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  1. The Mastermind Behind BTS Opens Up About Making a K-Pop Juggernaut BY RAISA BRUNER - 12:37 PM EDT Bang Si-hyuk was an artist first. But these days, the founder and co-CEO of Big Hit Entertainment is better known as the mastermind behind BTS, the world’s biggest boy band and the K-pop group that has led the charge in breaking open the Western market for acts from South Korea. Bang started out in the K-pop industry as a composer (nickname: “Hitman”) working with JYP, one of the so-called “Big Three” entertainment groups that dominate the multi-billion dollar South Korean music market. But he broke away to found his own company in 2005. Now, Big Hit is one of the music industry’s most interesting case studies, having struck gold with a powerfully popular — and highly lucrative — act. Over the course of an hour and a half, Bang opened up to TIME about the genesis of BTS, the difference between Western artists and the K-pop model and the surprises he’s encountered in the K-pop industry. “It’s difficult for me to say things like A led to B,” he said. “But what I can say is that BTS’ success in the U.S. market was achieved by a formula different from the American mainstream formula. Loyalty built through direct contact with fans had a lot to do with that.” He cited Disney and Apple as examples of brands that have built similarly committed fanbases and complex universes, but stressed that to him the product — the music itself — is paramount. Humble about his influence and eager to make his role clear, Bang highlighted his luck and timing, and tried to pin down what makes BTS unique. He also cautioned against making predictions about the future. “If you were to ask, will they sing in English? How long will they be in the U.S.? Will they sign with a major label? I would say the artist needs to make the best decision at each moment, and I can’t say what they should do,” he said. Below is a translated and condensed version of Bang’s conversation with TIME. TIME: K-pop is distinctive for its trainee system, in which aspiring “idols” train for years after being scouted and before being introduced to audiences. How did you find and train the seven members of BTS? Bang Si-Hyuk: One of our producers, Kido, brought RM’s demo tape to me and said, “This is what the young kids are into.” RM [who is now the group leader and a rapper] was 15 at the time. I signed him immediately. I had considered putting together a hip-hop crew, not an idol group. But when I considered the business context, I thought a K-pop idol model made more sense. Because many trainees wanted to pursue hip-hop and didn’t want to be in an idol band, they left. At that time RM, Suga, and J-Hope stayed back, and they remain BTS’s musical pillars. From there, through auditions, we discovered and added members that had more of an idol-like quality to the group. When you started Big Hit, you could have gone down many paths in pop music. Why did you decide to form an idol group? At the time that I started my company, physical album sales were abruptly going down and digital sales were not coming up to compensate. But K-pop idol groups had an advantage, in that they had many opportunities to diversify revenue streams and their fans were extremely passionate, allowing concerts to compensate for the dropped album sales. This was also a time when many around the world were saying the only replacement for the demolished musical industry is live performances. If a performance-based model were to be created in South Korea, I thought, it would [still have to] be a K-pop idol group. What do you think has been the distinguishing factor that set BTS on its unique path? It was their sincerity, consistency and ability to embody the spirit of the times. When they [solidified as an] idol group, I promised them they would be able to pursue the music they wanted [including hip-hop]. Because it was hip-hop, they could express their thoughts and we wouldn’t touch that. If in turn the company felt they weren’t being genuine, then we would comment. I kept that promise, and believe that had an impact. I personally feel it’s not always necessary for an artist to speak their mind. But I believe at the time, BTS touched something that young people from all over the world were seeking. Ever since BTS’ debut, they’ve never suddenly switched gears or changed pace. They were consistent. I think that convinced the public. They don’t shy away from speaking about the pain felt by today’s generation. They respect diversity and justice, the rights of youths and marginalized people. I think all of these factors worked in their favor. So far this year, BTS has sold the most physical albums in the U.S. of any musical act. What does that say to you? The case of BTS is very ironic to me. I had predicted a steady decline in physical sales and thought performances and a loyalty-based model would be a solution. That being said, because I’m an old-school music producer, I place a lot of importance on the quality of the album. So I led an album-focused production. With good music and communication, the sales can follow. The K-pop industry as a whole has been seeing rising album sales, contrary to global market trends. I can’t personally explain why. I do not believe this will last forever. One of your big pushes this year is bolstering the “universes” you’re building for each group, connecting the fans to the artists beyond live shows and albums. Why? With BTS and K-pop idols, fans want to be a part of the lifestyle of their beloved idols outside of concerts, but there’s no product on the market that fulfills that desire. I hate expansion for the sake of expansion; it has to be rooted in music. So that’s why I did it that way. Many people believe because K-pop idols hold the title of “singer” that it’s the same thing, but fans of typical singers [are different]. They might go to a concert, buy an album or a track, or buy a t-shirt. But K-pop idol fans want to feel close with their idols. BTS is the only team that has sizable selling power all over the world, in almost every country. As a result, working with BTS’ fandom is one of the biggest services Big Hit provides. How did you figure out what they would express in their music, or how they would present themselves on social media? Frankly, K-pop artists, by average artists’ standards, have to show acrobatic-level skills in their performances; they must sing perfectly, and so they must be in top shape. It requires a high level of skill-based, focused training. Despite that, I always believed trainees should be well socialized. When BTS members were trainees, there was a lot of internal conflict with my staff regarding social media; [they said,] “Let’s take the safe road, social media leaves traces, some of which could be harmful to them in the future.” It’s also difficult for young people to follow rules. So there was a bit of trouble there, but because I believed it was right to make mistakes and learn from them, I built a relatively liberal trainee system. In our company, we invest a lot of time educating trainees about life as an artist, including social media. After we provide guidance, we choose to let artists be, and leave a window open for them to ask the company anything they need. I think that helped the sincerity get through to the fans. Since BTS’ success, I’ve been changing the trainee system to be more school-like, with mentorship and a coaching system, and opportunities for students to work together. Recently, some current and former K-pop idols have been implicated in illegal activities. When you see controversies like that in K-pop, do you feel you have given BTS and other trainees tools to avoid those kinds of issues? I’m not sure. The fact that I gave them a lot of freedom from trainee years and educated them on responsibility can logically explain that it has prevented scandals, but that’s consequentialism. Right now a trainee system is in some ways an educational institution. As a team, we talk a lot about how we can provide the best possible environment for these artists. But to say that we were able to avoid some sort of scandal in the K-pop industry is way too definite. There’s a common perception that in K-pop, the music is manufactured by committee, or that it’s a top-down system of adults giving material to young artists. Is that accurate? First, I believe in the West there is this deeply embedded fantasy of the rock star — a rock star acts true to their soul and everyone must accept it as part of their individuality, and only through that does good music come. But in reality, devoting a long time to honing and training music-related skills is a tactic used in many professional art worlds. Ballerinas spend a long time in isolation focused only on ballet, but you don’t hear people say ballet lacks soul or isn’t art. So I think it’s a matter of perspective. Another layer is that in the U.S., an artist will work in the underground scene for many years before signing with a major label. In Korea, that time is spent as a trainee. I think it’s debatable which system produces the better artist. In addition, I believe the statement that an artist must sing their own songs to have good results cannot possibly be true. A singer is foremost a performer, and a good performance can convince audiences. I do think when a trainee spends too much time just focusing on skills and not life experiences, it becomes a concern as to whether they can become a musician with a complex understanding of the world. How important is it that the artists you work with have a cause or a social issue that they care about? With BTS there has been the ongoing “Love Yourself” narrative, paired with their work with the U.N. and their openness on topics like mental health. Whether you want to speak out on a social issue or not is the individual’s choice. What I want is for them to be sincere. To make up something, I can’t accept that. But neither the company nor I can force an artist to speak or not speak about any social issue. Personally, I believe art is one of the strongest mediums for revolution, and I want the artist to speak out on social issues. They speak out when they want to and I don’t say what they should or shouldn’t do. I think that’s one of the misconceptions people have about the K-pop industry: that a producer could have that level of control over their artists. We can’t. When the artist wants to express something, I believe my role is to refine the message in a way that expresses their sincerity and has commercial value. Why has BTS managed such an impressive crossover feat in the U.S., while so many other K-pop acts have struggled to gain traction? I fundamentally believe BTS’ success in the U.S. had a lot to do with luck. It wasn’t my brilliant strategy or BTS being such a perfect fit for the U.S. market. It was rather that their message resonated with a certain demand, and through digital media it spread quickly. And BTS touched something that wasn’t being addressed in the U.S. at the time, so American youths reacted, and that was proven through numbers. You mentioned that “rock star” narrative. In the U.S., it can seem that artists are applauded for being rebellious. There’s a lot of value placed on independence and fighting the “system.” Do you think in the South Korean cultural context there’s more respect between artists and management? I think Asian culture and Western culture are certainly different. But if we’re to talk about how that influences expressing rebellion toward society — South Korea has had many revolutions, but in terms of personal relationships, you respect elders. It’s hard to equate that with speaking out, or to say Western artists are this way and Asian artists are this way. But in general, especially for K-pop artists, artists and companies seek to take less risks. But to talk about fighting the system: many American artists cooperate with their management, as long as they’re left to pursue the music they want. Recently, many artists don’t sign with major labels, because there are more revenue streams available. I don’t think that’s a statement against the system, though. In fact, fewer Western artists speak out on social issues compared to before. You’ve always given the members of BTS opportunities to release solo work as well. Does that make them unique in K-pop? I don’t really think their uniqueness comes from independence. Many K-pop idols think about solo careers once they achieve a level of success, discuss it with their management and pursue solo projects. It’s not that they do this because Big Hit gives more freedom. What’s unique here is that Big Hit doesn’t produce solo projects. We emphasize the team image. But of course the members are individuals, and have their own identities, so we encourage and support mixtapes and free release songs, which allow the artist to express themselves with less liability than an official solo project. Since we started taking this approach, many more companies started pursuing more unofficial mixtapes or free release tracks in addition to official solo projects. I believe in some way Big Hit helped enrich the music market. You recently acquired Source Music, and expressed an interest in forming a new girl group. How is that going? Regarding [Source Music group] GFriend, they’ve released great content so far. What we’re trying to do is refine and streamline a storyline, a concept, so that when they’re on their next project it would make sense how they arrived at a new style. We are also going to be promoting an audition for a girl group with us and Source Media. Just like with Disney — animations, family movies, Marvel and Star Wars — I am trying to approach market segmentation while retaining the virtues of K-pop. One thing we haven’t mentioned yet is ARMY (the fandom name of BTS’s avid supporters around the world). You’re planning a lot to involve the fans, from the development of Weverse (a fan app) and Weply (an e-commerce platform) to movies. What should BTS fans and Big Hit followers be looking out for? First, the next album. It’s going great. As you know, many people are saying that BTS is the Beatles of the Youtube era, or that they’re the Beatles of the 21st century. I know they haven’t reached that stature, though I’m honored. But I believe there is some connotation to this title, which is that BTS was able to create a global fandom, which was very rare. Through that gigantic fandom, they were able to reshape the order of commerce; they are creating new forms of communication. And they’ve embodied a certain spirit of the times and formed a new musical message. So in that way, it’s reminding many of the Beatles. I hope to protect that honorable title and remain heroic figures down the line like the Beatles. To get there, it would be good if BTS could continue to receive recognition in major global arenas. It would be nice to get some reaction from the Grammys; ARMY has long awaited a BTS performance at the Grammys. I was fortunate to become an Academy member, so I’d love to discuss this further with the Grammys [team] because I believe we have something symbolic to contribute. source
  2. Grammy Preview 2020: BTS on Their Historic Year, Dream Collaborator The K-pop trailblazers also discuss working with Halsey and Ed Sheeran, and share their hopes for next year’s Grammys Oct 4, 2019 - Andrea Marks First-round Grammy voting is currently underway, and running through October 10th. For our 2020 Grammy preview, we asked a series of likely contenders to reflect on their past experiences at the ceremony, look ahead to the future, and break down the albums and singles that could earn them a statue come February. BTS are running out of space for their fans. Last October, the seven-member K-pop group played their first U.S. stadium show. Starting this past summer, they’ve exclusively played stadiums, selling out multi-night runs at 90,000-seat venues all over the world as fast as they can add them to their extended Love Yourself world tour. This year, they became the first K-pop group to present an award at the Grammys, announcing H.E.R. as winner of Best R&B album. At the 2020 Grammys, they’re looking for a win, or at least a chance to perform. They have a shot. Their most recent EP, Map of the Soul: Persona, has topped charts in multiple countries, and the bouncy lead single — “Boy With Luv,” featuring Halsey — has earned more than 500 million streams. “Understand,” BTS member RM says of the Grammys. “We will be back on the stage.” The seven members of BTS spoke with RS in August. What was it like going to the Grammys for the first time? What’s your favorite memory? RM: It’s the biggest night in the music industry all over the world, so we were so honored, and kind of nervous, and so excited to be there with such great artists. We want to be back. All of the members are true fans of H.E.R. — and it was really surprising and amazing to be able to give the award to our idol. When I called, “Congratulations, H.E.R.!” it was the best moment I ever had. Jungkook, fans particularly loved your reaction to Dolly Parton. Did you really cry? Jungkook: Yeah, it was an incredible day. I’m thankful that fans loved my reaction. RM, how did your “Old Town Road” remix come about? RM: In several interviews, when they asked “What’s your favorite song?” I was always like, “Old Town Road,” and I think Lil Nas X saw the interviews and maybe proposed the collaboration. So I just got called from my company, and I was really happy to jump on it. And he’s definitely written all the records, so congratulations to him on, like, 18 weeks [at Number One], and perhaps my “Seoul Town Road” with him might have been a little help, so I’m really grateful and happy for him. It was an honor. You were the first K-pop group to present an award at the Grammys, and you got a nomination for Best Recording Package for Love Yourself: Tear. What firsts are you hoping for at the 2020 Grammys? RM: We really had so many firsts this year. First group since the Beatles to achieve three Number One albums in less than a year, first time performing on SNL, as the musical guests. Maybe first performance at the 2020 Grammys, because you know, we could dream. … Thinking about it makes me really thrilled. We’ll just continue to be ourselves and just work hard on our music and performance. What artists inspire you right now? RM: OK, we’ll go member by member and answer … Jin: Halsey. Jungkook: Billie Eilish. Jimin: Labrinth and Gavin James. Suga: Lil Uzi Vert. J-hope: I like Chance the Rapper. V: Conan Gray. RM: Nas and Lil Nas X. Nas and Lil Nas? RM: Yeah. Jin mentioned Halsey. What was it like working with her on “Boy With Luv”? RM: We really were big fans of Halsey since “Closer” with Chainsmokers, and we heard that it was the first time for her to have official choreography for [a] music video, but she practiced really hard and we’re grateful for that. In addition, she actually wrote the introduction for our Time’s “100 Most Influential People” [entry]. We were so moved and touched by our friend’s words. I love you, Halsey. What are your plans for touring if some members have to fulfill their South Korean military service obligation? Jin: Nothing is set in stone, obviously, regarding military duty, but the most important thing would be [that] it’s our duty to serve and when we’re called we’ll serve in whatever capacity we can, and until that time we just perform as hard as we can and as much as we can. Are you working on new music in the meantime? What can fans expect on your next album? RM: Yes, we are. We are really working on our next album, but we’re still touring and trying to meet all our fans as much as we can all over the world. Things are really happening. At the time of the 2019 Grammys, you named H.E.R., Travis Scott, and Lady Gaga as some dream collaborators. Any you’d like to add to the list? J-Hope: Drake. RM: So, yeah, we have millions of dream artists that we want to collaborate with. Lil Nas X was one of them and we did it. J-Hope just mentioned Drake. I think Drake is really, like, a final destination. We met him at the Grammys so, yeah, Drake, please call our label if you have time. Last year, you wore tuxedos to the Grammys. How will you top that look next time? Suga: Well, we have to make it to the Grammys first for us to dazzle you with a new look. J-Hope: If we can go, we’d like to wear something really fantastic. What do you remember about your very first U.S. stadium show last October? Suga: It was just one year ago when we performed at Citi Field, and actually a lot of that footage is in the new movie [Bring the Soul], and when we watched the movie we thought of it again — it was just a year ago but it feels like a long time ago. We remember the weather, the performance, what we did, and I think it reminded us that we want to continue performing in stadiums and keep doing what we’re doing. RM: Actually, we made a big snapshot from Citi Field of us performing together. We printed it and framed it and it’s in front of our company’s building. That’s our main picture. Tell me about your plans to perform in Saudi Arabia during the stadium extension of your tour. How did you make the decision to add a stop there? Jin: We are about to meet our fans in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, for the first time ever, and BTS is always ready to meet fans around the world. This Saudi Arabia show is a part of that. We’ll just go there and try to put on the best performance that we possibly can. What were some of your favorite collaborations recently? RM: On our album Persona, “Make It Right” is by Ed Sheeran. He is also one of our idols and he called our label and said he wanted to give a song to us as a present. It turns out that it’s a really great song. And on our soundtrack for our [mobile] game, BTS World, we collaborated with Juice WRLD, Zara Larsson, Mura Masa, and Charli XCX. It was really fun to work with artists from different countries. Tell me more about BTS World. What’s the object? Jungkook: In the game, you become our manager, and you work through trying to make us superstars. Jin: There’s also some never-before-seen footage of us acting. RM’s acting was especially noteworthy. Jimin: We are in the game, so I was a little hesitant to actually play it, myself. I’m a little too shy to play my game with me in it. What’s the secret, though? How do players make you stars? RM: You have play constantly. Work hard, play hard. Suga: If you really have affection for us, that will be what brings you success when you play the game. source
  3. BTS' RM and Suga talk mental health, depression, and connecting with fans LEAH GREENBLATT - March 29, 2019 at 03:00 PM EDT Pop stardom may be a dream job, but the artists who make it still struggle with many of the same realities their fans do. This week’s EW cover stars BTS have made a point of bringing the feelings nearly everyone experiences at some point in their lives — sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem — into the light, both in their song lyrics and in the missions they support, like their Love Myself campaign (which they presentedthis link opens in a new tab at a United Nations youth summit last September) and #ENDviolence partnership with UNICEF. During a recent interview at the Seoul headquarters of their record label Big Hit Entertainment, the band sat down with EW to cover a whole range of topics (their experience at the Grammys, their secret hobbies, why they love John Cenathis link opens in a new tab). But they got serious, too, on the topic of mental health. Asked whether they found it harder or easier as celebrities to put their private pain out there in songs and on social media, Suga was adamant: “We feel that people who have the platform to talk about those things really should talk more, because they say depression is something where you go to the hospital and you’re diagnosed, but you can’t really know until the doctor talks to you. “So I think for not just us but other celebrities,” he goes on, “if they talk about it openly — if they talk about depression for example like it’s the common cold, then it becomes more and more accepted if it’s a common disorder like the cold. More and more, I think artists or celebrities who have a voice should talk about these problems and bring it up to the surface. RM elaborates: “That’s why we have the concept Love Yourself. We don’t want to preach ‘Do this or don’t do that,’ because that’s not the way that we want to spread our message. Like for example, say, Anna from New York or Marc from Rio or me or you, we have different looks, different races, different parents and backgrounds, different weather, whatever. Everything’s different.” “We’re born with different lives,” he continues, “but you cannot choose some things. So we thought that love, the real meaning of it, starts with loving ourselves and accepting some ironies and some destinies that we have from the very start. But we never chose that, so instead of preaching or [giving] orders, that’s why we committed to loving yourself and that’s why I started with ‘I’m just an ordinary boy from city near Seoul in South Korea’ at our U.N. speech.” For the band, the music is the message, too — and it goes both ways: “Our greatest influence,” says Suga, “and where we draw our strength and our comfort and our joy is the fans, So we always have that in mind when we make our music, and I think our fans are also able to get that same strength or joy.” source
  4. until
    BTS will be in the studio for On Air/Ryan Seacrest at 6:40AM PST! Listen on iHeartRadio. (source: 1, 2)
  5. until
    BTS is coming to the 102.7 KIIS-FM (LA's #1 Hit Music Station) studio for a radio interview tonight at 9PM PT. Listen here. (Source)
  6. until
    Tune in and see BTS interview on KTLA at about 8:40AM PST! Watch the live stream or watch on TV if you're local.
  7. Tune into the On With Mario Lopez iHeartRadio show to hear him chat with BTS! Listen here and check for the video interview here. (Source: 1, 2)