To celebrate the launch of our new Korean sister site which went live this weekend, today we're investigating the cultural influence and innovation of the country's most exciting creatives. Explore the world of K-pop with new interviews with B.A.P, Taeyang and 4minute, meet Snowpiercer actress Ko Ah-sung and get a furtive glimpse at North Korea's life online. Check back here for more throughout the day.
Bang Yongguk is attempting a behind-the-back pool table shot in the Brixton Academy green room. It doesn't quite go to plan but his fellow members of B.A.P – Korea's most progressive hip hop boyband – make encouraging noises anyway. The six-piece are in town to play the 5000-capacity venue and shoot the video for their new single "Where Are You? What Are you Doing?" along the Thames. They got soaked, but, as 20-year-old Youngjae says, they weren't bothered but excited.
The enthusiasm of the six is infectious. They're still as wrapped up and creatively hands-on with B.A.P as ever, unusual for a boyband regardless of nationality. They debuted in 2012 with the electrifying, aggressive stomp of "Warrior", and after a relentlessly productive couple of years, the band scored their first wins on Korea's music shows with the soaring midtempo "1004 (Angel)" earlier this year. Cut from a similar pop-hip hop cloth to boyband's BIGBANG's anthemic "Monster", the track broke B.A.P into public consciousness, and propelled First Sensibility, their first full-length album, to number one on the Korean charts.
A hectic schedule means that getting in front of B.A.P – whose leather-clad limbs squeak across a leather couch – has been a herculean task. Even now we're being filmed but the six members are grounded, shy and easy-going with flashes of self-deprecation. Daehyun, who fell over spectacularly on stage in NYC during "Punch", shakes his head. “I was too excited,” he says dolefully while Himchan and Youngjae suppress grins. “It was really embarrassing.”
Zelo, who will later confidently wiggle his butt at delirious fans, is quieter. “I'm not good with my words, when I’m talking I miss my point. I end up talking about something else!” Meanwhile Yongguk discusses art, the Picassos and Gaugins he saw at MOMA. “Their personal influences and way of expressing it is all helpful to me. And when I get tired art and film relaxes me,” he explains. Photos are taken, time skips past, the screams from the teenage girls (and handful of fanboys) in the main room intensify. There's a perfect, though simplified, set – dancers, video backdrops, multiple costumes, no pyrotechnics – to be delivered, but over the next few days they want to talk again.
You worked with songwriters and producers on the BADMAN EP as well as (current album) First Sensibility, but how has your level of input changed over time?
Bang Yongguk: I've tried to contribute continuously. All B.A.P albums are precious but I feel more attached to BADMAN because I experienced the role of a producer and learned about the whole process. At that time I was hugely influenced by social issues, which may be why the message was stronger and the music rough and more direct. First Sensibility was where I could challenge myself to explore various genres and, due to experience on BADMAN, put input into videos, image and artwork. I'm still learning but I promise to mature in order to produce music filled with more of my style.
Though you can come across as serious and quiet, a lighter side appears around people like Himchan and Jongup. What about them that makes you laugh?
Bang Yongguk: I don't think of myself as a fun person but with those who know me well I seem to turn into a young child! (laughs) They accept me and I don't feel the need to be distant or make myself into something better. B.A.P, in particular Himchan and Jongup, are who I share everything with and we know how to make each other happy. Himchan has always been very cool and honest in an unpredictable sense, which makes me laugh. And you never know what extraordinary topic Jongup will talk about, he makes me laugh without me realising.
“Yongguk is not only the leader but the core of B.A.P. I depend on him and wanted to achieve recognition for my capability as a vocalist and for Yongguk to know I've matured well” – Jung Daehyun
You spoke about your members on stage earlier this year and described Daehyun as “sensitive”, which was interesting as he comes across as noisy and fun more than sensitive. Who is the Daehyun that we haven't yet seen?
Bang Yongguk: Daehyun is an irreplaceable, talented vocalist. On camera he's very upbeat and cheeky so people think he's noisy and playful but that's not all of his personality. Daehyun matured early, he's someone who'd care for those around him by giving everything and trusting completely. Although he has a tender heart, when he acts strong I feel proud but also sympathetic. Daehyun doesn't like to appear weak so this sensitive side of him may only be seen by us but with our support I hope he'll be as strong as his powerful voice.
Yongguk took the time to mention each member during a show earlier this year and you became very emotional....
Jung Daehyun: Yongguk is not only the leader but the core of B.A.P. I depend on him and wanted to achieve recognition for my capability as a vocalist and for Yongguk to know I've matured well. Being together all the time actually makes it more awkward to say things like ‘thanks’, ’sorry’, ‘I love you’. I'm grateful but I felt ashamed for being unable to approach him when I've failed to express myself because I felt he knew everything anyway. Confessing on stage made Yongguk's feelings a lot stronger because usually he doesn't reveal himself immediately like that. It felt like I'd achieved everything with him watching over us quietly with his truthful voice.
You've had time to settle into First Sensibility... which tracks still stand out for you?
Jung Daehyun: “BANGX2”! The vocal training was hard but I felt a great sense of accomplishment. “Body & Soul” was also difficult at first because it contains a sexual atmosphere and I wasn't used to that mood. I took extra care to create a soft atmosphere that melted into the song and the fan response has been very good.
B.A.P work hard to achieve their dreams but it's non-stop, even if one of you are sick or exhausted. Does the thought of burning out ever cross your mind?
Jung Daehyun: With a tight schedule I can be very tired and feel physically unwell but I don’t get stressed or feel pressured. On stage I feel energised, it's a place to show our existence and conviction and we want to do our best. I have a responsibility to the people who come see us, and the cheering and energy after a perfect performance is the biggest joy I can have!
Although Himchan takes a lot of photos, you've also bought a camera...
Yoo Youngjae: I'm the hidden photographer of B.A.P! (laughs) I'm attracted to it because besides capturing a moment it's also a reflection of myself at the time. If I take a photo of something it means I find it significant. It demonstrates what I'm agonising about, what I'm interested in, and what moves me.
Being the 'chatty, brainy one' is the way you described yourself around the time of your debut in 2012. Who is the Youngjae of 2014?
Yoo Youngjae: I'm certain the Youngjae of 2014 will be different from the past Youngjae. I found it difficult to express my true feelings but that side of me seemed cold and someone might feel hurt by it. At first I thought, ‘why don't they understand?’. But I realised a relationship isn't formed in just one moment, I always have to deliver my beliefs and affection. So this year I promised that to those around me. It's still awkward and unfamiliar but I'm trying my best. I'd like to say the ‘Youngjae of 2014’ is unafraid to get a step closer to people with a warm truth.
“we don’t hide anything from each other. We're so close that we just know when to be considerate of each other.” – Zelo
You've said that your first single "Warrior" was most representative of B.A.P. – but we didn't really see something like it on the album. Is that a style you'd like to return to? Or is progression more important?
Yoo Youngjae: I still feel “Warrior” maximised B.A.P in terms of music and message but since then we've learned and matured. Music and society constantly change so the stories we tell and the people listening will change as well. I don’t want to repeat a similar concept with the excuse of holding onto my style but instead sing songs of love, joy, anger, sadness and yearning that anyone can identify with.
Would you ever consider bringing your Janggu (traditional style of Korean drumming) skills to the live show? You and the band having a 'free jazz' jam would be pretty cool.
Kim Himchan: Recently on TV I played the Janggu and I think a lot of people thought it was quite impressive. I prepared every day for a few weeks but I felt ashamed of not being able to fully show its true charm. If we can add the Janggu or other traditional music it'd turn into a completely different stage. To prepare that I'll need to get back in the zone!
Your position as moodmaker/visual can sometimes mean what you bring to B.A.P as a talent is unfairly overlooked. Yongguk even pointed out that B.A.P's songs don't make full use of your vocal abilities. How does this sit with you?
Kim Himchan: Although I've said 'I'm the visual in B.A.P', I was just joking. There's still a lot for me to learn in terms of music so I want to find a unique role by trying different things instead of deciding on my position. The word ‘visual’ is a nice compliment but it's, more importantly, a chance to shine. To take that chance I'll need to develop my skills. I think I have a special vocal style but when I see the members practising without realising how tired they are I think, ‘you can only improve if you try that hard’. I'll grow my strengths so please look forward to the ‘vocalist of B.A.P, Himchan’.
We've seen you wearing that cheeky Chanel/Chanie shirt... would you design if you had the opportunity?
Kim Himchan: Of course! The symbol started because I thought it looked fun but now some people even come wearing clothes or jewelry designed as 'Chanie'. It'd be fun to design the costumes of B.A.P or launch my own brand. I haven’t thought of a main concept for my own brand but the clothing I'm interested in ranges from street fashion to semi-casual, so I'd like to design with the same unlimited style.
Daehyun has hinted that you dream noisily but is there a recurring dream or nightmare you have?
Kim Himchan: When I’m tired I sometimes get nightmares. Recently I had a scary dream that we were all running away from something chasing us. In the dream the dancers and our staff were running away with us. It might be because I see the younger members reading comic books or watching animations with frightening characters in them. (laughs)
You (and Zelo) worked out the choreography for "1004 (Angel)". How do you approach this? Is it intuitive or meticulously plotted out move by move?
Moon Jongup: Zelo and I came up with the intro dance because we felt we needed something to catch the attention of the audience from the beginning. We tried out various choreography to create the song's emotion while highlighting our individuality. Although we have different styles we found a way to mix with each other. I felt like I was designing the performance and not simply dancing – so, if possible, I want to contribute more to B.A.P’s performances!
Your love of manga/anime is well known. If you had the chance to voice one character from any of your favourite stories or films who would it be?
Moon Jongup: Olaf from Frozen! His positivity is similar to mine and not knowing the concept of the impossible is very attractive. I was into the film for so long I even tried imitating his voice. In the past I tried to imitate Haunter from Pokémon. It’s a shame that most of the Pokémon don’t have lines and only certain noises. I can try my best to imitate them if you’d like me to! (laughs)
Though you're nearly 18 there's some BABYs (B.A.P's fan army) that would like you to remain the innocent Zelo of your debut forever. How do you hope fans treat your transition into adulthood?
Zelo: Being the youngest and getting all the hyung's (Korean term for older males) adoration means mostly I don’t feel like I’m growing up. For a long time I think I've been in between the stages, looking at the professional world through a boy’s eyes. Sometimes I worry if I'll make the right decisions but I want to be a good adult, to give back all the love I've received. The nature of me won't change so I don’t think there’s anything for the fans to worry about. It'd be great if they can watch me grow and be proud.
You've been writing lyrics but we're yet to see them emerge...
Zelo: I'm still learning to find my own style! I'm inspired by new environments but on tour I don't really have time to write. Normally I show them to Yongguk who helps. I took his advice on keeping memos when composing. Sometimes everyday thoughts can inspire you and I'd forget them if I didn’t keep memos! They might not seem anything special but to me they're like a treasure box. I can't yet write lyrics that I’m satisfied with so I’m leaving them behind but I believe it won’t be long until you can listen to my words.
Your hyungs would often tease you in the early days and you'd take it but you now tend to give as good as you get...
Zelo: Normally the members make jokes by pinching my face or trying to lift my shirt up on stage, but nothing serious. When I’m not in a good condition or in a bit of a mood to get back at them, I tell them honestly so there's no misunderstanding. The hyungs only play with me because they find me cute, they care for me more than pulling pranks all the time. Actually we don’t hide anything from each other. We're so close that we just know when to be considerate of each other.
Translated by Katy Kyung-Min Kim
Follow Taylor Glasby on Twitter here @_xtgx