BTS’ Jung Kook on ‘Dynamite,’ Loving ARMY, and Learning From Ariana Grande

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“We’ve known each other for so long,” J-Hope recently told BTS’ youngest member, Jung Kook, 23. “And I love how you haven’t changed at all.” More than any other member, Jung Kook grew up in BTS; he was only 15 when the group debuted in 2013, and he’d been famous for years by the time he graduated high school, with the other members attending the ceremony. With formidable singing and dancing skills, he’s always been a born pop star, with multiple agencies trying to recruit him as early as 2011. Since then, he’s more than fulfilled his promise, playing a key role on BTS’ biggest songs, including “Dynamite.” In a conversation from his label’s Seoul headquarters, where he wore a plain white sweatshirt with a matching white mask and a black bucket hat, he discussed making “Dynamite,” his vocal evolution, his Ariana Grande fandom, and more.

(In celebration of BTS’ appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone, we’re publishing individual digital covers with each member of the band; check back throughout the next four days for more.)

On the recent Let’s BTS TV special, I thought it was really beautiful when you were surprised with the videos of ARMY singing along to “Life Goes On,” and it looked like you were moved as well. Did it remind you of how much you missed seeing fans in person?
I’m a person that really loves to be onstage and really loved hearing from our fans, so when our tour got canceled in March last year, it was a bit of a shock and it was kind of hard to take in. The roar of crowds and of ARMY is something we loved. And when we do TV programs or promotions, it gets our heart racing and makes us long for it more and more. And as you said, on Let’s BTS with the “Life Goes On” performance, when we heard ARMY taking part through the internet, that reminded us of the actual roar of the crowd. It made me miss it even more.

How has it affected you to essentially grow up within BTS?
I started my trainee years when I was growing up, and one thing I think is a real blessing for me is I got to meet these wonderful, nice, good six members. I think I matured into a really good person that can be loved by a lot of people. I’m really grateful for the fact that other members, the older members, have given me a lot of feedback, positive or negative. I’m really grateful to have met them.

Do you ever wonder about what you may have missed from ordinary life?
It’s true I couldn’t spend a lot of days at school, but I think I gained more than I lost. I sometimes felt envious of all my friends hanging out or going on a trip. Maybe those are the things that I missed. But again, I think I gained more than I’ve lost.

Was this past year maybe a chance to live more normally for you?
Just because we didn’t have a lot of work compared to before, or just because we couldn’t go outside, it really didn’t mean we had ordinary life. We still had to be cautious of our behavior. And just because we couldn’t go on tours, it didn’t mean we could stop improving. So I tried to discover new things and I think I spent a relatively busy time inside. But I did have some time to really rearrange my emotions, and I think I grew up as a person as well.

Jung Kook of BTS, photographed in Seoul on April 6th, 2021 Photograph by Hong Jang Hyun for Rolling Stone. Fashion direction by Alex Badia. Coat, top, and pants by Fendi.

People call you “golden” because you’re good at so many things. But as you’ve said before, that comes with a lot of pressure, doesn’t it?
People say that I excel, that I’m an all-rounder. Of course I excel in some areas, but I don’t think it necessarily helps to bask in those talents and gifts. You can only improve in a certain area when you really practice, when you really try, when you deep-dive into it. So I really don’t want to think myself as an all-rounder. I just want to keep trying and working hard. And of course I do feel pressure, but those pressures can also drag me to work hard and do best at what I do.

You had offers from multiple agencies, but you chose Big Hit because of RM. What did you see in him?
I can’t clearly remember what happened at the time, but I just simply thought that RM was really cool. At that time, I really didn’t know a lot about being a singer. But when I saw him rap, I just thought he was really, really cool and awesome. And I believe maybe it was fate that drew me to him.

I talked about this with J-Hope as well, but it’s very interesting to look at the early style of BTS, both the clothing and the music, and see how it evolved. What do you think when you look back at those early songs and videos?
When we first debuted, we had kind of fierce makeup, with our eyeliner and stuff, and dark outfits, fierce-looking outfits. At that time, our company was relatively small and we couldn’t put a lot of budget into the outfits. But now we devote a lot of time and we hold a lot of meetings to choose the outfits and the style that would go well with the songs and the album. So I think the visual aspect is really important. The song, the dance — every individual aspect is really important.

Can you share some memories of recording “Dynamite”?
I thought I was getting these lines out correctly and pronouncing them well, but as we were recording and practicing, I realized there were still things I needed to work on. My pronunciation was not that good. My tongue just wasn’t loose enough to really get these English words out! But the more we practiced, the more we sang, the song became more familiar, and became more natural. So it was a good learning experience for me.

The song “Euphoria” is one of your best moments. I know it’s already a few years ago, but what do you remember about putting that one together?
I specifically like “Euphoria” among many BTS songs because it has a voice that’s between a very young boy and a very mature man. And that’s why I had a tough time recording it. I had to translate those emotions into the recording, and I went into it thinking that I have lost my original voice and I really didn’t know how to sing. And I think those emotions I felt translated well into the recording. After listening to the whole thing, I was like, “Wow, I really did a good job.”

What other artists have given you something to aspire to?
If there is one moment that really stayed with me, it was when we went on one of our overseas tours, and I had a chance to go to an Ariana Grande concert. I was really impressed by her stage presence. She’s a very small person, and the volume of her singing and what she was able to do was really moving, really impressive. And it just seemed like something I wanted to emulate and learn from. It made me want to develop and continue to grow.

In general, I’ve tried to listen to a lot of different music. To really find the voice that I have right now, I listened to random music and just tried to sing along and learn how other artists sing.

The other guys have said that when you were young, when you first started, you were a little bit shy and introverted. What do you remember about that?
[Laughs] During the training years, I’d wait until the other guys had fallen asleep so I could wash up by myself in the middle of the night. But I think time really solves everything. If you spend such a long time with the same people, it really affects your personalities. The other members had a lot of influence on me, and I could just feel comfortable because they are such good people. And they encouraged me to open up to them and mature into a good person.

Out of all these years so far, what has been the most mind-blowing moment?
Topping the [U.S.] charts, being nominated for the Grammys, getting all those awards, were of course great honors and great experiences. But the best moment in my life, from when I was born until I die, is seeing ARMY from the stage. And that will never change.