"I don't believe anymore in being romantic," sings Tomorrow X Together's youngest member, Hueningkai, on "Anti-Romantic," the first track of the group's second full studio album, The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE.
It's a fitting opener for a series of songs exploring the complexities of coming of age in a world that has continued, for the last year and a bit, at least, to descend only deeper into pandemic-induced disarray. Continuing in the footsteps of TXT's last EP, minisode1: Blue Hour and their Dream Chapter series before that, the music on FREEZE is both personal to the members' own experiences and universally relatable for their fans, many of whom are, too, growing up surrounded by chaos.
"We’ve always told our own stories through our music since our debut," 19-year-old Taehyun tells BuzzFeed News. "So reflecting the current state of the world was a natural choice."
As is life, the story told by TXT's discography is sprawling in its scope, constantly exploring new perspectives thematically and pushing the boundaries of genre. It's an intricately crafted self-referential web of lyrics, melodies, and choreography that only grows more detailed the deeper you dive, and FREEZE is no exception. The album's tracklist takes inspiration from some of the group's older works: "New Rules" from their first full album becomes, in an ever-changing world, "No Rules"; "What If I Had Been That Puma" explores a contrasting approach to a track from 2020's ETERNITY; "Magic," explains Soobin, references "the emotion we feel when we are together" that was integral to the Dream Chapter series.
"Our music tells our story and follows our journey as we grow," Soobin adds. "I think these connections to our previous works came about naturally."
As always, the expansion of TXT's musical world comes hand in hand with the artistic growth of its members, all five of whom wrote lyrics for FREEZE. "Continuing our story through the new chapter has been a big opportunity of growth for us for many reasons — one being the variety of sounds we were able to work with for this new album," says Hueningkai, who earned his first-ever coproducer credit for "Dear Sputnik." And, it turns out, their audience has grown too: Two weeks after its release, FREEZE reached No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart — the group's highest placement yet.
Over email, BuzzFeed News spoke with Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun, and Hueningkai about their musical evolution and how they stay true to the story of TXT.
You recently celebrated two years since your debut, and with every album you release, it seems you’re participating more and more in the songwriting and producing. How do you feel when you look back on your first album? How do you think you’ve evolved as musicians since that time?
SOOBIN: It’s been two years, but it feels almost fresh, and I can still feel the pure effort we all put into our debut album. I want to continue on our track of growth because there’s still plenty we want to share with the world.
YEONJUN: I think that we’ve noticeably expanded our musical spectrum for the past two years, even with regards to creative participation like songwriting.
BEOMGYU: With our first album, I think we were all more heavily focused on doing our best with what was given to us, but with each new project, I truly feel that we’re making our mark and having greater input into all aspects of our music production.
TAEHYUN: It’s no doubt we’d do better with our debut album if we were to record and perform them again today, but as raw as it is, I think our debut album has good memories of its own. I think we’ve definitely become much better at recording the songs.
HUENINGKAI: Continuing to put in our efforts for various aspects of the album-making process has definitely improved our capabilities as artists. I’m confident in saying that we understand and connect with each song on a deeper level now.
Your previous music has often dealt with themes of friendship and coming of age, but the songs and concepts for this album move more towards a focus on love and romance. Why is this something you’ve chosen to explore in more depth now?
YEONJUN: Our Dream Chapter series was about friends who embark on a magical adventure together, and our new Chaos Chapter is about a boy who has frozen as a response to the harsh reality of the world. He thought he knew everything, but now he knows no more, and therefore he feels empty and small. In The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE, one special person comes to find him for who he is, and towards this person, the boy feels “love.” To him, this person is the only thing that makes sense and is the only world he now knows.
I think many young people globally must have encountered their own world of chaos, whether that be the COVID-19 pandemic or anything else they adjust to or overcome while growing up. And I do imagine it must be quite difficult. In times like this, many of us greatly long for someone special to see us for who we are and to cheer us on, or accompany us through our journey of growth. The sheer strength that a loved one can give us is a magic that we believe is universal to all people living this generation.
TXT’s concept shoots always show you as normal young men navigating life, but then there’s also an added element of fantasy, as seen in the “World” concept for this album. How do you think this contrast represents the message of TXT, and the members personally?
TAEHYUN: As you said, our story is about young people navigating life, so we’re always depicting this journey of growth through various means like our music and performances.
The element of “fantasy” is like a prism through which we show our world. For example, our debut song “CROWN” represents the knowledge and state of “being different” through a pair of antlers that we figuratively grow on our heads. “Can't We Just Leave the Monster Alive” was, on the surface, about not wanting to defeat the game’s final boss and therefore finishing the game. In actuality, it was about not wanting to outgrow our childhood. Our newest album uses elements like ice to represent the world that this boy sees, within which he feels empty and frozen until a special someone comes to melt the ice he feels entrapped in.
It feels like your music videos and concept trailers get more impressive and elaborate every time — the concept trailer for this album feels more like a movie, and fans were really impressed with the choreography, stunts, and effects. How do you feel whenever you get to try these things? Do you ever experience any challenges in the process?
BEOMGYU: I think it’s always a very fun and exciting experience for us because we’re going through each shoot with our MOA in mind. Our most recent concept trailer was a more tricky one in terms of choreography so it was really important that we had great teamwork... which we did! I think it turned out great.
YEONJUN: It might be a little irrelevant, but I got my driver’s license for the music video of our title track. Our members are my first ever passengers so I think that this is a memory I’ll cherish forever.
Making art can be challenging when you feel uninspired. Where do you find your best inspiration for writing music? When do you feel most creative?
SOOBIN: I often just sit back to relax after work, turn on my purple light and listen to music through speakers. It really allows me to submerge myself in my thoughts.
YEONJUN: My own experiences as well, but also often from films.
BEOMGYU: My inspiration usually comes from thoughts I regularly have on a day-to-day basis. I’m also inspired by various songs I’ve listened to before.
TAEHYUN: It just comes to me when I’m sitting at my desk and listening to music.
HUENINGKAI: Usually through movies or through the songs of artists I respect and admire!
Hueningkai, you received a producing credit on this album. What was that experience like for you? Did it teach you anything new or interesting about making music?
HUENINGKAI: I’m personally very happy that I could share a song I wrote and produced with our MOA because they’ve always been with me and are cheering me on. Working on this song and this album was an amazing experience for me, because I was able to see the song improve, grow, and develop as I have.
Some tracks on this album, especially "0X1=LOVESONG" and "Frost," feel completely different sonically from anything you’ve released before. Why is it important to you to continue exploring new styles of music, and how do you stay true to TXT’s overall sound within such a diverse discography?
HUENINGKAI: I think that exploring new genres and sounds allows us to grow as artists and as a team. Our goal is to become a team that can reinterpret any musical style with our own color. Hopefully, we can someday become a genre of our own.
BEOMGYU: I think that we can stay true to our identity — regardless of genres and styles of our music — because at the core of all our music is the voice we have and the story we tell. We’re telling stories about us, and about young people who are living in this generation. That universal narrative is our color and identity.
A lot of the lyrics on this album come from a place of deep and often heavy emotion. What was the experience like diving into those kinds of feelings to write the lyrics, and then to express them through recording and performances?
SOOBIN: We normally refer to a lot of projects like films and TV shows in order to amplify the intended mood and emotions of the songs. We then translate those emotions in our own musical style. The experience is a very rewarding one because we’ve had amazing responses from fans all over the world who tell us they were able to connect with the stories and emotions we portray in our music. We’re very thankful.
MOAs always love analyzing your lyrics and music videos and, of course, listening to the songs, and as a result, The Chaos Chapter: Freeze has achieved TXT’s highest Billboard chart placement yet. What do all those reactions mean to you?
TAEHYUN: We’re so thankful and proud of our fans because this is as much their achievement as it is ours. This is more than just a number. I think this is a sign that there are many people around the world who listen to and enjoy our music, and relate to the story we tell. We’re very happy to be able to share our songs and emotions with them.
The Chaos Chapter: FREEZE is available to stream and buy now.