Trigger warnings: self-worth, mental illness, suicide
Last year in August, Min Yoongi, who is also a member of the South Korean boy band Bangtan Boys (BTS), chose to confront his ongoing battle of self-image as an idol with underground hip hop roots in a unique way: his debut solo mixtape Agust D.
One of his pieces ‘give it to me’ is transformed from a soundtrack on a mixtape, an iconic symbol of youth culture, into a music video. Usually mixtapes are for a selective niche of people who are dedicated fans of the artist. But, Yoongi released it publicly on SoundCloud to project his voice to tens of thousands of people through this commercialized medium. It is worth noting the brevity of the beginning music video scene shows agustD struggling as he is bound to a chair, which represents how his choice to be a celebrity economically limits the creativity he would have had if he had continued to make a self-rewarding yet meager living.
One thing in common between Korean and American hip hop is that it is considered a masculine art that is perpetuated by the “macho” culture. In his mixtape, he discusses his solo rap image of agustD who worked diligently to claw his way to success. In his music video, he exercises complete autonomy in filming a persona of himself (agustD), a marketable image that he is able to get by in the music industry – masculine, full of fiery, with determination to openly challenge any criticism thrown at him. Through lyrics such as “born tiger ain’t gonna live like a dog” at 1:23, he exercises his agency to promote the bridge between his roots and celebrity status, despite being harshly criticized by his elderly underground mentors.
While his sentiment expressed in ‘give it to me’ is nothing new from other idols of similar backgrounds, Yoongi deviates from his fierce agustD persona to himself in another piece “The Last”. Within the first stanza, he candidly recalls his first psychiatrist visit with his parents. At 1:12, Yoongi unhesitatingly confirms his diagnosis of depression and compulsion with a bleeped-out question from his doctor (on whether he has had suicidal thoughts). He continues to build on his self-loathing from “If my misfortune is your happiness, then I’ll be unhappy” at 2:23, and his self-hatred peaks with the sudden sound of a gunshot. In contrast by the next verse, he raps about where he started and where he is now (“the taste of performing in front of only two people/ now Tokyo Dome is in front of my nose”). There is a change in the mood towards the hopeful in that he reassures everyone that while his current mental agony has no right answer in this endless suffering, his sorrows has ultimately created him to be the person and professional artist he is right now.
In an emotionally vulnerable mixtape, Yoongi chose to openly show different facets of himself in every piece ranging from ‘give it to me’ to “The Last”. In the Korean music industry, it is almost obligatory that idols maintain a single, consistent public persona, which directly contradicts Yoongi’s intentions as a musician. By wielding his solo mixtape as a hegemonic weapon against the long-standing stigma against mental illnesses, he has opened a gateway for other people of his generation in South Korea to artistically explore and assess their mental health and inspired the start of an open, honest discussion of something that should not be a taboo in the first place.
‘give it to me’ music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Zgc12yL5ss
Agust D mixtape: https://soundcloud.com/bangtan/sets/agust-d