“It’s unbelievable,” BIBI tells NME this early morning from Seoul, South Korea. The 23-year-old star has just become the first female Korean artist to make it to the Top 30 on the US Radio Airplay Charts with her 2021 English-language single ‘The Weekend’, the first of many collaborations to come with Asian-American label 88rising. “Well, I can’t feel it right now because I’m always staying home, but it’s unbelievable,” she adds.
We are joined by Korean-American singer-songwriter Marshall Bang (also known as MRSHLL) who also acts as our de facto translator for the day. “It still hasn’t hit all of us, I think,” Bang chimes in on behalf of the team at their agency, Feel Ghood Music, which is led by Korean-American music legend Tiger JK. “We were all like, ‘Is this happening? Is this real life?’”
The past year has been nothing short of incredible for the musician, from her star-studded collaborations (with GOT7’s Mark Tuan, Algerian-American musician Lolo Zouaï, Thai rapper MILLI and more) to making her US festival debut to a crowd of some 30,000 people at 88rising’s Head In The Clouds Festival in Pasadena, California last November. “It was so much bigger than I thought,” she says of the music festival. “It was really overwhelming, but I loved it. I loved that thrill.”
BIBI easily made her set one of the most memorable from the festival, throwing packs of cigarettes and condoms into the crowd, and setting off a viral internet frenzy after kissing a lucky female fan mid-performance, the latter of which elicits a giggle when our conversation turns to it. “I was just thinking about it,” she says of the moment. “I was like, you know that TikTok meme? The one that goes ‘I’m not gonna do it, I was just thinkin’ about it.’”
“But I did, because I could see her, that particular fan, she wanted a kiss. So, I was like, ‘Well, if you want it, I have to give [it],’ so I just kissed her,” she explains between flustered bouts of laughter. “It’s so good [that it went viral]. I love that everybody loves me loving my fan.”
Internet fame aside, BIBI is usually all about her music, solo or otherwise. But this time, she’s raring to talk about her ever-growing list of collaborators, singling out her feature on the remix of Zouaï’s single ‘Galipette’ as her personal favourite. “When she first hit me up I was shook,” she recounts excitedly, confessing that she had been a huge fan of the singer.
“When we worked together, I really felt that she was truly into music, and she’s really freaking good at it,” adds BIBI, who launches into a spirited tangent on how the two musicians simply get one another. “I loved working with Lolo. Lolo is so dope. We’re like the new generation of Debussy and Erik Satie. One hundred years later they’re gonna be like, ‘BIBI and Lolo Zouaï were friends? Damn.’”
Of course, the conversation eventually moves to who else she would like to collaborate with – and BIBI jumps to life (yes, even more than before), her eyes widen and brighten up like stadium lights. “Oh my god, I always forget, so I brought a list today!” she says with a laugh, unfolding a piece of paper. “I’m a big fan of Aminé. So, Aminé, Kendrick Lamar and Rosalía,” she declares, before letting out a squeal and sinking into her chair. “Just imagining it is so good.”
Her choices aren’t particularly surprising, considering her musical output and the label she’s signed under, but they do speak to her love for hip-hop and her early career plans to be a rapper. “When I was 13, 14, I was really into rock music and hip-hop. I wanted to be a rapper. I studied it, but my rapping, was, uh, shit,” BIBI deadpans, followed soon after by an embarrassed giggle.
“So, I thought, ‘Maybe I should sing in a rap song. Maybe I should sing for rappers.’ That’s how I started,” she shares. “My voice isn’t really for rapping. I still try to rap, but I just…” she trails off, launching into a bizarre mumble-rap that ends in boisterous laughter. “But you know, singing is cool!”
But her love for hip-hop soon translated into songwriting, which soon became a hobby for the teenaged BIBI. She later began sharing her work on SoundCloud under the moniker Nakedbibi, where she was, as she describes it, “accidentally” discovered by Tiger JK and Yoon Mi-rae. “They called me and asked if I wanted to sign with them. I was like, ‘You don’t even know how I look!’”
Despite her free-spirited, some would say wild personality, BIBI’s songwriting process seems like almost the exact opposite, as she breaks it down for us. “First step: Feel something! Live life! Second: Make a person, a story, out of those feelings,” she says matter-of-factly. “Let it rest a little bit. And then you write. That’s the process.” While it sounds almost rudimentary, the inventive young musician’s extensive discography proves that her artistry is anything but.
BIBI approaches themes of love, emotion and sex with a refreshingly playful candour in many of her songs, such as the tongue-in-cheek ‘She Got It (Cigarette And Condom)’, in an industry where these ideas are usually cloaked in ambiguity and subtle innuendo when explored, if explored at all.
Then, there is her tender, vulnerable side, from which she spins heartfelt tales of loss and longing in tracks like ‘I’m Good at Goodbyes’ and ‘Restless’. “Tonight, please eat up all of my love / Please lock me up inside your heart,” she croons on the latter, a dreamy exploration of the lovesick mind in the early stages of a budding love affair.
“Actually, I’m a good girl,” she says. “I don’t try to look ‘bad’ or ‘sexy’ I just… I don’t know, it’s natural!” BIBI tries to explain in vain. Unable to properly express herself, the singer lets out a scream of frustration, before rolling her chair out of frame and handing the reins over to Bang.
“There’s Hyung-seo, which is her as a person, and there’s Nakedbibi, which is her as a performer, and that is where she sets her more fantasy-like elements. Nakedbibi is a part of her personality the same way Hyung-seo is, so she gets to play with that,” he explains, as BIBI rapidly nods in agreement, before jumping back in: “I think of myself as an actor when I’m performing and making songs. It’s all a part of me, but it’s not all me.”
At the end of our conversations, as these things usually go, we get around to discussing what comes next for the rising star. “I have a long-ass freakin’ plan to be a superstar and then die in my own bedroom,” BIBI tells us candidly. “There are so many concepts and genres [I can explore] until then. I’m always going to be different, so I can’t really say right now, but next album, I’m gonna be more… rough.”
But even beyond her music career, BIBI also has an idea – or hope, really – of life thereafter, for when she does accomplish these plans. “I want them to say, ‘Oh, BIBI, yeah, I remember. She was lovely.’ Just lovely. That’s all I want. Lovely,” she repeats, imitating an English accent. “I want them to think of me as someone personal,” she later adds, on a more serious note. “Like a daughter, friend or even a lover.”
‘The Weekend’ by BIBI is out now on all major streaming platforms.