Esquire editor-at-large Dave Holmes conducted two extended interviews with the members of BTS in October. Those conversations became the cover story for Esquire’s Winter 2020 issue, an intimate portrait of the biggest musical act in the world right now. Below are three unedited portions of Holmes’ conversation with the BTS members, available exclusively for Esquire subscribers. — The Editors.
ESQUIRE: Tell me your favorite thing about the person to your left.
Jung Kook to Jin: I like Jin’s persistency. I also like that he is a deep thinker but at the same time is light and casual. He feels like an older brother and also like a younger brother. I really like the flexibility in his thinking.
Jin to RM: RM has got everything. He seems perfect. But if you look closely, you can also see his imperfections, too. And I really like that about him.
RM: You don’t even have to look closely.
RM to Suga: We have much in common. For BTS, I was the first trainee. Suga was the second. We’ve spent so much time together. Almost a decade. We were billboard kids. We’ve been listening to ‘90s music, TI. My idols were his idols at the same time. We have different characteristics and hobbies. But when I think of him I feel like my old homie in my hometown. He gives me comfort as an old friend, old housemate.
V: Very touching.
Suga to J-Hope: What I really like about J-Hope is his positivity. I’ve never seen him negative. Maybe when he was a trainee. But since he got his name J-Hope I haven’t seen him be negative. And I think it’s important to have that kind of high self-esteem. So I learn a lot from him.
J-Hope to Jimin: Just like what Jung Kook said about Jin—that he feels like an older brother but also like a younger brother—I feel the same about Jimin, but the other way around: he is younger than I am, but he almost feels like an older brother. There are a lot of things that I learned from him. But at the same time, he has the charms of a younger brother—he’s cute and fun. Also, we all love performing of course, but Jimin has a particular passion for the stage and really thinks about performance. I can feel that he really loves performing, and in that sense, there’s many things to learn from him. Despite all the things he has accomplished, he still tries his best and brings something new to the table, and I really want to applaud him for that.
Jimin: Thank you for saying all these things about me.
Jimin to V: V is handsome. And that’s it.
Suga: That’s the highest praise … and that’s it. I’m joking. Jin said about RM that if you look closely you see his imperfections. For V, you don’t have to look too hard, you just can see it. And that’s his special charm. He has this innocence in him that makes him lovable—he is loved by so many. And I think that trait also enabled us to become best friends—that gifted me his friendship.
V to Jung Kook: I’ve never seen anyone who looks better with long hair than him. I also really like his personality. All jokes aside, I think Jung Kook is one of the most persistent people I know. And he has incredible talent so that whatever he does, he can do it above average. And he puts everything into his performance to the point that I get worried. He gives his everything on the stage.
ESQUIRE: Congratulations on MAP ON:E … It was gorgeous.
BTS: Thank you.
ESQ: How did you feel when the concert was over?
Jimin: I think for this concert we really had to draw our own meaning. We weren’t really taking time off, but we had to. So we asked ourselves during this whole period why are we working so hard doing this? What do these performances really mean for us? The biggest thing we got out of this concert was getting the answers to some of those questions and realizing why and for whom we are doing this.
ESQ: What were the answers?
Jimin: We did this in part for us. We were also reminded of the fact that we exist because of our fans. And for almost a year we had forgotten the joy of performing for a live audience, so it was a chance for us again to remind ourselves that we really need for this situation to end and we really want to start performing and meeting our fans in person again.
ESQ: How was it performing without a live audience? Did that throw you at all?
RM: We’re living in 2020, so there was some new technology that we haven’t seen, like connecting to thousands of cams and seeing fans on screen and hearing the live noises. We can’t compare it to the real scene, the real audience, but it was quite close to the real ones. It was quite okay, but we were afraid, like is this some future concert? Should we do this from now on? Forever? We had those fears, but thanks to technology it was okay.
ESQ: How do you come up with a setlist? Who comes up with it?
Suga: This was a setlist that we had originally developed for the MAP OF THE SOUL TOUR. For this online concert, we discussed the setlist with the stage director about what we can do and we tried to come up with a setlist that is appropriate for this concert at this point in time. If we wanted to put a certain song in a certain place, we made a really strong appeal to the stage director and that would most likely change the setlist. We especially included a lot of our own ideas in this concert in terms of stage directions, so again it was too bad that we unfortunately weren’t able to perform in front of a live audience as planned, but it was still great to perform at least virtually in this situation and I was grateful for that.
ESQ: You know how many people watched worldwide, does that make you more nervous? More confident?
V: It was after the concert that we heard how many people actually tuned in. When we were actually performing, I think we were just focused on doing our best thinking about ARMY watching us.
J-Hope: I actually feel less nervous performing live at a stadium. I felt a little bit more nervous knowing that this was being broadcasted live.
Jin: J-Hope, born to perform at a stadium.
ESQUIRE: How do you define “cool”?
V: For me, when I shoot or do a performance, and if I am satisfied, then people tend to be satisfied. When I am satisfied, then it usually turns out to be cool.
Jimin: I haven’t put much thought into this, but I think when somebody wears something, says something, and their thoughts are well organized, and they are confident about what they are expressing, I think these types of people are cool. It’s different from stubbornness. People who have their own thoughts, their coolness shows. I think that means cool.
J-Hope: Everyone takes things differently, and feels different emotions. When you get different opinions or feelings from what you think, rather than being offended, you accept it, I think that is something that I consider cool. I don’t think there is a correct answer.
Suga: People who have their own view of life are cool, especially those who are not imprisoned by the past. It’s cool to see people who aren’t trapped in time.
RM: This is really an interesting question. I have been thinking a lot about this. I’m asking myself: What is cool? I think there are two kinds of cool: First of all, instinct. Sense. When somebody is cool, when he or she comes as an outsider and she or he has an attitude like, “yo, I can do this … why can’t we do this?” Not harming others. Secondly, there is a whole different cool. It’s like seeing the waves inside big trees that are thousands of years old. For example, when I see somebody—he could be an architect or artist or anyone—he has these waves and trees inside, I feel like “yo, that’s really cool”
Jin: I think being “cool” is being “generous,” which means me. Even if I could win, I lose. Even if I can fight, I lose. Isn’t that coolness itself?
Suga: That’s exactly what makes a person not cool.
Jung Kook: As the members have all said, the standards for coolness are very different for each person. I am myself and you are you, but then to know how to respect and understand each other is what I think defines cool.
V: Because I went first, I don’t think I was able to give you the best answer. I think a person who can look after the people around them is cool … but that means I am probably not.
ESQ: Is BTS cool?
BTS: Yes. We are cool. Do you know BTS?!
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