Mere hours before the release of BTS' Love Yourself: Her, the album's significance wasn't lost on the group's leader, Rap Monster.
"It's really a huge, big step for us," the 23-year-old rapper/songwriter/producer told Billboard during a phone call from Seoul. "Of course, every member is so excited about the album. We've been just practicing until now, day and night, to show these new songs and perfected performances. I left a message on our fan cafe, the other day, after we finished that 'this EP will mark the turning point of BTS' and even though the wait felt really long with this album -- I think it was the huge event, the BBMAs, were in May -- so much has happened."
The wait has been particularly anticipated for for the band's famously passionate fan base, known as Army, who have been waiting for new tracks from Rap Monster, Jimin, Suga, J-Hope, Jin, V and Jungkook band after voting them Top Social Artist at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards over fellow pop juggernauts Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Shawn Mendes.
Since then, the BTS guys have landed distribution deals with Amazon and U.S.-based The Orchard ("We believe the physical album, still, really counts and it's really important to connect with our fans around the world," Rap Monster said) and hung out with worldwide chart-toppers like Major Lazer, Halsey, Charli XCX ("Maybe it's just my sixth sense, but I think maybe we will be collaborating with even more interesting artists," he added); even snagging The Chainsmokers to produce a beat for Love Yourself: Her.
One listen to the tightly produced record -- which looks likely to make a big splash on the Billboard 200 next week -- and the passion is palpable from the intense lead single "DNA," the societal commentary in "Go Go," among multiple lyrics and moments that feel ripped from the members' personal journals. There's also loads of passion in Rap Monster's voice talking about these new songs as he sees and envisions the larger picture and message for his band's latest batch of forward-thinking EDM, hip-hop and pop tracks. Read on for Billboard's deeper analysis of Love Yourself: Her with Rap Monster.
Let's start right from the beginning with "Serendipity." Why was this the right song to choose as the intro and kick off the era?
When I wrote the lyrics, melodies and the first themes of "Serendipity," I tried to come up with some rare things you find in life, something very special, like the calico, three-striped cat; things that have extraordinary meanings in people's lives. I wanted to share this moment.
I was reading the lyrics are gender neutral, which I think is really powerful. Was that a conscious decision?
The lyrics were based on rare and special things in life. So, I thought, those feelings transcend genders, cultures and barriers between people.
We always put out the "Intro" just before releasing our single, so the intro is taking the role of telling the concept of this album. But "Serendipity" was actually the right song to share the feelings of our single, "DNA." The title is about how our DNA is connected in the universe, I think that was the right feel for this album.
Let's talk about "DNA." How does this single continue and progress the story of BTS?
When we're talking about our title tracks, "DNA" is about the expression of a young, passionate love. The lyrics are like, "The two of us our connected fatefully from the start, our DNA was just the one thing." At the same time, "DNA" is taking BTS to new ground. We tried to apply new grammar and perspectives -- if you listen to the song, you'll understand what I'm trying to say -- it's very different from our previous music, technically and musically. I believe it's going to be the starting point of a second chapter of our career; the beginning of our Chapter Two.
"Best of Me" is really impressive. It sounds like The Chainsmokers, but it also sounds like BTS. You didn't lose yourself which isn't easy when collaborating with new artists. What was that process like?
I love that track! We met them at BBMAs, we were so lucky. Actually, they invited us to their concert just the other day -- they had a huge concert in Korea and we sang "Closer" together. For "Best of Me," they gave us several tracks and samples months ago, we and our producers picked one sample, like, "Okay, this is fit for our next album." So we worked on it, we sent it to them, we asked them what they think of the track we developed and got their opinions. And we made it! I'm so excited for it. [Laughs]
Your albums always have deeper social and society commentaries. Let's talk about some of the topics with this release. "Go Go" instantly comes to mind.
"Go Go" is a trendy song, but it's about how our young generation are living their lives with low expectations and standards so people are upset with reality; they have little hope and there's so much economic hardship. We wanted to say something about it and emphasize to the world that it's not their choice, but brutal reality that forces people to live and spend as if there's no future.
But in Korea, "YOLO" has become a big key word for young people because we don't have money and it's really hard to get a chance to earn a lot of money. I think society has a lot of problems for young people. Young people spend their money on claw crane machines at arcades and they spend like $30 on trying to win these dolls. And then it's like, "Oh! I spent all my money…shit. But I don't regret." That's the biggest luxury for Korea's young people: collecting accessories, cosmetics, that's what they think is a luxury. It's "YOLO" because it's like, "I'm gonna buy all this! I’m gonna buy all this food and I'm going to eat it! I'm going to do it!" I think it's sad because it's all we can. "Go Go" is just saying, "Okay, just do it, we won't regret it. Just spend several bucks on the machine and eat the food!" But at the same time, the song is very easily to sing along to so I think many people will like that song, especially if they find the deeper meaning.
Of course, I have to ask about making a skit interlude out of your BBMAs acceptance speech.
You need to hear "Mic Drop" because the skit was my speech at BBMAs -- because that was a big moment for our history -- and then we put "Mic Drop" next to that because it's like a flex -- like, "Okay, we're done. We don't need to give a shit about anything." That was the right skit and follow-up song for this album.
The last song, "Outro: Her" really spoke to me. It almost reads like a diary.
After talking with you, it feels like it recaps the whole album and is really introspective.
I think that was the fastest work I did for this album. I wrote the verse in 20 minutes; it just came, very truthfully, from the bottom of my heart. I thought it was the right outro for this album because it is really a range of emotions -- I'm saying I met this person that I really love, this person is the love of my life right now, I'm saying that I was confused and I was looking for love and this world is complex. But I think it's you so, "I call you 'her,' 'cause you're my tear." "I think you're the start and the end of me." That's what I'm saying: You're my wonder, but you're also my answers. You're my "her," but you're still the "tear."
The hook is saying that love is not all about the happiness, it's just not just about the joy, it's not just about delight. If you want to love a person, you should know that there are tears and there can even be hatred inside of it. I think a love really includes all of that. That's what I was trying to say. It's complex.
And if fans are so lucky to own the physical album, they'll hear two hidden tracks at the very. Why keep them secretive?
I think they're hidden because you have to be a real fan of BTS to understand them. Otherwise, you won't. Otherwise, you'd like be, "Why are they feeling so confused about things? They're good?!? They're No. 1 somewhere, they have so much stuff, why are they worried?" People always talk about that. But if you are true fan of BTS and you buy the album and you listen to the hidden track -- if you are an Army and we spent time together from 2013, 2014 -- they could understand. It's kind of more special, more closer, to our true hearts.