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The explosive rise of TXT, Gen Z’s K-pop ‘It band’

As Tomorrow X Together join the handful of K-pop stars who’ve reached the number one spot of the Billboard 200, Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun and Hueningkai talk to Dazed about growing pains, finding their uniqueness and driving their fandom wild

Tomorrow X Together (commonly abbreviated to TXT) are one of the most fascinating pop groups in the world right now. Consistently, gracefully effortless yet purposeful – whether it be exquisitely realised concept trailers or a genderless approach to their choreography and styling (smears of lipstick and glitter, skirts and leather corsets) – their approach unfurls from using their youth not as a fleeting conceptual gimmick but a creative bedrock and boundaryless, ever-evolving lens. TXT’s arc is a coming-of-age narrative in real-time, each era a reflection of youth’s most glorious and revelatory moments, but also its most furious, frustrated, questioning, lovesick, contradictory, and even unashamedly awkward.

On their new EP, The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION (featuring the members' ongoing lyrical and musical contributions), they face exactly that – the tempting sanctuary of a perpetual Neverland, ignoring the world which demands they, as young adults, take on weightier responsibilities. TXT use the devil as a tangible figure of enticement on songs like “Devil by the Window” and lead single, “Sugar Rush Ride” – but the devil is also a facet of themselves, one in conflict with the desire to understand who they’re becoming as they mature.

Each track forms a step for TXT to find a pathway into their future, although it’s not always linear: On the Afrobeat-inspired “Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)”, they veer into the clutches of imposter syndrome – “Rockstar minus the star… I don’t have that kind of talent/I’m not a ‘born to be’/Even when I see myself, I know I am nothing special” – a bittersweet admission when considering the band’s steady ascent since their debut in 2019, and explosive growth over the past year. It’s with this EP that they join the handful of K-pop artists who’ve reached the #1 album spot on the Billboard 200, an achievement that further cements TXT’s status as Gen Z’s ‘It band’, a title that’s been attached to them since early 2021.

Fresh off this major milestone, Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun and Hueningkai talk with Dazed about being a voice of a generation, growing pains, finding their uniqueness, and driving their fandom (known as MOA) wild on social media.

If the minisode EPs (2020’s Blue Hour and 2022’s Thursday’s Child) were ‘pit stops’, a mental breather to process the difficulties the world was in, where does this record and era find your heads at?

Yeonjun: I think the name of the new chapter speaks for itself. Through our music, we’ve already talked about friendships, love and heartbreak, and we’ve grown a lot since then. The new series is about coming of age and finding my name and identity. So we were very focused on making an album that reflects this stage in our lives.

Soobin: Musically, we wanted this EP to reflect all that we can do because I feel that we’re really finding ourselves as a band. We always knew what we wanted in terms of our career, but the picture is definitely becoming clearer and clearer.

The visual concepts for The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION are particularly eye-catching. When we think of the devil, we don’t think of pastels or glitter; how does the artwork represent not only the story but also the stage at which TXT are in their career?

Soobin: The ‘Daydream’ concept is about falling into Neverland and leaving our dreams behind. ‘Nightmare’ portrays a kind of ‘sugar high,’ which is sweet and wonderful but short-lived. The ‘Farewell’ concept is about leaving Neverland to seek the stars and chase our dreams, and ‘Lullaby’ shows us on the other side as Peter Pan luring youth into Neverland.

Hueningkai: I like to think we look more relaxed and at-home because it’s our fourth year as a band and we’ve gotten better at embodying various concepts. All four concepts for this EP are vastly different and I think they show that our creative scope has really widened.

The last record took nine months to make. How long did you work on The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION?

Beomgyu: We’re always working on music non-stop, but in terms of this EP alone, it was in the works from early May last year. We wrapped it up late November so I guess six or seven months just for the music. Obviously, the full process is longer because we have to shoot the music video and perfect our choreography and such. I think it came at the perfect time because what better way to kick off the new year than with new music?

All the members admitted to struggling in certain parts during recording Minisode 2:Thursday’s Child; how did you fare with this EP?

Taehyun: We felt pretty great about all five tracks. Some songs like ‘Tinnitus (Wanna be a rock)’ let us get into the groove of things while recording so that was quite an experience, because the song’s really a vibe.

Beomgyu: I really liked recording ‘Happy Fools (feat. Coi Leray)’ because it’s basically a perfect group project with creative contributions from all five members, including the topline by Yeonjun and the incredible voice of Coi Leray. I guess if we had to pick one song that was most challenging, it would probably be ‘Devil by the Window’. It’s not our first English track, but there are some very precise and delicate emotions that we need to convey through the song, and expressing these emotions exactly the way you intend to isn’t the easiest job to accomplish in a language that isn’t your mother tongue. I still think we all did great though!

‘Devil By The Window’ and ‘Sugar Rush Ride’ fascinate me because of their urgency and power but, like you mention, they’re also incredibly delicate…

Soobin: Glad you liked it! The overall theme of this EP is growing up despite all the sweet temptations to stay young and carefree. We all know we have to grow up. We have dreams and ambitions. But sometimes, growing up isn’t easy and it comes with pains. Staying in Neverland might be nice but you’re forfeiting a chance to grow up and fulfil your dreams. The illusion of Neverland doesn’t last, and the real world still awaits.

I guess this is a reality that’s been hitting home for you since debuting – the exhilaration of your youth on one side but the numerous responsibilities that come with being a globally successful band on the other?

Taehyun: I think it’s a feeling that everyone, not just the five of us, has experienced at one point. You’ve kept going and going and there are days when you feel immensely proud of yourself but there are also some days in which you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. Then you just want to throw everything and not worry about how to get through it.

Hueningkai: Because of our career, I think we were granted opportunities and experiences that not many people come across. I admit it is a responsibility because music has such a lasting and widespread impact, but we’re still very happy about having the chance to walk this journey and to grow up together with our fans. Being able to document and communicate these experiences through our music makes it feel as though we’re all just growing up and living life together.

If you could stay young forever, would you?

Yeonjun: Every year is so different. There are new highs and new lows but the experiences we’ve had in the past four years are ones we wouldn’t trade for anything. Some experiences like our first world tour last year or performing at Lollapalooza were moments we couldn’t imagine ten years ago, but because we chased our dreams, we were able to see them turn into reality. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years have in store for us.

Beomgyu: Each age and generation has its own unique experiences. I wouldn’t want to forfeit these just to continue what I already know. There are definitely many more stories to tell down the road, and I’m really excited about that.

Flying and falling are themes TXT uses frequently, and we see it on this EP on ‘Farewell, Neverland’: ‘Neverland, my love, goodbye now, And I’m free falling.’ What’s the significance of them for you in 2023?

Hueningkai: 2023 opens up a new chapter for us. Our story has always been one of growth and this year is really about embracing this process to step out and soar to claim whatever new goal we want to achieve. We’re chasing our dreams and we’re excited to see what this new year will bring us.

It’s been nearly a year since BACKSTAGE: TXT x EN – DOCUMENTARY in which Yeonjun said: ‘I hope we become a unique group’. Do you believe you’ve achieved that desired uniqueness or at least moved closer to that goal?

Soobin: It definitely does feel like we’re well on track. With our five newest songs, we’re trying more genres and concepts, and even ones we’ve tried before are portrayed differently because we’re not the same kids we were just two or three years ago. Everything still sounds like us, like Tomorrow X Together, but it feels exciting to expand our scope and put more sounds under our belt. Our signature is our authenticity and story so I think we just need to keep going and stay true to ourselves.

Taehyun: I hope that one day, people will be able to hear our song start playing and immediately recognise it to be Tomorrow X Together. We want to be the descriptor of our own sound.

Technology has allowed for more artists than ever to release music and there’s also so many new ways to play with and mix genres. Are you ever overwhelmed or distracted by the sheer enormity of all it? Or has your strong narrative and aesthetic created a clear-eyed path for the group’s evolution?

Yeonjun: I think the answer to that is both always and never. There are so many good artists and so much good music coming out left and right, every day. These are all wonderful creative influences that help us to learn and grow as musicians. Also, I believe that the trending sound of that moment is a reflection of that generation’s experiences and sentiments. It’s a good study.

Hueningkai: In the end, what we’re about when it comes to Tomorrow X Together albums is to tell our own stories about growing up in this generation. It’s the thoughts and emotions we’ve had and these are subjects that we share with our contemporaries. Living life and chatting with our peers – our fans everywhere included – definitely does help us to steer and navigate.

These days, TXT is referred to as Gen Z’s ‘It band’ – what’s it like to be seen as a mirror for a generation?

Yeonjun: It was a great honour when we first heard someone refer to us as that and the same emotion still stands. We’re quite thankful that people love and enjoy our music enough to think of us in that way and it’s a great feeling. It’s definitely a position we personally feel we need to keep working on to maintain, but we want to say that it motivates us in the best way.

Beomgyu: We also achieved our first number one on the Billboard 200 with our latest EP, so I want to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful MOA because this couldn’t have happened without the love they’ve shown for our songs. This EP meant a lot to us while working on it and we couldn’t wait to bring it out into the world. Now that it’s out, we’re thrilled that we can finally show everyone what we’ve been working on. We can’t wait to perform these songs for everyone in person. MOA, thank you for loving and relating to our music. I hope each of these songs connects to you personally as they do for us.

Taehyun, you mentioned on socials that the Lullaby version can be ‘said to be seducing MOA’, which sent the fandom into a meltdown. Does the band go online to enjoy the excitement and chaos they’ve unleashed?

Taehyun: Definitely. We’re almost chronically online during new release periods and teaser drops. We love seeing all the hype around new content because our fans get so excited and it feels amazing to see them so happy about something we’ve worked on so hard.

Soobin: It’s the best kind of chaos. The hype is indeed shared between all of us.

Finally, if you did by some chance meet the devil, where would you take him for a nice day out as a break from all that strenuous temptation?

Hueningkai: On tour. The devil can help us tempt our MOA!

Taehyun: Maybe to the beach. The devil needs some sunlight. Or the gym so it can work some of the stress out.