I am the most outspoken K-pop fan at The Ringer, which means that I regularly receive questions from well-meaning, curious coworkers on everything from BTS and SuperM to “Who is Chungha, and how do I marry her?” Last year, my colleague Michael Baumann was writing about then–Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and sent me what seemed to be the world’s most innocuous Slack message:
I responded with something nondescript about how Yoongi, stage name Suga, is a rapper for BTS—it’s best to keep it simple with the locals. But any die-hard fan knows how difficult it can be to accurately explain the appeal of Bangtan’s raw, fiery Min Yoongi.
Had I been a little braver, perhaps I’d have told Baumann that Yoongi is like one of those cross-stitch patterns you occasionally see hanging in someone’s house; it seems cute and sweet from a distance, but close up its text reads, “Not today, Satan” or “Get fucked, loser.” That’s why it’s notable that BTS chose to kick off their upcoming Map of the Soul: 7 comeback on Thursday with Yoongi’s “Interlude: Shadow” (or the “Yoontro,” short for Yoongi Intro, as fans have chosen to nickname the release). He’s the perfect BTS voice for this particular moment in many ways, but primarily because he has never cared about anything that doesn’t matter and pours all of himself into the things that do.
Yoongi has always been the member of BTS most willing to publicly grapple with the dichotomy between fame and self, talking openly about his struggles with depression and anxiety. And as BTS rise to a level of fame that the world has never experienced, that leaves its seven members to walk the fine line between acknowledging their absurd level of stardom and navigating all that comes with it.
On “Shadow,” Yoongi raps in Korean.
People say, there’s splendor in that bright light
But my growing shadow swallows me and becomes a monster
Up high, high, and higher, higher / I only go higher, and vertigo overtakes me
I rise, rise. I hate it
I pray, pray, hoping to be OK.
The music video depicts the rapper high above a crowd, on display as impassive, faceless fans record each of his movements—for better or for worse.
The song is as brash and abrasive as it is vulnerable, much like the singer himself. The chorus of “Shadow” leaves no question about Yoongi’s professional goals: “I wanna be a rap star / I wanna be the top / I wanna be a rockstar / I want it all mine / I wanna be rich / I wanna be the king.”
Many BTS fans, and perhaps Yoongi himself, would say that several of these goals have already been checked off the to-do list. It reminds me of BTS’s 2018 performance of “No More Dream,” their first 2013 single, when Yoongi updated the original lyrics—“I want a big house, big cars, and big rings”—to a version that more accurately depicts BTS’s current situation: simply “big house, big cars, and big rings.”
Maybe in a few years, Yoongi will give us a version of “Shadow” that removes the “I wanna be” altogether.