why is making me do these sort of things?’ (laughs) But I realized he’d asked SHINee’s Jonghyun to express strong emotions as well after seeing his expression for “Sherlock.” In comparison, “Humanoids” was relatively easier to have fun with.
Q. You two harmonize for “How are you” and for songs like “Destiny” or “Getaway,” your range was very big. What has it been like to have more to sing?
Changmin: In the past, we sang the parts that fit our range the best and I was usually in charge of singing the parts where you need to ‘belt out.’ But it’s just the two of us now so we needed to work hard to expand on our ranges. We didn’t want people to think that we’re not good enough by ourselves. People have told me to take good care of my voice, that if I don’t, I’ll have a hard time later on, but I’ve been okay so far. And I think I’m getting the knack of it. I think we’ve become better at singing and performing a song from start to finish though I guess I might sound cocky right now… (laughs)
Q. I’m sure your competitiveness stimulated you a lot but is there anything that has changed about you fundamentally?
Changmin: I’ve always wanted to do a good job but I think I tried to be as serious as I could with this album. It doesn’t mean that I felt more pressure to do well. Producer Lee Soo-man tells us, “You shouldn’t try too hard to sing well.” And I didn’t understand what this meant in the past but I actually think this applies to everything now. These days I’m most serious when it comes to singing yet I’ve come to enjoy it more as well.
Q. I think you’ve come to see your past and present from an objective standpoint. TVXQ! used to be a group that was defined by on the massive fandom you have yet now you’re in the process of creating a new identity. What are your concerns as someone that’s in the middle of this?
Changmin: I think our past songs, including “Keep Your Head Down,” were songs that our fans liked in particular. I don’t think it was in line with the public’s taste but this time around, I think we had more opportunities to communicate with the public by appearing on entertainment shows. We may fall into mannerism if we confine ourselves to doing music that is just us, so I think the only way we’d move forward would be by accepting the trends in music.Q. Was your appearance in Japanese film “Fly with the Gold” also part of your attempt to try and approach the public?Changmin: I think another way that we’d sustain our team well would be by doing a good with our individual activities because that would create a synergy effect. And we’re a group that’s strong at performances but it’s going to be hard to continue giving such powerful performances because we’re getting old physically. (laughs)
Q. For a long time now, you’ve worked with people you’re familiar with for TVXQ! What was it like to work on “Fly with the Gold” which is a different type of work and that too was with people who speak a different language?
Changmin: I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it if I had known it was going to be so hard. (laughs) I shot the film while we were touring Japan so it was really hard to keep switching between the two completely different worlds. Plus, all the other actors and staff were putting their everything into the movie, and I too did my best in my own way, but I felt burdened upon seeing the finished product because it seemed that I hadn’t done as well. I think that the good thing though is that once I start on something, I need to go forward with it and improve.
Q. Based on seeing how you’ve changed from when you first debuted as TVXQ!, it seems that you just like to go for what’s ahead of you and improve along the way.
Changmin: The weird thing is that I’ve never dreamt of becoming a certain singer or actor. A bit after I made my debut, I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have a dream when everyone else did. And honestly, I still don’t have an ultimate dream I want to achieve. But I hate not being as good as everyone else. (laughs) That’s why I’d like to keep improving, more and more, and just enjoy the fact that tomorrow will be better than today.
Q. You’ve already achieved a lot as TVXQ! and you will hold a five-dome tour in Japan. What comes next?
Changmin: I don’t have a particular goal in mind. But I just have the ambiguous hope that the next stage we stand on will be even bigger than the domes, or that there’ll be a world that I haven’t experienced before. The excitement I’ve felt over the thought, ‘There’ll be something more’ is what has kept me going till now.
Photographer. Chae Ki Won firstname.lastname@example.org
Translator. Jessica Kim