The White Tiger of BTS

In 'Give It To Me' Agust D labels himself as a tiger, a powerful choice of words, especially from a cultural perspective.

Let me show you why...

"범으로 태어나 개처럼 살수는 없지"

Born as a tiger, so I can't live like a dog.

- Give It To Me : Agust D -

These lyrics are really interesting to me from a Korean language perspective.

Tigers are symbols of power and courage, whereas dogs are symbols of obedient followers.

However, there's a little more to it than that, and here are some references that I want to address.

First, some broader cultural context can add a bit of irony. It is interesting to note that a month before Agust D's mixtape dropped a Korean politician who was in charge of policy making in the Ministry of Education, at the time, made a shocking statement.

He told reporters that 99% of Korean citizens are just like pigs and dogs (the two worst animals for insults in Korean), and that they just need to be kept alive, meaning that they are just lazy followers.

(Article from the New York Times about the statement and problem.)

Suga referenced this incident a few months later in his lyrics to 'Am I Wrong'.


"우린 다 개 돼지 화나서 개 되지"

We're all dogs and pigs. We're angry so we turned into dogs.

- Am I Wrong -

​But this tiger extract from 'Give It To Me' might be an earlier and less obvious reference to the same incident.

It also fits well with the lyrics that follow, in which Agust D talks about not wanting to be a blind follower.

"뭐든지 따라봐 술이든 돈이든 그게 명예든

절대 구걸 하지 않아 니 손에든

것을 난 탐하지 않아 그게 뭐든

나는 내가 할 것만 해 약육강식의 법칙?

좆도 성공이란 단어 속의 정치판"

Pour me whatever, no matter if it's alcohol, money or honour,

I never beg for it, what you hold in your hand,

I have no desire for it, no matter what it is.

I just do what I have to do.

The law of the jungle? F**k that,

The politics within the word success.

- Give It To Me : Agust D -

Agust D refuses to live like a dog, fed by the hand of others. He rejects the idea of being a simple follower just content to live and be fed. He does what he needs to do in order to survive and make his own success.

But there's more to the tiger line.

In Korean, saying that someone is a tiger usually refers to someone strict who is a role model, so like a strict teacher, or a strict mentor of some sort.

On the other side - when you refer to someone as a dog it's usually a serious insult, but it is often used in modern speech to mean something quite different...

When someone is really drunk, it is said, in Korean, that they "become a dog".

(A word of warning to Korean learners - don't go around using this phrase - it's very rude)

I've always felt like that reference shines a slightly different light on the many lyrics from his mixtape that refer to drinking and getting drunk.

But that's not the end of the cultural references regarding Agust D's "tiger" lyrics.

The word for tiger that Agust D uses in his lyrics isn't 호랑 (horang) it's 범 (beom).

Both 범 (beom) and 호랑 (horang) mean tiger but 호랑 (horang) was imported into the Korean language because of the Japanese occupation of Korea, whereas the other, 범 (beom), the one that Agust D uses, is purely of Korean origin.

This reinforces August D's identity as a Korean.

As a bonus - the tiger has been the mascot for their Olympics and a white tiger was also the mascot for the Winter Olympics in Korea.

It is Korea's national animal.

Hence, why tigers play a big part in Korean folklore.

Nowadays the two words have come to mean the same thing, but historically, 범, which was used for longer in Korea, referred to many mythological animals who looked similar to tigers, and it's on this note that there is one last thing that I have to talk about.

The White Tiger

The white tiger of BTS.

A tiger that has gone through difficult times and comes to understand the world is said in folklore to become a White Tiger.

Given that Agust D talks about his early days much like hard times of trials and talks about reaching a better understanding and even refers to himself as a tiger I find it interesting to keep this folklore and concept in mind.

"누구 앞에서 고생척들을해"

Who do you think you're fooling by pretending that you've gone through rough times.

- The Last : Agust D -

"쉽게 얻은 게 하나도 없음에 늘 감사하네"

I'm always thankful that I didn't earn anything easily.

- Cypher pt. 4 -

The white tiger drives away evil and brings good luck. It attacks corrupted higher ups (kings or politicians).

People are humbled at the sight of a white tiger. So it is said.

The title of White Tiger is fitting for Agust D, because BTS often do exactly that through their lyrics, both Rap Monster and Suga use their lyrics to shine light on the injustices that surround us and call out corruption.

And did you notice the full circle..?

This blog began by explaining how Suga called out the unjust words of a politician in his lyrics, and isn't that exactly what White Tigers are supposed to do?

Oh the irony is strong in this one.

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I am a novelist by profession, currently working on an epic fantasy series about 7th century Korea. My epic fantasy trilogy about Vikings, the Hanged God, is currently being published. I have lived

enough different places that the most difficult question to answer is: "where are you from?" I am, quite simply, from the planet Earth, for I have yet to set foot on Mars. Someday, though...