Michael He

March 9, 2022

AGUST 29

Min Yoongi (Suga) turned 29 today. I'm just going to write in a stream-of-consciousness style about Yoongi, while listening to all of his produced songs.

Holy shit that is a lot of songs!

The playlist came out to be 36 songs, around 2 hours. And these are only songs he produced, not written!

Essentially, Yoongi produced three albums worth of music during his eight year career as a member of BTS. Factoring in his duty as a full-time idol, this is incredible both in terms of productivity and quality. My running joke is Suga has multiple albums waiting in his studio waiting for the day to be released out of the blue. He has a lot of gems accumulated, waiting to be used and shared. After all, a beat track he made in 2013 made its way into Black Swan (2020) seven years later and a guitar riff he showed in 2020 became the chord progression in Stay Alive (2022).

There is a lot to say about Suga's musicality, perhaps too much.

Starting with Yoongi's lyricism.

His lyrics flow incredibly well. Even if you don't understand Korean, you can sense the rhyme and reason behind those verses. Suga bought his first Eminem album at a young age and you see hip hop's influence on him (especially Epik High). Despite that, he is not restricted to any hip-hop style in particular. Hip hop is his way of expressing what's on his mind and what’s in his heart in their most polished raw form. This dichotomy of polished rawness is his signature, a way of capturing something alive under layers of amber.

But if you were to dig into the lyrics, you are in for a long trip down the rabbit hole. Whether it's his introductory tracks Never Mind (2015), The Most Beautiful Moment in Life (2016), and Interlude: Shadow (2020), or his solo tracks First Love (2016) and Trivia: Seesaw (2018, my favorite), you are in for a ride. These songs are released under BTS's name, yet they are very Yoongi. They dive deep into his memories. They document his experiences in such a vivid manner that listeners (who pay attention) can catch a glimpse of the Suga psychohistory. They are so intimate and personal that sometimes you may doubt if you are invading his privacy a bit too much. Individual analysis on each song is mandatory, just not for now...

Agust D’s (Yoongi’s alias) album-length mixtapes Agust D (2016) and D-2 (2020) are as different as Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city and Frank Ocean's Channel Orange.

The former is brash and full of underground hip-hop, tackling haters, his old memories, and his current state-of-being as member of a group quickly gaining recognition and popularity. Most importantly, Agust D opened up about his struggle with mental health issues and personal hardships, something close to a taboo in Korean society.

The latter took four years to produce largely because Agust D wanted to make as different a music as possible to document his growth as a 28 year old from the 24 year old self. This time BTS has made it. Yoongi's wish to top Billboard was granted multiple times. His wish to perform at the Grammy's was granted (and soon followed by nomations). "What Yoongi wants Yoongi gets" went from a wish among ARMYs to a truism. When D-2 was released, Agust D took his position as the victorious and surveyed the landscape of life.

D-2 is a clear picture on Yoongi's growth not just as an artist, but also as a human being. He has always been out-spoken against societal ills, but over the years he has been more vocal, first with mental health struggles (including his own) and then with societal woes and malpractices of the music industry. The former was (and still is) taboo in Korean society, while the latter is something no one dares to speak of, but Suga said the following:

But I heard there’s been times where a label will just say, Do it, without any explanation to the artist, or, Why are you talking so much? I think that’s the biggest issue and it’s destroying the industry. If you just see the artist as a product, how can they do anything creative? I really think it’s very contradictory to ask the people on stage to put on an enjoyable performance when they’re experiencing neither fun nor enjoyment.

If someone like me who's made it do not stand up for my peers, then who will fight back against the unfairness that will destroy us all? Suga is a shock poet in the way he frames things in such a different yet obvious manner. In writing Outro: Tear (2018) about the group's tough period to potentially split, Suga wrote:

What we should say, we already know
The answer is set, but to answer is always hard

These two lines hit hard because the truth is so self-evident, yet not quite. Unless you go through it, you wouldn't understand what it feels like. Yet without going through it, you know what is at stake and looming in the background. You don’t want to go through it, but when it must happen one accepts with a bitter smile.

And if I were to discuss Trivia: Seesaw, that would be an essay in and of itself...

Switching tracks (pun intended) to Yoongi's role as a producer and songwriter.

A music producer has one job - to produce music the artist wants. Stemming from this fundamental truth, you do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

Yoongi is a producer to three clients: BTS, himself, and other artists. Each client brings out an incredible part of him that sometimes overlap and often exist independently. This Weverse Magazine essay is an excellent read on the distinction.

For BTS, Suga shapes the sound of each album both from bottoms-up and from top-down. He is a member, a rapper, and a songwriter. Music stems from his ideas and creativity. This ensures the BTS authenticity with the ingenuity of all seven members. But at the same time, he produces for BTS and has the members' absolute trust, so he can shape the direction of the BTS sound along with Hitman Bang, Pdogg, Slow Rabbit, et al.

For Agust D, Agust D does what he wants. He can experiment to his liking, though the high standard bearer inside will never hasten to prove himself (which is why I suspect he has many dozens of tracks lying dormant). He can play with unconventional sounds (such as in Daechwita). He can express himself to the fullest, even if it reveals something too raw and too dark for BTS. There are numerous songs to break down there, but we don’t have time.

And as a commercial producer, Yoongi is incredibly humble and gives his best. His first outside produced track, Suran's WINE (2017), won the 2017 Melon Music Award. Wtf? Since then, he has produced for his hip-hop role model Epik High, K-pop virtuoso Heize, the incredible Halsey, the late Juice WRLD, and IU, writing and producing the song with an astonishing speed and quality, etc. Each song is incredibly different from one another, yet you can tell Suga produced it.

If there is one word to describe Yoongi's music, it's jamais vu. The sense of feeling like the first time, even if it's the seventh time listening to it. Listen to songs like Jump (2014) and Autumn Leaves (2015). They do not feel aged like contemporary pop songs. You can loop We Don't Talk Together (2019) for two hours and still find little nuances in the beats, in the layers, in the chords and harmonizations that unfold in patterns like fractals, seemingly unending and beautiful... Even his rendition of Samsung's iconic ringtone Over The Horizon does something no one ever expects to happen - he made a freaking ringtone sound orchestral and "high-class"!

Wow, covering two aspects of Min Yoongi already took three pages. This must be because I have watched him for six years, so witnessing his growth is another way of reflecting on my own.

True to the fandom endearment and BTS approval, Min Yoongi is like a cat: living in his own world on his own terms, affectionate yet seemingly cold-shouldered, and of course, always yawning (but for very different reasons).

Yoongi does not show his love by physical touch. He says "don't touch me" so much, it's a meme on its own. Yet when BTS members (especially Taehyung) cling to him, he accepts his fate. Behind that "cold" personal space is his attention and affection for BTS. When members are playing video games, he would prepare snack sandwiches out of nowhere. Despite keeping his studio off-limits, he will let Jungkook visit him whenever JK wishes. There are literally hundreds of stories long-time ARMYs can tell about how warm a person Yoongi is. 

Yoongi has been living a tough life the moment he decided to pursue music. His hometown Daegu is beautiful, but it loses its luster against the megapolis Seoul. His family was not financially able nor morally supportive (initially) of his wishes. They trashed his lyrics sheets to force him to study, so he had to scrape money by working at a recording studio on the other side of town. Those were the days when he had to either skip meals to take the bus or walk for hours to not starve…

Then he had to leave for Seoul on his own. He gambled his education, his tracked life to make a comfortable living with his good grades, for his dream (something society still painstakingly prevents us from doing). Initially joining Big Hit as a producer, Yoongi was also doing delivery work part-time when he got hit by a car that injured his shoulder for years (thankfully his surgery went well). He wanted to just be a rapper, yet he had learned incredibly challenging choreography (that became increasingly more difficult over the years against his rooftop confessions). On camera, Yoongi always seemed to be sleeping and tired, because he is tired from overworking behind the scenes, writing songs and producing tracks for BTS.

That is why when his parents came to see him during his 2016 concert, he knelt down and cried. He gave a truly heartfelt speech about his past journey on stage, which must have taken a lot of courage. Six years of struggles. Six years of hardships. Six years of sleepless nights. Six years of doubts, fears, and depression. He had to go through most of it alone (though the members were there for him). This is why he makes everyone so proud.

Yoongi is extremely contemplative and emotionally aware. One can see that through his songs, his words, his actions, and even just seeing him. I remember reading his 2016 tweets after not being able to perform at a concert. That broke my heart.

But on the other hand, he is able to create his own universe, even if it’s bounded by the studio door. He has been cognizant of his place (and the power he holds) and will do whatever it takes to ensure enough room for him and people he cares about.

He has never forgotten about us, either.

And one incredible thing about Yoongi is his amazing ability to level up. As BTS went through a meteoric rise, Yoongi grew just as much in his skills all around, in singing, songwriting, dancing, producing, etc. Most importantly, his ambitions grew at the same rate with BTS. He became the goal-setter for the group. What Yoongi wants Yoongi gets. If RM is the captain steering the wheel, then Yoongi is the one charting the maps and faring the crew into the unknown.

There are another ten thousand words I'd love to write (such as his charity and kindness in many ways, breaking down some of his lyrics and songs, notable moments, etc.), but the night is getting late and I need to sleep before my exams. Stream of consciousness only takes you so far...

There are many Yoongi fans who wrote about him, made videos for him, and supported him relentless. I have learned much from them, for example this great video on Yoongi's past struggles. I appreciate all of their insights and love for Yoongi and BTS. 

Of course, Yoongi’s biggest fans are the other six members of BTS. I cannot be more grateful to see the seven of them together, doing what they do, living, laughing, and loving.

Happy birthday, Yoongi hyung. I appreciate you, as do millions of ARMYs.