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Some people are just born performers.

As a viewer, you can, somewhat, get the sense when the on-stage persona vastly differs from their IRL personality. The unapologetically magnetic stage presence versus a modest, amiable character is often a duality afforded by those who revere their craft. TEN undoubtedly falls under the category.

Naturally introducing himself without pretension, TEN carries himself unlike someone with a celebrity status. The answers issued come across as gentle and sincere, regardless of how accomplished he is in his respective fields and regions.

Even the unprompted birthday surprise when, during the photo shoot, the crew comes out with a cake, the chorus of “Happy Birthday” sounds with equanimity. His birthday, if you must know, is 27 February; a recent entrant into a new turning around the sun.

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TEN is talented, clearly. You can’t help but buy into the calling that as he had shared about knowing that this is what he wanted to do since the early age of 14. Since his days as a trainee finding foundations in South Korea, the goal was to release his own solo album. Now, years of practice have culminated into one multi-faceted articulation of who he is as an artist.

But is that an accurate depiction?

This is different from his past solo singles. The elation of presenting a full album is real, but so is the pressure. And that’s the thing about high-contrast performers; you just know the level of perfection they demand of themselves is far from the average. But perhaps attributing it to being in his late 20s, lacking no tenure in the industry, or simply personal ethos, TEN’s perspective on what matters to him now has changed a little.

Somewhere between the hopes of acting in a thriller and winding down with a cold one after a busy schedule that typically ends at midnight... somewhere amid album preparation and promotion, quiet self-reflection, and newfound inspiration... There, at the nexus of passion and creativity, is where you’ll find him, charting along an ongoing passage of growth and expression.

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ESQUIRE: You’ve been part of NCT, WayV, and SuperM; how do you navigate your identity among the different groups versus as a soloist?

TEN: When I work in a team, I try to adapt to the style that was given to me. Whereas as a soloist, you get to represent yourself and do what is right for you. You’re behind the wheel now; you’re the one creating the concept with your team, so I try to understand more about myself to better represent myself.

ESQ: Is there any belief that you feel is essential to your success?

TEN: (ponders) I think I have the mindset of “Being Humble”. If you think you know too much, you will stop growing. So knowing how to educate yourself is very important for me. If I feel like I’m not being humble today, I sit down to reset my mind. You have to [tell yourself], “Don’t be arrogant. You’re assuming but there are so many things you don’t know, you have to learn more. You’re not perfect right now.” So I’ve always had this like... good negative thoughts? It helps me feel grounded again.

ESQ: Is it hard to know where you stand in terms of humility with all that surrounds you?

TEN: Since young, my mom told me to be humble. Be kind. If you’re kind and have positive thoughts, good things will come your way. I’d always keep that at the back of my mind all the time. These days, I’m more into a positive working environment. I feel that if you’re in a good environment, the outcome is way better than when you’re not in a good mood.

ESQ: Could you talk us through your creative process?

TEN: For this album [TEN - The 1st Mini Album] my team and I sat down to share ideas, photos and listen to multiple tracks of various genres. Then I’ll add my two cents and we’ll put these songs up for a vote. This process is more accurate than me saying, this is a good song. It’s interesting to see how everyone has their take and different talking points on why certain songs should be the title track or part of the tracklist.

For the dance, we received demos internationally but we took the good bits and improved on them. So there was a lot of discussion about this album.

ESQ: You’ve been in the scene for close to 10 years now, how much input do you have in what you wear for performances and appearances?

TEN: I always give my opinion on the outfit because I need to feel comfortable to perform. If I don’t feel relaxed about the things I wear, I’m not representing myself on stage. But I do listen to other people’s [feedback], I think that’s very important.

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ESQ: What do you look out for when it comes to fashion?

TEN: Fashion! Nowadays, I want to see something new because when I go shopping online or offline, there’s this standard where everything kinda looks the same. I want something that can be very simple, yet stands out. Saint Laurent for example, any of its suits may have the same look as every suit but there are little details that make it look unique.

ESQ: What’s your earliest memory of the Maison?

TEN: Oh, since my debut in 2016, my stylist always gave me Saint Laurent outfits to wear for performances and music videos. I just want to stress that this isn’t scripted or anything. I’m not paid to say this; this is as real as it gets. It’s fun to see how Saint Laurent’s styling has changed since then.

For Spring/Summer 2024, all the colours and materials are very simple, but how they are used and the way they are worn just make the clothes stand out. I’ve attended two Saint Laurent shows and the collections look totally different.


ESQ: What about your relationship with art? Is there a chance your artwork can be shown to the public one day?

TEN: Art really helped me express the side of me that I couldn’t really show at work or to my peers. Since my trainee days, I would express myself through drawing whenever I felt depressed or stressed out. If someone were to ask me why I haven’t been drawing lately, it’s mainly because I don’t feel any stress currently. But I also draw when something inspires me, like a quote from a movie. I’d start drawing what could represent it. Yes, when the time is right, I want to open my own gallery and welcome all my fans to come see it. I want to be sincere and tell them the true meaning of every piece of my artwork.

ESQ: Aside from being an artist, is there anything that you were always interested in developing but did not have the time to pursue?

TEN: Ah, to go to university (laughs). I want to know how university life feels like because that’s once in a lifetime. Ok, you can enrol into university when you’re 30, but the feeling is different. It’s not regret... just curious as to [what it’s like] going wild in your early 20s in university as opposed to attending university when you’re 30.

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ESQ: If you could go to university now, what course would you take up? And do you think it’d be easier or harder to cope when you’ve been in the spotlight?

TEN: Business or art. I think it’s going to be ok. I don’t think I’ll feel the difficulty in enrolling into university because of my fame because I’m always up to meeting new people.

ESQ: Is there anything you’re grateful for in your career?

TEN: When I debuted, I had a leg injury. I went to get my operation after and had to rest for two years, [which is when] I started to focus more on my vocals. The doctor told me I might not be able to dance again, and that picture got me fired up. Like, ok TEN, if you can’t dance, what could you do in this career? Let’s try developing my singing skills. So during the recovery, I went to the practice room every day practising my vocals and the result came out very nicely for me. And those two years just made TEN become who he is right now.

ESQ: Do you ever think about legacy?

TEN: I’m a person who doesn’t think too far into the future. I’ll just focus on the present. Right now, I just want to have fun. The reason I wanted to do a solo album was that I wanted to open up that part of me that I couldn’t show when I was in a group or too afraid to when I was younger. It’s about time that I get up to face my fears on stage, understand the person I am and feel free.

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ESQ: Is it easier now or is it always frightening?

TEN: I’m still learning, right? It’s not easy. I had my first solo fan-con [fan concert] and it was very nerve-wracking at first. I may seem fluent but I worry all the time about what I’m going to say or whether my fans would enjoy watching my performance; do the songs sound good?

But... I figured I’d just... go with it (chuckle). Don’t think about it too much. Because the fans love you just as you are. They don’t want to see perfection; they just want to see the artist and his story. I feel like I tried too much to be perfect in the past but [ultimately] you just need to be real with yourself. Just take it slow and people will end up loving you.

ESQ: Do you feel put in a box as an idol, regarding people’s perception of you?

TEN: For now, I won’t say everybody knows who TEN is. As a soloist, this is the year when I’m representing myself as TEN. There will be more things to reveal in the future. I must keep a little suspense, otherwise, it won’t be fun to watch, right? I’m going to slowly reveal myself [bit by bit]. It’s like reading a novel or playing a video game; if you complete the game in an hour, it’s boring; you don’t want to know the climax. You have to walk one step at a time; you’d want to be on the journey of that character.

Photography: Jungwook Mok
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Sihyuk Ryu
Hair: Daeun Nam
Makeup: Hyebeen Kim
Producer: Daniel Teo

For international orders of the Esquire Singapore April 2024 issue with TEN, email