A few days ago, musician and dancer Ten Lee — known for his work in K-pop groups such as NCT and SuperM, and the Chinese group WayV — shared a video of himself freediving in a deep pool. As Billie Eilish croons the opening to “idontwannabeyouanymore,” he launches into a somersault before swan diving easily onto his back, legs fluttering, arms outstretched, a mermaid embracing the open water.
The reason for the dive is a bit of a secret, he tells Teen Vogue, but not one necessarily related to forthcoming music with the groups he’s in. Rather, it’s one way he’s following his own artistic instincts. If he looks like he’s dancing underwater, that’s because he is, bringing to life a picture of a dance move that previously existed only in his head. “I have all these thoughts in my brain right now,” he says, “but I had to make it real.”
Though he floats seamlessly into different combinations of performers onstage, whether as part of the sensual WayV or the chaotic NCT or the maximalist SuperM, Ten has a fluidity and spirit all his own — especially in dance, where he thrives. Born Chittaphon Leechaiyapornkul in Bangkok, Thailand, he joined SM Entertainment in 2013, debuting as part of NCT U in 2016. A turning point came in 2017, when he released his first solo single “Dream in a Dream,” a lovely, imaginative ballad that melds traditional East Asian instrumentals with woozy ambient pop, and has mesmerizing choreography to match. It was the first time he talked to the choreographers he worked with and shared his ideas of what he wanted to try. “I realized why all the hyungs sometimes like doing their own stuff,” he says. “It’s because you’re putting your ideas in your own work.”
Now, he’s on the cusp of another turning point: earlier this month, he launched a clothing collection with Represent that features all of his original designs. Longtime Ten fans will know he’s into visual art, sharing regal sketches of his cats Leon and Louis and emotive, detailed doodles on his Instagram. (Fun fact: he toyed with the idea of designing cat clothes, but was concerned about how cats would clean themselves.) The new collection shows off his skill, of course, but it’s also a representation of his creative ethos, and who he wants to be as a person.
Titled “What is ??? THE ANSWERS,” the designs are explosive and bright, with symbols and metaphors galore. He draws various eyes, entranced by the way they show happiness, embarrassment, fear, the things people try to hide. In one design, he uses a cross, which has a double meaning: it’s the Chinese character for the number “10” and also a plus sign, representing the growth and potential he sees in himself.