Welcome to a miniseries here on the blog that is going to be delving into the recent interviews with Korean superstar boy band BTS conducted with WeVerse magazine. WeVerse is a South Korean born social media platform -created by what was then Big Hit Entertainment but is now Hybe Corporation – that was designed to allow a deeper level of communication between K-Pop idols and their fans. It is no surprise then that one of the most interesting and detailed interviews with BTS- who have their own section on WeVerse with over 11 million followers– come from the WeVerse online magazine. Much like the Rolling Stone interviews and the interviews that the band conducted themselves with one another, these questions explore a number of topics on a much broader spectrum and with significantly more depth than some run of the mill interviews that are out there. They are a great insight into all seven members- each of who have their own interview and a chance to shine- and so I thought it would be interesting to delve into each discussion and catch a glimpse of the inner workings of the biggest band in the world right now. I’m going to be writing these in the order that they were published on WeVerse so we’re starting with the youngest member of BTS: Jeon Jeongguk or Jung Kook.
All Images Courtesy of WeVerse Magazine
The Golden Maknae
Jung Kook is known as the “golden maknae” of the group, called “golden” thanks to his uncanny ability to excel at everything he does and “maknae” being a term in Korean referring to the youngest person in a group. I’ve said this before in the blog and I have to reiterate that whilst I feel that every member could easily be successful on their own, I think that out of the seven of them Jung Kook is the only one that could become a global pop star by himself. The rap line could all very easily have their own rap and hip hop careers (and jhope could be a dancer on his own because he is absolutely incredible) whilst V and Jin are clearly veering on the side of acting with Jin having an acting degree and V already appearing the K-drama Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth (not to shut down a possible singing career for either of them as they both have unique and fantastic vocals). Jimin could be a dancer or a singer too as he is excellent at both but I feel that if any of the members were to achieve Freddie Mercury or Michael Jackson like level of solo success, it would be Jung Kook. He is one of those rare people who has something special and his “golden maknae” status only confirms that there are a lot of others out there who feel the same way. On top of his individual talents, his role within BTS has led to tons of broken records and huge achievements recognised worldwide. With this in mind, it is no surprise that he feels a great deal of pressure as he discusses in his WeVerse interview when talking about the success of their second English single “Butter” and how it climbed even further than their first English single “Dynamite”,
“I was never attached to rankings, but as good as it is and as happy as I am since we’ve kept setting records since “Dynamite,” it also feels like a burden”
You can only imagine the sort of pressure that a band this huge has to keep delivering over and over again, particularly when it comes to toppling their own records. It is refreshing to hear such a huge personality admit to feeling the stress of that burden as well as note that he doesn’t feel a particular sentiment when it comes to charting and ranks. He goes on to say that because “Butter” was even bigger than “Dynamite”, the feeling of weight upon his shoulders only became greater. It is easy to think of the positives from achieving that level of stardom. The fame, the money, the accolades, all of those things are very easy to talk about in interviews. But you don’t often hear the difficulties that can come along with them. In the media, this lifestyle of the global musician is often glamourized to the extent where these artists’ lives are made to look like absolute, unobtainable perfection. It is only when we see the outcome of the not so great parts (such as Britney Spears’s breakdown back in 2007 or Amy Winehouse’s tragic death in 2011) that we begin to realise that maybe this world isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Jung Kook openly talking about how the pressure affects him is encouraging as it shows that he feels comfortable enough to discuss it and doesn’t feel the need to bottle up his feelings. That being said, as the interview continues, it is difficult not to feel somewhat worried for the young star due to the pressure put upon him by no one else but himself.
Pushing Himself to the Limits
As the interview progresses, it becomes very clear that Jung Kook is not only a perfectionist but he is also incredibly hard on himself to the point where it sometimes seems like he will never feel that he is good enough. His youth could be a major factor in this as he is incredibly young to have achieved the success that he has as he is currently 23 years old, turning 24 in September of this year (2021). Having grown up in the Korean music industry- becoming a trainee at age 13 and debuting in BTS at 15- Jung Kook has clearly learnt to always set the highest standards for himself. He mentions that this is not forced upon him or BTS and is instead his “personal ambition” but it still seems very much like those ambitions are unobtainable due to his insanely high standards. For instance, he notes that he doesn’t find “Dynamite” particularly satisfying as he listens to it now and thinks about how he would have done it differently ,
“I couldn’t express everything I wanted the way I wanted to.”
What would be considered a massive accomplishment for some is merely treated as something that he could have done better (which is crazy as his vocals are spot on in “Dynamite” but each to their own). He also notes that he practices his vocals at least an hour a day, talks about his ability to pick up characteristics of other people’s vocals and is able to discern the pros and cons of singing in English in comparison to his native Korean (which is super interesting actually. Make sure to read the full interview for more detail on the different tones of Korean dialects and the difference in comparison to English). He is clearly a highly talented vocalist and yet his focus is on where he can improve. It is great to have such a strong work ethic as long as it doesn’t take you over to the point where you end up feeling like nothing you ever do is good enough. He does mention that he refuses to be softer on himself and will often regret having down time as he feels as though he should always be working and constantly improving. This constant urge to be better in every way- whether it’s his English skills, his singing or even his hobbies like painting (he watches YouTube painting tutorials to learn), he needs to learn and needs to be better. He even notes that he considers himself lazy! You are a super talented guy, Jung Kook! Don’t let those crazily high standards you set for yourself ever make you feel otherwise.
There is a definite sense of humbleness when reading Jung Kook’s interview (and all of the interviews honestly) which I think stems from both the band members as individuals but also from their Korean culture in which modesty is a highly respectable element of the etiquette. This is particularly so when it comes to behaviour towards your elders in South Korea and I’m certain that growing up as the youngest of the group is sure to have had an effect of Jung Kook, likely encouraging him to be more humble. This is clear when the interviewer questions him about how he takes the opening vocals of all three English tracks that have BTS have released. Rather than discuss this point exactly, he instead responds by bringing his other members into his answer, mentions other artists (Billie Eilish is the biggest name used) and the effects they have on him when he listens to their music and discusses elements of the songs like the rhythm and the suitability that each voice has for it (he also goes into interesting detail about how they use guide vocal tracks to get a feel for the song when before recording). He even divulges the difficult parts of the process such as how he had issues recording “Butter” as he felt his voice didn’t sound right or how he veered away from the guide vocals for “Permission to Dance” to suit his own style more. Not only are these interesting titbits that tell us a little bit more about BTS’s music production process, they are also examples of how Jung Kook clearly prefers to talk in a broader way about BTS and their music- not shying away from talking about his own personal growth and maturity development in both himself and his music and vocals- rather than focusing solely on himself, suggesting a humble attitude. I think his maturity is also clear when he discusses the Covid-19 pandemic and how it affected small businesses and places like restaurants. This discussion comes from the interviewer talking about his influence on his fans, mentioning a time when he held a live stream and the drink he mentioned enjoying ended up selling out in stores. Again, rather than bringing this back to him he instead uses this as a way to encourage purchasing from small businesses during this difficult time. This suggests a broader world view than some celebrities tend to have. I know that is a bit of a sweeping statement but I refer to the cringe inducing cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by some of the Hollywood elite to show just how blind to the rest of the celebrity world can be at times. Jung Kook demonstrates a maturity and an understanding of current world affairs and the plights of the everyday people, showing that he is not just another overpaid, clueless celebrity.
I couldn’t write this mini essay without discussing Jung Kooks feeling towards BTS’s dedicated fan base, the ARMY. The tone of the interview shifts somewhat when ARMY are brought up, with Jung Kook seeming less coherent and struggling to find a way to express how much the fans truly mean to him. I thought this was very sweet as he clearly cares a great deal about the fans to the point where he cannot vocalise exactly how much they mean to him. When asked by the interviewer what he wants to show to ARMY as an individual, his answer was simple:
“I want to show them, that, umm … Just my real self, Jeon Jung Gook. That I’m fairly easy-going, very honest, and nothing special.”
All he wants from the fans is for them to be able to see him for he is and I think that is very telling as to whom he is as a person as well as an artist. Before I finish off this lengthy piece on Jung Kook, I want to quickly say that if you read the interview you will see that WeVerse asked Jung Kook to create his own art with the materials they gave him. He refused to leave the studio- even after the interview was over -as he hadn’t finished his work and he was adamant that he would complete it. If that doesn’t show the dedicated work ethics of this young man, I don’t know what does.
Check out the rest of my deep dives into the BTS WeVerse interviews below and make sure to read the entire Jung Kook interview over on WeVerse Magazine here.