Article. Kim Rieun
Interview. Kim Rieun
Design. Jeon Yurim
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut, BTS released their official book BEYOND THE STORY: 10-YEAR RECORD OF BTS (hereinafter BEYOND THE STORY) on July 9th. Spanning a production period of three years, this book reconstructs the past ten years of BTS, with interviews of the members over the course of two years. The book showcases the journey of the seven youths who came together in Seoul ten years ago and became a global sensation, while also presenting a new starting point that hints at the future they will continue to shape. Additionally, it serves as a record of the K-pop industry during a particular era in which they have been actively involved. We asked Myeongseok Kang, Chief Editor of Weverse Magazine who interviewed BTS and authored the book, and Kim Yeonju, the project manager and editor of HYBE’s publications, to learn about the process behind the creation of this book.

BTS has consistently delivered honest messages with their music, documentaries, and various self-produced content. Adding to those, what was the intent behind recording their story in the form of a dense book?
Myeongseok Kang: BEYOND THE STORY is like a “proof” of the past ten years of BTS. While they have consistently shared the message of their continued journey for the past decade and their determination to keep moving forward with songs like “Run BTS” or “Yet To Come” on their album Proof in the form of music, their official book BEYOND THE STORY is a story based on the members’ interviews about the path they’ve been through, their messages to the world, and what they are currently looking at. Through this process, I also wanted to deliver their messages to the world in their own voices in a deeper and more personal way. After I explained the purpose of this book to the members, RM commented, “I want to look back on our journey from our debut to the present before more time passes” and agreed to publish the book.

Kim Yeonju: The discussion about this project first emerged in 2019, when BTS was rapidly rising as an iconic global artist and we felt there was a need to take a serious approach to record about them. By capturing the exact voices of BTS for what they are, I would say that it took a more transparent approach than any other writing. Above all, as we converted the members’ interview comments into written language and refinedthem, we minimized the rift that often occurs when translating “speech” into “text.” For this, we extensively reviewed the context of each comment from theactual interviews multiple times. We also tried to deliver the members’ natural speaking tones as much as possible.

It’s very inspiring that the publication date of the book that archives the team’s ten years coincides with ARMY Day, on July 9th.
Kim Yeonju: While preparing the publication celebrating the team’s 10th anniversary, there were two dates fixated in my head: “printed on June 13, 2023,” “published on July 9th”. Then, earlier this year, I had a meeting with the publishers overseas, who mentioned: “In our country, we don’t publish books on Sundays.” It’s embarrassing to admit, but that’s when I realized that this year’s July 9th falls on a Sunday. I thought to myself, Korea doesn’t publish books on Sundays, either. That’s just how much I had been taking that publication date for granted (laughs). But in the end, we actually got to publish the book on July 9th, the ARMY Day, in many countries and regions. This was possible because it was BTS, and because it was for ARMY. Publishers abroad could have been doubtful of our schedule, but they eventually joined in and made it happen on that day to support our cause, and I’m very grateful for their support and collaboration. In the coming months, more language editions will be published, as there are over 20 foreign language editions. Since we are dealing with translations, designs, and promotional content from various overseas publishers, we are concurrently reviewing and sharing feedback. Currently, there are three language editions waiting their turn (laughs). 

Myeongseok Kang, the writer of BEYOND THE STORY, is also a longtime journalist who has been writing about the entertainment industry. Why was he chosen as the writer?
Kim Yeonju: I’m not sure if we could say we “chose” him since he was the only person we could think of. He has been watching BTS for quite a while now, and there are not many people who can speak so extensively and deeply about the Korean music industry. If we follow the story of BTS, there are some moments that feel “more dramatic than fiction,” which must have been very appealing from the writer’s point of view. That’s probably why, not long after the word of the project came up, he had already prepared most of the chapter titles and even their subheadings. Thanks to the writer, what content to cover and how to unfold it were all there in the first place. All I had to think about was how to present it, and in what form.

Myeongseok Kang: I received the offer to write the book in the summer of 2019, before I started working for Weverse Magazine, and began interviewing the members in the spring of 2020. I interviewed each member eight times, meeting them approximately once every three months. After each interview, I reconstructed the events based on the interview content and then conducted additional research and fact-checking for that specific period. So the book begins and ends with the members’ interviews. So one thing that I would really like to make clear is that although I wrote the book, it is a book of and by BTS, as it would simply not exist without them. All I did was organize the members’ stories and add some elements to deliver them more effectively. My role was to enhance their stories rather than create them. Of course, aside from the interviews, some sentences contain my opinions, and it’s an area I’m responsible for. But I want to let you know that, fundamentally, it’s a book about BTS, by BTS, and for BTS, completed through their voices.
​The whole time the book was being developed, BTS continued to show even greater growth. So I’m sure it must not have been easy to set the timeline for writing and final production.
Myeongseok Kang: At first, I thought I could spend about a year to interview BTS about their past and wrap things up. But after the release of “Dynamite”, I was like, Man, I can’t not cover this period (laughs), and did some more interviews. Then, there was “Butter” (laughs). And then, as the pandemic was coming to an end, they could resume stadium tours, and we couldn’t overlook that, either (laughs). And that’s how the coverage schedule got longer and the book ended up encompassing almost every activity by BTS, and for that I’m pleased.

Kim Yeonjoo: I was very concerned about how much to include in the book, since the story was still ongoing. I remember the writer feeling troubled, with just the final “Chapter 7” (laughs) to complete. Information had to be constantly updated. Since BTS was active in their career, the circumstances were constantly changing, so in a way, there were subtle shifts in the members’ values or feelings over time, and we had to constantly check what the “real final version” would be. So we would consult the members on even the smallest details till the very last minute. We wanted the text to reflect whether the thoughts they had at the time were still valid. All the members replied to my questions meticulously, which really helped.

Most interviews happened to be held during the pandemic. How did that affect the book?
Kim Yeonjoo: The first interview coincided with the period when BTS’s activities came to a temporary halt due to the pandemic. The original plan was for the interviews to take place intermittently during their overseas tours. From what I know, before the pandemic, their international schedules were hectic, and their stay abroad so long, it would have been challenging to spare time for in-depth conversations. But during the pandemic, all their schedules took place in Korea, and in those days when they couldn’t have their offline activities or meet their fans, they had some time to reflect on themselves. BEYOND THE STORY is the first to interview each member individually and look back on their past from pre-debut to today.

Myeongseok Kang: Around the time we did our first interview, we were still a bit hopeful that the issues caused by COVID-19 would be temporary. But as the pandemic became prolonged, the members’ interviews naturally revealed their thoughts, reflections, and frustration from being unable to meet their fans in person. Still, I was really impressed by their dedication to finding ways to connect with fans and contemplating what messages to deliver, growing more and more over the course of their interview. Many of these elements are captured in the final chapter of the book, “WE ARE”, which covers their most recent activities. The interviews were a valuable learning experience for me, not only for the book’s writing but also personally.

When were you most impressed while interviewing BTS for a long period of time?
Myeongseok Kang: The most memorable moment was during an interview conducted right after the “BTS PERMISSION TO DANCE ON STAGE - LA” concert in November 2021. It was the first concert they had given in a long time due to the pandemic. Just after the concert, we had a conversation at their accommodations during their break. Although they must have been exhausted, the members shared their emotions and thoughts in a very profound manner. For example, V normally speaks in a very calm voice during interviews, but that day, his voice became more passionate and he used big gestures to elaborate his words when necessary. I think it was the interview where the members showed most excitement and exhilaration, capturing their emotions immediately after meeting the audience after a long pause caused by the pandemic.

Kim Yeonju: Once, due to schedule, we had to interview one member on the first day, and six others in a row the next day. So Myeongseok had to talk for six hours nonstop! That really shows his dedication (laughs). As an observer, throughout the whole interview, I could get a glimpse of the members trying to find their directions as artists, while also looking after and refining their personal lives. It was interesting to watch the members' thoughts, tastes, and values gradually change or become clearer. Although there were some sensitive topics at times due to the nature of the book, I was relieved to hear their comments at the end such as “It made me reflect,” “It was therapeutic,” and “That was fun.” As the interview atmosphere became more relaxed, Jimin, for instance, would start shyly with, “I don't think what I’m saying will be included in the book.” and would still share some of his stories. V responded honestly with “This is a record about us, so I want to tell everything.” During the last interview, RM said, laughing, in the middle of the conversation, “Don’t l look more comfortable than in any other interviews we’ve had before?” When I shared with the members the edited version around April before the publication, they wanted to review the content thoroughly, requesting a collection of all their comments that made it in the book. We had meetings to exchange opinions, and I felt very grateful for their feedback and interest in the project.

I’m sure there’s something about the team and the members you’ve learned for the first time as you met with them over a long period of time.
Myeongseok Kang: I had expected it a little, but during the interviews, I realized that the members had even more concerns about their lives and the team than I had imagined. On every interview, the members had concerns and thoughts regarding their situations and their life, and were constantly thinking about what they should do to solve them. I’m sure it was very troubling for them, especially during the pandemic when their activities as artists were limited. I admire the way they tried to solve the problems and go on to the next level. This book is a record of that process. After the interview, the title of James Joyce's novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man often came to my mind. It was a great joy to be involved in this book, but it was also an honor to be able to witness these processes that members went through.

Kim Yeonju: I’m very cautious about defining someone as “This is how they are”, but as an observer, this is what I can say: BTS is an artist who allows fans to love them wholeheartedly. You know how when you give your heart to someone, you sometimes wonder if you're supporting a worthy individual as a human being? In that sense, I think BTS is an artist that’s “safe” for fans to love wholeheartedly, because they're always thinking about giving back abundantly to their fans.
I see that the title BEYOND THE STORY is a reference to BTS’s brand identity “BEYOND THE SCENE,” but it also appears to suggest that at the center of the book lies the “stories” of the members.
Myeongseok Kang: As I was planning the book, the first phrases to pop up in my head were “Be the story” and “Beyond the story.” A team whose great success as well as everything they’ve been through have become a story or a narrative in themselves. A team that will go beyond that and write a new story. Before I got involved in this book, I had an impression that BTS’s success story was almost like a prototype for the creation and growth of an artist, or a K-pop group in particular. And I also wanted it to be read as the 21st century youth narrative in Korea. An archetypal story of how these boys from Korea grew into adults against the backdrop of this era, and how the K-pop group, with the world’s gaze upon them, have grown and overcome various challenges. To cite RM's song “Yun (with Erykah Badu),” it's a journey of seven young people becoming “better adults.” Being a member of a K-pop group is a unique career that only a few people around the world are afforded, but I hoped that the lives of youth who have been nurtured through such a profession would be delivered as a universal story that would exert a positive impact on its readers. And it couldn’t be better if this story is passed on to the next generation and the one after that by word of mouth.

I can imagine that as the editor, you put in lots of care to make sure the book presents a very specific yet universal story, one that caters to not only ARMY but book readers at large.
Kim Yeonju: I tried reading the book from a third-person point of view without any knowledge of BTS, and tried to make up for some things that weren’t covered in the book with so-called audiovisual materials to satiate people’s curiosity. I repeated the process of going in and out of the text, making sure I get a good look at it from afar. As for fact-checking, I researched as much as I could, combing through local and foreign media articles, social media, and videos and music platforms, and lined them up for comparison before putting them in the book. I hoped that even readers who didn't know much about BTS would learn about the group and their history to the very last detail through this single book.

The overall design of the book uses minimal colors, down to the BTS members’ picture on the very first page. I got the impression that it was a deliberate design choice made in order to bring more attention to the characters and the story.
Kim Yeonju: As for the photo, we wanted to keep the members’ costumes and the background the same while removing any decorative details to accentuate the candid, authentic side of BTS. I wanted the pictures to serve as an introduction of the characters before diving into the story, like a VCR that is played during the opening of a concert; and by placing the members’ photos with their eyes closed as their final cut, the readers are told that they are about to enter the inner world of BTS. I thought it would be a nice way to go “beyond the story.” And other than the members' stage names, we included their actual Korean names in all 23 editions of different languages, hoping that the book would also convey their feelings as an individual and not just as an artist. When it comes to design, we didn't want any particular color to represent the past ten years of BTS. We considered purple as the color for ARMY and ARMY alone, and stayed away from any color that could affect BTS’s brand image in any way. Cho Yunjoo, the designer of this book, and I would put our heads together and make multiple revisions a day. The resulting design is a book jacket in deep navy with seven diagonal lines running through it, the lines in fluorescent ink for the pop of color, although there may be slight differences due to the production environments by countries and regions. In the pages of the book, we used only a single shade of blue for a futuristic and youthful feel. Once you remove the jacket, there is one silver diagonal line that symbolizes the team, cutting through a black hard cover. We were quite picky when we gave feedback to overseas publishers about the intent behind our editing style and design, our expectations, and production. It was to ensure the best quality and consistent output across all language editions, which we hope they would kindly understand. Some compromises were made in consideration of the circumstances, technical aspects, or production schedule, but I’m sure they worked hard to bring out the best version possible.

Let’s discuss the book’s structure. It was interesting how there are seven chapters, the first chapter entitled SEOUL and the final chapter being WE ARE. It seems to imply that the team started out in a very specific city and went on to form a larger community.
Myeongseok Kang: The chapter organization was thought out from the beginning. It’s a journey captured from the perspective of Korea's youth in the 2010s —young people in their mid-teens to early 20s leaving their hometowns and coming to Seoul to realize their dreams, and going through fierce competition as they dream of success. But after attaining success, they are confronted with problems and concerns they had never even thought of. This entire process is naturally weaved into BTS’s story. Looking back, BTS’s arc, illustrated by their discography, was, in a way, a process of them working out their concerns. A case in point is WINGS, an album through which the members studied their inner selves after the big shift in their surroundings following the success of THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MOMENT IN LIFE series, or the LOVE YOURSELF series, which encapsulated the team's internal struggles that ironically had arisen from the team's great success. The story trails the members as they survive the initial competition, fight for recognition throughout their youth, iterate the cycle of success and growth, draw a map of their souls through the process, and eventually come to sit down with the question of what they can do for the world at large. That is why the book starts with SEOUL, which depicts how the seven members came together, and ends with WE ARE, where BTS forms a community with ARMY in the truest sense of the word.

Another thing that stood out to me were multiple QR codes inserted throughout the book that direct the readers to BTS’s key choreography videos, mix tapes, blogs posts, and others, to aid their understanding of the book’s flow.
Kim Yeonju: Inserting QR codes into the book came from my own needs and convenience. While editing, I checked out all the videos, songs, and posts mentioned in the text and wrote down their links. I ended up with over 330 QR codes.I‘ve never seen so many QR codes in a single book. The publishers of foreign language editions must have been quite startled after receiving our data (laughs). I’m happy since it allows the readers to access the materials mentioned in the text immediately. Of course, this was possible thanks to the panoply of content BTS has created over time.

BEYOND THE STORY is mostly based on interviews with BTS, but also contains in-dept analyses and critiques of their performance, music, and select stages, making it a multi-layered read.
Myeongseok Kang: As for critical analyses of BTS’s works, it was important that they aided the readers in understanding BTS better as they trailed the course of their journey. They weren’t meant to be criticisms of BTS’s works, but an exposition of how the members’ lives at the time of the work’s release were manifested in their creations. Any song that members had mentioned in an interview or described to have had an impact on their inner self required scrutiny on my part. I also had to discuss any stage performances that played a crucial role in the team‘s history. So I hope this book could help instill new messages and meanings into some of their songs. Rather than writing about albums or stage performances flatly, I tried weaving them into the larger story of BTS’s journey.

Since the book contains both the members‘ interviews and narration written from the writer’s perspective, I would assume that it was important to visually differentiate what the members said from the writer’s comments.
Kim Yeonju: I had an “aha moment” as I was looking through the writer’s first draft, contemplating on how to organize everything. I came to the conclusion that the book’s organization should be centered around texts. I wanted there to be some distinction between the members’ comments and the writer‘s description, while making sure that the flow of the writers’ writing is evident and uninterrupted. At first, I considered using visual cues to highlight BTS’s remarks. I considered using colors, marking the members for each comment, or making the design trendy and eye-catching. But in the end, I streamlined the font, layout, and colors down to the most basic. BEYOND THE STORY is a complex book with many components. There are elements like the writer’s narration, interview of the seven BTS members, their unreleased portrait photos, concept photos by album, discography, excerpts from interviews, QR codes and footnotes. So I tried to make everything look neat. I wanted BEYOND THE STORY to be “timeless,” a word that RM often uses to describe his ideal music. We chose the book’s paper and template thinking that the book should act as a neutral vessel for both texts and photographs,

As it includes BTS’s decade-long narrative along with the writer’s analyses of the K-pop trends across the arc, I would imagine that the book would read like a record of K-pop history during the time BTS was active, on top of being a book about BTS.
Myeongseok Kang: BTS has had a huge impact on the K-pop industry, and the team’s growth provides an apt representation of the history of K-pop’s growth. That is why I think it’s impossible to fully explain one of them without the other. For example, one cannot go without explaining what BTS’s success in the United States means to K-pop or Korean pop culture. And there are some parts across BTS’s history that require an understanding of K-pop’s unique characteristics. How the K-pop industry works remains an enigma to many, not only overseas but domestically as well, which is why I thought they should be mentioned in order to explain BTS’s albums or their activities. 

The book doesn’t seem to leave anything out, from the member’s individual struggles to challenges BTS faced as a team. As RM mentions in the book, fantasy is an important component of K-pop, so such honesty from a book about a K-pop artist came as a surprise. 
Myeongseok Kang: You might think that an “official book” about BTS would mainly discuss the group’s success. Sure, the path to their success is important, and a lot of it is covered in the book. But the seven members’ growth as individuals felt equally important, if not more so than BTS’s success. I think that the process of BTS overcoming struggles and growing as human beings will resonate with the readers. The members really opened up to me about their concerns and struggles. I included pretty much all of them in the book. Most of the details had to be kept intact in order to explain how certain concerns came about and how they were resolved. And I thought that even if it is an official book published under Big Hit Music, I had to be transparent about my position and perspective if I were to bear responsibility as a writer. And as a writer, I wanted readers to better understand BTS through their real, gritty stories within the context of the times. I was able to do that thanks to the ample autonomy I was given as a writer. I am very grateful for the respect that Big Hit Music and BTS members have shown regarding the content and direction of the book.

Kim Yeonju: To speak from the project facilitator’s view, BTS took part in BEYOND THE STORY as interviewees, and the narration is told through the eyes of the writer. It might not have been easy to allow such an open approach and interpretation, but the members’ inclusivity was impressive. I think BEYOND THE STORY is just one of the countless interpretations of BTS out there. So we didn’t try to provide any answers. However, as it’s an official book, I put more effort into fact-checking and reviewing the author’s opinions. I also made sure to consider “if a statement would still be considered appropriate if it came from BTS themselves.” And it was especially important to have an accurate understanding of the contextual background and order of events when discussing any incidents. BTS’s career didn’t pan out linearly, but rather, in dozens of directions like tree branches from a set of entangled circumstances. I double-checked if the members' comments were real, and used all available data to verify the stories. Frankly, it was a tough process. How should I put it—I felt like a lonely detective (laughs).

You said “the seven members’ growth as individuals felt equally important, if not more so than BTS’s success.” In the same vein, it feels like one of the core themes of BEYOND THE STORY is the shared growth of BTS and ARMY.
Myeongseok Kang: I mentioned this in the manuscript, but with respect to BTS, people were always asking questions like “Why is BTS so popular anyway?” or “Why do you like BTS so much?” But those comments are coming from a third party, neither BTS nor ARMY. When you love someone, you don't ask yourself why you love them. I thought the question should not be “Why do you love them?” but instead, “What has that love given to your and your life?” Chapter 6, or THE WORLD OF BTS, is actually a tribute to ARMY’s love. In the summer of 2019 during BTS’s rehearsal, a day before their performance in Saudi Arabia, I was amazed by ARMY who stood outside the stadium in scorching weather just to hear even a small sound, cheering whenever they heard the members' voices. To give someone such unconditional love, to be there for someone during their struggles and support them, and in the process, fostering positive interactions between the artist and the fandom, eventually to ignite a cultural phenomenon where ARMY exercises positive influence on society through donations and display of concert-viewing etiquette. These are people who became better versions of themselves through the act of love. I wanted to explore what they have felt from engaging in such a relationship with the artist and what they have gained from it, and have that story told. I wanted to show how the artist and the fans have grown up together for the past ten years and formed a relationship where they can continue looking out for each other's happiness. As BTS members have stressed time and again, it could be said that their lives have been guided by ARMY. 

I think it is thanks to the power of BTS and ARMY that the book was released in total of 23 languages, with some of the best translators taking part, like Anton Hur, who translated Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize—one of the world’s top three prestigious literary awards—or Ki-Hyang Lee, who translated The Vegetarian into German.
Myeongseok Kang: As a writer, I was very delighted to hear that such renowned translators were involved. Personally, I’ve been thinking that this might be my very last book, and it’s such an honor to have been a part of it. This is all thanks to BTS and ARMY.

Kim Yeonju: It wouldn’t have been easy for the translators with little background knowledge of K-pop or BTS. I personally wonder how they felt translating the manuscript. Because some of them might have learned for the first time that BTS wasn’t always at the pinnacle at which they are now. I bet there were people at the publishers who barely knew the names of the members who learned about the team through this project, and I hope to hear their thoughts if there’s a chance. And while the translators must have done their best in translating Hangul into more than 20 languages, I would appreciate it if they could provide surgical feedback, if any, to publishers in their respective countries.

Lastly, I would like to hear your thoughts on the publication of the book.
Myeongseok Kang: BEYOND THE STORY is the result of many efforts and contributions by countless people including BTS themselves. I was very busy balancing Weverse Magazine work and writing this book, and so many people have picked up after my shortcomings to make this book a reality. I would like to express my deepest appreciation for everyone involved. I would especially like to thank Kim Yeonju for joining the project as the editor. And since the book would not have existed in the first place without BTS and ARMY, I would like to thank them and tell them that it was an honor for me to have such an opportunity like this.

Kim Yeonju: I’m sure that everyone who has worked on BTS content would agree, but you get to experience the wildest situations in your respective field. Likewise, I have never encountered a project of such massive scale and diversity in variables throughout my career of planning and production. I know that everything panning before our eyes is a culmination of the power of music, the power of people, and the power in our hearts that we call “love.” If BEYOND THE STORY was written by someone else, it would look different from how it is now. Perhaps it might be even better. But if it is evident to the readers that painstaking work has gone into refining every single sentence in order to accurately portray BTS’s journey, if they can see the hours we have spent contemplating on how to deliver the story, and if they can feel that at the center of all our efforts lie none other than ARMY, then I think my job here is done. While BTS is both the subject as well as participants in the making of BEYOND THE STORY, everything beyond them, especially the passion-filled arc, has been co-authored by ARMY. So to me, this book is a documentation of both parties’ journey. 
In translation, there are things we call “source language” and “target language.” The source language of BEYOND THE STORY is Korean. I hope that this record, which would reach so many people and ARMY around the world more intimately than ever in their “target language,” helps the seven BTS members take deeper roots in their hearts.