How blissfully ignorant are those of us who take our youth for granted. Our youth can come and go unnoticed in the turmoil of this fleeting period. It is only years later that we realise we were once young. Indeed, it is because youth is pure and innocent that it is taken for granted.
When asked if he feels burdened by the love and attention of the fans and the importance they attach to every little thing he does, V shakes his head as if he really can’t understand it. “I don’t really know what BTS means to people. I appreciate all the compliments and positive responses, but I have no idea why we receive so much love,” he admits. V, who has received an impressive set of accolades as a member of BTS—including being the first Asian performer to be named Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards and being declared the world’s most handsome man—seems to be savouring these possibly fleeting moments of his youth. However, he doesn’t seem to know why this dazzling success has come to him. This is despite the fact that people are continually explaining the many reasons why.
In a photo shoot, it is the subject who sets the mood. I have been to numerous photo shoots but have never seen a set as calm and hushed as Vogue’s is today. The incessant sound of camera shutters seems noisier than usual and is punctuated only by faint sounds of laughter now and then. At the centre of it all is V. He gently establishes the tone right from the start. With his friendliness and gregariousness on full display, he seems deserving of his nickname ‘Kim Instant Friend’.
“The first letter of my MBTI personality type used to be E [for Extrovert], but recently it changed to I [for Introvert]. Don’t they say the difference between the two is huge?” V says. In recent years, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) questionnaire has become popular among young South Koreans, who share their MBTI types as naturally as exchanging their names, eager to quickly analyse one another’s personality. But V seems indifferent about his apparent shift in personality, indifferent about whether he is classed as an extrovert or introvert. He explains that this is because he has recently experienced some growing pains. “I don’t think these changes are a bad thing because I have learnt how to decide what is right for me and what isn’t,” V elaborates. “I was able to grow with help from people around me. There may be many bumps on the road ahead, and I may experience pain at some point, but I’m not afraid. How I proceed in those situations is the most important thing.”
V’s exemplary answer reflects the worldview that BTS has established over the years. This extraordinary period of growth, with no end in sight, was created by seven ordinary boys. V continues to grow with BTS, and there seems to be no limit to how much stronger and resilient he can become. The driving force behind this growth is simply the pursuit of a sense of accomplishment. “When something eats away at me, I focus on it and try to conquer it. For example, if I’m overwhelmed by some emotion, I write a song about it. When the song is done, whether it’s a good song or not, the sense of achievement helps get rid of any pain or suffering I’m going through.”
“I don’t think change is a bad thing because I have learnt how to decide what is right for me and what isn’t”
V continues to release his own songs. Since putting out his first song, ‘4 O’Clock’ (a collaboration with RM), V has released ‘Scenery’, ‘Winter Bear’, ‘Sweet Night’ and others. Currently, 15 of his songs are registered with the Korea Music Copyright Association. He is admired for his poetic lyrics and outstanding musical sensibilities—the result of honing in on quotidian moments and subtle emotions. “I try to get inspiration from everyday life,” V muses. “I think my daily life is already special, to say nothing of going on trips or experiencing special events. These days, I get a lot of inspiration from the work of others. Yesterday, I watched Forrest Gump for the first time in a while, and it made me cry a little. At the end of the film, Forrest says, ‘I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze’, and I really felt for him. It was sad.”
Forrest Gump, which was released a year before V was born, depicts the life of Forrest, who is born with subnormal intelligence and a curved spine. It is the story of a man whose selflessness verges on foolishness and whose honesty verges on stupidity. Although Forrest is born with disabilities, a talent discovered by chance brings him riches and fame. It also comes down to hard work and good luck—a fate ordained by heaven. V insists that his success and achievements as part of BTS all boil down to luck. “Yes, I believe in fate, but if I could turn back the clock, would I be able to become a singer again?” he ponders. “It wouldn’t be guaranteed. So I think it’s all down to the luck of the gods.”
Born in 1995, Taehyung Kim (V’s birth name) had a lucky break when he first met the members of what would go on to become BTS. The next turning point was when they debuted together after a long training period. “We formed a solid rapport because we got our start with a small agency,” V says. “My mindset was also very different. From that point on, I thought of my group as a new family.” He also gained ARMY, staunch allies who sent him unconditional love and support. When the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to offline performances, BTS began meeting fans more frequently through their own platform, Weverse. They share aspects of their daily lives through this platform, and V doesn’t like to call this “communication” because somehow that feels too businesslike. “I want to be close friends with the members of ARMY, and I talk to them on Weverse whenever I have a problem or something I want to share,” he explains. “This is how I want to interact all the time—I don’t like a businesslike approach to anything. I take photos because I like to, I do things because I like them and I approach people because I like them. I accept that you sometimes need a business mindset, but I’m not very good at that. That’s my weakness.”
Clichés such as ‘sincerity prevails’ and ‘who has been loved knows how to give love’ are not just words for V. It is well-known that he once bought a piece of artwork from an unknown artist at a gallery he happened to walk into during one of BTS’s overseas tours, and he touched the artist’s heart by holding the artist’s hand and saying: “May your days shine brightly.” He maintains this attitude for one simple reason: “Because I’m loved by many, I want to share that love.” Then what words does V hold onto when going through a tough time? “Many people already know this, but what my father used to say is, ‘It’s no big deal!’ and that still gives me strength to this day,” he relates. “Also, my group mates tell me that I can lean on them and talk to them whenever I’m having a hard time. When I’m struggling, they comfort me as Taehyung Kim, not V.”
When I mention that the song that best highlights V’s charm as a vocalist is the performance of ‘My Universe’, BTS’s collaboration with Coldplay, at the American Music Awards, on 22 November, he smiles as if in agreement. A behind-the-scenes video of BTS and Coldplay recording this song was widely shared. (In one scene, Chris Martin praises BTS for their voices outside the recording booth. More obviously than any footage of glittering stage performances, this scene shows that BTS have become stars to the stars.) “It doesn’t appear in the video, but actually, when the vocal guide demo came out in English, I sang it from beginning to end. The Coldplay members listened and complimented me, saying I was like the second Chris Martin. I’ve listened to that recording a lot since!” V says with a laugh.
“Some say that you should keep your first love as a hobby, and not turn it into your job. But I disagree, because I do what I love professionally”
To V, BTS is the source of light. “Since I was in elementary school, I have dreamt of becoming a singer, but nobody took me seriously. Everyone just said, ‘Get real’. BTS made my dream come true,” he says. I ask if he feels weighed down by such lofty labels as ‘the first’ or ‘the best’, and if he has any regrets. “Some say that you should keep your first love as a hobby, and not turn it into your job. But I disagree, because I do what I love professionally,” V reflects. “When I feel it’s not good enough, I’m able to devote more time to practising, and this helps me develop and improve. Also, the fact that people seem to like what I do makes it very satisfying and meaningful to me.”
V sees the world without disaffection, and Taehyung Kim, V and BTS have proved that it is OK to do so—right through from their debut to the present day.
All clothing and accessories are by Louis Vuitton.
Feature editor Sohyun Cho
Photography Jooyoung Ahn
Styling Hajung Lee
Hair Mujin Choi/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.