If you grew up in India, during the ’90s or in decades preceding that time, there’s a good chance you’ve come across a blue inland letter. It might be an almost forgotten form of communication now, but that humble one-sheet, foldable form flew across every part of the country, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages. This writer was in boarding school, high up in the Himalayas, aged 10, and would curl up every week to write home. That blue letter was always filled with the love and longing that came from a very young, wistful heart, sitting far away from family. Wonho was told this story, as we sat down across time zones on Zoom to discuss his latest E.P, Blue Letter — a name that triggered these bittersweet memories. As he listened, intently, his expression was a mixture of sincerity, understanding and endearment. It’s very clear that this is someone who really gets the poignancy of emotion. “Woah! Thank you so much for sharing that story,” Wonho smiled. “It actually makes me really glad that I have this album coming out.”
Sincerity is an adjective that is so particular to Wonho — something his loyal fanbase WeNee (short for We Are New Ending) will attest to. It’s evident in the music he makes; he’s deeply committed to production, lyrics and performance in equal parts. Wonho is an acclaimed artiste in a musical landscape that isn’t just confined to South Korea — the artistes who dominate that industry are bonafide global stars, and for good reason. He’s been solo since departing from Monsta X in 2019 for reasons that have been amply and unequivocally cleared and put to rest. Wonho’s debut EP, Love Synonym Pt. 1: Right For Me released in September 2020, with the sexy, crisp title track, Open Mind. It also featured Losing You, which is an intimate, heartfelt missive to his fans. The E.P’s second half, Love Synonym Pt. 2: Right For Us arrived in February this year — a triumph, arranged across genres. There was a fantastic, audacious collaboration with singer-songwriter Kiiara called Ain’t About You, and Lose, the opener, had Wonho flexing his abilities as a singer and producer in an entirely new light. Each offering provided a new definition of love — freedom, hope, new beginnings.
Blue Letter provides deeper insight into Wonho’s heart and mind. This isn’t a new era for him, though. He has an entirely different take on the K-industry definition of a comeback — where both image and style follow a particular concept. “Instead of me coming into a new era, I think it's like my endless story. It's my music. My music is my endless story. So, instead of me establishing an era per se, I think it's just a continuous process,” he explains, sitting comfortably, breaking often into an easy smile, dressed in a simple black shirt and leather jacket, blonde hair highlighting his almost poreless skin. His album art also hints at the episodic nature of his sonic voyage. Both parts of Love Synonym had blue sleeves, all in different shades, as does this mini album. “When I look at my fans, they remind me of the colour blue. I just see the colour when I look at them. So that has become kind of like my signature colour. So, I've been using blue in my albums as well. And, for this album, I want it to convey my genuine feelings and I thought blue was the perfect colour to do so,” he states, describing blue as the personification of his current state of mind; ruminations he’s arrived at, through the last two years.
Think of a blue ocean, connecting every single one of us, across continents. It separates us, echoing a sense of isolation and loneliness. But the ocean also symbolises a need to dive into adventure, into experiences — the great, infinite blue. That, in a nutshell, is the sense Wonho wants to convey with Blue Letter. It’s a grateful letter, of sorts, to life, music and his fans, linking all these beautiful metaphors and ideas together, like a cypher. “Being thankful and loving my fans are just the basics of my state of mind. But then, again, through the album, I want to show a more genuine side of me by talking about my feelings and my thoughts. I hope that it could both encourage my fans and give them courage,” he says, summarising the central message. Consider the introduction — Seasons and Patterns. It sets the tone, illustrating waves of time, through piano keys that swell up and wash over the listener. “I think through my Intro: Seasons and Patterns, I can really show different feelings such as when I wrote the songs for Love Synonym Pt. 1 and Pt. 2. I wanted to convey that there's an expression … like patterns in love,” he muses. “Like if there were patterns in love, how would that sound in music? I wanted to express that in the Intro. And the overarching theme of the whole album is love, so I thought it was the right start to start the album.”
Blue, the focus track, asks the question, “Can you feel, feel the blue?” When people usually talk about “feeling blue”, they’re usually referring to feeling low, sad or depressed, linking to the sense of isolation mentioned above. In Wonho’s world though, the lyrics take on a more hopeful tone, opening with, “Diving into the blindingly bright blue. Don’t stop me. I’m fine, enjoying this feeling...:” Providing context, he says, “So yes, feeling blue means feeling depressed, right? I wanted to talk about feeling depressed and how it's important to accept it as is and then seize it, when you can. I want to talk about that attitude through my title track, Blue. I want to say that you're not alone if you ever feel blue or depressed.” It’s a beautiful thought; a way to honour dreams and rise above negativity.
There’s a thematic progression through the following five songs (the last is the English-language version of Blue). No Text No Call is a nostalgic take on past relationships and of drifting away — much like the tides of the ocean. Come Over Tonight highlights the immediacy of wanting to see someone, and 24/7 takes that thought even further, with Wonho singing of his desire to be united with loved ones, and to have them by his side. Stranger is a take on the opposite — on distance, when you become an outsider to the people close to you. The track-list essentially covers missing loved ones, wondering where they are, and a need to see them again. “While I was preparing for this album, I did a lot of thinking myself and I was thinking about the different messages that I wanted to give my fans,” he describes, “That's how I got to this overarching theme of love. You know, see loved ones, who are my fans.”
However, there’s also a sense of alchemy at play. One can’t help but pick up on a sense of wistfulness, of wanting to wade into life again. He beams at the question, smiling, “That's actually exactly right. I have a lot of things that I want to try in my life, and I wanted to express that genuine thought through my album. And thank you for getting that.” There’s a reason why, “We are young”, a refrain from Blue, is his favourite set of lyrics, too — youth, here, being a state of mind. “I think that it shows that no matter what challenges come in your life, because we are young, you can overcome those challenges, those difficulties. And I think it actually really gives us courage to go through hardships in life.” It’s that sense of introspection that Wonho pours into his music — one of the reasons why the man and the musician, both, are so loved. “I think it's a process of becoming one person, a well-rounded person, as an artiste and a human,” he says. “It's a process of being really comfortable in my own skin. The artiste and the human being — they are both one person. And, when I'm just Wonho, the person, I put in effort and time into making the perfect performer and artiste Wonho.” Because life does bring its challenges — there have clearly been some naysayers along the way. “Someone once told me that I should not exercise and I'm really, really glad that I didn't listen to that advice,” he relates, talking about forging his own path. “And also, somebody told me — don't produce music on your own and just focus on singing and dancing. I'm also glad that I didn’t listen to that.”
Wonho’s hardworking side has also manifested itself in all the content we see on his Youtube channel, and on social media, where we get an unfiltered look at his life. It’s a wonder he manages packing it all in, given the hours he puts in. “It actually started from the thought of me giving back to my fans. I was thinking about, like, what could I do for my fans to offer the love that they all show me,” Wonho explains. “I concluded that, oh, I can share my daily life even more through my YouTube channel. That's how I started. For the channel, I've been trying out different experiences and I’m really loving those. And I love that my fans love what I do!” Special mention must be given to the Flying Yoga episode — part of a series where Wonho tries out new forms of exercise. His personality shines through, giving light to moments of pure, spontaneous comedic gold. Just a small facet of why Wonho is so deeply engaging as a person. He’s just being … Wonho. “I'm just being myself and I'm not trying to put any special agenda behind any of my social media activities,” he laughs. “I’m just being myself and I love that I get to share my daily life with my fans because they're always curious about it. And I'm grateful that I get to do that.” Curious minds should also know that he, much like the rest of us, is hooked onto Money Heist — “You know Season 5 has come out, right?”
Just as we’re wrapping up the conversation, Wonho himself starts talking about India. “I've actually been wanting to go to visit India for many years now,” he confides. “And I'm really glad that I got to do this interview with you, and to say hello to my Indian Wenees. I'm so thankful for your time and I hope to go to India sometime soon and meet all of you.” Perhaps one day, a blue letter in a bottle, drifting along the ocean, will arrive on these hopeful shores.
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