Johnny Suh: The Brand

By: Chyenne Tatum
11/15/2020
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Thumbnail courtesy of SM Entertainment

Written by: Chyenne Tatum

It’s no secret that NCT possesses a multitude of talents outside of singing and dancing. From songwriting to playing instruments and even acting, each member has something to offer that contributes to the group as a whole and has been able to showcase those talents through various forms of content. However, in Johnny’s case, the 25-year-old’s career moves feel a bit more calculated and strategic in terms of professional longevity and it’s time we talk about it.

Johnny Suh was a name that by 2016, most fans were already familiar with. Regardless of the fact that he had yet to make his official debut after training with members of EXO and NCT for a total of nine years. Through the SM Rookie video content on SM Entertainment’s YouTube channel, fans were able to learn more about the SM trainees early on in their careers, and Johnny stood out as one of the few English-speaking members who would soon debut under the NCT brand.

In late 2016, just a few short months before his debut with NCT 127, Johnny became one of the co-hosts of SM’s variety show, “My SM Television,” with Super Junior’s Leeteuk. The show was meant to highlight a number of SM artists and interact with them through games, quizzes, and various other fan-oriented activities. One episode in particular that attracted many viewers, was the EXO-CBX episode during their promotions for “Hey Mama.” It was there when Johnny officially became a household name with K-Pop fans and went viral, thanks to his bright personality, infectious charisma, and cheeky western mentality. If you’ve been around for a while and know the old fandom jokes, I’ll spare you the explanations for this one, but Johnny became a staple in NCTzen humor from that day forward. Since then, he’s been the MC for several NCT events and has even guest-hosted for The Boyz’s most recent episode of Weekly Idol with Haechan.

While it’s normal to see rookies and trainees make their MC debuts early on, SM clearly wasted no time in getting Johnny his own show with Jaehyun shortly after NCT 127 returned with Limitless. Known as “JohnD” and “JaeD,” the pair hosted their viewable radio show, NCT Night Night, where they would invite dozens of other K-groups for interviews and other interactive activities. In addition, fans were also able to participate by sending in messages, questions, and stories for Johnny and Jaehyun to read live on air, which added to the personal atmosphere of the show.

NCT Night Night was an exciting platform for the two MC’s to show different sides of themselves and they were both very good at coming off as relatable and keeping their listeners entertained. Johnny, in particular, always seemed the most comfortable behind the mic. He tends to be the most talkative in the group and is known for being a lighthearted mood maker. There’s a calming aura around him when he speaks and even when the mood became a bit more serious, he was always thoughtful with his words and exuded motivational energy. After spending nearly two years as radio DJs, both Johnny and Jaehyun accumulated valuable skills, connections, and friendships that have helped catapult them to a new world of opportunities in the industry.

Fans were impressed to learn that Johnny was not only an exceptional radio DJ, but he also knew a thing or two about being a DJ mixer—something, not every K-Pop idol can boast about. While there’s no specific information on when Johnny took interest in learning how to mix music, it is known that he was already pretty well-versed in the art form during his trainee days.

It wasn’t until October of 2016 when Johnny made a guest appearance at the Spectrum Dance Music Festival with labelmate seniors Key of SHINee and Amber Liu, formerly of f(x). Videos can be found of Johnny’s DJ set during the festival, as he hypes up the crowd with vibrant EDM beats and continues to keep the energy flowing through the night. That same month, SM released a heavy metal track titled “Nightmare,” as part of their year-long SM Station projects. The song and music video features hard rock and folk singer Yoon Do-hyun, rappers Reddy and G2, heavy metal band Inlayer, and finally, Johnny as their up and coming DJ.

Since then, Johnny hadn’t been seen on the decks for a while due to his activities with NCT. However, he recently picked it back up on the group’s YouTube channel with the show, “Sunny Side Up“, where he created and mixed a 40- minute set of EDM and House music, accompanied by his best friend and 127 member, Mark Lee. For most NCTzens, it was the first time that they were able to fully see DJ Johnny in his element and also a bit of what he probably would’ve been like as a normal college student from Chicago.

Since this is a hobby that Johnny seems to gravitate towards and enjoy, it’s clear to see why SM started encouraging these skills prior to officially beginning his career as a singer. It’s a craft that only a handful of idols have taken seriously and heavily incorporated into their professional personas—like EXO’s Chanyeol, SNSD’s Hyoyeon, and Hyungwon (H.ONE) from Monsta X. It’ll be interesting to see how far he takes it in his career. Will this continue to be a fun side project for YouTube content and future concerts? Or will he eventually release his own tracks, 100 percent produced and mixed by himself? Either way, he’s clearly having fun with it and NCTzens are craving more.

Aside from his musical ventures, like playing the piano and recently getting into producing music, Johnny’s most well-known and popular content is JCC or Johnny’s Communication Center, a vlog series he started himself back in 2018. The premise of the vlog provides fans with exclusive content on the daily lives of NCT, mainly things they do during their time off when they’re not busy working.

What makes JCC so different from other K-Pop vlogs or even from other vlogs on NCT’s channel, is that the video topics and activities are 100% curated and chosen by Johnny himself. Depending on what he wants to do on a given day, he either features all of 127 in his video or invites one or two members to try new things with. This allows fans to learn more about Johnny on a personal level, as well as his ideas and the kind of relationship he holds with each member of the group – from directing hilarious short films with Mark, to having touching moments with Doyoung as they have their fortunes told. Johnny admits that sometimes he fears is he’ll run out of content ideas for the vlog, but so far the series has been going strong for nearly two years now with 24 unique episodes to binge.

By keeping up with this series as often as possible and affectionately naming his viewers as “Johfam,” Johnny has successfully cemented himself as a content creator for not only his brand but for NCT’s as well. As an idol, he’s very knowledgeable on who his target audience is and what kinds of things they’d be interested in or curious about. He makes sure everyone is involved, including the people who are usually behind the scenes, like stage outfit designers and album manufacturers. Hopefully, there will be opportunities in the future for Johnny to collaborate with other creators and artists in the industry to further expand NCT’s reach and demographic.

More recently, Johnny was even chosen to be one of the panel speakers for the first World Cultural Industry Forum (WCIF), as a representative of NCT 127. Virtually joined by SM founder Lee Soo-man, chairman and representative director Lee Sung Su, and many other CEOs and music executives, the forum focused on K-Pop and its cultural impact around the world, as well as its future in the West moving forward in a world where COVID-19 has affected the music industry in many ways. With Johnny experiencing these changes and opportunities firsthand, as well as being the only American SM artist, he’s able to assist in bridging the gaps between the Korean and Western markets and appeal to them from a performer’s perspective—something that most music executives can’t do.

With an extensive list of skills under his belt—we can’t forget to mention playing the piano and his commendable experience in photography—there proves to be many different avenues for Johnny’s career in the long-run. The more established a K-Pop group becomes over time, the more flexible the members can be with their professional ventures outside of their company and it’ll be a fascinating journey to watch as Johnny navigates his life as an idol with a business mindset. But until then, these next few years for him are sure to be an adventure.