In the penultimate deep dive into the BTS WeVerse interviews, we delve into the responses from hip hop loving, rapping prodigy SUGA and see just how talented of a musician- in every aspect- that he truly is.
Images Courtesy of WeVerse Magazine
The list of job titles seems never ending for Min Yoongi, best known by his stage name SUGA (a reference to his favoured position in a basketball game, the shooting guard). Rapper, producer, songwriter, pianist, member of the global phenomenon that is BTS; SUGA’s clear dedication to music ,his perseverance and his worldwide success have all been factors that have led to a freedom in the music industry that he could once only dream of. What stood out to me in this WeVerse Interview is SUGA’s different style in comparison to his fellow producers, writers and rappers, jhope and RM. All seven of the BTS members have had a hand in the production of their own music at one point or another but it is these three who have had the most input into the creation of their work. I tend to consider RM as an artistic, intellectual thinker when it comes to composing music whereas jhope has a boundless optimism that shines through even in his more sombre songs like “Blue Side”. SUGA- however- comes across as more of pragmatic realistic who is able to separate himself- to a certain extent- from his emotions. When asked specifically about his emotions with his music, SUGA notes that it sometimes changes his lyrics-“I think it affects the way I write lyrics a bit”- the affect isn’t hugely significant, “I think it’s possible for me to express emotions (within his music) I’m not feeling in the moment”. I’m not a songwriter so I can’t really speak for the lyric creation process but if it is anything like writing in general (which I tend to do copious amounts of), it can sometimes be hard to separate yourself from your own emotions. It’s possible- especially when writing professionally- but not always easy. I think that this mind set in regards to his music not only shows an incredibly professional artist, but one who doesn’t need to constantly be struggling to write due to not feeling the right thing at the right time. He states in the previous question that his goal in life is “emotional stability” and I think this way of creating music certainly suggests that he has achieved a semblance of this stability.
As with all of the other members, there is also a level of humility and humbleness when discussing his work. SUGA states not once, but twice about how he feels that he isn’t good at anything else and how he has “nothing else to do except music”. He even offers an example, saying that he gave gaming a try but it didn’t work out too well,
“I tried gaming, but I have no talent for it. The people I play with online get so frustrated if I do. I mean, I’m working hard and got some recognition in my life, and yet people bash me so hard in games.”
Relatable stuff. It is certainly humbling for anyone to admit what they are bad at, especially a huge celebrity such as SUGA. It also shows that he clearly has an unpretentious attitude, which is refreshing to hear.
Butter and Permission to Dance
As with the other members, SUGA is asked about his thoughts and feelings of the huge success of their second English language song “Butter” (at the time of writing, the song is the longest leading number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, managing to spend 9 weeks at the top before being replaced). SUGA expresses his shock as well as his feeling of “responsibility” but what stood out to me here was the sense of reality that he portrays with his blunt yet honest retort after discussing his happiness, “there’s lots of issues in the world right now that are much more important than how well we perform on the charts.” SUGA shows that he is able to put his achievements in perspective with this statement. As momentous as his accomplishments are, they still pale in comparison to the problems we are facing in the world, such as the pandemic. Again, this is another refreshing trait for such a massively influential star. SUGA also goes on to talk about the positive nature of “Permission to Dance”- their third English song with a hugely uplifting message- and again reiterates his understanding of the bigger picture when it comes to what is going on in the world,
“It seems like everyone around the world is really tired of this situation dragging out. I wanted to convey a message that tells people to keep hanging on to hope until the very end.”
As well as promoting hopeful optimism in his songs, he also demonstrates the necessity of this optimism in reality too, referring to the situation as “when you lose one thing, you gain another” and then noting how he was able to spend more time with his family because of the lockdown. It can be difficult to think of things this way but there is a certain maturity and level headedness to this thought process and it makes SUGA feel more like a relatable, grounded man rather than an untouchable celebrity.
SUGA is part of the rap line of BTS and doesn’t tend to do a great deal of singing. When he does, it’s clear that he can definitely carry a tune but in his interview, he discusses the difficulties of utilising his vocals in a different way, particularly in “Permission to Dance”:
“Permission to Dance” was a little bit difficult. I don’t draw a line between singing and rapping or anything, but it was different from our usual style, and the vocals were a bit high, too. So even though it took a while to prepare for it, I worked hard, and even when I asked some older musicians for their opinions, they all said, “It’s good the way you’re doing it. Don’t try to sing better—just sing more.” I think my only option is to sing more, like they suggested.”
It’s not often that Yoongi talks about the singing elements of his work- except to say that he wants to get better or that he needs practice-so it is interesting to get an insight into what parts he finds difficult as well as how he queries older artists for advice when he is unsure of himself. He also talks about the preparation that was required (obviously a lot seeing as the song isn’t in his native language), in particular his work on his pronunciation as well as some insight into the major differences that occur when singing in Korean in comparison to singing in English:
“There’s a clear difference from Korean songs, since English has so many syllables”.
I’ve studied some Korean and there are indeed far less syllables and when you start to understand the alphabet, it becomes apparent that the language has a much simpler way of constructing words. It must have been so difficult to not only learn an English song when you consider its complexity in comparison to Korean, but also to keep performing it over and over again. It takes a lot of skill to be able to do that and SUGA has a lot of it.
The interviewer questions SUGA on BTS’s recent change to a “smoother kind of pop music” as well as their accomplishments and he seems to switch into producer mode, discussing tastes in music across different demographics, countries and cultures as well as the importance of reactions. He considers BTS’s change from their hip hop debut with the song “No More Dream” eight years ago to “Permission to Dance” a “natural course of even for those of us who make pop music”. He also talks about his enjoyment of infamous composer Hans Zimmer (I saw Hans Zimmer in a live show a few years back and I can safely say his music is even more epic live) which seems apt seeing as SUGA just released a brilliant instrumental that he produced for Samsung (a remix of the classic “Over the Horizon” Samsung ringtone that I have posted the video for above). I wouldn’t be surprised if this kind of music was where his future might lie once he is done with BTS. His interview definitely feels more technical, particularly in this segment where he talks about chorus composition, structure and the combination of different musical genres from the song “eight” by IU that he features on as well as produces. His discussion on the creation of his “perfectly commercial music” is also intriguing. His producer mind set is clear, thinking from a logical and technical perspective in terms of audience and what is popular. SUGA is the first member to display this almost business like tone in this interview (except maybe Jin who talks very much like his role in BTS is just a job like any other. He and SUGA are the two oldest members though which could be a factor) and I think its telling of his role as a creative artist as well as an intelligent businessman.
Change in the Music Industry
SUGA is asked what his next steps would be as an artist seeing as he has accomplished a great deal of the things that most musician’s usually only dream of. His answer highlights the difficulties that a lot of artists face in the music industry:
“The way artists work seems so difficult. They make an appearance on a different music show every day once the promotional period begins, meaning the exhaustion artists face is enormous, and that fatigue often results in injuries as it adds up. That kind of music show is for promotional purposes, so it’s not like the artists can earn a proper income from them. On top of that, despite all the promoting, there’s no visible outcome, so they inevitably lose morale. If possible, it’d be nice to have one of the performances be really high-quality, even if it’s just the one, but in this environment I’d say that’s pretty difficult. And since our job doesn’t fit the common conception of work, there’s ambiguous boundaries when it comes to issues of legal protection as well. We need a lot of improvements to be made to the industry and its system”.
The mistreatment of K-pop idols is often speculated on (though it is admittedly a lot better than it once was and HYBE- BTS’s agency that was once Big Hit Entertainment- is known for not being as harsh as other agencies) but it tends to be a subject that is a bit of a taboo in South Korea. Many idols tend to avoid discussing their fellow K-pop idols at all to evade media speculation of love interests and/or rivalries and so this kind of talk is known to be avoided all costs. As expected with Min Yoongi, he just doesn’t care and talks about what he wants. He clearly knows what it is like to be pushed to the limits both physically and mentally, even with his kinder label behind him. I found this the most interesting part of his interview (it’s all interesting but it’s the only interview of all seven where this is talked about). As big as it is, I’m going to post another of the paragraphs from the interview in regards to this as it’s too fascinating to skip over:
“The great thing about the label I’m with is they listen to the artists’ opinions. I think both we and the label know to a certain degree what kinds of activities would be best commercially speaking. But the question is whether the body can endure it or not. If the fatigue builds up as you continuously do those promotional activities, it’s hard to do them the way you did when you first debuted. In that case, I think the label ought to actively accommodate the artist’s views about what they can and cannot do. An attitude that’s just like, Oh, we made you kids, and as long as you just do what we tell you to it’ll all work out, so just do it—I think that really doesn’t make any sense. Of course, there could still be situations where the label has to be pushy like that, obviously. But I heard there’s been times where a label will just say, Do it, without any explanation to the artist, or, Why are you talking so much? I think that’s the biggest issue and it’s destroying the industry. If you just see the artist as a product, how can they do anything creative? I really think it’s very contradictory to ask the people on stage to put on an enjoyable performance when they’re experiencing neither fun nor enjoyment.”
The strain placed on K-pop idols is nothing new and SUGA’s desire for the industry to make a change is sure to be felt throughout the Korean music industry, but it is his strength to stand up and say it when no one else will that makes this feel like an important statement and hopefully a step in the right direction for idols and their well-being.
SUGA rounds off the interview with a little bit of self-reflection as the interviewer draws comparisons between his previous and current situation in the music industry with his dual roles in the “Daechwita” music video (as AgustD). In the video, he plays the role of a tyrannous king as well as a stranger who rebels against the king. This stranger also rebels against the Joseon time period in which the video is set by driving a car, handling guns and wearing modern clothing. SUGA compares this out of place, rebellious nature to BTS at their debut when they didn’t quite fit into the set categories for Korean artists,
“Right from our debut, a portion of the hip hop lovers criticized us by saying, They’re idols. But at the same time, we heard things like, They’re not idols. I didn’t know which drumbeat to march to, so I think that’s why each of our albums took a different direction than people were expecting.”
This self-reflection comes across excellently in the music video (which is amazing and you need to go watch it if you haven’t seen it) and it also shows the level of creativity and thought that SUGA puts into his concepts for both his music and his music videos.
SUGA keeps his love for ARMY subtle but very clear, stating that he wants to be able to keep making great music as the band gets older as well as “have fun and be happy”. In relation to the ARMY fans, he suggests that he wants to do this not only for BTS as seven individuals but also for their dedicated fan base,
“I figure we should do as much as we can for ARMY since they feel happy watching us. We’ll continue to try our best, so I hope they believe in BTS and keep their eyes on us.”
This has been a recurring theme throughout the interviews, with each member expressing a deEp devotion and connection to the ARMY that is unlike any other fan base I have come across. They want to make us happy and can even sacrifice their own happiness and well-being just to make sure that we- the fans- keep smiling. Our happiness is their happiness but this goes both ways. We want you to be happy and healthy too guys! Make sure you don’t exhaust yourself, Yoongi.
Check out the rest of my deep dives into the BTS WeVerse interviews below and make sure to read the entire SUGA interview over on WeVerse Magazine here.