The dynamics of the Korean idol group scene has gone through much and rapid transformation recently. Up until a few years ago, there were ‘mammoth-level’ idol stars at the top, followed by the rest of them that tried to be second or third best. But no single group is the absolute best these days, to the point that if you were to ask a music industry person who the most popular idol group is, each of them will give you with different answers. However, B.A.P is the group that is gaining popularity at the fastest rate among those who made their debut more recently. After making their debut just last year, they swept a number of awards for best new artist, and not just in Korea but also overseas including in Japan and Europe. They then held their first concert in Korea in February and immediately went on tour in the U.S. and Asia. They are now back with their third mini-album “Badman” through which they show themselves as more mature musicians. The B.A.P that TenAsia met with were full of confidence of the new release.
Q. You’re back with your third mini-album. Did you feel a lot of pressure working on the new album because you swept all the best new artist awards last year?
Him Chan: We were more excited than pressured. All we wanted was to show our fans was that we’ve become better.
Q. Your title track is “Badman,” which makes it seem like it’s about someone that’s a bad boy, but it’s actually about you declaring war against crimes.
Bang Yong-guk: This song contains the message that we as B.A.P want to deliver regarding crimes. I was watching the news while writing some lyrics and I saw so many reports on incidents such as murders. And it felt like those atrocious crimes were reported on just for the sake of talking about them. So we made this song for the purpose of bringing people’s attention to crime.
Q. Bang Yong-guk, are there a lot of things you are dissatisfied with regarding society? You sometimes even make social remarks on Twitter as well.
Bang Yong-guk: I don’t (laughs). I just don’t like irrationalities and unfairness. I believe that we need to talk about the things that are wrong. Our fans are young. And I don’t think there are certain things they shouldn’t know just because they’re young. I rather think that they need to get used to talking about society and things that are important when they are young because it will help them become better adults. It’s our style to point out what needs pointing out.
Q. You’ve always had strong dance moves. This time though, you have a dance you call the ‘cross dance’ which I heard symbolizes one cleansing himself of his sins.
Jong Up: We do the cross dance in the chorus of “Badman.” We form ourselves into crosses by stretching our arms out to our sides. Other than that, you’ll also get to see some crumping. This time we have moves through which you can see each member’s dancing skills better.
Q. You shot the music video to “Badman” in Detroit. The atmosphere seemed pretty scary.
Young Jae: We shot it in a place where there were a lot of vacated buildings and few people. It was a bleak neighborhood because the windows to every building were broken. And there were about 100 people that came to play extras in our music video but they were a bit scary at first because they all had tough-looking features. But they all turned out to be extremely cheerful so we had fun shooting the video.
Q. You made your comeback with three title tracks – “Coffee Shop,” Hurricane,” and “Badman” – through which you’re showing us various sides to you that are also different from before.
Bang Yong-guk: I wanted “Coffee Shop” to be jazzy so I asked jazz pianist Song Young-joo, currently in New York, to play the song. She came to our studio the day before she left for New York and it turned out great. This sort of music rarely gets into the albums of idol groups so I really wanted to try it out. For “Hurricane,” we tried out the genre of electronic house for the first time. We’d always done hardcore music so we wanted to show a new side to us this time. And for “Badman,” we mixed the genre of trap, which is currently popular in the U.S., with our own style of music.
Q. Did you not face any difficulties trying out new styles?
Dae Hyun: I tried to sing in different styles depending on the style of the song. And for “Badman,” I went for an ultra high note. I probably showed my maximum capability through the song. i worked really hard.
Him Chan: I wasn’t used to singing in a light and clean way for “Coffee Shop” but I think it turned out well.
Q. Are there any other favorites you have?
Him Chan: My choice is “Excuse Me.” It’s a song that’s good for singing with our fans at our concerts. I think we’d have a lot of fun performing it on stage.
Jong Up: I like our title track “Badman” the most. I’m very curious to see how our fans will react to it because it was a new challenge for us.
Bang Yong-guk: My choice is “Badman” as well. It’s the song I put the most effort into among the six. The fact that we adopted a style from music that is mainstream in the U.S. in itself was a new attempt for us. Yet rarely do people sing and dance to the trap genre. I’m looking forward to the response of our fans overseas as well.
Zelo: I like “Whut’s Poppin” which is the intro track that Yong-guk made. I like his direct lyrics. It contains the ‘hard truths’ that he often tells us (laughs).
Q. When I look at the credits in the album, a lot of people other than you also took part in writing the lyrics for each song.
Bang Yong-guk: I work with the composers at our agency. I’m the one that drafts up the lyrics. And then they refine them. I write my lyrics not paying attention to the broadcasting regulations so I need some post work done to them (laughs).
Q. Bang Yong-guk, you also took part in this album as a producer. How was the experience?
Bang Yong-guk: I got to try out the things I had always wanted to so it felt great.
Q. Did you ask things of your members as producer?
Bang Yong-guk: Every member has a definite style of his own so I immediately knew who should sing which part when the songs were made.
Q. How was Bang Yong-guk as a producer for the rest of you?
Him Chan: Yong-guk is actually quite scary in the recording studio. It’s almost as if I should speak in the honorific form of language to him. But it’s because he’s a perfectionist.
Young Jae: The members that are younger than Yong-guk follow his orders well. But Him Chan is the same age as Yong-guk and his answers come out in a form that is somewhere between the casual and honorific form (laughs).
Q. Well, he may be strict when he’s producing but doesn’t he usually treat you well otherwise?
(All become silent.)
Zelo: (Reluctantly answers) We have no complaints regarding Yong-guk. He takes good care of us.
Q. You held a “Pacific” tour where you went to four cities in the U.S. and four countries in Asia including Japan starting May. And it happened in just a year and two months since your debut. I’m sure you must’ve learned a lot through it.
Bang Yong-guk: To start with, we have broader perspectives of the stage now. When you’re on TV, you need to look at the camera but when you’re on tour, it’s very important to communicate directly with the audience. So it was a good chance for us to improve on our performances and stage manners. We were worried about a lot of things at first but we feel good that we ended up gaining a lot of experience. We were able to broaden on our perspectives through the tour.
Q. I think there must’ve been a lot of incidents as well.
Dae Hyun: We were doing our concert in Hong Kong, when Zelo went on stage without his mic. The song had started but he said he didn’t have it. So I was worried about what we should do at first but we ended up exchanging mics whenever someone had to sing. Luckily, we didn’t mess up on our choreography either.
Him Chan: It was actually my fault. I mistakenly took Zelo’s mic. And I thought we’re in trouble but Dae Hyun solved the problem quickly.
Jong Up: I once slipped and fell doing the break dancing move Thomas for our song “No Mercy.” I usually pretend I haven’t made a mistake even when I do but I couldn’t with the Thomas because it’s such a big move.
Q. You must’ve all seen how much each other has grown through the tour and working on the album.
Zelo: I think Yong-guk’s musical spectrum has widened by going on tour overseas.
Bang Yong-guk: Jong Up has become much better with his choreographic expression. From a certain point on, he doesn’t seem like an Asian anymore.
Jong Up: I was so sad that Him Chan couldn’t be with us when we promoted “One Shot” because of his injury. His part had a lot of impact at the time. He has huge presence in our team. But he’s become even better for “Badman” so I’m looking forward to it.
Him Chan: When I first heard Dae Hyun sing, he sang in a very Korean pop-style way. But his vocals have become very strong after practicing different styles of singing and he can pull off a lot more styles now.
Dae Hyun: Young Jae sings in more like a Western pop way than I do. And he knows how to enjoy the stage so I want to learn that from him.
Young Jae: Zelo has always been talented but I think he’s becoming better at releasing that talent. It also makes me proud to see that he has also matured a lot as a human being.
Q. A lot of hip-hop idols such as INFINITE and BTS are receiving attention these days. How do you think you differentiate yourselves from them?
Bang Yong-guk: There are so many styles of hip-hop. But we’ve always focused on southern hip-hop, which is more hardcore, ever since our debut. And I think each team has a style of their own. I just think it’s hard to say who is better when it comes to rap. But I’m happy because it seems that hip-hop has become more mainstream in Korea these days. It’s something I never imagined would happen when I was younger.
Q. It’s been about a year and a half since you made your debut. And you’re becoming popular very fast. You’re definitely at the lead among the groups that debuted around the time that you did. How do you feel when you look back on the past year and a half?
Him Chan: We still have a long way to go.
Dae Hyun: All I think of is that we need to do better.
Q. Is there a goal you want to achieve through this album?
Him Chan: I’d be extremely happy if we got first place [on a music show] but before that, we’d like to be told that we’ve grown musically. If we can show that we’ve improved in terms of our singing and dancing, I think that in itself will be a valuable outcome.
Q. You’ll be holding your second Seoul concert this coming August 17 and 18. It’ll be your first time holding a concert in Seoul since February this year.
Bang Yong-guk: I get a bit embarrassed when I think back on it. We lacked in so many ways because it was before we went on tour overseas. Of course, it was definitely very meaningful for us because it was our first concert ever. We’re looking forward to the upcoming concert a lot because it’ll be our chance to show how much we’ve grown since our “Pacific” tour.
Q. Is there any music you enjoy listening to these days?
Bang Yong-guk: I mostly listen to DJ music that doesn’t contain vocals. And I’m so into an electronica musician called XXYYXX these days. He’s only 17 years old but expresses himself in a way that is unbelievable for his age. I think age doesn’t matter when it comes to music.
Jong Up: I usually enjoy listening to Chris Brown, Bruno Mars and Miguel.
Q. Could you please say a few words to your fans that you’ll get to meet soon?
Zelo: We’re very happy to be back with good music since we worked hard. “Badman” is an album we’re very satisfied with and proud of. We hope you’ll enjoy our music while paying close attention to all the lyrics.
Reporter. Kwon Seok Jung firstname.lastname@example.org
Translator. Jessica Kim
Courtesy of CJ E&M