While the massive popularity of Korean pop is nothing new, there's only one K-pop group that's infiltrated U.S. charts as they earn a permanent residence amonst typically-considered "top 40" music. BTS is the seven-member boy band formed by South Korean label Big Hit Entertainment, and their extraordinary worldwide success has spearheaded the movement in dissolving the definitive lines between K-pop and traditional pop music.
BTS formed in 2013 and consists of Rap Monster (Kim Namjoon/team leader, Rapper), JIN (Kim Seokjin/vocalist), SUGA (Min Yoongi/rapper), J-HOPE (Jung Hoseok/choreographer & rapper), JIMIN (Park Jimin/choreographer & vocalist), V (Kim Taehyung/vocalist) and JUNG KOOK (Jeon Jungkook/vocalist, rapper, choreographer). With five studio albums under their belts, the most recent being YOU NEVER WALK ALONE released in February 2017, BTS is currently wrapping up the last leg of their sold-out WINGS Tour across North & South America. Amongst an endless list of accomplishments, the boys were named Billboard's #1 most retweeted artist, "Spring Day" is the first song by a K-pop group to break into the top 10 U.S. iTunes chart, and their recent "Not Today" and "Spring Day" music videos have amassed over 100 million views.
As BTS continues to dominate, we checked in to get their thoughts on how they've bridged the gap between disparate genres, how they stay humble, and what's next on their to-do lists after the tour. Read more in our exclusive Q&A below.
OTW: What is the story behind your name, BangTan SoNyeonDan (BTS)?
BTS: The name can translate to "bulletproof boy scout," and the story behind it is that we wanted to become someone who defies prejudices and discriminations against the young generation in general when we made debut in 2013.
OTW: What are 3 elements that make your music so relatable? In other words, what do you think it is that allows BTS to bridge the gap between traditional Kpop and top 40 pop?
BTS: One, our music is well-balanced between message and performance.
Two, we adapt the trendiest pop genres so that anyone can enjoy regardless of cultural and language barriers.
Three, special chemistry made by seven personalities in the band.
OTW: Give a nickname to each of the 7 members in BTS that describes their role in the band.
Rap Monster: Leader (official leader of the band)
SUGA: Grandpa (caretaker behind the scene)
j-hope: Hopemaker (always encouraging and cheering others)
Jin: Uncle (Jokes all the time)
Jimin: Cute & sexy (his role on the stage when performing)
V: Four-dimensional (very creative and thinking outside-of-the-box)
JungKook: Golden youngest (man of all-mighty)
OTW: Congrats on your recent
album, YOU NEVER WALK ALONE! Is there a certain message or theme you
wanted to communicate with it?
BTS: YOU NEVER WALK ALONE (YNWA) is a supplementary story to our previous album, WINGS, and we wanted to tell a different story that was not told in WINGS. That is one of reasons why BTS members look somewhat different, perhaps a little bit more casual and younger, in YNWA artwork. The same idea goes to "Spring Day" video. The song is based on memories with old friends who we don't see anymore, and we wanted to visualize the story in the video blended with additional metaphors. The album is a kind of a tribute to those who long for hope and condolence, and we wanted to say, "you're never alone, and we're here for you," with new songs.
OTW: How has your music evolved since the 2013 2 Cool 4 School album to the most recent (and all the music in between)?
BTS: BTS music is based on hip-hop and pop music in general because all the members grew up listening to famous hip-hop artists as well as pop vocalists, even before the debut. It was definitely very hip-hop back in 2013, and the style kind of evolved as we grew up listening and experiencing many different genres of music the last couple of years. We constantly look for new beats and read books just to intrigue ourselves to renovate as artists, even if it means failure to some of us. Rap Monster and SUGA have released separate mixtapes to test and show their unique features as individual artists along the way, and it is part of the band's experiment to evolve together as an entity to make the better, newer music. Thus we don't want to label our music as a certain genre or limit it to K-pop, but would like to make a new category for it if possible.
OTW: The "Not Today" music video is now the most viewed video in a 24-hour period to debut on the YouTube Top 100 Chart in 2017. Tell us about the making of the video and how did you feel when you received the news?
BTS: It was "Wow" at first when we heard the news, and we instantly started to talk about the behind-the-scene episodes of the shoot back in January. It was cold and bleak out in the field with over a hundred dancers making dance moves in sync. But it was fun. "Not Today" is definitely one of the most powerful songs yet and the trendiest choreography ever, and we're very proud of ourselves for completing the mission again!
OTW: The BTS effect hasn't slowed–in 2016 you were listed by Forbes as the most retweeted artist on Twitter, you have sellout arena concerts, advertising deals, and a devoted fan base. All of this brings pressure and expectation–what are some ways you deal with it all and stay humble?
BTS: We would be lying if we said there wasn't any pressure in front of us. But we manage to get over it by openly talking about it with one another all the time. As you might know, we've been living together in the same house for the last five years, and we share literally everything even if it is stress and burden. BTS teamwork helps us get through the pressure and expectation in everyday life, and it also lets us stay humble as ordinary people, like guys next doors. We make casual jokes and give pieces of advice to other members so that we can still be down-to-earth, as we were before 'BTS.'
OTW: What is in the works after the tour? What's your definition of the ultimate success?
Rap Monster: We'll be busy all year round even after the tour, with new albums coming up and advertising deals. My definition of the ultimate success is to continue to make good music and deliver great performance in order to have people listen to my creation as much as possible.
SUGA: My goal for this year is to cultivate my ability as a producer and write more songs. That's my definition of success.
j-hope: We always have new, additional plans for tours, even after this tour. My definition of the ultimate success is becoming the iconic artist who always delivers the best show as a true artist. I want to create a show that's "must-see" for everyone.
OTW: Which artists are on your Ones To Watch list?
BTS: J. Cole, Drake, dvsn, THEY., Frank Ocean, Mac Miller
OTW: Any message you want to send to fans right now?
BTS: We'd like to thank A.R.M.Ys around the world from bottom of our hearts.
We couldn't have done what we've achieved without your love and support. We know it takes time and effort to vote, listen to the music, and watch the videos, and it means a lot to us.
We are wings for one another. Let's fly together high up.