South Korean pop group BTS takes the cover story of WSJ. Magazine’s November 2020 Innovators edition lensed by fashion photographer Hong Jang Hyun. In charge of set design was Choi Seo Yun. The band won award MUSIC INNOVATOR of the year at WSJ. Magazine‘s 10th Annual Innovator Awards held on November 11th.
We’re preparing our next album now, [and I] think it’d be great if all our songs make it into Billboard’s Hot 100. Another performance at the Grammys would be great. – says Jimin
On writing the songs:
J-Hope describes his approach as research- heavy. “I first study the topic and think about what story I need to tell and what kind of content it should encompass,” he says. “Sometimes the type of stories I’m dealing with are light, but sometimes they aren’t, so it’s important that I’m knowledgeable about what I’m working on.”
Suga says he comes across ideas for his songs from the books he reads. “I tend to think a lot about the meaning behind words,” he says. “We deal a lot with emotions so I spend a lot of time thinking about how words can be construed differently.”
RM, who has credits on many of BTS’s biggest songs, will dwell on a line from a movie or a passing scene, sometimes for years, before starting to work it into his lyrics. “[Writing songs] takes a long time for me,” says RM. “So it hurts, body and soul, when I have to throw one away.”
On touching on psychological and social issues in their songs:
“I don’t like talking about my dark side,” says Jin. “I’m in the camp that believes idols should always show their bright and positive side.” Still, a conversation with Bang inspired Jin’s 2018 solo ballad “Epiphany,” which focuses on self-acceptance. V, who contributed to the neo-soul “Stigma”—which includes lines like “The pain is never soothed”— recently received a phone call from producer Bang on a song he was writing. “Could you tone down this a little?” Bang asked.
“How come he never says things like that to me?” Suga jumps in.
RM responds. “Because that’s (your) personality.”
J-Hope chimes in, laughing, “I’m a bit envious of [Suga’s] expressions.”
“I’m the type that speaks out first, and then thinks about it,” Suga explains.
On the process of choosing which songs make an album:
BTS members had made separate bids to feature melodies they had written as the album’s lead song. Jimin describes that process as “painstaking and tearful.” Jung Kook points out that the members weren’t just competing against each other, but against other composers who also submitted attempts to Bang. Jin alone sent him three different melodies. Suga made it to the finals. RM, though, chose to sit this one out. “The competition was too fierce,” he says.
On acknowledging success:
The stars of BTS say there are still more things yet to achieve. “In the past, we had clear goals and a thirst. We had to do well—we were desperate,” says Jung Kook. “I still have a similar mindset. It’s the achievements we’ve made every step of the way that are prompting me to want to challenge myself more.”
“Before, we were all just fixated on looking for the camera when the red light came on,” says Jimin. “Now we feel more relaxed.”
Photography © HONG JANG HYUN for WSJ. Magazine. This article is featured in WSJ. Magazine’s November Issue out on newsstands Saturday, November 21st – wsj.com