Baehyun, a leading K-pop star with boy band Exo beloved for his his vocal and dance skills, turns 29 on May 6. Fans will have mixed feelings about that date, as he has also decided to enlist in compulsory military service on his birthday – though a long-running health issue means he will work as a public service worker and not complete active duty. To bid him adieu from the spotlight, STYLE takes look back at Baekhyun’s road to fame and what makes him so special.
His name could have been Baekho, not Baekhyun
During an appearance on SM Super Idol League in 2019, Baekhyun revealed that his parents originally planned to call him “Baekho”. The “ho” means tiger and contrasts with his brother Baekbeom’s name, where the ending “beom” means “leopard” in Korean.
Baekhyun added that his parents (probably) wanted him and his brother to start life with strong, dominant names. Apparently, in contrast, Baekhyun means to live wisely and virtuously.
We’ve seen many K-pop stars whose childhood memories were all about sport. And yes, Baekhyun was another of those consumed by it. Yet he was one of the few idols to be skilled in hapkido – a hybrid Korean martial art which is a form of self-defence employing joint locks, grappling, throwing techniques, kicks, punches and other striking attacks.
He spent almost nine years learning hapkido, starting when he was in junior school, and even gained a third dan black belt and a gold medal at national championships. In 2015, Baekhyun showed his hapkido skills on KBS’ Our Neighborhood Sports, amazing many fellow K-pop stars. He also revealed that when he was doing hapkido, he was able to “jump over 11 people”. Amazingly, even on the show he was able to jump over seven people, earning the nickname “human bird”.
He was a talented high school student
Baekhyun is regarded as having the most outgoing and “aegyo” – or cute and affectionate – personality among the members of Exo. It was the same back in high school too where his good looks and vocal skills even then marked him out.
In 2015, during his appearance on KBS’ You Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook, Baekhyun shared his memories of being a vocalist in a high school band. The host, You Hee-Yeol, asked Baekhyun whether he was nervous or not as the whole show is shown live and he confidently answered, “I am not nervous at all as I was the vocalist in my high school band and got used to singing live.” He said the name of the band was Coma, adding it was definitely a rock band.
He was scouted by SM Entertainment right before his university entrance exam
If you are a big fan of K-pop, you might already be aware that Baekhyun is a quick learner, taking only four months to work his way into the soon-to-debut group of trainees, then seven more months to train with them – a total of only eleven months as a trainee.
According to Koreaboo, he had always dreamed of becoming a celebrity since he was young and was filmed performing on stage, or spotted singing on camera throughout his school years. He was even preparing to apply for admission to the Seoul Institute of the Arts – which many other talented Korean stars have attended, including Son Ye-jin and Kim Seon-ho. But SM Entertainment approached him right in front of the institute’s admission hall, with him even holding the score of his admission song, and his journey to becoming a worldwide K-pop star began right there.
He had stage fright
Spending only a short time as a trainee showed his talent but it also brought more pressure. In 2020, on an episode of TVN’s You Quiz on the Block, he opened up about the hardships of debuting after being a trainee for such a short time – to be more specific, his stage fright.
He went on to confess that as he began life as a trainee at 20 years old – quite late compared to other SM trainees like Taemin from Shinee who was only 14 and Sulli who was only 10 when they started – he felt he was underprepared and therefore had a fear of performing.
Baekhyun added that he lost confidence in everything when he lost confidence in his primary skill, singing. However, he never gave up but rather continued to train hard, practising until late at night and even doing vocalisation practice in the car. He also said fellow Exo members helped him every step of the way which he truly felt as a blessing.