Suga of BTS: “You have to find what makes you happy, what brings you joy”

As he prepares for his first solo tour and shares his debut solo album ‘D-DAY’, the BTS rapper talks to NME about his Agust D alter-ego and the importance of living in the moment

“To be honest, I had this sense of being a victim when I was very young,” BTSSuga says, taking a sip from the big cardboard cup in his hand. It’s an early April morning in Seoul and the rapper, producer and songwriter is discussing his alter-ego Agust D on a video call with NME as he prepares to return under the moniker for the final part of a trilogy of records. “I came up with the name because I had [this] hate, [this] anger inside me […] I couldn’t control that anger.”

When he first introduced us to Agust D back in 2016 with his self-titled debut mixtape, Suga used the alias as a vehicle to express those fiery emotions. Although he had 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 the K-pop realm; his rap credentials not taken seriously now he was a member of a boyband. It fuelled his early solo music, that first mixtape full of barbed lines positioning him as mightier and fiercer than those who spurned him. “I’m the thorn in the side of those hyungs that are far from success,” he spits in one such lyric on the record’s title track.

“I’m just trying to say that you’re enough [as] yourself and you deserve to be loved on your own, and I’m also saying this to myself too.”

As we grow up, get older and experience more, we often learn how to control the fire that blazes in our gut and, in the intervening seven years since ‘Agust D’, Suga has gone on his own journey with that. You can trace it in the evolution of his solo music, from the soul-searching of 2020’s ‘D-2’ mixtape, to his debut solo album ‘D-DAY’. The flames still burn at times – “Fuck that shit you think you know ’bout me,” he declares on the shadowy ‘HUH?!’, featuring J-hope. But there’s also an undercurrent of peace, not least in him ending the new record on ‘Life Goes On’, a more tranquil track that opens with his verse from the BTS song of the same name.

Although he acknowledges there has been a transformation in him and Agust D since 2016, he rejects that it’s because his life has changed – “I still live as Suga of BTS and, as a person, Min Yunki,” he reasons. Instead, he characterises 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 the way that we change,” he says, cracking a small smile and adding with a chuckle: “I think I changed very nicely.”

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One such metamorphosis – and one that informs ‘D-DAY’ as a whole – that Suga has gone through over the last few years has been the rapper’s attitude to focusing on the present; living in the moment rather than fretting over regrets from the past or the unknowns of the future. “I think we should be the subject in the life that we’re living now,” he explains. “You might think, ‘Future me is going to live in this big house, a nice house’ and, of course that would be nice. But, I think, in that process, the most important thing is me.” He leans forward in his seat slightly, widening his eyes to emphasise his next point: “I’m going to be the person that’s going to be in the future, so I’m just trying to say [I] should focus on the me now.”

It’s a perspective that Suga adjusted to during the pandemic, when our lack of control over our days, weeks, months and years ahead came into excruciatingly sharp focus. For the members of BTS, that meant, in part, being forced to cancel the ‘Map Of The Soul’ world tour they’d already sold tickets and begun preparing for. “I thought, ‘Well, what can I do right now at this moment?’” he says. After listing out his concerns to himself and “things I was in pain with”, he decided to do something about the old shoulder injury he’d sustained in a motorcycle accident in his trainee days and underwent surgery – an act in the present moment only he was in charge of.

“We must be educated in how to find happiness from an early age, like learning the alphabet, but we haven’t learned it like that.”

Focusing on the now could be seen as something of a survival tactic; a way of living that makes the stresses and strains of our modern world a little more bearable. In Suga’s mind, love is another part of that handbook to endurance, and an antidote to the loneliness he details on the IU collaboration ‘People Pt.2’. “I just hope that people simply love,” he says, explaining that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be in love with another person. “It can be a simple thing, like loving coffee or you can even love your internet community. But I just hope that people love people – let’s hate less, let’s be angry a little less, because we all feel lonely.”

The gentle, comforting boom-bap of ‘People Pt.2’, a thematic sister song to ‘D-2’’s ‘People’, offers consolation and solidarity with anyone feeling isolated, Suga rapping: “If you can’t hold it back, it’s OK to cry / You’re already more than enough to be loved.” He quotes these lyrics to NME and rubs the back of his neck with a sigh. “I’m just trying to say that you’re enough [as] yourself and you deserve to be loved on your own, and I’m also saying this to myself too. I just hope that everyone gets loved from the moment they’re born until they die.”

They’re powerful words in a world where it can feel like toxicity reigns and the nature of our chronically online lives, sifting through divisive misinformation and comparing ourselves to others on social media, can easily wear you down. ‘D-DAY’’s main track, the urgent ‘Haegeum’, provides a rallying cry to free ourselves and our existence as “slaves to capitalism, slaves to money / Slaves to hatred and prejudice / Slaves to YouTube, slaves to flexin’”. “This song’s a haegeum,” Suga raps in the chorus, using the Korean word for both liberation and the traditional string instrument that features on the track. “Get on board now.”

The song, he notes again, is as much a message to himself as it is to the wider world. “I’m a slave to capitalism, to YouTube, to money, and I have to say that to myself so I won’t be like that,” he shares. Does he really think, in this day and age, that music can still inspire big change in our society? He smiles wryly and replies: “Music certainly has the power, but we cannot be free.” Not all hope is lost, though. We can still find some form of emancipation by “being less conscious of other people[’s opinions]” and “find[ing] a way to make ourselves happy”.

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Much 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 have to put too much meaning to it.” Perhaps if locating this “ephemeral emotion” was instilled in us from childhood, we’d be better off, he suggests: “We must be educated in how to find happiness from an early age, like learning the alphabet, but we haven’t learned it like that. Smart people actually find a way really, really fast, so we must be smart – if we tell people to be happy, they’re not going to be. You have to find what makes you happy, what brings you joy.”

suga d-day interview
BTS’ Suga. Credit: HYBE / Big Hit Music

From next week, Suga will bring more joy to ARMYs across the US and Asia as he kicks off his first solo tour. He is the first member of BTS to embark on such a run and some of the stops will see him return to venues he previously performed in with the group. “On top of being the first one among the BTS members to go on a solo tour, I’m more excited because it’s been a long time since I went on a world tour with multiple stops in various countries,” he says.

The tour poster shows the musician’s face split in two – one half largely blue, the other half mostly orange-red. Both the names Suga and Agust D sit in the top left corner, all combining to hint at a show made up of two distinct halves. Although he’s not ready to spill many details yet (“Too many spoilers will make it less fun”), he says there will be a third part too. “This tour will show Suga and Agust D as an artist, and Min Yunki as a person,” 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 it’ll be a totally different tour from previous BTS tours, and a tour beyond what everyone can imagine.”

As he prepares to head out on the first leg in America, the Disney+ and Weverse documentary Suga: Road To D-DAY captures a different, more personal kind of tour. The film follows the artist on a journey across the US, Korea and Japan as he searches for fresh inspiration for his solo album. Although he admits both to NME and in the documentary itself that he was never one for travelling before, the voyage gave him new revelations and valuable experiences.

“Just finding joy in travelling is itself a new discovery for me,” he explains. “Also, I gained a lot from having genuine interactions with greatly renowned international musicians [Halsey, Steve Aoki, Anderson .Paak and the late Ryuichi Sakamoto all receive visits from Suga in the film] who I had a chance to collaborate with or was very close with personally. It was [a] great lesson for me as an artist and also from person to person.” On the trip, he surmises, he achieved what he set out to do – find “a great sense of new inspiration and stimulation”.

Although the next few weeks and months look set to be busy for the rapper, and with his enlistment for mandatory military service due later this year, Suga is staying true to the message of ‘D-DAY’ and focusing on the present. “I’ve been keeping myself busy preparing for my first solo album and my solo tour these days,” he says. “I think I’ll probably be busy like this until the end of the tour. I will do my best on every stage where I can meet ARMY and I’ll take good care of my health to do so.”

Suga’s debut studio album ‘D-DAY’ is out now

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