Exhausted K-Pop Stars BTS Discuss Hiatus After Biden Racism Summit

Korean superstar boy band BTS shocked the world on Tuesday in remarks confessing that they had lost their sense of individual identity, were going “through a tough time right now,” and hoped to take a break from the band to pursue solo work and “think.”

The band’s record label, Big Hit Entertainment, frantically clarified in a statement to Billboard magazine that the band would not be going on hiatus, though they would be working on solo projects following the release of their latest album, Proof, on Friday.

BTS are the most internationally successful Korean popular music act of all time, attracting a global fanbase that has propelled them to top the American Billboard charts and receive Grammy Award nominations. Most recently, the band visited the White House at the request of President Joe Biden to discuss hate crimes against Asian-Americans – the band members said they obliged the invitation to do their part to “put a stop” to racism.

Proof sold 2 million copies on Friday alone, according to Big Hit.

The band members made the alarming remarks regarding their current state during a dinner to celebrate what BTS fans call “Festa,” the celebration of the anniversary of the band’s debut. According to the Korean entertainment news site Soompi, band member Suga said during the livestreamed event, “we’ve entered an off-season,” which the live stream translated to English as “we’re going into a hiatus now.”

Another band member, RM — who typically speaks English on behalf of the group at awards ceremonies and other official events — spoke extensively about his personal exhaustion and frustrations with the Korean music industry.

“There’s no time for me to grow. Not just in terms of my skills, but as a human,” RM said, according to Soompi. “I’m a very different person from who I was 10 years ago, and I need time to think and be on my own, so those thoughts can mature into something uniquely mine.”

Billboard translated some of RM’s comments as lamenting that his record label demanded more and more new music as the band became “more exhausted” and that he had become “trapped inside [him]self.”

“They don’t give you time to mature. You have to keep producing music and keep doing something,” RM lamented. He later said that, following the success of the band’s English-language hits “Dynamite” and “Butter,” “I didn’t know what kind of group we were anymore.”

In the Soompi translation, Suga, the band member who opened the discussion, also said, “I can’t think of anything to say. I have to write about things that I personally feel and want to say, but I feel like I’m just forcing things out right now … and that’s so difficult.”

Bandmate Jin agreed with the sentiment: “Doing group activities for so long — just like you guys mentioned earlier, I started to feel like I’ve become a machine. I have my own hobbies and things I want to do on my own.”

Jimin, another band member, described the group as going through a “rough patch.”

“We’re going through a rough patch right now, we’re trying to find our identity and that’s an exhausting and long process. Our fans know us and we know us,” Jimin said.

The bandmates agreed to focus more on solo work in the hopes of one day making music together again.

Bit Hit Entertainment sent a statement to Billboard on Tuesday apparently contradicting the statements the members of the group made.

“To be clear, they are not on hiatus, but will take time to explore some solo projects at this time and remain active in various different formats,” a Big Hit spokesman stated.

Korean record labels often enforce grueling recording and training schedules on their artists, many of whom rise from a large group of “trainees” at schools in which they learn singing, dancing, songwriting, foreign languages, and other useful skills in the entertainment industry. The training programs have been compared to “boot camp” and “slavery” in the past, and the completion of those programs, and selection into a pop group, often comes with onerous contractual obligations.

The extreme stress of fame and meeting record label commitments has resulted in a wave of suicides among young members of Korean pop (K-pop) bands, most recently the suicides of pop stars Sulli and Goo Ha-ra within a month of each other in 2019.

The promotional campaign for Proof and surprise involvement in American politics occurred in rapid succession for BTS. The group visited the White House on May 31 and recorded videos with President Biden as well as addressed the White House press corps.

During their visit to the White House briefing room, the bandmates expressed gratitude for their invitation and shouldered the responsibility of helping end violence against Asians.

“We were devastated by the recent surge in hate crimes, including Asian-American hate crimes,” Jimin said through a translator. “To put a stop to this and support the cause, we’d like to take this opportunity to voice ourselves once again.”

In addition to any stress from the visit, Jimin faced a minor controversy this year when the South Korean government health care agency seized his home while he was hospitalized with appendicitis and Chinese coronavirus over unpaid premiums. While the situation appeared to be an error on the part of his record label, Jimin issued an effusive apology for being “immature” in early June, shortly after the band’s visit to the White House.

The group’s enthusiastic support from the Biden administration – which continued this week with favorable mentions from Secretary of State Antony Blinken – followed growing acrimony from the communist government of China, which expressed outrage in 2020 after RM thanked American troops for their cooperation with the South Korean military during the active phase of the Korean War from 1950-1953 (the Korean War is still technically underway).

“The Korea Society’s 2020 Annual Gala is especially meaningful, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War,” RM said during an acceptance speech that year receiving an award for enhancing understanding between Korea and America. “We will always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women.”

The Chinese Communist Party, through its state media outlets and through its army of perpetually angry “netizens,” condemned the band for not also thanking Chinese soldiers, without explaining why they would do that given that China fought on the North’s side.

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