In a new Rolling Stone magazine cover story, BTS open up about the devotion of their fan ARMY, looming compulsory military service and how the recent wave of anti-Asian violence has impacted them. The profile of the group’s formation and rise to prominence — which began with the signing of rapper RM in 2010 — opens on a serious note, with the deep-thinking 26-year-old band leader taking on the recent wave of violence against people of Asian descent.
“Now, of course, there is no utopia,” RM said of the juxtaposition of the band’s breakout success in the U.S. as the nation has suffered through a historic wave of anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The seven-man band has exploded on these shores and received a warm embrace in the U.S. over the past several years, reaching a pinnacle last year when their first English-language hit, “Dynamite,” gave them their first No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit.
“There’s a light side; there’s always going to be a dark side,” said RM. “The way we think is that everything that we do, and our existence itself, is contributing to the hope for leaving this xenophobia, these negative things, behind. It’s our hope, too, that people in the minority will draw some energy and strength from our existence. Yes, there’s xenophobia, but there are also a lot of people who are very accepting. … The fact that we have faced success in the United States is very meaningful in and of itself.”
The piece delves into how the group’s management company HYBE (formerly Big Hit) built the group around RM, bringing in fellow rappers Suga and J-Hope and singers Jungkook, V, Jimin and Jin, pivoting from the initial goal of putting together a solid rap crew to forming a world-beating dance-singing machine. And, with so many personalities to juggle, it also reveals that the differences that define the men are also the thing that have made them form an even tighter bond.
“We were very different people that came together,” said Jimin. “We argued a lot in the beginning, of course, but I think now, because we have spent so much time together, I began to like even the things about the other members I used to hate. The time we spent together really made us close, like a family. No matter where I go, there is someplace that I can come back to. I’ve come to feel that way about our group.”
And while they’ve developed a familial bond at this point, the one thing that threatens to tear them apart is the rift that every South Korean group before them has faced as well: the specter of compulsory military service at age 28. Jin just turned 28 in December, Suga is already 28, J-Hope is 27 and RM will turn 27 this year. Luckily, the South Korean government passed a new law last year that allows pop artists who’ve “enhanced” the image of the country from the inside and outside to put off service until age 30.
“I think the country sort of told me, ‘You’re doing this well, and we will give you a little bit more time,’ ” said Jin, while calling his pending military service an “important duty for our country. So I feel that I will try to work as hard as I can and do the most I can until I am called.” He also understands that BTS could soldier on without him for a while, even if it will bring a tear to his eye. “I’ll be sad,” he said of the potential for the group to slim to a six-piece in his absence. “But I’ll be watching them on the internet and cheering them on.”
V added that while the group haven’t discussed the logistics of their army duty internally, he’s sure “it’ll work out eventually.” Jimin, however, said that for him, BTS is forever. “I don’t think I’ve ever really thought of being not a part of this group,” he said. “I can’t imagine what I would do on my own … I would like to think that at the end, when I’m too old to dance, I would just like to sit onstage with the other members and sing and engage with the fans. I think that would be great, too. So I’d like to keep this going as long as I possibly can.”
The men also described how their penchant for makeup and brightly colored hair dye is an attempt to reject the traditional concept of masculinity. “The labels of what being masculine is, is an outdated concept,” RM explained. “It is not our intention to break it down. But if we are making a positive impact, we are very thankful. We live in an age where we shouldn’t have those labels or have those restrictions.”
After weeks of slow-drip teases, what ARMY really wanted to know was what they can expect from the group’s upcoming second English-language single, “Butter,” which is due out on May 21; they will perform the song remotely at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards on May 23. The piece described the track as a “pure, swaggering dance-pop celebration in the retro vein of Bruno Mars, with layers of Jam and Lewis-style synths” in which BTS boast of being “smooth like butter” and having a “superstar glow.”
RM revealed that the song is “very energetic” and “summery,” calling it a “dynamic performance.” That is all they will offer for now, but Jin assured ARMY that despite being locked down and off the road for more than a year, they have their diehard fans in their hearts all the time. “When we couldn’t go on tour, everybody felt a sense of loss, a sense of powerlessness,” said Jin. “And we’re all sad. And it actually took us a while to get over those feelings.”
Jungkook added, “The roar of the crowds and ARMY is something we loved. … We miss that more and more. And we long for that more and more.”
The BTS cover story will be included in a special collector’s box set that includes eight copies of the issue — one group cover and seven additional ones spotlighting each member — which is available here now.