Thinking of <WINGS>, I feel like I have a lot in common with Sinclair in <Demian>. He wants to break free from the care of others and be an adult, and so do I. Rather than saying it’s a special album, I would say it made me think a lot after hearing the album concept. “I want to be a real adult too.”
You graduated from high school. “If I kept studying and spending time with my friends like an ordinary person, I would think ‘So I finally became an adult’ when I graduate. But since I started living sort of an adult like since I was 15, I still feel like I’m a kid. I’m 21 but my mental age is like 15 years old. There’re a lot of adults around me too.”
Do the other members treat you as an adult? “Rather than treating me as an adult, they tell me “You’re an adult now”. Things like ‘Be mature’, ‘You’re an adult too, act carefully’ (laughs) Especially when my jokes go too far, they tell me to stay still, to not go too far. I tend to have to go through something to know it. If they tell me so, I’ll fix myself little by little. I’m gradually learning thanks to the hyungs,”
What you said earlier is what your solo song “Begin” is about. “There was a time when Bang Shihyuk Producer-nim and the 7 of us gathered and talked about all the stress, the distress we had been piling up for a long time, and we all cried together. Rap Monster-hyung listened to my story from that time and wrote the lyrics.”
Comparing before and after debut, do you feel you have changed a lot thanks to the members? “I changed a lot for sure. I gained a lot of confidence too. I couldn’t even talk like this before. I kept watching the hyungs doing interviews from the side and as time goes by, I started talking little by little and eventually was able to do interviews. Hyungs really made me. I learn music by watching foreign artists and pick up basically everything else thanks to the hyungs.”
Are you the type to express your feelings well? “I’m not good at it. I feel embarrassed even from saying thank you so I basically never do it. I’m good at complaining though. (laughs) I can complain easily but when it comes to good talks, it always feels awkward. I can do it through texts since it’s somewhat easier, but talking directly is really hard.”
BTS grows up along with each album’s story, and Jungkook grows up along with BTS too. “Thinking of <WINGS>, I feel like I have a lot in common with Sinclair in <Demian>. He wants to break free from the care of others and be an adult, and so do I. Rather than saying it’s a special album, I would say it made me think a lot after hearing the album concept. ‘I want to be a real adult too’. Looking at the other hyungs, don’t they know themselves and do well? They can think and create something by themselves, but I still lack a lot so there’s not much I can do by myself. It’s not like I’m good at composing or anything. I want to try my best and be able to do something well.”
Are you talking about wanting to compose music? “On some level, yes. I stayed up until 7 in the morning to try composing with MIDI the day before this interview too. I don’t know piano chords since I didn’t learn it, so playing the song’s very hard. The hyungs were all tired, I didn’t want to bother them by asking what I don’t know. I want a certain sound to be at this part but finding it is difficult, so I just try pressing every key. I keep telling the company I want to learn piano so I can start composing, and now I’m planning to properly start working with MIDI.”
But is it necessary for every member of the team to make songs? “Just because 2-3 members of the team will make songs doesn’t mean the others don’t have to do it. It’ll be great if everyone can. Besides, the kind of music and emotions I like are different from what the other members like. I want to make my emotions into a story and hear it in sound. But I’m upset that I still can’t do it well. Not long ago I was playing with MIDI before I slept and it make me think I want to get my name on the album credit soon too.”
To what level do you want to make it? “I haven’t considered that. I just plan to do it slowly without thinking too hastily.”
What kind of music and emotions do you like? “I like quiet songs. The emotional and sad songs, kind of gloomy rather than bright. I really like listening to piano and guitar sounds. When I want to get excited I listen to loud songs such as hip hop or EDM, but usually I listen to quiet songs, like pop ballad.”
You have been nicknamed “Golden Maknae” for being multi-talented since debut, is there any time when you have no confidence? “Rather than having no confidence, I’m the type to cower inside a little bit. I tend to think I have a long way to go even if I dance well, or think “I can’t sing” even if they say I sing well. I would still be like that 10 years later, when I practice and become someone who can really sing well. I would keep this thought even if I’m the ultimate vocalist. I’m originally this type of person.”
Don’t idols have to show that they think “I’m the best” on stage? “It’s different on stage. There, I must show everything I can there and then come down. Only after that do I think about myself. It’s closer to thinking I have a long way to go than me having no confidence.”
<WINGS> contains the solo songs of each member and it somewhat revealed each person’s color a little more in various ways. What do you think is your role in BTS? “What am I in the team… I’m curious what the hyungs think about me but I have never asked them. Can I ask like ‘What do you think about me’? (laughs) I just wish I don’t cause harm to the team, that I’m helpful. And, of course the other members are doing very well but, I hope I can become the kind of existence that without me, a part of it will fall apart. I hope I can become a member that shows our synergy when the 7 of us gather.”
To do that, it would be important to find what is of your own. “I still don’t have it yet, my core. I’m thinking so. That’s why I have to learn more and work harder so I can step up my game. Finding what only I have is, in some ways, the goal of my life.”
Rap Monster of Breakout K-Pop Band BTS on Fans, Fame and Viral Popularity
BTS may be the biggest musical act you’ve never heard of — unless you’re already one of the Korean pop group’s millions-strong fanbase. The seven-member boy band, Bangtan Sonyeondan (or BTS for short), is know for their catchy pop-rap, sharp music video choreography and candid social media presence. They’ve recently leveraged their popularity into blockbuster stadium tours and Billboard’s prize for Top Social Artists of the year, as well as nabbing a spot on TIME’s list of 25 Most Influential People on the Internet.
It’s not hard to see why: a live video of two members applying face masks roped in half a million concurrent viewers. Their backstage selfies regularly rack up half a million likes. A red carpet appearance can kick off a global Twitter trend. But how did they get here?
“We’re just a normal group of boys from humble backgrounds who had a lot of passion and a dream to be famous,” says singer and songwriter Kim Nam-joon, who goes by the moniker Rap Monster and, as the only English-speaking member of the group, often represents BTS in interviews. Currently on tour in Japan, Rap Monster took the time to explain BTS’ rise and how the group feeds its hungry fanbase.
How did the BTS group come together?
Rap Monster: Back in 2010, I was introduced to Mr. Bang [Bang Si Hyuk], our executive producer [and CEO of BigHit Entertainment]. I was an underground rapper and only 16 years old, a freshman at high school. Bang thought I had potential as a rapper and lyricist, and we went from there. Then SUGA joined us. [Third group member] J-hope was really popular as a dancer in his hometown. We were the first three! We debuted as a collaboration between the seven of us in June 2013. We came together with a common dream to write, dance and produce music that reflects our musical backgrounds as well as our life values of acceptance, vulnerability and being successful. The seven of us have pushed each other to be the best we can be for the last four years. It has made us as close as brothers. BTS as a group sort of took off with the success of our 2015 album that had our hit single “I NEED U.”
When did you first realize you were developing a global fandom?
We didn’t realize we were becoming famous until we were invited to KCONs [K-pop music festivals] in the U.S. and Europe in 2014 or 2015. Thousands of fans were calling our name at the venue, and almost everyone memorized the Korean lyrics of our songs, which was amazing and overwhelming. Who would have thought that people from across the ocean, Europe, the U.S., South America, even Tahiti, would love our songs and performances, just by watching them on YouTube? We were just grateful… and we still are.
BTS has millions of followers on every social media platform. How do you interact with your fans online? What kind of connections are you making?
We mostly interact with our Twitter messages by uploading selfies, [sharing] music recommendations and street fashion photos, etc. It’s about our daily life as a band on tour — and also as a group of silly friends who make fun of one another backstage. We don’t really get to reply to fans on a regular basis because there are just so many of them. But we do try to read all the reactions and replies. It’s also always interesting and inspiring for us to see what they create for us.
Why do you think you’ve been able to build such a massive online fanbase? How did it happen?
Everyone asks us that question. It’s a team effort taken from what happens to us in our everyday life. It’s not easy to run a social media account over a long period of time, but we love communicating with our fans every day and night. For example, I use the hashtag #RMusic to introduce or recommend a song I like, and I’ve been doing that for a long time. I love music and I truly enjoy sharing with our fans. Music transcends language. BTS communicates with our fans by staying true to ourselves and believing in music every day.
How does having this huge fandom impact your approach to music and to what you sing about?
BTS fans — the “ARMY” — tell us about their feelings, failures, passions and struggles all the time. We are often inspired by [them], because we try to write about how real young people — like the seven of us — face real-life issues. Most of our music is about how we perceive the world and how we try to persist as normal, average human beings. So our fans inspire us and give us a direction to go as musicians. And of course, their love and support keeps us going.
How is BTS different from other big K-pop groups? Is it your music, your engagement with supporters, or something else?
I can’t speak for other artists; every group has a different approach. For us, it will always be important to keep working hard, dancing better, writing better songs, touring and setting an example. A lot of people say this, but it’s really true for us: we are living a dream, all seven of us, being able to pursue what we love. We strive to [put] everything into our music. Our lyrics deal with real issues that face all humans: choices in life, depression, self-esteem. And the fans know that we are there for them, and they are there for us.
What’s next? What are you most excited for?
Well, we definitely continue to have big dreams. We tour all over the world, but the shows in the U.S. really opened our eyes to so many new things in the States. And when we won the Billboard Music Award, we were so honored and got to meet so many artists that we love and admire that we can’t wait to return to the States.