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BTS before their Wembley gig
BTS before their Wembley gigcourtesy of Big Hit Entertainment

BTS speak on their success before a groundbreaking Wembley show

‘We still feel like we’re walking through our dreams. We feel like we’re pioneers’

Over the past seven years, supergroup BTS have risen through the ranks of the Korean pop industry before successfully taking on the global players of the western pop hierarchy with their combination of mesmerising performances and a constantly revolving door of genres – from trap to sugary, anthemic pop – woven beneath lyrics that dig deep into their psyches.

The transparency, joy and vulnerability in their music, and the willingness to openly share their personal journey through vlogs, Twitter, and numerous reality shows since debut has drawn them fans – their ARMY – in their millions. With the Love Yourself trilogy, which began in September 2017, BTS found themselves on a rocketing trajectory with Love Yourself: Tear and Love Yourself: Answer both reaching #1 on the US Billboard 200, while their latest release, Map of the Soul: Persona, took the top slot on the UK album charts.  

It’s brought us here. A hot, hazy summer day at Wembley Stadium, a venue so iconic it’s drawn a bank of reporters from not only the UK but also Korea to witness BTS performing two dates to an estimated 120,000 fans. They are, of course, the first Korean group to play at the stadium. “This is the performance we’ve all been waiting for. We’re going to do our best to write our history,” said J-hope. Added Suga, “We still feel like we’re walking through our dreams. We feel like we’re pioneers.”

With all seven members wearing grey Thom Browne suits, they were calm and collected externally but, understandably, fighting pre-show jitters. As the microphone Jimin was using died in the first five minutes, RM joked that “even the mikes are nervous”. The group also broadcast their Wembley show live to their global fanbase, a decision made because, says Suga, “Wembley is symbolic. There are dream stages but from when we were young, me and my brother grew up watching Live Aid, so coming here to Wembley is a moment we want to share with the rest of the world. Thinking about it, I barely got any sleep last night, that’s how nervous we were.”

BTS’ fans are particularly vocal about the positive impact the group has had on their lives. Yet, says RM (who has picked up a tinge of an English accent over the several days he’s been here), the group hadn’t started out with that in mind. “In 2013, I don’t think we had this attitude like that we’re gonna change the industry or change the world or influence millions of people. We knew to just tell our stories and to express them through performance.”

“As time goes by, fans started to tell us that our message and performance changed their lives and inspired them. It’s what makes us keep going, going through hardships and ironies of this industry. I expressed in one interview in 2014 that BTS is about charging people’s batteries. It’s like we’re charging each other.”

With three albums in under 18 months, plus tours and Japanese releases, BTS are one of the hardest working groups around. In 2017, I spoke to RM for Dazed and he admitted that “everything around BTS moves so fast, sometimes it’s too much”. Now in 2019, I asked him how they balanced themselves with a backbreaking schedule and how that lifestyle influenced their ability to stay creative.

“So this is a very big question and important at the same time,” RM said. “This is about how we’re gonna survive and face our existence. I have to quote myself from 2018, ‘when you grow up and when the night comes and the sun is down, a man’s shadow becomes longer’. So if my height gets higher, the shadow becomes longer. How do you get over the hardships? There is no getting over it. Sometimes it’s too much and too hard and it’s too big for us, but to live and survive as an artist and a human and a person who trusts and loves themselves more, we should be friends with the shadows.”

“We have our own different ways of keeping us creative,” RM continued. “For me, I love to go to the park and see the trees growing up, I love the water, I love to shop, and go to museums like many people do. Our new album’s title is called Persona. My persona, RM, and my other persona, Kim Namjoon, a normal 25 year old man in Korea – we have to keep those two personas and two names inside.”

He put his hand over his heart, and glanced at his bandmates. “I think also they have already found their ways to keep themselves and keep the creativity.”  

Despite achieving major milestones, their future goals, says Jimin, aren’t focused on records. “Rather, what I felt was from our Love Yourself tour, I wondered how long can we go on doing this. We don’t know how long it will be but I want to try and perform with these members here as long as I possibly can. That’s my goal.”

One of the most used phrases around BTS of late has been that the group are “the new Beatles. While on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the group dressed as the legendary group to perform their recent single “Boy With Luv”.

“The Beatles are artists that we love,” said J-hope. “But BTS has its own unique music and colour and I hope we can continue to show our own colours and themes. We want to show the UK our own colour.”

“The fact that we’re mentioned together with The Beatles, (means) we’re doing a good job,” opined RM. “We’re trying to be as innovative as we can. Even to be compared once... every time we hear this, we feel like we need to work harder and we talk about this between ourselves.”

But while Suga calls The Beatles “teachers”, and feels that “it’s our goals and responsibility to live up to that name if possible, it’s a burden too”. Do BTS want to be The Beatles of the 21st century? He pauses for a heartbeat. “We want to be the BTS of the 21st century.”