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interview [Grammy] BTS Talk New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7': "The Genre Is BTS"

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BTS Talk New Album 'Map Of The Soul: 7': "The Genre Is BTS"
The international pop stars discuss the creative process behind their latest release and shine a light on the growing creative community in South Korea

JOHN OCHOA - GRAMMYS - FEB 22, 2020 - 12:27 PM

International pop stars BTS are used to shattering world records. They've done it time and time again.

In 2018, the septet became the first Korean group to receive gold status from the Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA), for the Steve Aoki remix of their 2017 track, "Mic Drop," featuring rapper Desiigner. The song, now certified platinum, became the act's first hit in the U.S., setting off an ongoing streak of Stateside hits and world records for the South Korean boyband. That same year, they became the first Korean act to top the Billboard 200 chart with Love Yourself: Tear. 

BTS are now back to dominate the charts once again with Map Of The Soul: 7. Released just yesterday (Feb. 21), the new album is already the best-selling album of the year worldwide. Another day, another world record in the life of BTS.

Map Of The Soul: 7, BTS' fourth studio full-length to date, is the next installment in the band's ongoing Map Of The Soul series. It picks up from the 2019 chart-topping Map Of The Soul: Persona EP. In addition to featuring songs from the latter, Map Of The Soul: 7 expands on some of the themes and topics from the overall series, including the concepts of persona, shadow and ego. 

"[Map Of The Soul: 7 is a] continuation from the album before, called Persona," BTS member RM tells the Recording Academy. "And this time, we put the other two themes, shadow and ego, and we put it together into [this] album, called 7. The difference is [the] persona, which is like the social mask before the good things that we have, [like] the spotlight. This time [on 7] we talked about the real shades and shadows that we had inside, and also the big manifesto that we admitted: all the shadows as our destinies and we're gonna carry on." 

Sonically, Map Of The Soul: 7 touches on many genres and sounds. Album opener "Intro: Persona" sees RM rapping over a guitar-laced, bossy hip-hop beat, while "Interlude: Shadow," a solo track from BTS member Suga, is an atmospheric pop ballad that converts into an industrial rap monster. 

For the group, Map Of The Soul: 7 breaks free from genre confines once and for all.

"I think it's less and less meaningful to divide music into genres now," Suga says. 

"The genre is BTS. That's the genre we want to make and the music that we want. New genre," the group's Jungkook, V and J-Hope add. 

On the day of the album's release, the Recording Academy caught up with BTS—all seven members!—at the Park Hyatt New York in Midtown Manhattan to discuss the creative process behind and deeper meanings within Map Of The Soul: 7, the group's all-star collaborator wishlist and the growing creative footprint of their South Korean homeland.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. An  interpreter translated all answers from BTS, except for RM.

 

Can you talk about the creative process behind Map Of The Soul: 7? How does it differ from the rest of your albums?

Suga: It took us a little longer, and this is our first full album in quite a while. But making an album isn't just making the music. We have the songs, there's the choreography and a lot of other elements that come with it, so it took some time. But once we got started, it really started rolling along and it was really fun. 

The album features individual tracks that highlight traits from each of the seven BTS members. How does the album reflect each individual member? And how does it reflect BTS as a whole? 

Jungkook: I think individually, it really contained what we wanted to put into the music and the ideas that we have, and this is what we put in.

RM: As a group, it's like a big statement or like a manifesto that we finally admitted our shadows and egos at the same time as part of our destiny. So it's like, you're going to carry on and you can bring the pain and we'll carry on.

Map Of The Soul: 7 reflects on the seven years since BTS debuted in 2013. What has been the biggest life and career lessons you've learned so far?

Jin: Thanks to these guys, I think I learned more about music. I didn't really know a lot about music when I started out, but now I've learned how to write music or make melodies. That's what I really got out of the past seven years, thanks to these guys. 

Jungkook: I think I really learned how precious music is, how important it is to me. Recording the music for this album, working on the music—through this whole process, [it was] really fun and meaningful because, again, I kind of learned and figured out how precious music is and how important it is to me.

The new album features collaborations with Halsey and Sia. Who are some other artists you want to collaborate with?

All (shouting out loud): Ariana [Grande], Travis [Scott], Taylor [Swift], Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, Post Malone, "Big" Nas, Lil Nas X!

RM: Call our label, please.

Your music as BTS has touched on many genres, from rap to pop. Are there any other genres or sounds you're interested in exploring in the future?

Suga: I think it's less and less meaningful to divide music into genres now. 

Jungkook, V, J-Hope: The genre is BTS. That's the genre we want to make and the music that we want. New genre.

Map Of The Soul: 7 is a continuation of Map Of The Soul: Persona. How are the two projects related? And how are they different?

RM: Like you said, [Map Of The Soul: 7 is a] continuation from the album before, called Persona. And this time, we put the other two themes, shadow and ego, and we put it together into [this] album, called 7. The difference is [the] persona, which is like the social mask before the good things that we have, [like] the spotlight. This time [on 7] we talked about the real shades and shadows that we had inside, and also the big manifesto that we admitted: all the shadows as our destinies and we're gonna carry on. We put all the three things [together] and made a series.

The K-pop genre has exploded across the world over the past few years. Where does K-pop go from here? What would you like to see happen for your community?

Suga: As you said, the stature of K-pop has really grown all over the world. But rather than be recognized as the rise of a genre or the rise of K-pop as a genre, I would like more talented Korean artists to be better known around the world, because I think there are a lot of talented Korean artists, and it's really amazing to have this small country and so many talented people coming out of it. That's what I'd like to see.

Speaking of talented Korean artists, how did you feel when Parasite won so many awards at the Oscars this year?

RM: We felt like we won the GRAMMYs. Parasite is a great movie; I also watched it in the cinema. And like Suga said, we just know that there are a lot of talented people in Korea, also including outside K-pop or K-movie or anywhere else. Parasite's honor is our honor, too. We're happy.

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