A typical day off for Jin goes something like this: he falls asleep after playing computer games until 5am and finally wakes up at 2pm. Then he stays in bed and stares blankly at the ceiling for about three hours, occasionally checking his phone or turning on the TV and flipping through the channels. Eventually, he sits in front of the computer again, and he eats something when hunger strikes. After eating, he feels drowsy and heads back to bed. To borrow Jin’s expression, this is a day that is “excessively lazy, and that some might say is a bit pathetic”.
“I spent yesterday like that,” Jin admits. As he explained at the ARMY Corner Store during the 2021 BTS FESTA event, the best days are those that are most thoroughly idled away. If yesterday was all about the freedom to lounge around, today’s Vogue shoot is the exact opposite. “Today’s schedule is the tightest ever,” Jin remarks. “Yesterday, I watched TV and lay in bed for two more hours and played games for five hours and maybe fell asleep at two or three in the morning. Then I came straight here. I think I need a reward today.”
So, it is likely that Jin played computer games or met one or two close friends after our interview, idling the time away as he likes to. He appears to be spontaneous—he describes himself as “someone who does whatever he feels like ”—but he actually lives according to very clear rules. Take, for example, his ideas about rest. “The meaning of the word ‘rest’ seems to have changed,” he says. “I think that resting should be entirely selfish. However, a lot of people try to do something useful in their free time, like something that will help them pad out their résumé. But I believe that uselessness is useful! I believe that you need to have days that other people consider wasteful, to be able to focus more on useful things later.” Ironically, Jin can commit himself more to his regular work routine because he appreciates the value of “lazy time”. “You know the saying: ‘I bend my knees only to jump higher’,” he says with a laugh.
“You need to have days that other people consider wasteful, to be able to focus more on useful things later”
Much is lost from Jin’s words when they are recorded and transcribed. Imagine hearing his childlike enthusiasm—it’s like he’s telling the most interesting story in the world, regardless of the topic. His voice has a playful yet confident tone, and he punctuates his remarks with distinctive squeaks of laughter (once described as “the sound glass makes when being cleaned”). We joke throughout the interview. He has a unique sense of humour, and everything is out in the open. His jokes are delivered nonchalantly, cheerfully and sincerely, certainly not as a defence mechanism or to cover up insecurity, as with people who joke endlessly to hide what they really feel. Statements like “Of course I’m handsome—I don’t feel the need to deny this” and “Um, my work kind of lacks clear boundaries” are all delivered in the same tone.
“I hate it when there’s a serious atmosphere. When people are too serious, I always try to lift the mood,” Jin explains. Through Jin’s appearances on entertainment programmes and the like, we are familiar with Jin’s creative humour and his penchant for ajae gag (dad jokes). Asked whether he ever acts in a serious manner besides when performing, this fellow who thrives on stirring up laughter answers with total conviction. “Never,” he says with a chuckle. “Usually, when a serious person and a jovial person have a conversation, one of them gives in. Usually, the conversation ends up becoming serious, but with me, it’s different. One of our staff members is very serious, but when I talk to him, we usually just joke around. If someone is too serious and I feel we can’t get along, then I just start avoiding them as soon as possible.”
“I think having fun is one of the things that makes it possible for me to work without burning out”
So, rather than covering heavy topics like personal anguish, anxiety and the future, we opt instead for a light, pleasant conversation about trivial things. When I quietly ask him why he can’t stand a serious atmosphere, Jin answers straightforwardly, remarking: “Because it’s no fun” and “I’m always like this, whether being interviewed or just talking with friends.” Jin clarifies: “My main role is as a singer, but the boundaries of my work are blurry. I do stage performances, photo shoots like today’s and content shoots. Of course, I take my work very seriously. However, until the boundaries of my work become clear, I can’t specifically tell you when I’m being serious. Except when I’m on stage, 80 to 90 percent of my time is spent joking around.” Yet what at first glance seems like levity pure and simple turns out to have a purpose. “I think having fun is one of the things that makes it possible for me to work without burning out,” Jin reveals.
Jin’s philosophy of fun is one of BTS’s unique points. BTS are much more down-to-earth and familiar than many other superstars. That is, they come across as normal people living in the same world as us rather than as distant superhuman beings from another planet. Seeing the messages they send and the way they goof around during TV appearances and interviews, we get the same impression of them as we did when they debuted eight years ago. (And their enormous success since then only makes this more charming.) Jin plays a big role in BTS. Nicknamed ‘Mannae’ (an oldest child who acts like the youngest), he is considered to be an ideal senior group mate. He gets along with the other members while at the same time helping to maintain harmony.
Indeed, Jin’s ability to smooth over any situation in a carefree manner is at the heart of BTS’s charm. And yet Jin insists, “No, I’m not very good at anything, and I don’t excel at anything. Those around me don’t agree, but whenever I say this, they’re either appalled, or they try to convince me that I’ve accomplished amazing things. But I still have a hard time accepting that. If someone asked me what my talents were, I wouldn’t have much to say except, ‘I’m a member of BTS’.”
Is this really still the case? Even now, when we would run out of space in Vogue if we listed all of BTS’s achievements? It is hard not to question Jin’s assertion, but at least he is frank. He transparently reveals what he is thinking and feeling. His confidence in saying that he is “handsome wherever he goes in the world” and, conversely, revealing his insecurities without making much of them reveals a healthy sense of self-esteem.
“Plenty of people are more handsome than me. ‘Worldwide Handsome’ is a joke I like to make for laughs,” he says with a laugh of his own. “And there are many people who can sing and dance better than me. I just try hard to achieve a better version of myself, which other people seem to see in me.” This sort of frankness turns into healthy self-love and, eventually, into unaffected positivity. “Everyone is born with a certain talent, right?” he asks. “I think mine is the ability to quickly forget negative things that have happened and recover from mental fatigue.” As to the source of his positive mindset, Jin says: “Well, if you go about your daily routine faithfully, you’ll soon be able to forget and move on.”
It is hard to imagine now, but in BTS’s early days, Jin had little to say. However, Jin gradually began shedding his image as ‘the ice prince’ after being affected by a line from the song ‘Fire’, from the BTS album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever, released in 2016: “Live however you want, it’s your life. Stop trying, it’s OK to lose.” He began to realise that “there will always be some people who love you and some who don’t” and that criticism is something all celebrities have to deal with. “In the past,” he says, “I used to separate Jin, the BTS member, from the human being Seokjin Kim, to some extent. But now I don’t. How I come across on TV is how I live my life.” Jin says that looking back at his past self makes him wonder: “Why did I live like that?” However, he concedes: “I must have had some idea about how I wanted to live.”
“I think I’m a little happier these days because I’m living without thinking”
It is not easy to live your life the way you want to without giving in to outside pressure—especially if you are one of the most famous people in the world, receiving attention from fans across the planet and having to meet their expectations. Now, Jin is steadily working toward the goal he set in 2020—“living without thinking”. “It’s definitely not an easy goal,” Jin explains, “because you’re filled with trivial thoughts, like ‘I have to do this tomorrow, I have to do that the day after tomorrow’. I’ve always disliked planning. If you make a plan, you have to stick to it, but I find this difficult, so I tend to be spontaneous, whether going on a trip or whatever. You need to have a framework in your life, but I try to avoid making detailed plans. My head hurts,” he says with a laugh. Joking until the very end, Jin concludes: “I think I’m a little happier these days because I’m living without thinking.”
All clothing and accessories are by Louis Vuitton.
Fashion editor Boyeon Hur
Photography Dukhwa Jang
Styling Hajung Lee
Hair Som Han
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.