“To be honest, I felt like a victim when I was very young,” says BTS’s Suga, sipping from the large cardboard cup in his hand. It’s an early April morning in Seoul, and the rapper, producer and songwriter discusses his alter ego August D in a video chat with NME as he prepares to return under the moniker for the final installment of a trilogy of records. “I came up with the name because I had it [this] hate [this] anger in me […] I couldn’t control that anger.”
When he first introduced Agust D to us in 2016 with his self-titled debut mixtape, Suga used the moniker as a vehicle to express those fiery emotions. Although he spent years in his hometown of Daegu passionately pursuing music, when he debuted with BTS in 2013, he felt the rejection of other artists and fans outside of the K-pop realm; his rap credentials weren’t taken seriously now that he was a member of a boy band. It fueled his early solo music, that first mixtape filled with barbed lines that positioned him as more powerful and fiercer than those who dismissed him. “I’m the thorn in the side of those hyungs who are far from successful,” he spits in one such lyric on the record’s title track.
“I’m just trying to say you’re enough [as] you and you alone deserve to be loved and I tell myself that too.
As we grow, age, and experience more, we often learn how to control the fire that burns in our guts, and in the seven years since ‘August D’, Suga has been going his own way with that. You can follow him in the evolution of his solo music, from his 2020 mixtape ‘D-2’ to his debut solo album ‘D-DAY’. The flames still burn sometimes – “Fuck the crap you think you know about me,” he states to the shadowy “Huh?!”, featuring J-hope. But there’s also an undercurrent of peace, not least as he closes the new record with “Life Goes On,” a more relaxed track that opens with his verse from the BTS song of the same name.
Although he admits that there has been a transformation in him and Agust D since 2016, he dismisses it as because his life has changed – “I still live as BTS’ Suga and, as a person, Min Yunki.” he reasoned. Instead, he characterizes it as a natural part of our life cycle: “Things change, situations change—people have no choice but to change.” Later in our conversation, he returns to this idea. “Everybody changes, but what’s important is how we change,” he says, smiling slightly and adding with a smile, “I think I’ve changed very well.”
Oa similar metamorphosis—and one that informs “D-DAY” as a whole—that Suga has gone through over the past few years has been the rapper’s attitude of focusing on the present; living in the moment instead of worrying about regrets from the past or the unknown of the future. “I think we have to be the subject in the life we’re living now,” he explains. “You might think, ‘The future me will live in this big house, nice house,’ and of course that would be nice.” But I think that in this process the most important thing is me. He leans forward slightly in his seat, eyes widening to emphasize his next point, “I’m going to be the guy that’s going to be in the future, so I’m just trying to say [I] must focus on me now.
It’s a perspective Suga has adjusted to during the pandemic, when his lack of control over the days, weeks, months and years ahead came into excruciatingly sharp focus. For the BTS members, this in part meant being forced to cancel the ‘Map Of The Soul’ world tour, for which they had already sold tickets and started preparing. “I thought, ‘Well, what can I do right now at this point?'” he says. After listing his concerns about himself and “things that gave me pain,” he decided to do something about an old shoulder injury he’d sustained in a motorcycle accident in his internship days and underwent surgery—an act only in the present moment he was in charge of.
“We need to be educated how to find happiness from an early age, like learning the alphabet, but that’s not how we learned it.”
Focusing on the now can be seen as something of a survival tactic; a lifestyle that makes the stress and strain of our modern world a little more bearable. In Suga’s mind, love is another part of that resilience manual and antidote to loneliness that he describes in IU’s collaboration ‘People Pt.2’. “I just hope that people just love,” he says, explaining that it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in love with another person. “It could be something as simple as loving coffee or even loving your internet community. But I just hope that people love people – let’s hate less, let’s get angry a little less, because we all feel lonely.”
The gentle, soothing boom-bap of “People Pt.2,” a themed sister track to “People” on “D-2,” offers comfort and solidarity to anyone feeling isolated, Suga raps: “If you can’t hold it in, it’s okay to cry / You’re more than enough to be loved.” He quotes these texts of NME and rubs the back of his head with a sigh. “I’m just trying to say you’re enough [as] you and you alone deserve to be loved and I tell myself that too. I just hope that everyone is loved from the moment they are born until they die.
These are strong words in a world where it can feel like toxicity reigns and the nature of our chronic online lives, sifting through divisive misinformation and comparing ourselves to others on social media, can easily wear you down. D-DAY’s theme song, the urgent ‘Haegeum’, provides a rallying cry to liberate ourselves and our existence as “slaves to capitalism, slaves to money / slaves to hate and prejudice / slaves to YouTube, slaves to flexin”. “This song is hegeum,” Suga raps on the chorus, using the Korean word for both liberation and the traditional stringed instrument featured in the song. “Get on now.”
The song, he notes again, is a message both to himself and to the world. “I’m a slave to capitalism, to YouTube, to money, and I have to tell myself that so that I don’t have to be like that,” he shares. Does he really think in this day and age that music can still inspire great change in our society? He smiles wryly and replies, “Music sure has the power, but we can’t be free.” Not all hope is lost, though. We can still find some form of emancipation by being “less aware of other people[’s opinions]” and “find[ing] way to make ourselves happy”.
Like his views on love, happiness doesn’t need to be something big and complicated. “If eating makes you happy, just eat,” he explains. “If making music makes you happy, just keep making music. You don’t need to put too much importance on it. Perhaps if finding this “ephemeral emotion” had been instilled in us from childhood, we would be better off, he suggests: “We should be educated how to find happiness from a young age, like learning the alphabet, but we haven’t so. Smart people actually find a way very, very quickly, so we have to be smart – if we tell people to be happy, they won’t be. You have to find what makes you happy, what brings you joy.”
Wellstarting next week, Suga will bring more joy to ARMY in the US and Asia as he embarks on his first solo tour. He’s the first member of BTS to embark on such a run, and some of the stops will have him returning to venues he’s previously played with the group. “Besides being the first BTS member to go on a solo tour, I’m more excited because it’s been a long time since I’ve been on a world tour with multiple stops in different countries,” he says.
The tour poster shows the musician’s face split in two – one half is largely blue, the other half is mostly orange-red. Both the names Suga and Agust D sit in the upper left corner, all combining to hint at a show made up of two separate halves. While he’s not ready to reveal too many details yet (“Too many spoilers will make it less fun”), he does say there will be a third installment. “This tour will showcase Suga and Agust D as artists and Min Yunki as personalities,” he explains. “I’ll just put it like this, ‘Suga, Agust D and Min Yunki’s tour that will burn it up.’ I dare say that this will be a completely different tour from BTS’ previous tours and a tour beyond what anyone can imagine.”
As it prepares to head to its first leg in America, the documentary on Disney+ and Weverse Suga: Road to D-DAY captures a different, more personal kind of tour. The film follows the artist on a journey through the US, Korea and Japan as he searches for fresh inspiration for his solo album. Although he admits both NME and in the documentary itself that he had never been one to travel before, the journey had given him new revelations and valuable experiences.
“Just finding joy in the journey itself is a new discovery for me,” he explains. “I also gained a lot from real contacts with many famous international musicians [Halsey, Steve Aoki, Anderson .Paak and the late Ryuichi Sakamoto all receive visits from Suga in the film] with whom I had the opportunity to collaborate or was very close personally. It was [a] a great lesson for me as an artist and also from person to person.”
Although the next few weeks and months look to be busy for the rapper, and with him being drafted into the military later this year, Suga is staying true to the message of “D-DAY” and focusing on the present. “These days I’m busy preparing for my first solo album and solo tour,” he says. “I think I’ll probably be busy like that for the rest of the tour. I will give my best at every stage where I can meet ARMY and I will take good care of my health to do so.”
Suga’s debut studio album ‘D-DAY’ is out now