Article. Randy Suh(Music Writer)
Design. Paperwork(@paperxworks)
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon

Collaboration is currently one of the most important aspects of popular music in the Anglosphere. Song titles formatted to include “feat. _____” or “_____ X _____” are a common sight on the charts. This is largely an effect of hip hop’s elevation to the mainstream in present-day pop music. There’s a long history of musicians participating on other artists’ songs when focusing strictly on American pop, perhaps owing to having its roots in jazz, itself based on the concept of jamming (group improvisation). But musicians who participated under those circumstances were rarely credited, even in pop styles like Motown with its system of collaborative production. It was common for songwriters to perform in the chorus, but they’d only be credited for their writing. Hip hop had many reasons to publicize collaborations, such as several rappers taking turns doing their own short verses on one song or to call attention to a famous DJ’s work on a beat or scratch, and was a widely accepted process. These explicit credits are essentially the industry’s translation of hip hop’s respect culture.


All collaborations are by design. Even if they arise out of a chance meeting, once they’re in the public eye, there’s nothing for it from that moment forward but to witness a brand-new effect or synergy between artists that never could’ve existed in a solo performance. By looking at the pop music industry from the end of the 20th century to today, we can see several versions of this.


First, the most typical case is when a new singer uses the opportunity as a gateway to fame. A prime example is Megan Thee Stallion, one of last year’s most talked-about up-and-coming singers. She left a strong impression with her appearance on Cardi B’s “WAP.” There are also instances when established singers are happy to act as a platform for an artist they support in order for more people to be exposed to their music: When Beyoncé was featured on a remix of “Savage” from Megan’s EP Suga, she gave a solid boost to Megan’s climb to fame.


Steve Aoki and Halsey can be said to have played the same part for BTS. BTS had already been active nearly four years when they appeared at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards (BBMAs) yet the US market acted like the group was some new artist they were seeing for the first time. The 2010s were also a period for famous EDM DJs to make a name for themselves in the pop music world through collaborations with pop singers. Aoki is one of the most famous DJs in the world and a well-known Asian American. Halsey, meanwhile, became a widely known name after featuring on music by EDM producers The Chainsmokers and, with a shared generational mindset, gave her full backing to pop sensation BTS, understanding how they got their start on the Internet.


Featuring another artist is also a good way to insert a sense of musical authenticity. These days, pop songs with hip hop beats in particular often look to rappers to emphasize the authenticity of the music. Camila Cabello, for example, received help from southern Atlanta native Young Thug on her song “Havana,” a southern hip hop pop song with Latin pop influences.


We can find an example of this if we look back at BTS’s early collaborations. They once met Warren G while in Los Angeles for hip hop lessons, an occasion that led to Warren featuring on RM’s single “P.D.D.” It was during this time that RM flew to LA to spend some time talking with him about hip hop, providing the Korean rapper with an important opportunity to think about and understand hip hop beyond the Korean variety.


Finally, famous singers collaborate with one another to spark interest. They can appear as a duo, as when Britney Spears and Madonna teamed up for “Me Against the Music,” or in groups that feel like the Avengers of the pop world, like Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj did with “Bang Bang.”


BTS’s latest collaboration, “My Universe,” was made through a kind of understanding between the group and Coldplay. The collaboration itself had been under consideration much earlier, but Coldplay’s name came up when a German DJ made racist remarks about BTS in early 2021 while preparations were being made. Both BTS and Coldplay clearly opposed the idea of racism. Consequently, this social awareness found its way into the final product when it was eventually released, making the collaboration about more than just the song itself.


With all that in mind, let’s take a look at BTS’s catalog of international collaborations.

“Danger (Mo-Blue-Mix)” — with THANH

Vietnamese singer-songwriter Thanh Bùi, one of the writers of “Danger,” worked on the arrangement of and provided vocals for this remix. Vietnam is a “young” country where more than half the population is under 30 years old, so many people there are engaged in the youth culture, including with K-pop. It provided a good starting point for overseas collaborations for the then newly-rising idols.

“P.D.D” (RM) — with Warren G

BTS met Warren G, a crucial contributor to G-funk in the West Coast hip hop scene, at an LA hip hop school while filming Mnet’s American Hustle Life, aired in 2014. RM returned to LA the following year to record “P.D.D” with Warren. Warren praised RM several times while they were recording in the studio and in interviews and gave him encouragement. This support was presumably very encouraging at a time when the group’s identity as hip hop idols was under frequent discussion. “P.D.D” also helped drive expectations for RM’s self-titled mixtape before its release.

“Fantastic” (RM) — with Mandy Ventrice

In 2015, RM followed up “P.D.D” with “Fantastic,” made in conjunction with production on the movie Fantastic Four. Given their far reach, it’s commonplace for Hollywood superhero movies to involve such rap collaborations. Eminem and other artists released a song called “Venom” for the movie of the same name, for example. Mandy Ventrice provided vocals for “Fantastic” as the first international female artist to collaborate with BTS.

“Change” (RM) — with Wale

RM’s relationship with Wale was born over Twitter. A fan posted a recording RM made during his trainee days over one of Wale’s tracks, to which Wale replied “Collab???!” in a quote tweet. After some exchanges and preparation, the two met in Korea the following March and shot the music video for “Change.” The track was released for free as a mixtape. The two artists used the song to cast a critical eye on society.

“MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix) — with Steve Aoki, Desiigner

Two months after the release of the album LOVE YOURSELF 承 Her, “MIC Drop (Steve Aoki Remix),” featuring DJ Steve Aoki and rapper Desiigner, was released as a digital single. It had been about a year since BTS stepped foot on US soil as a winner in the 2017 BBMAs. The remix saw most of the lyrics changed to English, showing that the group was acknowledging their popularity among their enthusiastic fanbase in the States. This is also essentially the first single they released with consideration toward the US market. US-based ARMY responded enthusiastically to what was practically a gift of a remix and the result was the first time in BTS’s history that they had entered the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, reaching as high as number 28.


The unique composition opens with a full minute of Desiigner’s verse and got people who were unfamiliar with this foreign group named BTS to hear their music. Aoki’s remix gave the song more of a trendy electro trap feel and BTS used it for several impressive performances at the Korean end-of-year awards ceremonies and on TV broadcasts in the US. 2017 MAMA in Hong Kong is a prime example.


Aoki was the one who invited BTS the first time they met. He      is famous for his music but also for his audience-pleasing showmanship when he DJs and his ability as a producer to pick up on popular trends. Aoki is also a workhorse and an Asian celebrity, a rarity in the American music industry. It may have only been a matter of time until he showed interest in and sought a collaboration with BTS as they continued to make a splash globally. BTS’s historic first US single was also made in collaboration with minorities working in the American market. Since then, BTS and Aoki have maintained a close friendship and released two more songs together. To celebrate one billion streams of his remix of “MIC Drop,” Aoki also released his “BTS MIC Drop Celebration Megamix” this July.

“Champion (Remix)” (RM) — with Fall Out Boy

In this case, the remix came about when Fall Out Boy requested to feature in the song with a rap. On a V LIVE, RM revealed that he imagined Fall Out Boy had contacted Wale after listening to the RM–Wale collaboration “Change” released earlier that same year. 2017 was a year when the group built up awareness through their continued collaborations like this one; consequently, proposals began rolling in back to back.

“IDOL” — with Nicki Minaj

“IDOL” was the culmination of the LOVE YOURSELF series and was given an additional version featuring Nicki Minaj as a digital single. Minaj herself is a well-known influencer in the featuring game. Famous for her colorful visual work, she was a perfect match for the rainbow festival-like “IDOL” music video. (V’s half-blond, half-pink hair calls back to Minaj’s style in her breakthrough “Super Bass” video.) The Korean text passing behind her reflecting the English lyrics she raps is also supposed to have been Minaj’s idea.

“The Truth Untold” — with Steve Aoki

After a fantastic collaboration with BTS on his remix of “MIC Drop,” the following year Aoki once again appeared on one of the group’s releases, this time on “The Truth Untold” off their follow-up album, LOVE YOURSELF轉Tear. When the tracklist was revealed and people saw Aoki’s name, many expected the song to be an EDM dance track, but “Truth Untold” was one of BTS’s very rare, full-blown ballad songs, blithely belying expectations. But it’s just like pop musician Aoki to pull this kind of surprise. People from      different countries were singing the song as it made it to BTS’s setlists for both the LOVE YOURSELF and SPEAK YOURSELF tours.

“seoul” (RM) — with HONNE

RM’s relationship with British duo HONNE began in 2016 when he mentioned their song “Warm on a Cold Night” on Twitter and they showed interest in return. That year, BTS was slowly emerging on the Internet as a world-class rising star, but they hadn’t yet attracted the media’s attention in English-speaking markets. With the particular amount of love HONNE was receiving in Korea, it’s no wonder the duo was interested in the Korean singers in BTS as well. HONNE produced the song “seoul” off RM’s second mixtape/playlist, mono., releasing the final cut in 2018 after a long period of collaboration. The timing was also good for backing BTS, who was just beginning to stake their claim in the Anglosphere.

“Waste It on Me” — with Steve Aoki

Aoki has done more collaborations with BTS than any other international artist has. “Waste It on Me,” their third collaboration together, was released as a digital single in October 2018, and was later included on Aoki’s album Neon Future III. The music video, starring stand-up comedian and actor Ken Jeong, was directed by Korean American musician and visual artist Joe Hahn, and also features appearances from Aoki himself, his younger sister and model/actress Devon Aoki, Jimmy O. Yang and Korean American actress Jamie Chung. It’s like a gathering of Asian celebrities in the US entertainment industry. 2018—the same year the movie Crazy Rich Asians saw monumental success—seems to have been a watershed year for Asian representation in American pop culture. BTS’s rise was in line with the trend—or perhaps one of the important driving forces. 

“Crying Over You” (RM) — with HONNE, BEKA

RM returned the favor for the help he received on his mixtape by contributing to a remix of HONNE’s “Crying Over You.” According to an interview, work on the song took place at roughly the same time as on “seoul” (mono.). RM’s rap comes in later in the song, setting the pace for the final chorus after it.

“Boy with Luv” — with Halsey

The first time BTS met Halsey was in 2017 when they visited the US to receive the BBMA for Top Social Artist. There were more than a few celebs interested in BTS, who was already a sensation all across social media. But even among them, Halsey was very familiar with Internet culture and was particularly aware of the status and influence BTS held on the Web. It was an unusually special meeting between artists, as the two considered themselves fans of the other.


Their friendship led to a collaboration on “Boy with Luv,” the lead single off MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA. Halsey fits right in, appearing together with the members of BTS in the April 2019 music video and showing off the choreography she’d learned with them. They also performed on stage together at the 2019 BBMAs.


In what was a rare feat for Korean-language songs at the time, “Boy with Luv” did well on US radio. Halsey played a big part given all the love she’d received on radio before with “Closer,” the Chainsmokers song she featured on in 2016, as well as her solo song “Without Me” in 2018. The innocuous joint disco/pop project between the internationally lauded boy band and the trendy, radio-friendly singer was just enough to arouse the curiosity of consumers over legacy media, a path not easily taken by foreign language songs. To that end, the collaboration allowed BTS to break through another barrier. Halsey benefitted as well, expanding her fanbase beyond the US and into the international community thanks to her work with the group.


While this was going on, Halsey frequently showed her affection for BTS and their fandom, ARMY, by talking about them in several interviews. Most notably, she was quick to point out and correct misunderstandings directly to interviewers who alluded negatively toward or expressed discriminatory views around BTS for being an Asian boy band. Halsey is famous for her openly progressive political views (such as when she publicly supported Bernie Sanders in a series of interviews during the most recent US presidential election). Her quick jump to the defense of Asians against those who disrespect them made an especially deep impression with BTS fans, which is why many fans still refer to her as “our girl.”

“Dream Glow” — with Charli XCX, “A Brand New Day” — with Zara Larsson, “All Night” — with Juice WRLD

The game BTS WORLD, published by Netmarble, attracted a great deal of attention for its use of BTS’s extensive back catalog and the impressive lineup of artists featured on its soundtrack. A total of four songs were released, one each week, over the course of a month, three of them in collaboration with famous singers from overseas: London native Charli XCX, Sweden’s Zara Larsson, and the late American rapper Juice WRLD—all well-known young artists. All three singers put on a fantastic performance for their respective tracks and helped ensure the game’s soundtrack had all the quality of a studio album.

“Old Town Road (Seoul Town Road Remix)” — with Lil Nas X

“Old Town Road” launched indie rapper Lil Nas X to where he is today and made him the man of the hour in 2019. While the song initially climbed the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, its brave attempt to mix country—considered the most quintessentially American and white genre—with the cool, rebellious sound of trap music eventually got it disqualified from the classification. The various remixes of the songs with different artists only added to its popularity. RM was a part of the fourth and final official remix, “Old Town Road (Seoul Town Road Remix).” The Grammys never seemed to give Asian group BTS the time of day, so it was a historic moment when they gave their first-ever performance at the awards ceremony with Lil Nas X thanks to this collaboration.

“Chicken Noodle Soup” (j-hope) — with Becky G

j-hope released “Chicken Noodle Soup,” a cover song, as part of his solo mixtape. Webstar and Young B’s original version, released in 2006, was very popular for its fast, fun dance moves where they flap their arms like chicken wings and jump like they’re in a game of Double Dutch. Just like now, most popular hip hop dances from the period were made by the Black community, so it was important that this new interpretation not only show j-hope’s roots but also show respect for the roots belonging to the original song and dance. j-hope successfully added another layer of diversity to the song by performing his version together with Latinx musician Becky G. The song is a three-language collaboration, where Korean rapping from j-hope (a Gwangju native who got his start as a street dancer), Spanish rapping by Becky (a third-generation Mexican American artist who’s had a remarkable career) and verses in English all intersect. This song naturally conveys the effort that goes into showing pride and a love toward the value of one’s home and family, values highlighted in hip hop. Many people were rather deeply impressed by the song’s attempt to reach into the US, the birthplace of hip hop, from outside it.

“Make It Right” — with Lauv

Written by Ed Sheeran, “Make It Right” was first included on one of BTS’s albums and later rereleased as a remix featuring Lauv. The group’s relationship with Lauv began when he visited them backstage at their Wembley concert, which eventually gave way to a full collaboration. Lauv was a rising artist with the full support of Spotify behind him for his chill music. The effect extended to long-established media like radio as well, leading the version of “Mike It Right” featuring Lauv to perform relatively well on radio compared to BTS’s other songs up to that point.

“SUGA’s Interlude” (SUGA) — with Halsey

In a spirit of mutual assistance, BTS featured on Halsey’s music after she did the same for “Boy with Luv.” “SUGA’s Interlude,” included on the album Manic, marked SUGA’s first time going solo as a featured guest on an international artist’s song, and is notable for its inclusion of Korean rapping on an English-language artist’s album. SUGA says that, when the request for the collaboration came from Halsey, he wondered why she chose someone who doesn’t write English lyrics. Halsey explained that she was deeply impressed by his mixtape under alter ego Agust D and that she was looking for her song to have the same kind of introspective, confessional lyrics as well. That was enough to convince SUGA to jump on board. Attitudes were opening up among an increasing number of English-speaking artists toward BTS’s string of successes and foreign language, while SUGA rapping in Korean led to collaborations with MAX as well.

“ON” — with Sia

Whereas Halsey lent a hand with the lead single for MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA (“Boy with Luv”), Australian singer-songwriter Sia lent her voice to the lead single for MAP OF THE SOUL: 7, “ON.” This collaboration was less like the one with Halsey and more like the group’s work with Nicki Minaj, where the featured artist added her vocals onto the original version. Because Sia famously avoids promoting her work in public, she and BTS never did an interview together. Unlike “Boy with Luv” and “Make It Right,” “ON” failed to make waves on the radio, proving that collaborating with radio-friendly pop singers isn’t necessarily an ace in the hole to guarantee more airplay.

“Who” — with Lauv

After working together on the “Make It Right” remix, Lauv collaborated with BTS once more, this time on “Who” off his album ~how i’m feeling~. Two members from BTS, Jung Kook and Jimin, laid their perfectly matched vocals down on the languid yet impassioned track. The song showcases Jung Kook and Jimin’s aptitude for giving a delicate R&B performance.

“Burn It” (Agust D) — with MAX

Several artists were featured on D-2, SUGA’s second mixtape under his rapper pseudonym, Agust D. One attention-grabbing name among them was MAX, the singer from abroad. After the release, SUGA revealed on V LIVE that he thought from the outset that he should have an American singer on the song. Amid his search, he got in touch with MAX; the result was “Burn It.” SUGA expressed his huge gratitude for MAX’s devotion to the track, who asked SUGA to transliterate his lyrics and then made the music for the chorus.

“Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat) (Remix)” — with Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo

“Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)” revived the career of Jason Derulo, who had been a hit singer earlier in 2010, and rocketed Jawsh 685—of half-Samoan, half-Cook Island descent—to the status of world-class producer. The inclusion of BTS was the icing on the cake for this song whose choreography went viral thanks to the power of TikTok and it consequently hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the highest-ranking song of Jawsh’ career and BTS’s second number one on the Hot 100. The event was symbolic of BTS’s changing status.

“Blueberry Eyes” (SUGA) — with MAX

SUGA previously worked with MAX on the song “Burn it” and here features with a Korean rap on a song off MAX’s album Color Vision. They say MAX had first commissioned SUGA to collaborate on a song called “New Life” but that SUGA turned him down that time, feeling it wouldn’t suit him. So MAX sent him the entire album, and SUGA chose “Blueberry Eyes” himself and got to work. The two of them had already established a good rapport while watching sports together and meeting up to talk on their own time so they were able to communicate easily. MAX showed his counterpart a lot of affection, going as far as to add a cat to the music video as a reference to SUGA’s nickname as well as putting the effort in to learn his Korean rap and perform it live.

“Butter (Remix)” — with Megan Thee Stallion

At the end of the summer, BTS released a remix of “Butter” featuring Megan Thee Stallion. News of the song first came out not through a promotion by her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, but rather a legal battle between them and Megan. According to Megan, the label had found her and managed her since her debut, but attempted to take advantage of her influence as her popularity soared. Nothing can be said for certain—the lawsuit is still ongoing—but what’s clear is that 1501 put the brakes on Megan’s releases and that she put out her songs under difficult circumstances while seeking a temporary restraining order from the court. Her EP Suga, which includes the hit song “Savage,” was also released under these conditions. “Butter” was able to be released on the intended date thanks to Megan having received the emergency relief right beforehand, allowing BTS to spend an extra week atop the Billboard Hot 100 with the remix. ARMY around the world became interested in the lawsuit and collectively read legal documents related to the case that had been released, exposing traces of BTS’s efforts to create contracts that respect other creators during collaborations.



A video was released recently in which BTS had a brief meeting with Megan after they visited the UN Headquarters in New York as special envoys to the president. j-hope, Jimin and Jung Kook had a fun time talking about a video where they dance to Megan’s rap and how they learned the hand movements in the choreography together.

“My Universe” — with Coldplay

BTS has said many times in the past that Coldplay is one of their favorite artists. Coldplay debuted as a hopeful of the post-Britpop genre but has gradually evolved into an arena rock band who have absorbed not just rock but a variety of genres to make countless anthems to be sung together with massive crowds. It’s no surprise that they’ve been an influence for BTS to look up to, who themselves found immeasurable popularity worldwide and worked their way up from concert halls to arenas, and from arenas to stadiums. The two groups have been in talks back and forth about collaboration from some time ago. As if releasing a teaser, BTS covered Coldplay’s “Fix You” on their 2021 episode of MTV Unplugged.


Many people reacted positively to the MTV performance, but there were those who didn’t. An incident with the racist German DJ became very symbolic here. The DJ, a self-professed Coldplay fan, had no problem making hateful remarks about the Korean idols while criticizing their “Fix You” performance. The incident demonstrated how even world superstars BTS weren’t immune to racism amid the atmosphere of Asian hate that had arisen mainly in Europe and North America since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many were furious. ARMY in Germany and the world over rallied together to criticize the DJ and demand an apology, after which artists that BTS had collaborated with up to that point, including Steve Aoki, “Euphoria” writer DJ Swivel, Halsey and Lauv, raised their voices in protest. Publications like Billboard magazine, who were at first reluctant to report on the harmful hate speech directed at BTS, eventually published articles in solidarity with all the artists.


Prior to the incident, BTS had expressed their grief and outrage over an Atlanta shooting in which a number of Asian women were slain. Coldplay have also shown their opposition to racism numerous times since they debuted in 1996. The groups had been in discussions about their collaboration on “My Universe” even prior to the incident with the German DJ, but the episode made some of the lyrics reverberate even more with listeners (“And they said that we can’t be together / Because, because we come from different side”). The similarity of the two bands’ musical directions made for perfect harmony on the song. “My Universe” gifted Coldplay with a career-first “hot shot debut,” placing them directly at number one on the Hot 100, and the song’s still going strong.