“I was falling helpless in a shower of waste / Reaching my arms out toward the others / Falling in disorder everywhere around me.”
In his poem ‘Free Fall,’ Thomas Kinsella talks about the “helpless” terror of free falling – hurtling towards the ground with blood-curdling velocity and little to dispel the oncoming crash. As he falls in a “shower” of waste – wasted opportunities, words never said, or simply the debris of his life – he flails about for support, perhaps disregarding the fact that this fall is collective, this agony and fear mutual.
As they bring another chapter of their thesis on youth to a close, Tomorrow X Together are in a similar kind of free fall. On their last album, ‘The Name Chapter: TEMPTATION’, the group was gallivanting on a picturesque island, buoyant joy and liberation propelling them deeper into a dreamscape. Eventually, however, they realise they’re much like Pi and the tiger stuck on the algae island. What they had thought of as a manifestation of their innocent youth and freedom was, in fact, a cunning trap meant to lull them into a false sense of security. The island’s promised abundance was simply a deceptive “sugar rush”, keeping the members locked away from their true potential and dreams.
Thus comes the free fall. The members decide to say goodbye to Neverland and Peter Pan and hurl themselves into the maelstrom, for the sake of maturity and impending growth. This is where ‘The Name Chapter: FREEFALL’ finds them – “falling in disorder everywhere around” them, as Thomas Kinsella put it – confronting the uncharted, but also embracing true freedom, perhaps for the first time ever.
“In the last album, we were swayed by temptation. In this album, we get to face reality. We’re trying to step forward, but in the process of growing there must be growing pains,” says Taehyun of the album. We’re almost a week out from the release of the second part of ‘The Name’ series, and the five members of TXT – Taehyun, Beomgyu, Soobin, Yeonjun, and Hueningkai – patch in through Zoom from a nondescript room. The outside world may be caught up in the proverbial storm of this new release – the group was recently named ambassadors for Dior, and have steadily been dropping concept visuals for the release – but here is a moment of peaceful, rare respite as they try to pin down the core emotions that drive ‘The Name Chapter: FREEFALL’.
“First of all, I think it’s the emotion of feeling freed because we’re finally breaking away from our illusions, [so] there’s that definite sense of freeness,” Hueningkai says. “Also, the emotion of running towards our youth, protecting and holding our dreams and our hopes. The last [emotion] would be the growing pains and the determination to go forward.”
Despite the turbulent connotations of the album’s title, Hueningkai likes to think there’s a sense of peace bolstering it all. “Not being able to get away from the illusions could be a happy moment, when you think about it, but it’s also a circle that we’re trapped in. That’s why there’s a sense of freedom [in this album] – only when you’re freed from that circle can there be change,” he explains.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this might be TXT’s most self-aware album yet. They know, better than perhaps anyone, that youth is fleeting. Their characteristic indefatigable optimism aside, here is where they acknowledge and reckon with the discomfort of being too comfortable, however seductive the idea of staying young and wild might be.
“I wouldn’t say that we let go of the dreams and whatever we had of [our] youth,” Taehyun reasons, speaking of the album’s concept visuals, which hark back to some of their previous releases. Perhaps a hangover from the past? An inability to truly let go of your previous attitudes? He disagrees: “[Before] we were kind of oblivious to our dreams. Now that we have faced the reality, we realise that there are certain dreams and hopes that we have to follow through.”
He brings up ‘Dreamer’ which, according to him, exemplifies the balance between the uncertainty and fear of letting go of the past and the heady exhilaration of finding who you are. “I dream again / The name I retrieved / The chase of following the dream / I’m a dreamer,” the group sings on the song, its languishing, sensual R&B expanding and flickering like a mesmerising aurora in the open midnight sky, making you feel small yet strangely safe.
“I thought finding the “name” is like a mission that everyone has. It’s like the fate that everyone has.” Hueningkai – who contributed to the lyrics – explains, emphasising the dissonance between the identity you’re born with and the one you make for yourself. “We have our [own] names, but what’s important is that against all odds and all uncertainties, you have to find your true self and your true identity.”
“At the last instant / Approaching the surface / The fall slowed suddenly / And we were all / Unconcerned / Regarding one another in approval.”
“I think the moment when I really face my identity is when MOA (the group’s fans) calls out my name,” says Hueningkai.
“I felt really alive when we debuted at Lollapalooza,” Taehyun adds.
As the conversation turns to discussing moments when the members encounter their own realities, one thing becomes clear: TXT’s personal identities are inevitably intrinsically linked with their professional ones. They’ve had to grow (and grow up) amidst a flurry of professional accolades that would spark envy and awe alike. At times, it must feel like being at the centre of their own solar systems – they might want to take a breather and understand who they are, but time and the world revolves around them at their own dizzying speed. Does fame ever feel like a free fall?
Beomgyu disagrees: “It is reality, but I don’t think it has a negative connotation.” If anything, they have “become more greedy about bringing [our fans] better music.”
Yeonjun provides a different personal perspective: “I think my ‘free fall’ moment was when I started this career,” he says. His admission is surprisingly removed from the uplifting hopefulness that tinges the group’s music and answers alike. “Before starting this career, I don’t think I knew much about myself. I didn’t know how to love myself. I didn’t know what kind of person I was,” he admits. “But this career and occupation really changed me in a good way.”
Thomas Kinsella’s words reappear on the horizon as the members all credit each other for the good memories. “There are challenges along the way, but every time, I think about my members here, [and] I know that they will help me and that I can do it,” Beomgyu adds.
While the camaraderie does cushion the fall, also providing comfort is the innate knowledge that they’re on the right path. As Taehyun puts it: “I think all of us actually know the answer. We know the destinations that we have to be headed towards, but putting that into action requires a lot of courage and effort and that’s what’s really hard. It’s really about reconciling [with] your inner self.”
Tomorrow X Together’s new album ‘The Name Chapter: FREEFALL’ is out now via BIGHITMUSIC