Michael He

May 19, 2022

People: The Triumph of Happiness

Good music is a painting. You can tell it's good.

Great music needs to have a bit more. You know it's good, but you also know there is something you can't quite figure out yet. You get attached to it, think over and over again, until one day you connect the dots and arrive at the epiphany.

The truth couldn't be simpler. That is what you will probably feel.

Agust D's People (2020) is one of the few songs that has done that to me. It took me two years to put my emotions into words, but it may have taken me twenty years to really understand why I feel this way and why expressing myself is so difficult.

The entire essay is primarily focused on the song, but you can't understand People without understanding Min Yoongi, the man behind this masterpiece. My words will never do him justice, but if you find anything interesting, then I consider my efforts well worth it.

This is part of my Proof as an ARMY over the years. I hope you can join me on this journey down the memory lane.

Note: I will use Min Yoongi, Suga, and Agust D interchangeably in this essay, though one name may be more fitting for the specific section. The lyrics are entirely from the amazing @doolsetbangtan.

You can listen to the mixtape here on Soundcloud and here on Spotify.

https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/tMyuyuZVVQo8Gsjy7

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Does The Pursuit of Happiness Exist?

Is happiness an inherent quality or a state of mind? Outcomes in life may depend a lot on your outlook.

We should start our answer with "things fall in some type of spectrum", so happiness is neither entirely determined by fate nor entirely defined by our actions (though one's faith may say otherwise). This logic sounds like cliche, but we need such elastic band-like premise to parse a nuanced question. Framing the question is as important as answering it.

To people in the former camp being happy is mostly passive. Our genetics and environment shape so much of our lives. Since we can't deal our own cards before being born, can we really shape life entirely as we would like, doing whatever we want how ever we want? Probably not.

But those in the latter camp view happiness as a stage to reach. It requires active effort. Whether one defines happiness as a fleeting moment or a prolonged period of bliss, we can definitely move in a brighter direction. The question is then "can we nudge ourselves in that direction and how much?"

Your answer is probably captured in the following 2x2 grid. It describes one's pursuit of happiness for the optimists or the lack thereof for the pessimists. It also prescribes our method of living. Have we figured life out (or are in the process of doing so)?

indefinite-and-definite-thinking.png

To Min Yoongi the answer has clearly changed over the years. When I wrote about him in March 2022, a few observations kept coming back to haunt me under this question on happiness. It culminates in People (2020), a song Suga loves and admits to listen repeatedly.
 
I set aside most songs after they’re done, but I find myself re-listening to ‘People’ all the time, and I experience different emotions each time I hear it. It’s a song I put on mostly when I’m feeling lonely and sentimental. (Vogue)

What made People such a powerful song? My interpretation is most likely wrong, but it may have something you find useful and that's more than enough motivation for me to write it down.

Most importantly, I find People to be Yoongi's ode to joy. The song is an antithesis to glorious hymns, yet it praises the same supreme being (it doesn't have to be religious) that gives us peace, love, and joy.

In Praise of Musical Atmosphere

Yoongi usually makes the track (the beats/layers behind the song) well before the music and lyrics. A notable example is his 2013 beat sample that became part of ON in 2020. The beat to him is like the shaping material (e.g. clay versus mud) to a potter. It defines how things come together, the "texture" of things. Having completed the track in October 2016, Yoongi took more than three years to shape the vessel called People. The beats are simple, surprisingly even, due to his mastery in music production. 

The simplicity is intentional.

People begins with a bell-like tone in the background that skips in a memorable fashion. Amidst the on-beats are a series of off-beats In a sequence of four bell tones, the middle two are on off-beats. The musical phrase repeats twice for fifteen seconds total, enough time to create a musical atmosphere.

The musical sequence evokes the sound of wind chimes, commonly found in traditional Korean houses, perhaps gingerly playing a melody on a weekend afternoon. It is a moment Suga does not get to have often (if ever) due to his busy schedule.

The drum beat is more consistent, seven steady beats on the snare drum followed by two shorter ones that equal one steady beat. The snare beats fills in the gaps of the wind chimes, which to me produces a mantra-like feeling that signals introspection. The bass drum is harder to notice, but it elicits attention by my subconsciousness for how closely it resembles the heart beat.

The opening lines also reflect this introspective state (the lyrics are from @doolset).

Yeah yeah, a gentle breeze
One that brushes past
One that soaks into my heart

You feel relaxed. You enjoy the peace with a gentle breeze, sunshine, and some birds chirping in the background. Even without understanding Korean, you feel a sense to move forward while looking fondly at everything in the past whether it is painful or joyful. It plunges you right in.

I can listen to People on a loop for hours without getting bored. If I focus on the wind chimes, I become more attuned to the beats. If I focus on the lyrics, then the track comforts me. If I focus on both, then I just absorb everything and feel peaceful. It's like holding an iPhone 4 as a teenager in 2010. Everything feels just right.

Positive Resignation

Lyricism matters more than musical beauty to me. Good lyrics without music become poetry. The other way doesn't always work. Beautiful music without words can sound repetitive and boring, for example side pieces by famous classical composers. Words can stand alone (my go-to example is the Book of Psalms).

If the music does not overwhelm with boom-bah-yah beats or gimmicks in the commercial music realm, then lyrics must shoulder the responsibility to a good song. And good lyrics must not sound boring, even if you can recite by heart.

Suga creates music like that as millions of ARMYs can confirm. And People is a song even he listens and repeats.

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. (Agust 29)

He understands this insight on a fundamental level. Right after the opening lines he says:

What kind of person am I
Am I a good person?
Or a bad person?
The assessments are all different
I’m just a person, too

Who begins a song with human nature as the topic? Min Yoongi. Suga. Agust D.

Although People is full of wordplay with parallels to RM's Trivia 承: Love (2018), it's the candidness that makes it definitively Min Yoongi. It makes you want to sit down, clear your head, focus, and ponder what he is really trying to say.

Right from the get-go, however, we can sense something different. The old Suga/Agust D would rap with raw energy like Intro: Never Mind (2015) or Give It To Me (2016). It's about firing back at people doubting his dreams and contemplating big topics like dream, hope, and love.

This time he rather quickly ends the debate with resignation. Yeah, I'm just a person. No point in digging deeper.

But is that what he really means? I don't think so.

Why So Serious?

The truth is hidden in hindsight. What appears as resignation is simply an epiphany that appears as resignation to us who have not reached it.

Everyone would live on
Everyone would love
Everyone would fade away
and be forgotten

People change — like you have
Living a life in the world, there’s nothing that lasts forever
Everything is just a happening that passes by

Nothing lasts forever, so why are we trying to make definitive statements about life? In fact, Agust D goes further to invoke Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight (2008).

Mm… why so serious?
Why so serious? why so serious?
Mm… I’m so serious?
I’m so serious? I’m so.. I’m so..

Ledger's Joker is iconic for many reasons, but the one that stands out to me is his nonchalantness in stating the painful truth people all run away from (e.g. we are all going to die). The Joker lives entirely on this "why so serious" tenet. People are fascinated both by his motive and what our fascination with such evil says about us human beings.

Why are we so serious? Why are we so unhappy when we are supposedly good?

Hence we must confront the uncomfortable truth of life. We hold onto things too dearly, sometimes to a ridiculous level. Yoongi reminds us of that absurdity as well. In a nonchalant manner.

What about it
If you brush past, what about it
What about it
If you get hurt, what about it

Sometimes you might be in pain again
Sometimes you might get upset and shed tears 
What about it
If you live like that, what about it

Are all the pain and troubles really that important? Why don't we just move on?

Emotions matter. But are they all that matter? Can we truly be happy if we resign our will to hold onto feelings entirely, even when sinking in emotions may drag us deeper into the swamp?

The Fundamental Change Is Positive

This shift in Suga's outlook is critical to my understanding of People as a masterpiece.

Between 2016 and 2020, Min Yoongi went through a fundamental transformation. And in his words, this change is good.

We all change, but some people say that change is bad by saying we should hold on to our original intentions, etc. It’s our nature to change, and I believe that change is good if it is positive. (Rolling Stone)

Starting out as an underdog in the music world, Suga doesn't actively make enemies but won't back down from any bricks thrown at his way. During debut's No More Dream (2013) Suga talked about "big house, big cars, and big rings". That was his dream. Any pushback would simply fire him up even more.

Similarly, the old Yoongi will let the emotions linger and use them as his creative fuel, but I don't see such pattern since 2020. In fact, it seems to fade even in 2018. The rage he held in The Last (2016), you can't see it in Trivia 轉 : Seesaw (2018).

The most plausible explanation for this change is the tough time BTS went through in 2017. Years after Jin's shocking announcement about BTS's discussion about disbandment, Yoongi explained in detail how much the stratospheric success took a toll on him and the members: the need to perform, the need to break records (that BTS have set in the first place), and the need to suddenly live up to everyone's expectations even though much of that pressure came from the exact people who were punching and laughing at BTS for years.

Yet here is the conundrum of growth.

What do you do when you go from nine trainees sleeping in a cramped apartment to affording luxury million-dollar apartments in the heart of Seoul, all within less than ten years? Big Hit Entertainment went from a company near-bankruptcy to be worth more than all other Korean entertainment agencies combined. This growth is well over 1000x, more than enough to make even the greediest Silicon Valley venture capitalist salivate. Or how about selling more than twenty million album copies since 2018?

We all hear rag-to-riches stories, but Yoongi and BTS have lived them. Once you achieve the impossible, what else is there to achieve? Can you still be angry at people laughing you once you are no longer the underdog? 

Thus comes the awakening.

I realized that I didn’t know who to be angry with anymore. Finally, I was able to look at myself. I’d been making a weapon out of anger and a sense of inferiority, but around 2018, my self-destructive rage slowly started to subside. I realized that I couldn’t channel creative energy through only those sorts of emotions any longer. (Vogue)

I consider Outro: Tear (2018), SUGA’s Interlude (2020), and Interlude : Shadow (2020) to be Yoongi's archive regarding this profound transition. And D-2 as a whole is him gliding towards to a new destination after changing course mid-air. 

What he wanted and thought he needed have changed.

He is learning to be happy.

The Roots Stay The Same

People are incredibly difficult to comprehend because we don't know the "why". Biographers go out of their way to try to figure out what inspires and powers their subjects, which sometimes still result in failure. 

With Min Yoongi things are different. 

He never hides his intentions. He is an open book. All it takes is for someone who cares to take a look. As his interview during the release of Agust D (2016) says:

At least I want to be an honest man who does not lie. I want to live the way just like my lyrics. So that I can be proud of my lyrics no matter how much time flies. (Grazia)

He made his intentions very clear since the beginning. He wants to make music. He gambles the life of a steady career in Daegu for a seemingly hopeless music agency in Seoul. First Love (2016) is his affirmation to that resolve, a decade since re-igniting that childhood dream to pursue music. 

Five years after 2016, more than a decade after joining Big Hit, he still says the same things.

I thought about why I'm working on music so much like this and ... I don't have anything much to do besides this and I don't have much I know how to do. (HYBE Insight)

Music is the only thing I know how to really do. Other than music and BTS, there’s nothing special about me when I look at this 28-year-old Min Yoongi. That’s why I want to keep doing this. (Weverse Magazine)

He just wants to make music. 

Over the last year or two Yoongi is noticeably calmer and happier. Everyone notices. Everyone who roots for him is happy for him.

Not only has Min Yoongi won in his own game of life, his new vision has as well.

I think I’m happier now. I’ve realized that happiness doesn’t require much, and it can be quite simple. I used to think material things would give me happiness, and I worked hard to achieve them. But when I succeeded, I wasn’t so sure anymore. I don’t have many earthly desires anyway. (Vogue)

Indeed, Yoongi doesn't have many earthly desires. He has always been pursuing music first and foremost. Whether it's getting the cheaper noodle dish in order to not walk two hours home or buying new sound mixing device with his meager income whenever BTS travels overseas, his desire is very simple. 

Make music. Make more music.

Funny enough, he still raps about big house, big cars, and big rings. But at some point they are no longer things he chases. They become motifs. If Agust D can keep making music, then anything else can go wherever it pleases. 

Flow along the way the water flows
Maybe there’s something at the end
A special life, an ordinary life, each of them on their own
It’s all good
It’s all good

Life is beautiful in itself. All life is beautiful. There is no need to compare one's life to another.

And don’t compare yourself to other people either. There is absolutely no need for you to compare the size of your dream to someone else’s dream. You’d think I live with super grandiose dreams, but I’m not like that at all. (GQ)

And in times of distress, it's easier to let go of desire than to satisfy them. The only caveat is you need to see through the meaning(lessness) of so many things people hold tightly in life.

Because what do you have when you gain the world and loses yourself (Mark 8:36 & Matthew 16:26)?

Trudge Along Life

What happens when life sucks? What do you do when you are unhappy? Can you choose to be happy? 

Like the rest of us, Suga has encountered more than enough things in life. Professionally BTS was ignored by media for the longest times. Personally Yoongi faced haters, antis, and all the vile poison social media has to offer. Even within BTS the members would inadvertently have conflicts.

What do you do? Simple. You trudge your way through life. Why so serious?

It doesn’t always go as planned
Everyone puts up with the inconvenience
The repetition of dramatic situations sometimes makes life tiring
People are like that

Here it is, the resignation from the beginning is actually not resignation. It's acceptance. Of mankind. Of life. Of himself.

When it’s not there, you wish it is, when it’s there, you wish it’s not
Who said that humans are the animals of wisdom
To my eyes, it’s obvious that they are the animals of regret

If Suga and Agust D capture the raw emotions, then Min Yoongi captures the human condition. 

The Extraordinary Ordinary

One of the most profound sayings I have heard (besides the Bible) is from Min Yoongi.

Your being ordinary is rather my being special
Your being special is rather my being ordinary
My being ordinary is rather your being special
My being special is rather your being ordinary

There is so much to ponder there. Ultimately your heart and your head must have an honest conversation. 

What is it that you really want? 

You lose as much as you gain. You gain as much as you lose. For me, I lost the ordinary. That’s the biggest change. What that means is — what’s ordinary to others is very special to me, whereas what’s special to others is very ordinary to me. Then, before you know it, your set of values changes, the values with which you see the worlds. (Break The Silence)

Yoongi's ordinary is what millions of people dread: waking up, going to work, and all the "mundane" moments that are between waking up and going to sleep. He didn't have this type of ordinary life since he went to Seoul, not attending university being one of the most obvious examples.

Before BTS became worldwide famous, Suga worked more hours than one could (and should) in the practice room, in the music studio, and in his head. Once BTS became global superstars, it became waking up in a foreign land in a room that is not his bedroom, having a full day of schedule ahead of him each day, so whenever he has time he simply naps. His body is constantly overworked, not to mention all the injuries he sustained over the years. 

Once again, on the screen Yoongi seemed to live a very grand life. But how many of us really know what he had to give up to live that life, which he didn't ask for in the first place? I always remember when RM said performing in front of two hundred people during debut felt more than enough. I believe him.

No happiness comes from more big house, more big cars, and more big rings.

Perhaps it’s because I now know that material things no longer give me great satisfaction. So now, I try to find happiness in simple things, such as getting up early in the morning and having decaf coffee. I’m glad I’ve finally got to experience this kind of joy. What I lost would be being ordinary. Your ordinary is my extraordinary, right? But I think time will solve this issue. (Vogue)

Small moments are enough to be happy. Small moments are all we have anyways. Every big moment in Suga's life is built on countless small moments no one seems to notice: scribbling in his notepads, remixing the same track over and over again, eating Jajangmyeon in the dorm after sixteen hours of work... Yoongi probably thinks that way too, that's why he enjoys spending some time to make coffee in the morning. 

And that is enough. More than enough. That is great. Wonderful even.

Note that he didn't say material things gave him zero satisfaction, just that they weren't great satisfactions. That's why he still wants to tour and one day win the Grammys (which now depends less on BTS and more on the narrow mindedness of the selection committee). This change of attitude is also present in every member of BTS given Yoongi is usually the one setting goals, though I argue the boys have never left their roots even during their roughest time.

And one incredible thing about Yoongi is his amazing ability to level up. Most importantly, his ambitions grew at the same rate with BTS. (Agust 29)

The inherent paradox in this is as his ambitions grew, his hurdle to obtain happiness shrinks! As I wrote before, "Suga is a shock poet in the way he frames things in such a different yet obvious manner." His definition of being in peace as his dream is yet another shocking statement one may not expect from a global superstar.

I tried looking for reasons to live each day, but it turns out what I like most is being at peace. It’s my dream to become someone who worries less and who has peace in their heart. (GQ)

If you are not at peace inside, you will never have it. Peace doesn't come from outside. Peace comes from inside.

The Triumph of Happiness

D-2 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. D-2 is a clear picture on Yoongi's growth not just as an artist, but also as a human being. (Agust 29
 
When you look at Yoongi's creative output in 2020, you would assume he went through a sudden and profound change. However, that is simply the result of many years. He has been growing for many years in the past and many years more to come, all for a simple (but not easy) goal.

I want to deliver those hopeful music as well. I want to hear "this kid makes such heart-touching music" from people. (Grazia)

And he has done it.

Now I hope he stays happy because it's something you can choose. Yes, I finally answer the opening question. Happiness is something you can obtain, no matter your circumstance. You can always feel miserable, the question is why would you, not why that happens.

Instead of chasing dreams and end on a never-ending treadmill that is never quite there, Min Yoongi now enjoys the entire ride. 

The PTD concerts have been fun. That That is fantastic music. He has more music in the works both as a songwriter and as a producer. He has many more moments of happiness and peace to enjoy, no matter how small they appear especially for someone of his status (imagine being happy just to eat kimbap from a convenience store).

Maybe that is why In The Soop is so immersive and addicting. Seven people who can do anything they want in the world simply choose to enjoy one another's presence and seek peace and joy in those moments. That is who we are as human beings.

People is the triumphant anthem of happiness. 

Thank you for reading. I hope we all become happy and stay that way as much as possible.