BTS have been around for enough years that when you search for bad things about BTS, you are bound to see a few scandals or controversies. Sajaegi, vaping and plastic surgery accusations along with some older ones like the Berlin WWII incident, and the Kanye song issue, but none seem to have marked fans as deeply as the B-free BTS drama. And that incident is precisely what we're going to talk about today. But first, let's lay down the foundation.
My favourite BTS moment is quite heavy, but it made me a Suga stan, so bear with me...
I've always had a special love for deep and well thought-out lyrics that treat sensitive subjects. This was something I first saw in Korean music with Epik High, years and years before they signed with YG, back when they had an independent record label.
In Kpop, deep lyrics were rare to see. I still loved Kpop, though, but I really craved some higher meaning.
That's why it was so exciting for me to discover BTS.
BTS are idols but their music and their lyrics have the same depth that I love from underground Korean hip hop music!
Look at the way they started out by tearing apart the high expectations put on youngsters in South Korea with their lyrics in N.O. And No More Dream:
"I want a big house, big cars and big rings,
but in truth, I don't have any big dreams."
"Stop. Ask yourself if you've ever worked hard for anything."
"The number one future career is a government worker?
It's not a forced dream, it's a ninth inning relief pitcher. "
"Become the main subject of your life that has always been suppressed."
- No More Dream -
"Who made us into study machines?"
"Being number one or dropping out, the adults trap us between borders."
"Who do you think makes us trample over our closest friends just to climb up?
Adults tell me that hardships are only momentary.
Endure a little more, and do it later."
- N.O -
With lyrics like this, they began their career by tearing through the education elitism that South Korea, and many other countries, suffer under.
From early on, it was clear to me that these were not regular pop songs about love, but were songs with something to say and an ultimate mission and wish to change the world.
This was a group that had it all. The exposure and support of Kpop and the self produced music from the underground.
The perfect rainbow bridge between two worlds.
And now we're getting to that shady moment...
I was excited to watch BTS's rappers Rap Monster and Suga interact with some underground rappers in a low-key meeting. I thought this would be a great way to shorten the gap between Kpop and the underground scene, and, at first, it was.
And then B-Free was let loose.
His attitude made him seem like he looked down on BTS, his mind was made up about all the questions he asked, so he didn't bother to listen to the cool and diplomatic answers that Rap Monster and Suga provided.
And yet I say that this is my favourite BTS moment. Why?
Because I think that it was necessary for someone to challenge BTS on what they are and what they represent.
In my opinion BTS neither truly belongs in the Kpop category nor in the underground one. They sort of drift in between the two and that's what makes them so unique.
However this also means that they will continue to be questioned by people from the Kpop world and equally by people from the underground.
Because they don't belong in either category, they can't avoid being judged and questioned by people who don't understand the choices they have made.
That's why B-Free questioning BTS at an open event instead of behind closed doors is so important!
Although it all went down the drain when he didn't listen to their answers.
BTS neither belong to the Kpop category nor the underground category.
The controversy with B-Free went viral because he tried to put a label on them.
No label can hold BTS.
(As they diplomatically tried to tell him)
Regardless of B-Free's lack of respect, I cherish this moment because of what resulted from it.
When you look at Suga's lyrics from here on, "idol vs. hip hop" is an issue he has continued to address.
It's a question of justifying (both to himself and others) his choice to be an idol, and also a way to identify himself: "idol or rapper?"
Let's break down some Suga lyrics to illustrate:
"Look at the arrogance of hip-hop con artists.
When you were playing underground,
BTS was playing at ground level."
- Cypher PT.2 : Triptych -
The underground doesn't typically gain a lot of exposure as Kpop does, and Suga tells it as it is: there's no need to be high and mighty over not getting exposure. That's nothing to be proud over.
"All you hip-hop designers brand bastards,
Come down from your foamy bubbles."
- Cypher PT.2 : Triptych -
Suga takes a good stab at all those rappers who judge him for being an idol when they are just pretending to be into hip hop. They think it's all about expensive brands, and cars and money, but that has nothing to do with true hip hop. It's perfectly possible to be an idol and still do hip hop, Suga and Rap Monsters are both prime examples of this (Block B's Zico is another).
Let's also mention the famous line from the Korean film 친구 (Friend) that Suga quotes on this same track.
"You're the one who should go to Hawaii."
- Cypher PT.2 : Triptych -
This quote from the film is delivered in the Gyeongsang dialect, which is Suga's natural dialect since he was born and raised in Daegu. It is worth to note that this seems like a clear stab at B-Free, whose real name is Shane Choi and who is originally from Hawaii.
One could say that this Cypher is BTS's and certainly Suga's response to B-free.
"Am I living my dreams or am I losing it?
I am not quite sure if my wanted success was postponed.
I put a smile up like a fool,
But it only tells half the truth.
I'm crying this is a defense on my identity."
- So 4 More -
This makes me think that he's questioning what his dream was to begin with, and also questioning if this is the right path to achieve it and that makes me quite sad to read.
"Whether you call me wack or fake,
Whatever it is,
I'm a new standard to Kpop."
- Cypher PT.3 : Killer -
I feel like at this point Suga has accepted that he chose this path. He recalls why he chose this path, and he's proud of it too, and shouts it out loud, full of swagger!
"So I'm going to move again.
I'm going to have a dream that's one level higher than being an idol."
- Move (이사) -
His ambitions shine through, and he's not going to let a label get in his way.
"The size of this Kpop category isn't enough for me."
- Agust D -
Labels can't keep Agust D in place!
"All you fried rappers should be thankful that I'm an idol."
- Agust D -
I was cheering when I first heard this line!
When I heard this line I felt so relieved, because it made me feel like Suga finally accepted his path and started to work on achieving all his dreams, not just settling somewhere comfortable.
Through this line he acknowledges he is an idol, but also stresses that even if the playing fields of underground rappers and idols weren't different, he would still have come out victorious.
"It's not that I can't do Show Me The Money,
It's that I said I wouldn't, shit."
- The Last (마지막) -
I feel that a lot of idol rappers who truly love hip hop and rap struggle with the label "idol", because the underground hip hop industry looks down on idol rappers, for the most part.