MEET WOODZ K-POP’S RISING SELF-PRODUCED STAR
Deep roots, light branches — that’s the philosophy behind 24-year-old Cho Seung-youn’s stage name, WOODZ. One of K-pop’s most riveting stars, a commitment to honesty is what keeps the artist grounded, and curiosity is what allows him to blossom. “I changed my name to WOODZ after I started taking music more seriously,” he explains during a Zoom call with HYPEBAE. It’s a Saturday night in Seoul, and the soloist — who is popularly known as an all-rounder for excelling in singing, dancing, rapping and producing — reflects on the nearly seven years since his debut. “The biggest change was in the way I think. I changed the most after I started making my own music.”
Seung-youn first debuted in 2014, as a member of Chinese-South Korean boy group UNIQ, and penned lyrics to several of their songs. “I learned about the type of attitude I need to have, and that I need to work really hard to achieve the goals I want.” Two years later, he participated in the rap competition Show Me the Money 5, and debuted as a soloist under the stage name Luizy. Continuously involved in the production of music, he co-founded musical collectives and a production team. It wasn’t long until he started making songs for other artists, too, until finally maturing into WOODZ in 2018.
Since the name change, he has co-produced and written his own two EPs, one single album, a handful of digital releases, and numerous tracks for acts such as Super Junior, Suran and ONF. He also participated on Mnet’s 2019 survival show Produce X 101 — a gateway to well-deserved public recognition. “Through Produce X 101, I learned more about how I can portray myself outwardly. At first in the program, I didn’t show a lot of my natural side, but after learning that people liked [it] better, I figured I can just be honest with myself and still show the same charms,” he says. WOODZ placed fifth in the show and earned a spot in X1, the 11-member boy band formed through the competition. Due to a vote manipulation controversy, the group disbanded in early 2020, leading WOODZ to fully focus on his solo career.
On March 15, WOODZ released his latest record, a single album titled SET. “This album is most like myself. When compared to previous [ones], I thought more about what I could show and tried to portray more of my honest self,” he explains. When WOODZ talks about his work, passion and enthusiasm radiate through the screen. He smiles often and gives careful, well-thought-out descriptions of his ideas. “My biggest thought was that I just wanted to show my work. I think this album is the start to doing that. I want to continue sharing my stories and showing my world.”
On SET, WOODZ’s world revolves around a love story told on three sultry, multifaceted tracks. “For this comeback, I focused on visuals a lot. I thought of a triangle between change, self-control and visuals. If you read the lyrics while listening to the songs, you’ll have a more fun experience,” he explains.
The title track and first part of this story is “Feel Like,” which WOODZ describes as “a one-sided love, before a relationship actually starts. It’s like the back-and-forth process between a guy and a girl. I tried to express nervous emotions and hesitance.” With its blues guitar riffs and lyrics that read, “We pull each other like magnets/ Everything you say to me is a sweet flavor,” “Feel Like” portrays WOODZ’s mastery in pushing and pulling, enticing just as much as it restrains.
For “Touché,” the second track, WOODZ collaborated with South Korean singer MOON. “I didn’t know it at first, but I found out that we go to the same gym, so I said, ‘Let’s go to the recording studio together.’ While I was working on my song, I thought it would suit her, so I invited her over. MOON liked it as well, and overall the process was very smooth,” he says. “Touché” explores the same restraint and allure of “Feel Like,” but relies on a minimalistic instrumental, punctuated by a slinky bassline. “[It’s] a song that I wrote while watching Netflix. In the series [The Queen’s Gambit], the girl is more competitive than emotional. There’s a scene where she is dating someone, but I personally felt like he didn’t love her. So I wanted to write about acknowledging that the other person doesn’t like you back,” WOODZ explains.
The third and final part of the ensemble is the English track, “Rebound.” Introspective and haunting, it features WOODZ’s sweet voice filled with pain as he realizes a harsh truth: “Pretending you need me/ I don’t belong to you/ You told them you want him.” He explains that “Rebound” was recorded in English because it felt better that way. “Although there aren’t that many languages that I speak, I did think that English would be a good fit for this song. I also just wanted to include an English song in the album.”
The sonic triad is connected further by a striking visual concept. WOODZ explains that he “wanted a sharp image,” like the triangle of concepts he based his work on. “I didn’t want my fashion to be too excessive. I wanted it to be restrained in a sense, but still have a luxurious feel. So if I wore a basic suit, I talked to my stylists and put a point in the jewelry or the accessories. Instead of having everything be flashy, I tried to have a good balance between strong and more basic elements.”That contrast is visible in the music video for “Feel Like,” where WOODZ’s cutting figure takes the spotlight. His outfits are simple yet memorable — a mustard outfit paired with white plastic sunglasses, a pale blue suit adorned with golden jewelry, a white shirt layered with necklaces and tucked inside black shiny pants. But more than that, it’s WOODZ’s entrancing performance that makes them truly timeless. The game of seduction pulses through his skilled moves, even though he is dancing alone — a metaphor to creative passion and his love for music.
“When I was at the music video set, the director asked me, “Didn’t you live in Brazil?” and mentioned that there was a neon sign in Portuguese.” The neon sign spells “Sinto como,” a direct translation of the expression “Feel Like.” Such details weave through WOODZ’s personal life — he did live in Brazil for two years after elementary school — and further showcase how his art is intimately connected to himself. While WOODZ is an alter ego, a canvas where Seung-youn playfully explores bold strokes and splashes, they are one and the same. “In some aspects, [WOODZ] just feels like myself. But on stage, when I’m trying to show a specific type of performance, there are times I feel different. To be honest, I don’t think there are too many differences because I want to show my genuine self as much as I can,” he reveals.
With WOODZ, Seung-youn is confident enough to face himself. “My original personality is a type that goes back-and-forth a lot, and so I have many different emotions,” he says. But WOODZ inspires him to channel those feelings and “try to maintain [a balance] instead of having two different extremes.” Nowadays, he says he’s in a really good condition. “There’s a smaller range in my emotions, so I’m not super sad or super happy. I’m more in the middle. I can’t avoid stress, so I acknowledge it. And when I’m happy, I’m happy. I think as far as stress goes, I’ve been learning to manage it better.”
WOODZ’s acute self-awareness is yet another reflection of the meaning behind his name. Unafraid to be honest, to try, to fall and to keep trying, his roots grow deeper and his branches multiply into majestic fruits. This is only the beginning. “In the past, what was difficult was that I was having an internal conflict about wanting to do K-pop, as it’s a more flashy genre, versus pop, the genre that I wanted to do. So, now I think I’m in the process of acknowledging that I like pop,” he says. “I used to not know myself at all, but now I think I know a little bit more.”