BTS may be the biggest band in the world, but the members’ Korean identities still stand strong. In a new interview with Rolling Stone, leader RM opened up about how the group’s Korean identity is influencing their journey from a historical and artistic standpoint.
RM is known to be a huge art buff, and one of his favorite Korean artists seems to be the well-known abstract painter Kim Whan Ki. RM has been seen reading books about his artwork several times, and late last year, the BTS leader also shared that Kim Whan Ki is one of his main fashion inspirations. Back in a Weverse Magazine interview in November, RM revealed that a quote from Kim Whan Ki had been on his mind lately: “I’m Korean, and I can’t do anything not Korean. I can’t do anything apart from this, because I am an outsider.”
According to RM, Kim Whan Ki made the statement after moving to New York and embracing the styles of Gottlieb, Rothko, and similar artists. “I keep thinking that way, too,” RM told Weverse Magazine, adding, “That’s my main concern lately.” Rolling Stone sought to find out more about RM’s thoughts on his Korean identity.
You quoted the great abstract artist Kim Whan-ki recently… How does that idea apply to your work?
— Rolling Stone
RM started by explaining that most to the pop and hip-hop he’s listened to while growing as an artist came from the United States. However, RM stated, “As a Korean, I think we have our own characteristics and some kind of localized identity.” The rapper went on to say that he struggles to articulate the thought, but he believes that there are some characteristics that only Korean people have—”Or maybe Eastern people“.
RM shared that BTS has tried to combine the unique characters of the Korean identity with musical influences from overseas. In doing so, RM says, “I feel that we created a new genre.”
Some may call it K-pop; some may call it BTS, or some Eastern-Western combined music, but I think that’s what we’re doing.
Ever knowledgeable about history, RM went on to mention the Silk Road—a network of trade routes that connected the East (which represents much of Asia and the Mediterranean) with the West (including North America and much of Europe) up until the 18th century. The Silk Road was a key foundation of cultural, economic, and political relations between the East and West for well over a thousand years, impacting the world as we know it today.
“If you think about the Silk Road in the past,” RM explained, “There’s this idea of Eastern people and Western people meeting on some kind of, like, big road and maybe doing selling and buying of stuff.” He went on to say that this story is repeating itself in the evolution of music from BTS’s standpoint. “Some kind of new, interesting phenomenon is happening,” stated RM, “[And] we feel very honored to be existing in the very eye of this big hurricane.”