Naming their second album Running TOOgether represents more than a clever pun for TOO. The boy band only entered the K-pop scene in April, but have been hustling non-stop to stand out in the competitive industry that requires your first year to be as impactful as possible.
TOO released their well-received debut album Reason for Being: Benevolence on April 1 and went through its accompanying promotions all while simultaneously preparing and performing on the boy-band competition TV show Road to Kingdom that pitted them as underdogs among six more established rivals. Road began airing on April 30 requiring the 10 TOO members Jaeyun, Chihoon, Chan, J.You, Donggeon, Jisu, Kyungho, Jerome, Minsu and Woonggi to balance a strict work schedule of rehearsal, promotion and preparation that the guys say led to additional pressure.
With the July 15 release of Running TOOgether, that hard work has no doubt paid off. TOO’s sophomore-album sales surpassed their debut in two weeks’ time with numbers competitive with some of their senior Road to Kingdom challengers. They’ve seen impressive growth from their YouTube numbers (12 million views for lead single “Count 1, 2”) and increasing recognition including senior K-pop idols like GOT7’s Yugyeom (who shared his #RunningTOOgether Challenge videos with GOT7’s 8.4 million Twitter followers).
But the success doesn’t just come from hustling from one promo opp to the next, but also in the growth they show as artists. All of the new tracks on Running TOOgether feature writing contributions from the group members with rappers Chihoon and J.You snagging credits on all five—a sizable increase from Benevolence’s one song featuring lyrics from the artist earlier this year.
I speak with half of TOO in the midst of their busy weeks and—case in point of how crammed their schedules are—we do our FaceTime interview in a car outside a TV studio while the guys have time in between filming. Read on for more from Jaeyun, Chan, Chihoon, J.You and Jisu on the messages in their latest release, the growth they’ve made in their first months together and special messages for their fandom—named, appropriately, TOOgether. The guys know they have run hard together right now, but what awaits no doubt looks to be greater K-pop success and igniting even more passion form within them.
Jeff Benjamin: Congratulations on the release of the new album, TOO. Can you introduce it and what you’re hoping to achieve with this release?
J.You: Running TOOgether is an album to show TOO’s aspirations and running towards a goal. It’s also an invitation for our fans, TOOgether, to run forward with us. Including the single “Count 1, 2,” there are a lot of other songs and I want to show that TOO is an all-around idol [group] capable of doing even refreshing concepts. I also want this album to be a masterpiece for the summer of 2020.
Jaeyun: We tried to capture the idea of running towards our goals and our aspirations. “Count 1, 2” is an invitation to our fandom to run with us. And you know how you count “1, 2” before you run off somewhere? That’s how we came up with the name for the song; we named it ourselves.
Jeff Benjamin: You guys told me that “Take It Slow” from Reason for Being: Benevolence was your favorite track. Did it inspire the vibe of this new album?
Jisu: Since “Take It Slow” and “Count 1, 2” both go along with summer—and we saw that our fans like the mood on stage when performing “Take It Slow”—we tried to do something similar to “Take It Slow” and show what summer is. They also have the same composers so it makes sense they have a similar feeling.
Jeff Benjamin: And just like “Take It Slow,” Chan, Chihoon and J.You wrote on many of the songs on this album. Can you take us through the creative process?
Chan: One of the strengths our team has is that all three rappers have different writing styles and that’s probably why we never have an issue distributing the parts. We pull good resources from our positions so we have a lot of fun working together.
J.You: For me, when I write lyrics, I tend to situate myself in the TOO song. So I wrote the lyrics for this album thinking about what I can do for the important people I care about–especially TOOgether; I wrote it for them.
Chihoon: When it comes to me, first, I listen to the song and then I write the lyrics according to the song topic. Then I chose the best one from a selection of different lines I write—so, I write a lot.
Looking a bit more closely at “Count 1, 2.” Can you explain the music video a bit more?
Chan: “Count 1, 2” has a hopeful message that we want to go forward into the future with TOOgether. For the music video, we used settings and sports props that remind you of summer and being active—it’s all to represent actively moving forward with our fans.
Jaeyun: But the part where Woonggi had a nightmare, that’s where we tried to show two things: first, the music video was very bright for all four minutes so we wanted to put something dark to switch it up—like a movie; second, we tried to incorporate the TOO worldview a bit too—the dystoopia versus utoopia like in our debut album. And while this isn’t an album in the Reason for Being series, we wanted to include a little dark twist. So, there isn’t a designated member to represent the album but rather the focus is about the members being together and with our fans. It’s meant to be a special summer album, not part of Reason for Being. Maybe the next album will come back to that series? Maybe.
I really was so impressed and proud of your work in Road to Kingdom. It seemed like you really evolved and impressed everyone as the show went on. Is anything you learned on the competition shown in this album?
J.You: Preparing for Road to Kingdom was really difficult. We got stressed a lot as we had to work on both the schedules for our first album while preparing these grand stages for Road to Kingdom at the same time. We honestly didn’t have enough time to prepare, but we had to make a great stage, right? Now, when we think about it, maybe that was a situation that awakened us and awakened a new passion in TOO. And we think it ultimately led us to a good effect.
Jeff Benjamin: One of my favorite parts was Chan’s open-the-soda-can move during “Rising Sun.”
Chan: I actually didn’t plan to do that move! It just came impromptu. I didn’t know a lot of people would like that so thank you.
Jeff Benjamin: Chihoon and J.You, you got to show your original raps for a cover of “Hard Carry” to GOT7 themselves. You also met Youngjae on Idol Radio recently. How is it having such established seniors as your supporters?
J.You: I was really nervous to rap in front of a senior group for the first time, but it was a great stimulus for me and an opportunity for them to get to know us. They really helped us gain confidence so it was a really good experience.
Chihoon: Meeting GOT7 in person made me feel like a celebrity and they were really cool. I was nervous because I had to rap in front of them, but I was proud that they liked our work.
Jaeyun: They are really awesome guys.
Jeff Benjamin: I’ve also enjoyed seeing TOO go more and more viral online. Jisu, J.You and Woonggi had a hilarious camera moment, I saw praise for Woonggi supporting LGBT fans, all your TikToks are great; have you noticed the reactions you’re getting online?
J.You: Based on the things I’ve heard or checked, I’ve know that we’re considered to be a bright and passionate rookie group. And thank you for saying that, I really hope those bright feelings about our group can continue.
Jisu: I don’t have a social media account, but people around me tell me they see different things about us online. I am really thankful for the positive responses.
As a fun question, since it’s your first comeback can you share some things new or special you’ve learned about the other members since your start?
J.You on Jisu: He usually acts in a fun and bright way when we’re filming things like V Live or other contents, but actually he is a really deep thinker. He gives really good advice to the members. He’s not just funny, he’s a really good person. He would be a good leader, he’s like the sub-leader.
Jaeyun on Woonggi: He always talks to his celebrity friends at night. For at least one hour. He’s the insider on our team. When we go to places like M Countdown or Music Bank, everybody notices him and he knows everyone.
Jisu on Jaeyun: Jaeyun sleeps sitting down. His face gets swollen easily so he just sits down when he sleeps to avoid it—it shows he’s a real professional. [Laughs]
Chihoon on Chan: When it comes to Chan, he seems like someone who wouldn’t go along with cute concepts like “Count 1, 2.” But he practiced trying to be cute in front of a mirror and that was honestly really cute to me.
Jisu on Minsu: My laptop is always on because he uses it after I use it and he never turns it off.
Chan on Kyungho: He lost a lot of weight and the swelling he used to have has gone done so he looks really slim compared to World Klass.
Jaeyun on Donggeon: It was Donggeon’s birthday the day of our album release and comeback showcase so we had a celebration there, but we also did a surprise privately. We prepared a cake, we brought it in when everyone was gathered, but Donggeon was the only one not there. [Laughs] He was in the bathroom. We started singing, “Happy birthday—where’s Donggeon?” A birthday party without the birthday boy.
Chihoon on Jerome: He doesn’t just like midnight snacks, he has a full-course meal at nights. He’ll have his meal to eat but also have a dessert with it: appetizer, main dish, dessert.
Chan on J.You: I never knew J.You could write such hopeful lyrics in a rap and, through this comeback, I’ve learned a lot from him.
Jeff Benjamin: It’s commendable how hard you’ve been working through this difficult time of COVID-19, but I hope you know you’re doing really well. Do you have other messages to share at this time?
Jaeyun: We’ve been facing this situation since our debut. We may still lack a lot, but we’re trying to show the best of ourselves in this situation. We’ve suffered a lot because of this problem, but I think the music that we’re currently releasing contains some of those emotions towards the COVID-19. Not having fans in the audience while we perform, that’s something that’s really different and difficult for us as a gruop.
J.You: We also can’t meet our foreign TOOgethers…
Jaeyun: We can’t go anywhere else, so we’re trying to produce a lot of content, do interviews like this and upload a lot on YouTube to give something for our foreign TOOgethers. I want to keep this up. I hope our foreign TOOgethers realize and know that we’re going to come to them one day and we’re here for them as well. I believe the current situation will work out well and things will get better because we’re running in the best direction that we think is right for us. I hope many of you try to be as positive as us too.