Hello loves ~
BTS spent 24 hours with Vogue and here's what happened !
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“Whoa, is that Raf?” asks J-Hope—the main dancer of BTS—striding into a chintzy suite in Downtown L.A. decorated with mustard-colored 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 run of U.S. press: 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 full-fledged shoot with Vogue, who 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.
Raf’s Spring 2018 denim (later shot on the Kardashian-Jenners) is 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 repinned 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 body guard, 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 (“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 U.S.—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—“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 (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?! “
Last fall, BTS was accosted by a cameraman outside a famous hot dog stand near Hollywood. The footage went viral and rumors quickly spread that the band had canceled a “meet and greet” for no reason. Of course, the truth is that there never was a meet and greet, but a private photo shoot with this magazine: the owner signs a standard agreement, part of which stipulates the event is closed to the public. Later, the stand’s Twitter account posts the exact time at which the band would be arriving and encourages fans to come. The 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 longer 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 onboard. 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, 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 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!”—and takes a selfie with him, before turning his attention to a machine where you toss palm-sized 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.
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