‘There’s no time left for progress’: why BTS have paused their profession at its peak

When South Korean pop megastars BTS introduced that they are going to be specializing in their solo careers, they did so with very cautious phrases. “It’s not that we’re disbanding! We’re simply dwelling aside for some time,” clarified Suga, midway by means of the emotional, hour-long dialog, launched on YouTube on Tuesday. “I hope you see that it’s a wholesome plan,” added J-Hope, severely. “It’s one thing that all of us want.”

Little surprise that BTS – also referred to as Bangtan Sonyeondan, or Bulletproof Boy Scouts in Korean – have been nervous to disclose their subsequent steps. Since their announcement, it has been reported that shares within the group’s company misplaced as a lot as $1.7bn (£1.4bn) in market worth. And greater than that, they’ve the feelings of their deeply passionate world fanbase, BTS Military, to take care of – in addition to the burden of a nation’s expectations on their shoulders.

Over the past two years, the concept of BTS nearly turned greater than the seven members themselves. Breaking so many data that yesterday the Guinness World Records tweeted, “BTS we’re going to overlook you”, the group are the primary Grammy-nominated Okay-pop group, the primary to chart a primarily Korean-language single at No 1 within the US, and grossed $33.3m from simply 4 gigs in Los Angeles final yr. Their success within the west is simply the tip of the iceberg: BTS have additionally gained all 4 main classes on the Mnet Asian Music awards for 3 years in a row.

Past their glittering trophy room (which is now open to the general public on the Hybe Perception museum in Seoul), BTS have turn into figureheads for South Korea on the worldwide stage. They spoke on the United Nations meeting in 2021 after travelling there on diplomatic passports, and earlier this month visited the White Home to debate Asian inclusion and illustration with President Biden, in addition to the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. In keeping with a 2018 report, the seven males are value greater than $3.4bn to the South Korean financial system.

However ever since BTS’s debut in 2013, they’ve been over-achievers. Regardless of their label’s humble origins, and in a K-pop business then dominated by the “Huge Three” music businesses, BTS set themselves other than their friends by means of ferocious performances, a heat but rebellious spirit, and a deeply tangible love for music backed by the underground hip-hop credentials of a number of of their members. They gained their first main award in 2015, for the bitterly romantic pop observe I Want U, and commenced a gentle climb in direction of business domination with introspective, philosophical lyrics and a knack for twisting their hip-hop beginnings into quite a few world pop genres. On 10 June, the group launched the anthology album Proof, a three-disc epic that spans their chart-topping singles in addition to uncooked, endearingly youthful early demos.

Drive has outlined BTS, and it’s clear that this transformation in circumstances is not any small determination. To observe RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook lay all of it out, with frank and typically tearful honesty, over a dinner desk of their once-shared condominium, is to grasp simply how closely they’ve carried the burden of expectation. Much more hanging is their willingness to open up this determination to inevitable public scrutiny.

RM, the group’s chief, was blunt in his evaluation of an business that doesn’t simply allow such reflection: “I began music and have become BTS as a result of I had a message for the world. However sooner or later I haven’t been certain what sort of group we’re [any more] and for me, it was a giant deal that I didn’t know.”

Visibly annoyed, he continued: “I’ve at all times thought BTS was totally different from different teams, however the issue with Okay-pop is that they don’t offer you time to mature. It’s a must to preserve producing music, to maintain doing one thing. After I rise up within the morning and get make-up accomplished there’s no time left for progress. Proper now we’ve misplaced our course, and I simply need to take a while to suppose.”

Followers additionally discovered that this transformation has been a very long time coming. Jungkook revealed that their album Map of the Soul: 7, launched in 2020, was meant to mark the tip of the group’s “first chapter”. That document, with its usually brutal appraisal of the group’s relationship to music and fame, alongside seven solo tracks that dissected every member’s private journey, ought to have culminated in a prolonged world tour and, it’s implied, opened the door to this deal with the artists as people. “This timing ought to have come to us earlier, however I suppose we held it off. We’ve obtained to do it now,” he stated, emphatically.

A BTS fan takes a selfie before a concert in Las Vegas.
A BTS fan takes a selfie earlier than a live performance in Las Vegas. {Photograph}: David Becker/Getty Photos

That they “held it off” is comprehensible, although. Within the lull of that cancelled tour, as a result of Covid-19, BTS selected to launch a standalone single to carry the spirits of their followers – in addition to their very own. Dynamite, a sugary disco-pop observe and their first absolutely English-language single, earned them their first No 1 within the US and their first Grammy nomination. Honest sufficient that BTS, and their company, felt the necessity to capitalise on this sudden ascension to pop’s higher echelons, although RM pinpoints it now because the second at which he started to lose his grasp on the group’s course.

In reassurance, Suga provides: “However once we look again on the previous 9 years, nearly nothing went to plan. We should always dwell doing what we need to do – we’ll all die finally!” However the rapper additionally admitted to latest struggles when writing lyrics, reflecting: “Again then [in the group’s earlier years] I had one thing to say however simply lacked the abilities, now I don’t know what to say.”

Across the dinner desk, every of the seven members begins to explain – hesitantly at first, after which with confidence – that they’re all engaged on particular person albums. J-Hope, a rapper and dancer with effervescent stage presence, will launch his in July, forward of his first solo headline set at Lollapalooza – one other document damaged, as he’s the primary Asian artist to headline Chicago’s longstanding pageant. Jin, the group’s oldest member, and as soon as an aspiring actor, beams as he describes spending his newfound free time on gaming, and guarantees that he’s engaged on new songs however is prone to be the final to launch them. “I hope yours all go effectively,” he teases, as RM interjects: “You’ll be the grand finale!”

V, a singer with a dusky baritone and a penchant for dusty jazz bars, speaks earnestly when describing his hopes for a “probability to point out my music to the world, and never simply music – I’ve needed to point out the issues which are inside me for a very long time now”. Jungkook, a talented R&B singer and the youngest of the seven, is equally severe in his pledge that: “I’ll do my greatest, and we’ll turn into a greater model of us, I firmly consider that.”

Suga, already an in-demand producer, jokes that his charges are prohibitively costly since his chart-topping collaboration with Okay-pop royalty Psy, however is fast to supply help to the opposite members – and particularly to Jimin, a balletic dancer and distinctively emotional vocalist, who’s visibly moved by proceedings. “We will’t let you know all the things straight,” he says to the digital camera, “and that’s very unhappy and troublesome at occasions. In the event you’d take our phrases as they’re … that might be nice.” The opposite members refrain “don’t cry!” as he gently dabs at a tear.

RM, the final to talk, sums it up: “The seven of us went in direction of a united aim with all we’ve obtained. I would like BTS to go on for a very long time, however [for that to happen] I believe I’ve to retain who I’m. What I do know for certain is that we’re BTS, and we made it right here because of you. I at all times need to be RM of BTS.” All this, he gestures on the tearful members, “is for the longer term in entrance of us”.

As they stand for a toast, BTS Military throughout the globe take to social media to reassure the group: BTS have run far sufficient, and – as their latest single places it – the perfect is but to come back.

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