ERA OF FEMALE POWER SELENA GETS REAL ABOUT BEING THE “WOMAN OF THE YEAR”
KING OF RAP
KENDRICK LAMAR TALKS CAREER, LIFE, AND MAKING MUSIC
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KENDRIC by Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone Magazine
The greatest rapper alive goes deep on his obsessive what Bono taught him and the temptations of
e studio habits, f stardom
endrick Lamar has a lot going on right n never know it. Backstage in Duluth, Georgia, before his latest sold-out arena show, he’s radi earthly levels of clear-eyed serenity from his p dressing-room couch. He’s wearing a peach sw white Nikes, and carrying a plastic cup of gree little kale, apple, spinach. Shit good.” The fuel He has a Number One pop hit with “HUMBL orate video with Rihanna about to drop, a cou tour dates left to go.
Freakish things keep happening in 2017, mos awful, but at least one anomaly is for the bette music’s most exciting and innovative young ar best rapper of his generation, and that’s just th somehow become one of its biggest. And Lam there without compromise, after releasing thr albums in a row.
His major-label debut, 2012’s good kid, m.A.A vivid autobiography, a virtuosic deconstructio ta rap centered around tales of a childhood in where many of his friends were gangbangers a harassment was a constant threat. The followTo Pimp a Butterfly, was a dense, cerebral, jaz meditation on race in America that spawned o decade’s most important songs, the Black Live them “Alright” – but no radio smashes. On hi year’s DAMN., he switched lanes, managing to LP that’s just as smart and conceptual, but tigh and more accessible.
Lamar, 30, is pleased with his recent commerc umphs, but says it’s not the goal: “If I can mak – or 10 million people – feel a certain type of my music, that’s the whole point.”
You rapped about teenage dreams of “livin’ life like rapnow, but you’d pers do” – but your own life as a rapper has turned out a few hours to be pretty sedate. What are your vices at this point? My biggest vice is being addicted to the chase of what I’m iating undoing. It turns into a vice when I shut off people that acperch on a weatsuit and tually care for me, because I’m so indulged spreading this en juice – “a word. Being on that stage, knowing that you’re changing must work: people’s lives, that’s a high. Sometimes, when you’re pressLE.,” an elab- ing so much to get something across to a stranger, you uple of dozen forget people that are closer to you. That’s a vice.
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Do you ever feel like you should be having more fun? Everybody’s fun is different. Mine is not drinking. I drink casually, from time to time. I like to get people from my neighborhood, someone that’s fresh out of prison for five years, and see their faces when they go to New York, when they go out of the country. Shit, that’s fun for me. You see it through their eyes and you see ‘em light up. People treat you like you’re a saint or a monk, which must be weird. But the people closest to me really know who I am. They get all of the versions.
too, even with criticism. My first time in the studio, [label chief] Top Dawg was like, “Man, that shit wack.” Other artists around couldn’t handle that. But it made me go back in the booth and go harder. Where did all that maturity come from? It just came from being around older motherfuckers, man. I was seven years old playing tackle football with 14-yearolds. Anybody my older cousins was hanging with, that’s who I wanted to hang with. I’ve always been short [chuckles]. Everybody was always bigger and older than me. It gave me insight on people. You’ve said you were one of the only ones among your friends with a dad around – and at the end of the new album you suggest that may have saved your life. How so? It taught me how to deal with [pauses] ... emotions. Better than a lot of my peers. When you see kids doing things that the world calls harmful or a threat, it’s because they don’t know how to deal with their emotions. When you have a father in your life, you do something, he’ll look at you and say, “What the fuck is you doing?” Putting you in your place. Making you feel this small. That was a privilege for me. My peers, their mothers and grandmothers may have taught them the love and the care, but they couldn’t teach them that.
Is there maybe something of the monk about you, though? I guess that can go back to when I was a kid. It felt like I was always in my own head. I still got that nature. I’m always thinking. I’m always meditating on the present or the What makes you lose your temper? future. People that are around me that are energy-suckers or someone that is not driven the same way I’m driven. Can’t Was there a sense that you were special as a kid? have that around me. Life is too short. From what my family tells me, I carried myself as a man – that’s why they called me “Man Man.” It put a stigma on Was there a sense that you were special as a kid? cial trike one person the idea of me reacting as a kid sometimes – I would hurt From what my family tells me, I carried myself as a man euphoria in myself and they would expect me not to cry. That put a lot – that’s why they called me “Man Man.” It put a stigma on of responsibility on me, got me ready for the responsibilthe idea of me reacting as a kid sometimes – I would hurt ity my fans put upon me. I ended up getting tough skin, myself and they would expect me not to cry. That put a lot
of responsibility on me, got me ready for the responsibility my fans put upon me. I ended up getting tough skin, too, even with criticism. My first time in the studio, [label chief] Top Dawg was like, “Man, that shit wack.” Other artists around couldn’t handle that. But it made me go back in the booth and go harder. Where did all that maturity come from? It just came from being around older motherfuckers, man. I was seven years old playing tackle football with 14-yearolds. Anybody my older cousins was hanging with, that’s who I wanted to hang with. I’ve always been short [chuckles]. Everybody was always bigger and older than me. It gave me insight on people. You’ve said you were one of the only ones among your friends with a dad around – and at the end of the new album you suggest that may have saved your life. How so? It taught me how to deal with [pauses] ... emotions. Better than a lot of my peers. When you see kids doing things that the world calls harmful or a threat, it’s because they don’t know how to deal with their emotions. When you have a father in your life, you do something, he’ll look at you and say, “What the fuck is you doing?” Putting you in your place. Making you feel this small. That was a privilege for me. My peers, their mothers and grandmothers may have taught them the love and the care, but they couldn’t teach them that. What makes you lose your temper? People that are around me that are energy-suckers or someone that is not driven the same way I’m driven. Can’t have that around me. Life is too short.
Your cousin Carl is a member of the Hebrew Israelites, who b that African-Americans are the true descendants of the bibli Israelites. Carl pops up in a voicemail on “FEAR.” You call yo an Israelite on the album. How much of his theology have yo braced, and how much of it is just you playing with the ideas Everything that I say on that record is from his perspective. Tha always been my thing. Always listen to people’s history and thei background. It may not be like mine, it may not be like yours. I taking his perspective on the world and life as a people and put to where people can listen to it and make their own perspective it, whether you agree or you don’t agree. That’s what I think mu for. It’s a mouthpiece.
So what’s your opinion about the idea that Carl brings up, th black people are cursed by God as per Deuteronomy? That shit’s truth. There’s so many different ways to interpret it, b definitely truth when you’re talking about unity in our commun and some of the things we have no control over. Where there’s fi ing against the government, where there’s fighting against our o political views, there’s always a higher being, right there willing stop it.
It could be argued that blaming a curse from God kind of exc racist system. Right. You take it how you wanna take it. The conversation’s the can sit and talk about it all day. I do, all day [laughs].
When you see a sea of white kids rapping back the lyrics to so thing like “Blacker the Berry,” what do you make of that? With my listener, I know they actually hear what I’m saying, an speaking for a whole culture of people. So for the suburban kid doesn’t know how we grew up, or the history of my people, hea them lyrics, they get to understand. It’s almost like a history less that wasn’t taught to them in school.
You’ve spoken of struggling with depression. Is that still with Um, as of now, I’m cool. I won’t say I’m content. I don’t want word. I’m not satisfied yet. But as far as having a sense of per
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stress to that level, no. That’s a good space because I can now listen to my listeners’ struggles and help them. But you understand why so many artists end up self-destructing? Oh, no, that’s easy. Especially in this lifestyle. Everything is at your reach, whatever you want, whatever you need. When them cameras is on you, anything you need. But who you really are is when the lights cut off. It’s all about how much discipline you have. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? I’m mothafuckin’ optimistic for sure. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t! Come on, man, this shit don’t happen to everybody. Almost all of my best friends are in prison. Forty years plus. Every show, they wanna see pictures. They tell me, “You gotta be optimistic as fuck to be where you at. We didn’t have that. The glass was always halfway empty.” And it’s not just being optimistic. It’s really about being responsible. You can talk about dreams all day and “what I want,” but you gotta put an action behind it.
But you’ve also wondered aloud whether we’re living in the End Times. I balance that by giving of myself as much as possible, in the hope to pass along to the next generation, or however many generations it is cuses a to go, the knowledge that I have. Given whatever fucked-up situation that we’re in, it’s all about the evolution of man. People get it fucked ere. We up because they think it’s the physical form. No, it’s evolution of the mind. So, as long as I’m dedicating myself fully to my potential and this gift, there’s nothing else to think about. I can go to sleep peacefulomely. I can check out with a peaceful conscience.
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SELENA GOMEZ by Denise Warner, Billboard Magazine
Meet Billboard Magazine’s 2017 “Woman of the Year,” as she gives her take on life after surgery, mental health, and love.
“She’s on fire!” T
here’s a five-foot teddy bear sprawled across the kitchen floor in Selena Gomez’s North Hollywood home. “I know, I know,” says Gomez, rolling her eyes, acknowledging that the stuffed animal doesn’t quite blend with the trio of armchairs nestled in the inviting, marble-accented nook. “It was a gift, and at first I thought, ‘This is so ridiculous, I can’t wait until I give it away to another person.’” But Gomez, 25, hasn’t let go of it -- yet. During the past few years, as the Texas-born pop star publicly confronted the ongoing anxiety and depression that were intertwined with lupus, the autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with in 2013, she also began Marie Kondo-ing her world: stripping away the superficial excesses so that only the people and things that were, in her words, “actually worth it,” remained. During that time, Gomez parted with friends and romantic partners (her 10-month relationship with The Weeknd ended in November). Even this
after a hot Pilates class this morning, glows, lit from within, as she tries to articulate this: “I don’t know how to explain the place that I’m in other than to say I just feel full.”
-- in a good way.” The rest of Gomez’s day will be exhaustively documented by tabloids: dinner at a steakhouse with Justin Bieber, who has recently re-entered her life, and a stop with him at Hillsong Church’s annual conference. Hours after Gomez and I part ways, Jennifer Lawrence, filling in as host on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, will even ask guest Kim Kardashian what she thinks about Gomez and Bieber “getting back together.” “I think it’s so cute,” responds Kardashian. (When I ask Gomez about Bieber, she simply says, “I cherish people who have really impacted my life.”)
A similar sense of laid-back poise can be heard in the four new songs she released in 2017. The sonically sparse, Talking Heads-sampling “Bad Liar,” which hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July, was rapturously received by critics, and “Wolves,” her single with DJ-of-the-moment marshmello, may be the most understated, emotive dancefloor-filler of the year. Even the horror film-inspired music video for “Fetish,” which has garnered over 119 million YouTube views, re- It’s the kind of attention that makes Gomez conhouse, a one-story cottage devoid of the swirling flects Gomez’s complete lack of concern about template running away, “going to Alaska, only to staircases and palazzo-style overlooks in her forhow people perceive her. resurface when there’s work.” Instead, she exmer Calabasas compound, is part of the equation. plains, “I want to live a life that’s worth living,” to Concealed entirely from the street by a thick slab I’ve only been with Gomez for 15 minutes when choose exactly who and what best fits into her life, of hedges, it’s enveloped in the kind of silence that she begins to open up about decisions of hers no matter how it looks from the outside. Even if feels very much in sync with Gomez, who projects most people will never have to make -- checking it’s in the form of a giant stuffed bear -- which, calm, peaceful confidence. “I don’t need a lot of into rehabilitation facilities in 2014 and 2016, if nothing else, her dog Charlie leaps onto with things,” she says on this overcast Friday. “I like and the kidney transplant she underwent this abandon. feeling removed, and I wanted a place where I summer due to complications from lupus (for could be alone.” which she has raised over $500,000 to help find a cure). There is no fidgeting, no hesitation, no First things first: How did you choose Loneliness has been a constant for Gomez since searching gazes as she speaks -- only a kind of Charlie? landing her first acting gig as a 7-year-old on Baropenness that makes it easy to forget Gomez is It’s actually funny -- it was my ex-boyfriend’s ney & Friends, and it only deepened after her fiveonly halfway through her 20s. [The Weeknd] doing. We were walking down year run on Wizards of Waverly Place, the Disney the street [in New York], and he saw a cute litsitcom that catalyzed her ascent into teen, and ultiEven the head of Gomez’s label, John Janick, tle puppy in the window and walked in. Charmately pop music, superstardom. (Gomez has sold chairman/CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M, mar- lie was in the corner. He had his head down 3.4 million albums and earned over 2.8 billion vels that “she has a really good balance in her life and he just seemed really sad, and I loved him. on-demand streams in the United States, accord-- she’s not just focused on one thing.” The artist I find I do that in every situation in life. I find ing to Nielsen Music.) Petra Collins, a friend of Gomez’s who directed that person -- or dog -- and I’m like, “Yessss. the “Fetish” video and her November American That’s who I want.” These days, though, she has turned the solitude Music Awards performance, says Gomez “cares into a source of liberation. Gomez, makeup-free so deeply for things and people it’s almost scary
Was the house you grew up in anything like this cottage? I don’t know if “cottage” would be the right word. There were a lot of Texas accents -- a lot of brown and wood paneling in that house -and carpet in every room except the kitchen. I can picture it all, the way it smells. I miss it a lot. Miranda Lambert’s song “The House That Built Me” depicts how I feel about that home. My mom was 16 when she had me, so I had a room next to my mom and my grandparents. It was very quaint -- you could take one loop around the house and it took maybe five seconds. Every time I go back to Texas I drive by it, but I don’t have the courage to go up and knock on the door. You recently said that you don’t want people to feel sad for you over the kidney transplant and lupus -- that those experiences opened up new pathways for you. What has been the most surprising revelation out of all this? I just kept thinking about how much my body is my own. Ever since I was 7, my life always felt like I was giving it to someone else. I felt really alone even though I had a lot of great people around me. But the decisions I was making, were they ever for me? [After the surgery] I had this sense of gratitude for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever just stopped and been like, “I’m actually grateful for who I am.” Do you feel comfortable with your scar? I do. I didn’t, but I do now. It was really hard in the beginning. I remember looking at myself in the mirror completely naked and thinking about all the things that I used to bitch about and just asking, “Why?” I had someone in my
life for a very long time who pointed out all the things that I didn’t feel great about with myself. When I look at my body now, I just see life. There are a million things I can do -- lasers and creams and all that stuff -- but I’m OK with it. And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with [plastic surgery]. Cardi B has been my inspiration lately. She’s killing it, and she is proud of everything she has done. So there is absolutely zero judgment on my end. I just think for me, it could be my eyes, my round face, my ears, my legs, my scar. I don’t have perfect abs, but I feel like I’m wonderfully made. It sounds like you’ll be wearing your wrinkles proudly one day. Oh, yeah. [But] I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Maybe I’m like, “You know what? It’s time for a little tuneup.” But I want to make sure that I’m doing it because I’m OK with where I am. To not listen to the noise around you. You know, I have to be very careful with what opinions I listen to. And society teaches you to honor and respect the people around you. But loyalty and honesty can mean something completely separate. And I think altering or editing myself for the sake of others has been something that I have done my whole life. I’ve had to accept where I am. It took me about five years and moments where I needed to step away and be alone and fight those fights on my own, or go away to a place where I could focus on that. And that time for me was so painful and really hard and very lonely. But I really, really felt that that’s what helped me feel satisfied with where I am.
I read that you did equine therapy. How exactly does it help? One of the first times I did it was [at a rehabilitation facility] in Tennessee, and it was pretty funny. I remember feeling like Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted that day. I was dressed in black -- like, full-on emo -- and I was being dramatic. There were three horses to choose from, and naturally I went for the emotionally unavailable one. Just like Charlie in the corner at the pet store. Exactly. [Laughs.] So, I felt very angry, had a lot of stress in my body and the horse took off, completely left. And I just kept getting more angry and frustrated. The horses can really sense your energy. After trying multiple times, the therapist looked at me and said, “You know what? I need you to take the nice, sweet, kind, available horse. I want you to accept what you have in front of you.” I took a lot of deep breaths, walked around the stable, and by the time I came back, I felt completely settled in a “that’s enough” sort of way. I’m the kind of person who goes home and thinks, “Maybe I didn’t do enough,” or I feel like I wasn’t enough, and those are the things you can’t focus on. It comes back to the idea of being present. And that was four years ago. A lot has changed. I feel a lot more centered, more accepting. Do you think that with all the demands on you and the toll that stress can take on your health, staying in Los Angeles is sustainable? No. I won’t be here long-term. And that’s nothing against any of it -- this place has shaped me, and it has pushed me to be aware of all of the choices that I’m making. I spent time this year
shooting [Woody Allen’s next movie] in New York. I think being in that movie and just being in New York -- the culture there, just walking around and really engaging with people, which is not that common here -- I feel like it allowed me to be present a little bit more. What was your audition with Woody like? I auditioned five times for it. I didn’t have the greatest confidence a few times and they passed on me, but it turned out that they didn’t find anyone, so I auditioned one more time and gave it my all. I do feel like I earned it. And it was a great experience for me. In acting and in film, you’re around a much more stable community. I say that delicately because we all have our stuff, but it was very supportive. It really opened me up, and I needed that after the surgery. There can be so much noise and chaos around everyone’s daily life, and it was really great that when we stepped on-set, it was just about that. It’s also a step in the direction I want to go in [with acting]. I’ve begun spending time with [independent filmmakers] the Safdie brothers, too, who are incredible. Was Woody’s past something you thought about before signing on to the movie? To be honest, I’m not sure how to answer -- not because I’m trying to back away from it. [The Harvey Weinstein allegations] actually happened right after I had started [on the movie]. They popped up in the midst of it. And that’s something, yes, I had to face and discuss. I stepped back and thought, “Wow, the universe works in interesting ways.”
“I remember looking at myself in the mirror completely naked and thinking about all the things that I used to bitch about and just asking, ‘Why?’”
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Women’s voices are finally being heard and predatory men are being held accountable. As these things bubble up, are you feeling inspired? Disheartened? Hopeful? I feel all those things. I’ve cried. But I definitely feel hopeful. As people speak out, I hope that feels powerful to them, because they deserve to feel that. I’m fortunate enough not to have experienced some of the traumatic things that other women have had to go through. I’ve known people in my family who’ve gone through those things. I try to let people come to me and open up, to make a safe environment for them to do so. Are you working on new music? I am. I mean this in a very loving way, [but] my label has been itching for all the music that I’ve been creating, and there is such power in saying “no.” I like how we’ve presented the music this year, because it wasn’t in an aggressive way; it felt very genuine. I’ve canceled the past two tours I’ve done, so that’s something I’ve considered deeply too. How will I step on that stage and just completely own it and wear it proudly? In the past, I just kept reaching for something: “The costume is not glittery enough. What is going to pull them in? Everybody keeps looking at me like I’m this young girl.” Do you experience seeing your name in the press differently than you did five years ago? Definitely. For a while I just wanted to defend myself. I wanted to scream and say, “You have no idea! I’m allowed to do this! And make these choices!” I loved being a part of the projects I was on, I loved what I was doing, and I
feel like the attention to that kept going away. I remember feeling that I was defined not by my work but by who I was. The moment I released “The Heart Wants What It Wants” [in 2014], which was the first time I had shared a lot of where I was in my personal life, I think a switch happened there. Would I like people to care about worldly things that matter? Things that should actually be discussed more? Yes. But I can’t control that. And I don’t want to.
What brought Justin back into your life? I’m 25. I’m not 18, or 19, or 20. I cherish people who have really impacted my life. So maybe before, it could have been forcing something that wasn’t right. But that doesn’t mean caring for someone ever goes away. And [that goes for] people in general. I mean, I grew up with Demi [Lovato]. Nick and Joe [Jonas] and Miley [Cyrus] -- we’ve gone through seasons in our lives. I don’t think it’s as serious as people make things out to be half the time. It’s just my life. I grew up with all of these people, and it’s so cool to see where everybody is. It comes back to the idea of me remaining full. I think a true representation of love is beyond just yourself. It’s me going to get coffee earlier this morning and talking with a woman who was celebrating her birthday and going to Disneyland for the first time. I told her about my favorite things there, and she got excited, and then I got excited because she was excited. The littlest things are impactful.
With 129 million followers, you’re the most-followed person on Instagram, but you’ve also been vocal about taking time away from it. I love Kevin [Systrom], the creator of Instagram, and he has gotten mad at me in the past when I was like, “I have to take a break from it.” But removing myself was about spending time with things that matter. I’ve been hanging out with an old friend, and basically every conversation, we want it to be intentional. Meaningful conversations remind you that it’s all within where we are. It’s not about what’s What are you proudest of today? happening with everything else. I’m really proud of where I am right now. I handle things in a healthy way. I can enjoy What has been the best part of being single? where I’m at. I love being able to say “no.” I like The best part? It’s actually... you know what, being a part of the world. People are so territhough? Something that I’m really proud of is fied of other people. I see it in my generation that there’s such a true friendship [between me a lot. There’s so much anxiety and angst, and and The Weeknd]. I truly have never experi- the pressure just keeps getting worse. [But] I’m enced anything like that in my life. We ended proudest of not becoming jaded. I have every it as best friends, and it was genuinely about reason to be like, “Fuck all of you.” And I don’t. encouraging and caring [for each other], and I’m going to have the bad days where I don’t that was pretty remarkable for me. want to leave my bedroom -- but I’m ready for them.
by Monica Kim, Vogue Magazine
hoa, is that Raf?” asks J-Hope, the main dancer of BTS, striding into a chintzy suite in downtown Los Angeles decorated with mustard-color couches and heading straight for the racks of tapered jeans and Western tops in the middle. “It must be expensive,” he murmurs, running his hands over the grosgrain stripes, then calls out to his bandmates as they enter: “Guys, it’s Calvin Klein!” The hotel’s 10th floor has been completely closed off for this week in November to accommodate the seven-member K-pop act on their first major U.S. press run: James Corden, then Jimmy Kimmel, a historic performance at the AMAs (the first Korean group to do so), and Ellen DeGeneres, with a slew of interviews squeezed in between. On their penultimate day, they hit another milestone, becoming the first K-pop band to book a fullfledged shoot with Vogue, which proposed a fun and carefree tour of the city they had taken by storm. One by one, they file into the room—Jungkook, the youngest, is so striking in person, an audible hush falls when he enters, startling him slightly. He heads straight for the makeup chair to wait for his touch-up, singing softly to himself to pass the time. Other members make a beeline for the pile of snacks on the sideboard: cup ramen and boxes of Pocky, crunchy Cheetos and Fritos, cans of Coke, slices of Castella cake, iced Americanos, and thick “body conditioning” shakes in teal sports bottles, individually labeled and lined up with military precision.
Calvin Klein Jeans’s Spring 2018 wares (later shot on the Kardashian-Jenners) are duly admired, then the boys slip out to get dressed in private and return for group inspection. They are extremely particular about clothes. “They are perfectionists,” a staff member proudly notes five times that day. Hems are cuffed and uncuffed and re-pinned until they hit the ankle just so; Jungkook fusses with a belt to perfect the fit, while Jimin and Suga compare silver chain earrings, left long to brush their collars. Jin walks in promptly, shrugs on a pair of cornflower blue cowboy boots, and sticks a wedge of Castella in his mouth. Some 45 minutes later, the boys pile onto one mustard couch and happily recount the highlights from the past seven days—meeting Post Malone at the AMAs, airport Panda Express—and move onto their favorite bit of American slang. “Teach us something!” RM, formerly Rap Monster, the leader, asks. One editor proposes “lituation,” a portmanteau of “lit” and “situation.” Their eyes glow, as though they’ve been given a shiny new toy. “Lituation! That’s hella lit.” And so it was. By now, everything there is to know about BTS has come out in interviews. BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, or Bulletproof Boy Scouts; last summer, as their U.S. visibility grew, they added the meaning Beyond the Scene. The seven-member boy band debuted in 2013 through Big Hit Entertainment, a Seoul-based entertainment company that has been a smaller player. Initially, their music took more from rap and hip-hop. In 2015, they shifted direction and began to attract international attention with high-energy dance
tracks (“Dope”) and EDM torch songs (“Save Me”), but Big Hit remained focused on Asia (this editor attempted to shoot the band that summer, but was rebuffed). Everything changed last May at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards, when BTS flew to Las Vegas to accept Top Social Artist in silk Saint Laurent suits and the subsequent flurry on Twitter (the band’s preferred social media platform) made the rest of the world take note. From there, the attention snowballed, and by the time they had scheduled their flights to the West Coast, the press and fans were ready to pounce—on their arrival at LAX, they were greeted by a crush of shrieking girls and boys, who strained against the line of security guards in yellow shirts that had formed a human wall to protect them. The L.A. trip was the sort of pop cultural milestone not seen since the Beatles arrived in New York (or One Direction arrived, well, anywhere), but of different magnitude. For countless Asian-Americans, it has meant everything to see seven Koreans celebrated on a global scale. Back home, Koreans are astonished to see a group of their own go so far (unusually, BTS exploded overseas first, only winning their first daesang, or major Korean music award, in 2016). The boys know it too—over the course of our day with them, they spend a great deal of their time blissfully awestruck by the attention. “It’s still hard to believe it’s happening,” Jin says. “It’s like a dream.” It is 3:45 p.m. and the boys have finally boarded the party bus (how else to travel L.A. with a small entourage?). The final head count: seven K-pop stars, three Vogue editors,
a four-man video crew, one manager, one bodyguard, one translator, one makeup artist, an assistant, and the driver. The rest of the team (three additional bodyguards, two hair stylists and a makeup assistant, more managers, and two publicists) follow in gleaming black Escalades. The bus is lined with leather seats and armed with flashing colored lights and a silver pole at its center. There are snacks here, too: bottles of Coke kept on ice, passed around by the boys, yogurt-covered pretzels, Kind bars, and a bag of nacho cheese Doritos, which Jimin grabs gleefully, saying “These are my favorite!” “This is the kind of place where you have a party?” Jin asks, eyeing the pole with some suspicion. Once it is explained that the party bus takes you from club to club (“so the party never stops”), the group is stunned (“Wow, Americans . . .”). Agreeably, J-Hope plugs his phone into the sound system to play a selection of their favorite songs: “Havana,” “Dirty Pop.” Let loose for the first time in days, with the stress of the AMAs behind them, they seem full of pent-up energy. The bass shakes the walls, and V picks up two discarded Coke bottle caps and pops them in his eyes, grinning and shimmying wildly to peals of laughter. Jin and RM take turns slinking and bouncing around the pole in a dramatic fashion, until every member of the team and crew is laughing too. Why is BTS so popular? They are far from the first South Korean artist to make a splash in the United States—SNSD with their viral hit “Gee,” Rain, who famously defeated Stephen Colbert for Time’s top
influencer in 2007 (as voted by fans)—but the attention around them feels different. It comes down to timing: At the right moment, they found a fiercely loyal group of fans called Army, who fell hard, grew fast, and delivered their boys to international stardom. Yet there’s also the current media landscape to consider. It is why the Billboard Music Awards marked a turning point; the media saw the potential for page views, and the exponential rise in coverage that has followed has at times, to Army’s dismay, felt disingenuous. Take James Corden, for example, who drew some ire for pandering to fans. Worse still were those American interviewers who had done no research and asked often patronizing, uninformed questions—such as “Do you dance?” when they’re known for it. It has been tough for Army to watch wafer-thin
interviews, conducted by people who barely know (and certainly don’t care) about their boys, only the attention they might bring; in many ways, they have been treated as an Asian novelty. Yet the fashion world appears eager to embrace them on more balanced terms, something the boys like quite a lot. They wore Anthony Vaccarello’s Saint Laurent for both U.S. red carpet appearances; they spend a lot of time worrying over watches and earrings and documenting their daily looks. On the party bus, they take careful bites of their mustard-topped hot dogs, careful not to spill a drop. They’re big fans of brands like Gucci, WTAPS, and Calvin (and Raf, for the matter), though in Korea, the price of CK is quite steep due to import fees. “What about a group discount: 30-pack of Calvin shirts for
$30, how’s that?” Jungkook proposes, laughing. “Cut us a deal?” On their tour around town, BTS is accosted by a cameraman outside a famous hot dog stand near Hollywood. The footage later goes viral and rumors quickly spread that the band canceled a “meet and greet” for no reason. Of course, the truth is that there never was a meet and greet, but rather a private photo shoot with this magazine: The owner had signed a standard agreement, part of which stipulated the event would be closed to the public. Eventually, we learn that the day before, the stand’s Twitter account shared the exact time the band would be arriving and encouraged fans to come. Our bus pulls up to see at least three camera crews, including ABC News and TMZ, and a crowd of fans waiting; the shoot is no lon-
ger possible. To stick to schedule, the team is forced to move a few blocks away to continue. Eventually, a few cameramen find the new location; one particularly aggressive man begins screaming about his rights to a bodyguard (the guard, not understanding English, is quite literally unmoved). Shooting is forced to wrap, and the boys step back onto the bus. “You’re going to lose all your American fans before you even get here,” he screams after them. “What’d he say?” they ask back on board. They seem on edge, though mostly confused by the panicked affair. The hair and makeup team rush forward to dab herbal oil behind their necks and offer soothing shoulder rubs. Once his remarks are translated, however, the tension lessens and they laugh. “Tell him thank you for worrying about us!”
J-Hope says, smiling. “Yeah,” Jungkook adds, “thank you so much!” Even the Big Hit team, though openly displeased, seem privately thrilled. “The paparazzi were here!” one says in passing. “That means we’ve really made it, huh.” Flash back to 2014 when BTS came to L.A. to film a reality TV series, American Hustle Life, where they learned about hip-hop culture. In one memorable passage, the boys are sent out on the street to approach random girls and invite them to star in their music video with little success. Now, it’s security teams and TMZ. A happier scene unfolds at Dave and Buster’s, the adult arcade games chain, where the boys are given an unlimited points card and set free. On a weeknight the floor is quiet, just a handful of families with small kids killing time; not much notice is paid to the handsome group in the back. Jungkook and Jin race to the DDR machine and face off, their patent leather cowboy boots darting frantically across the mat. Suga and Jimin reach for a first-person shooting game, while J-Hope and RM start throwing baskets. Across the way, V draws the attention of a small kid—“Mom, they were on TV last night!” the child says— and takes a selfie with him, before turning his attention to a machine where you toss palmsize footballs through different hoops. “Wait, this is really hard!” he says, calling to Jimin to take a turn (Jimin effortlessly throws a few into the correct slots). Their energy is infectious—and seemingly limitless. After shooting has wrapped, and they have politely bowed to the entire crew, the seven boys board their Escalades
and promptly return to the hotel. They walk to their separate rooms, change into fresh clothes, and continue an interview that had been interrupted that afternoon. The next morning, bright and early, they appear on Ellen, then head straight to LAX and back to Seoul to begin rehearsals for the end of the year award shows, practicing late into the night. No doubt they are tired, but still, they smile and keep at it. Perhaps the beauty lies on that basic level: just seven young boys, enjoying the ride.
“It’s still hard to believe it’s happening,” Jin says. “It’s like a dream.”
Published on Mar 9, 2018