Built in 1957 as a reception hall for South Korea’s fledgling postwar government to entertain foreign dignitaries, the Korea House is a quiet oasis amid the tumult of Seoul, with a photogenic courtyard and collection of old-school Korean houses known as hanoks. Normally it’s the setting for historical TV dramas or weddings, but on this bright, cold mid-January morning, it’s a hideaway for the seven-man Korean pop group BTS, whose celebrity has expanded past K-pop’s traditional sphere of influence and, especially during the last six months, moved into the United States as well.
When I arrive, the band is sequestered in a room within a room, behind paper doors manned by a security detail. In the outer room, over 20 groomers, publicists and other handlers from the group’s management agency, BigHit Entertainment, mill about, grazing on the provided snacks and drinks. Everyone speaks in low tones. The members of BTS need an extra 15 minutes before the scheduled photo shoot, I’m told. They are, understandably, exhausted: Their schedule has been packed since New Year’s Eve with performances, TV appearances, commercials and meet-and-greets. I flew into Seoul expressly to meet them for this rare opening in their calendar.