BTS’ main producer, Pdogg, is fond of pushing the group’s singers to the top of their range, and beyond. One of the most extreme, and impressive, examples is the howling series of beyond-falsetto notes Jin manages to reach on the track “Crystal Snow.” You’d never know it from that moment and many others, but Jin wasn’t a singer (or a dancer) at all when he first joined Big Hit Entertainment (now HYBE) as a trainee; he was studying acting instead. In the third of Rolling Stone‘s breakout interviews with each of BTS’ seven members, Jin explained how he cultivated his formidable skills, looked back at some of his best musical moments, and more. He sat in his label’s headquarters for the conversation, in a blue button-front shirt with a wide collar and a black baseball cap from the Japanese brand Mastermind, a gift from Suga.
I know you just woke up today. What was your day like yesterday?
We went to shoot a variety show, a popular and famous show in Korea, and we haven’t done one of these in a while. I want to emphasize and make sure it’s pointed out for the record that everybody went berserk about how good-looking I was [laughs].
Even through the mask I can tell. So what have you learned about yourself in this year off the road?
Especially when we were on tour, there wasn’t time to reflect on myself and figure out what gives me joy, what makes me relax. Being off the road for a year gave me a chance to really reflect on what I want and who I am, and sort of learn to love myself. I got a chance to sleep more, and that makes me a lot more satisfied. I tried exercising, and I realized that’s something that I like. And everyday things like playing games, watching movies, singing, those kinds of things.
At the same time, it feels like you felt the pain of not being on tour.
Not just myself, but other members really felt that. When we couldn’t go on tour, everybody felt really a sense of loss, a sense of powerlessness, and we were all sad. And it actually took us a while to get over those feelings.
You wrote the song “Abyss” about some of those feelings, right?
As the title suggests, I was feeling very down deep in the abyss when I was writing the lyrics. I was feeling very sad and down. But the process of actually singing the song and recording the song alleviated a lot of those emotions.
“Moon” is a great guitar-driven song. Is it true that you would like BTS to record more material that leans toward rock?
I don’t think I’ll refuse any rock-style songs that come our way. It’d be good if we can do more of them, but they have to be feel appropriate and match the style of our team.
Since your background was in acting, you really had to learn to sing and dance from scratch as a trainee. What was that like?
It was true then and it still is true now that it does take more effort for me to do the things that may come more naturally for the other members. I lack in many areas. For example, a lot of the other members will learn a dance once and they’ll be able to dance right away to the music. But I can’t do that, so I do try to work harder so I don’t hold the other members back or be a burden. So I would come to dance practice an hour early, or after the practice was over, I would stay behind another hour or so, and ask the teacher to go over the choreography one more time.
But you’ve become an amazing singer. What were some moments when you started to realize that you achieved some mastery of singing?
I don’t think there really was a moment when I felt I had arrived as a singer. I haven’t mastered singing. But a singer has a duty and an obligation to bring joy to the audience. As we went on tour, I began to see the audience liking what I was doing. We were sharing the same emotions and what I was doing was resonating with them more and more. So whether it was my singing or my performance or whatever it might be, I began to realize that I am able to communicate with the audience.
Tell me about [HYBE founder] Mr. Bang. What is his particular genius?
[Cheekily] A lot of it, I think, is luck. The realization of genius was his good fortune in meeting us. I don’t think he could have done it without us. I think in his good fortune lies his genius. … I think one thing that I can say about him is his ability to look into the future and read trends very early on. He’s able to see, “This is the kind of thing that we can be doing; this will be good for the future.” So I think that he’s very capable in that. Plus he’s very lucky.
You are, of course, the oldest member of the group. There’s a truism that people sort of freeze at the age they become famous, because that’s when ordinary life stops for them. So in your head, do you feel like someone who is almost 30, or do you feel younger?
This is embarrassing for me to say because it’s sort of tooting our own horn, I guess. But at every moment where I felt that we were at the peak of our fame, after that we reached another peak, and another peak. And so as I continued to become older, and again, it’s kind of embarrassing to say this, we were able to hit more and more peaks. So I feel my age! I feel that I’m 29.
Would you like to try acting again at some point?
Nothing’s carved in stone. I sort of like to go with the flow and do what I feel. Right now I really love music, so I think I’m obviously more oriented to doing music.
“Spring Day” is obviously a group effort, but I find your part on it particularly moving. What do you remember about recording that song?
We wanted to create sort of a sweetly sentimental or melancholy feeling for that song. When we got the lyrics, we tried to set the theme and the tone for recording the music. I tried to recall a lot of my sweetly melancholy memories so that I could translate it into the overall feeling. For example, you’re thinking about a friend that you may have lost touch with, and drawing from that sadness.
How does all the complex vocal interplay on BTS’ songs come about — how do you all decide who sings what?
So when a song is finished, we will all sing it. We will sing the entire song. And then we decide which lines really suit which person and their character. And we try to work that out.
And finally, in your trainee days, could you have ever imagined this level of success?
I think at that time, I felt that if I could bring together an audience of 1,000 people, that’s what I wanted to do. That was my goal back in those days.