Pop artists typically say that they want to be unique rather than be the best. But Jimin truly is one of a kind—it is impossible to forget him after seeing him and hearing him sing. The dancing of K-pop boy groups is usually a fusion of hip-hop and street dance. Jimin, however, adds the flexibility inherent in modern dance. His incredible vocal range, which is rare even among female vocalists, is a weapon that enriches BTS’s songs. In addition, his bold emotional expression, no matter what type of song he is singing, has played a big part in the evolution of BTS, whose songs originally centred on powerful hip-hop. Over time, BTS have expanded the focus of their lyrics, going from commenting on social issues to considering youth, love, existence itself and the hopefulness and harmony that can be arrived at through a positive daily outlook.
The longevity of a pop idol like Jimin depends on how much passion he stirs up among the public, and lyricism is what transforms that affection into enthusiasm and adoration. His somewhat dreamy facial expressions and manner of speaking, even when laughing and joking, evoke a sense of longing in the hearts of fans, and Jimin himself may not even be fully aware of this. Some people are born with inexplicable qualities: some deserve to be stars, some need a stage and some fascinating characters arouse both compassion and envy.
For the Vogue photo shoot, Jimin chooses a striking pink suit as his first outfit. It is an audacious choice, and it suits his character perfectly. Though shy when speaking to us, he is daring and brimming with confidence on stage. “I usually prefer simple, solid colours, but this time I’ve gone for something more adventurous. It was fun. Difficult to get away with, though,” he says with a laugh. “I like clothes, but I tend to buy them for my fans’ enjoyment. I can’t go anywhere these days to show them off, so I only buy sweatsuits.”
Over the past two years, BTS have put together an amazing track record. The success of a string of recent singles culminated in BTS being named Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards. Ironically, though, Jimin felt he was creatively stagnant during this time. The pandemic hit when the stars were at their peak, and the long wait for restrictions to be lifted was painful for both BTS and ARMY. Vogue met with BTS soon after news dropped that BTS would hold their first in-person concert in two years. The concert would herald the end of the era of isolation, and the group members were both nervous and expectant.
“The past two years have turned out to be almost endless. I’m still young, but for most of my life all I’ve done is perform on stage,” Jimin reflects. “I worked really hard because I wanted to be good at it, but suddenly it was taken away from me, and this made me sad. I have limited life experience, and I don’t want to overstate things, but it felt like my whole life’s work was being negated. It was a time of stagnation. The lack of feedback from a live audience was discouraging. I worked hard, but nothing felt quite right, and everything seemed like a rehearsal. It just didn’t feel real. During our recent concerts, I kept thinking, ‘Is this OK? Can I keep on doing this? Is this what we’ve been working toward?’ Of course, I don’t consider an online concert to be a practice session, but it still made me think about these questions.”
“Should we find something new, or should we refine what we’ve done?”
Such agonising is also related to the question, ‘what’s next?’ (a question that BTS are constantly being bombarded with). Their music has developed through a series of genres, from hip-hop-style songs through to electronic, disco and pop. Their recent songs, including ‘Dynamite’, ‘Butter’ and ‘Permission to Dance’, have seemed like an experimental attempt to broaden their appeal. Certain fans who love the raw, free-spirited feel of their early work worry that the global attention and the resulting pressure may limit the scope of their message. “Should we find something new, or should we refine what we’ve done?” Jimin ponders. “What kind of music, style and dancing should we focus on now? There’s a lot to untangle. But it’s good to have a lot to think about.”
Jimin has also thought long and hard about his singing. His style of singing has gone through many changes, from the soft ballad style of ‘Serendipity’ to the dreamy falsetto of ‘Filter’ to the clean high notes of recent pop tunes. For a singer, changing one’s singing style is like erasing one’s fingerprints. Though he has already gone through this difficult process several times, he is still hungry for change. When asked which song he is most attached to in terms of his vocals, he says: “It’s difficult for me to be satisfied with my voice. Songs that require a lot of technique, which I like, are difficult to nail and hard to sing when performing live, so I’m trying to find an alternative. I was focusing on having my own unique style before developing a solid foundation. So, I’m going back to the beginning. I’m trying to keep it simple and straightforward. This process is tough but also enjoyable because I’m able to go over everything with Jungkook, who’s doing an excellent job as the main vocalist. I’m happy to have these conversations with him and happy to be able to develop and push myself further.”
There have been many attempts to pin down the secret to BTS’s success. However, even if their formula were to be figured out, it would be difficult to emulate. There is something more than intimacy between BTS members. In one scene from an official BTS video, the members argue, debate and eventually come to an agreement on how to choreograph certain moves on stage. In another scene, they continue working on their moves in a dance studio until they reach the point of exhaustion and everyone is satisfied. They don’t sacrifice results for the sake of maintaining good relationships, nor do they sacrifice relationships for the sake of achieving a goal. Their relationships are based on an agreement to grow and develop together by prodding one another on. They share a common trust because they share the same goals. “Whether we’re dancing, singing or performing, we all influence one another,” explains Jimin. “It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s good. I’ll try that, too’. When there are difficulties, I ask myself, ‘What is this team for? What did we start this team for?’ and it helps me refocus. We had a hard time at first—we argued. We weren’t used to the work. But now I feel fortunate to be part of the group.”
“These days, I’m more than just fine. I feel I’m allowed to be happy”
Living as superstars in Korea, where celebrities are not supposed to show off, BTS lack opportunities to enjoy their success in public. And there are many things they can’t share with others. “It might just be because I’m young, but I find it hard to open up to friends other than fellow BTS members,” says Jimin. “I often feel pretentious, and I don’t like it. It’s nice to be able to be completely honest when talking to other members.”
During the interview, Jimin often prefaces his sentences with “I’m happy”, “it’s good” and “I’m glad”. This shows that, as an ordinary person, Park Jimin has made the most of his downtime during the pandemic. He says: “I thought about myself, what I liked, what I didn’t like, what my preferences were. I had a lot of time for reflection, and I learnt a lot. These days, I’m more than just fine. I feel I’m allowed to be happy.” When asked what exactly he discovered about himself, he smiles mischievously and says: “That I’m very lazy! Taking a shower feels like such a chore, so I take off one layer of clothing and walk around for half an hour before shedding another layer.”
While on the road to superstardom, he once mused: “What do I really want to do apart from achieving perfection as a singer?” Recently, though, he seems to have learnt to let things go. “I didn’t have any hobbies back then, and I was distressed whenever I left the stage,” he admits. “That was probably why. But now I don’t ask that question anymore. Instead, I work out every day and meet friends, and I’m content with that. I started running, and at first I felt like I was dying after 2.5km. But now I can run as far as 8km. The reason I got into running was that the sound of the breeze silenced my inner voice. I used to hate being alone because there were too many thoughts going around in my head, and it scared me, but now I feel I need time alone. Running helps clear my mind.”
On 31 January 2022, BTS will once again be up for contention at the Grammy Awards. BTS was nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for two straight years. Last time, the ceremony was downscaled due to the pandemic, and BTS went home empty-handed, much to the disappointment of the fans. “Winning a Grammy wasn’t something we’d ever thought about, and I can’t believe we’ve been nominated!” Jimin enthuses. “It would be great to win the award and make our fans happy. But just being nominated is wonderful. If possible, we want to be there, and we want to perform.”
There are many who criticise the Grammys for not nominating BTS in more categories. But at least BTS now has more goals to achieve in the future. Fans who have watched BTS fight racism, ageism and cultural snobbery on the world stage believe that it is bound to happen. BTS needs no further recognition, but the Grammy Awards Show needs BTS to prove its standing.
All clothing and accessories are by Louis Vuitton.
Fashion editor Hyeyoung Hwang
Photography Songyi Yoon
Styling Hajung Lee
Clothing Louis Vuitton
Hair Som Han/Bit&Boot
Make-up Dareum Kim
For the full cover story, pre-order your copy of the January/February ‘Grace’ issue of Vogue Singapore online now or pick it up on newsstands from 3 January 2022.