V leaves momentary images behind him—whether he’s singing, performing or just living his everyday life. As those images accumulate, his life is becoming a movie.
You made headlines because of your staged conversation with Olivia Rodrigo in the introduction of your performance of “Butter” at the Grammy Awards. I’m guessing a lot of people were asking what you two talked about. I’m sure it must have been difficult to really talk under the circumstances.
V: I got asked about that a lot. I was honestly really nervous there because of the clothing choreography. A light whisper in her ear probably would have been enough in that situation, but I think I just said “blah blah blah” without saying anything real. Leading up to the moment, I thought I could just show it on my face or set the scene—and thought I didn’t have to say anything in particular—so I wasn’t saying anything special. Olivia Rodrigo knew that’s what I was doing, too. For a 10- or 15-second take, the performers don’t have to say anything special and can still make it look fun.
I understand that performance for the Grammys took place under various urgent, quickly evolving circumstances, so how did it end up that you would act with Olivia Rodrigo?
V: Ah, that was a suggestion from the people at the Grammys that was agreed to on the same day as the show. So I had no way of knowing who I would end up seated next to.
In a situation like that, you must have had to set everything up and capture the right feeling right away.
V: I kept thinking about the Now You See Me movies. The way the performance on the stage unfolded also reminded me of Jason Bourne, but for talking with Olivia Rodridgo, I thought it was really important to capture the feeling of the way they con people while talking to them in Now You See Me. I thought maybe I should just speak to her casually, and that it would be like magic if I could steal her card without her noticing while we’re talking, and how it would look if we locked eyes in a fun way. Things like that.
You had to act and throw the card before the song started, then go up on stage to do the performance. There must have been a lot you had to think about.
V: Yes. So if we had kept going with the conversation, I could have missed the timing on throwing the card. I was counting the beat in my head the whole time to keep track of when I should throw it. I kept going, One, two, three, four, in my head. And it was hard to know exactly what Olivia Rodrigo was saying since I had in-ears in both my ears at the time. Honestly, I was so nervous. I was so worried over doing the clothing choreography properly and it was all I could talk about before going on stage. We only had the day of and the day before to get it right before going up there all together, so I was more worried about that than anything else.
It's the kind of performance where, even if it goes well during practice, it won’t necessarily go well live.
V: Yes, exactly. I was really worried, so I was opposed to that part of the performance in the beginning. And it didn’t go well during the rehearsal, either, and we knew we should have been going on stage full of confidence, but we went up there feeling nervous, so I was afraid that we were going to mess up. We ended up deciding to do it anyway, but we did pull it off and the response was fantastic, so. (laughs)
There was a lot of pressure leading up to that performance. How did you feel once it was all over?
V: It’s finally over. (laughs) I should go watch the other artists’ performances and have a good time. That’s the only thing I was thinking.
And you talked about Lady Gaga on V LIVE.
V: I watch too many videos of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett performing together. Tony Bennett is one of my favorite jazz musicians and I’m absolutely into the way Lady Gaga performs jazz. So I said I’m a huge fan, I really enjoy listening to your music and I truly believe you’re this generation’s jazz queen.
Are you even more into jazz lately? I know you’ve been listening to jazz ever since you were young, but I’m curious if there’s something that’s made you like it even more now than you used to.
V: If you like something for a long time, that feeling sort of intensifies, and whenever I like something, I end up doing something about it. I grew up listening to a lot of jazz, which I love, and I feel like it’s the style of music I want to do be doing now.
When I see what you post on Instagram, I feel like they have that old, jazzy vibe, whether it’s the video where you dance in a carefree way or the pictures that give a similar feeling.
V: I’ve always been that way—that’s just my individual style. I didn’t think it was necessary to post anything like that to the group account since it’s my personal style and my personal life. But I had no idea what to post once I ended up getting my own social media account (laughs) so I decided to just post things I like. I can show off my personal flair on that account. I don’t think I need to worry what other people think about it.
Do you have any criteria you follow for the photos or videos you post? They all share a very consistent feeling.
V: No, I just shoot whatever. I don’t have the ability to put my photos together in a nice way the way Hobi does, and I can’t express my own feelings consistently the way Namjoon does. I think it’s different every day—whether I’m feeling good that day, or if there’s something I want to upload. It all depends on who I am that day. Whatever I’m doing, it’s up to whoever I am that day to make the judgment call.
No wonder you like jazz. (laughs)
V: It’s very free-form. Nothing’s planned out. That’s what I love about it.
I still think there’s something special about how the photos feel, though. Even the selfies you took while you were getting your makeup done felt almost like they were from a photoshoot, for example—like you’re capturing a cool moment. I was also curious how you edit your selfies, with filters or otherwise, to achieve that look.
V: Filters? I don’t use filters. It’s just a regular old camera on a Galaxy—a Samsung phone. (laughs) And I don’t edit them, either. Because if I did, they wouldn’t be me anymore. I tend to leave the photos just as they are with an unpolished feel. I do adjust the color, though. When I want to make them black and white. That’s the one and only thing I use.
You have an absolute vibe. Even though you’re just taking the photos in the moment.
V: Yes. I don’t really put too much thought into it. I just keep ending up opening the camera and taking pictures whenever there’s a nice scene or something I can make look good. I just really like having my photo taken and taking photos as well.
What do you think about playing golf in that sense? It’s the kind of thing where there’s a lot of waiting between shots but with moments where it’s suddenly important that you concentrate.
V: I didn’t actually used to like golf. You have to wait a long time before you can hit the ball and everything depends on a single swing. To be honest, I’m the kind of person who improvises everything. I randomly saw this movie, with Shia LaBeouf, called The Greatest Game Ever Played. That movie was great. Watching that movie introduced me to the clothes, atmosphere and everything all at once, so I bought some golf shoes the next day. I tend to jump on things as soon as I’m hooked. I’m sure they were just saying it to be nice, but other people told me I’m good at it, and that got me excited. (laughs) And after I started playing, I noticed golf has its own unique atmosphere, which was really good.
Watching movies and finding inspiration from them seems to be part of who you are. As you mentioned a little bit earlier, you’re also influenced by movies when it comes to performing and can quickly express that in various ways.
V: Yes, that’s true. That’s movies for you. I thought I should think of a movie and borrow the concept and use it as a starting point for the stage. I want everyone to have their own interpretation when I put on a certain appearance. I love the freedom that allows one person to get one thing from what I do while someone else gets a different feeling. I find it interesting to see other people make different images of me in their imagination based on the way I express myself.
If your life were a movie, what kind of movie would it be?
V: I hope I can convey my sense of freedom—how free I am. Everyone has a different idea about what it means to be free, but I think my idea of freedom is a little more free than—compared to other people’s. I would want my movie to be one that conveys that sense of freedom all at once.
I think people already embrace your brand of freedom to some degree. The way people viewed your music changed after “Blue & Grey” and “Christmas Tree.” And I feel like people understand the image you’re trying to project, considering the particular type of scenes on TV that those two songs often appear in.
V: I’m not sure what people think of my songs because I can’t be there with them. I can’t see it with my own eyes. I’ll just have to try making more solo songs to find out. I think that way I can know for sure what lies ahead based on what direction my sound is taking and the stance it should take.
You’re already made a lot of songs. Don’t you want to release any of your unreleased music?
V: I shelved all those songs and I’m writing new ones. But I think I’m doing a good job with the writing now. (laughs)
How do you choose when to shelve a song and when to release it?
V: I don’t know. When the mood just strikes me? Maybe when I liked it on the day I made it and still like it when I hear it now, too.
You have to have liked it back then and now as well? Isn’t that setting the bar a little too high? (laughs)
V: I don’t have any regrets. I just tell myself the next song should be better than the previous one and go make it. I feel like I want to be as objective as I can be with myself when it comes to the songs I make. If I feel regret whenever that happens, I’ll become one of those people who just release songs even when they’re not satisfied with them. And then I wouldn’t be able to complete an album of my songs the way I envision it.
Are there times when the very foundation of the music you’re working on changes as you’re working on it? Your songs have been consistent, emotionally speaking, but your arrangements and composition have gradually been becoming more detailed.
V: I think I’m trying to make them sound fuller. Like the richness of the tone or a fuller melody. I think I’ve reached that level now. If you listen to all the songs I ever made from beginning to end in order, I hope you can tell both my voice and the entire atmosphere of the songs are taking on a deeper emotional power. It’s one of the most important goals I’ve ever tried to achieve.
There’s a version of “Spring Day” on Proof that you wrote the music for. How long after you started writing songs did you make it?
V: It had been around two or three years. But I tend to only write when I’m feeling it, so at the time I was making one song every five months to a year.
It’s one of your earlier works and also quite a bit different from the final version of “Spring Day.”
V: Yes. “Spring Day” was basically our first pop ballad, so I thought I could write it. And I really wrote a lot. The producers I was working with all said they liked it, and the label really liked it, too, and even said something playful, like, Yeah, we’re probably going to use yours … but it fell out of the running the following day. (laughs)
Listening to “Spring Day,” it sounds both similar to and different from your style. It’s more pop-like and upbeat than some of the music you’re making these days but it also has that gravity your songs tend to have at the same time.
V: I think that was the only kind of melody I could produce for that song. The reason being that, when I was given the theme of “Spring Day”—my idea of a spring day was sort of like the sky clearing up after overcoming a chilly, melancholy feeling? It was a feeling like we’re going to have good days ahead, somehow. So I wanted the melody to sound more cheerful than the kind that initially came to mind, and that’s how it came to be.
Even back then you were faithful with your interpretations of the group’s tracks as you worked on them.
V: Yes. And that’s what I thought, but the melody Namjoon wrote had the setting that took place before mine: before the sky clears. Or with winter still in the air. The way he took up that vibe, it was going in the complete opposite direction from what I had in mind, and I thought, Wow, I never thought a spring day could be interpreted that way. Compared to the “Spring Day” I was thinking of, Namjoon took his thinking one step further. His song really blindsided me. (laughs)
How do your personal traits, like your free-spiritedness, fit into the music of BTS? I got the impression that your characteristic voice and the intended direction of the group’s songs harmonize even better in the new songs on Proof.
V: I think my voice in BTS’ music and in my solo music should be different. That could be yet another thing that’s attractive about me that I can show off, but it could also be a tool at my disposal. I kind of like making different characters for myself, so you could look at it as something of a persona.
Could you tell me something about your BTS persona?
V: I don’t think I can define it in one phrase. If we look at me like I’m a tree, then I think you could say I have thousands of branches. The different fruit on each of those branches each represents a different one of V’s attractive points. So, while I could become something that can be explained, I don’t really think I absolutely need to. So it’s not really something that can be put into words. I’m just trying to create and show one of the many charms that I can show off as V. If you’re asking what kind of V I’m portraying within BTS, I would say one who sings and dances. That’s one of V’s thousands of personas and it’s up to the viewers to come to their own conclusion.
I guess you could say that finally putting on a concert in person after all that time was likely a huge motivation in that regard. It must have been difficult to demonstrate all those different personas on stage.
V: When we held our first concert in LA, it felt like we were blasting right over what I might call a plateau. It felt great. I was so happy because it was like we were finally able to experience the normalness of everyday life again. I could once again feel just how much we’re loved, and I guess I had a hard time, too, but I could really feel how much ARMY had been waiting for that concert as well. And I’m glad it wrapped up nice and neat. The concert went how I imagined it would, with the atmosphere I hoped for, and I felt happy at the end. And I wanted to hear each and every one of ARMY’s voices and I was happy I got to.
You’re showered with love while you show off your persona on stage, then come down and write songs with your free spirit. What do you want to get out of this whole process?
V: I didn’t think much of it at first. I just casually thought at first that my performances were the only thing I needed to switch up every day, but the weight is gradually increasing and I have more to think about, too, so if I keep thinking of one thing, I’ll just get stuck on that, I think. So I think I shouldn’t get hung up on things I need to get rid of and just get rid of them, get the things I need to get and make sure I make the things I need to make. So even if I make a song, I’ll toss it without regret if I think it’s not that good, and tell myself not to repeat the way I do a performance if it doesn’t feel right. And I’m getting to the point where, if I say I want to do something, I’ll tell myself I’ll do it someday, without fail.
What would make you an ideal artist?
V: I hope I can come up with a whole lot of personas: singer, solo singer, actor or, later on, photographer or regular old Kim Taehyung. Or when I get into something else. I want to create so many different personas that there’s thousands of versions of myself out there and I can become the kind of person who has a new me good enough to do something different every day. I think that’s my ultimate dream, speaking as an artist.
How close do you think you are to meeting that ideal? You gave yourself a very harsh evaluation in your last interview with Weverse Magazine, too.
V: One point.
Just one point? (laughs)
V: I don’t know. (laughs)
Article. Myungseok Kang
Interview. Myungseok Kang
Visual Director. Yurim Jeon
Project Management. Minji Oh
Visual Creative Team. Leehyun Kim(BIGHIT MUSIC)
Photography. Hyea W. Kang / Assist. Jisu Um, Yonguk Shin, Heehyun Oh, Chiho Yoon
Hair. Som Han / Assist. Hwa Yeon Kim, Seong Hyeon Hwang
Makeup. Dareum Kim / Assist. Yuri Seo, Sunmin Kim
Stylist. Youngjin Kim / Assist. Yesong Kim, Bongkyu Kim
Set Design. Darak(Seoyun Choi / Yehui Son, Ayeong Kim)
Artist Protocol Team. Shin Gyu Kim, Jin Gu Jang, Su Bin Kim, Jung Min Lee, Da Sol An, Jun Tae Park, Seung Byung Lee, Hyeon Ki Lee, Dae Seong Jeong, Ju Sang Lee