On Agust Ds "D-2," Suga of BTS Takes on Fame and the Anxiety of …
In this essay, Teen Vogues entertainment news editor Claire Dodson examines the themes and sounds on BTS member Sugas Agust D mixtape, "D-2."
On Agust D's “D-2,” Suga of BTS Takes on Fame and the Anxiety of Being Alive | Teen Vogue
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Close AlertCloseOn Agust D's “D-2,” Suga of BTS Takes on Fame and the Anxiety of Being AliveIn this essay, Teen Vogue’s entertainment news editor Claire Dodson examines the themes and sounds on BTS member Suga’s sophomore Agust D mixtape, D-2.
May 29, 2020YouTube/Big Hit Entertainment
BTS member Suga launched his , the second under his Agust D moniker, with royal fanfare.
Lead single received a historical epic of a music video, in which a scarred, blonde king traipses and tramples around his Joseon era kingdom. He’s merciless, arresting a young black-haired rebel in modern designer garb (Agust D) who uses his capture for access. He’s won over the peasant executioner, who slices through the ropes in time for Agust D to rise up, remove his blindfold, and kill the sword-wielding king with a gun. Both the king and his challenger are played by Suga, whose real name is Min Yoongi.
“I always like my music to make a contrast,” Suga said . “With my previous songs I wanted to show the beauty in contrast. For example, wearing a modern outfit in front of a traditional building.” The song’s title is the name of the traditional Korean genre of military music; as Suga explained in the interview, it’s played “when the king is in procession.”
Yoongi, Suga, Agust D, BTS — they’re all in procession now, walking through admirers and haters alike, among and above the millions of people they influence. Seven years into a career together, the seven members of BTS — RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — have the resources and clout to do whatever they want, to work with whomever they want. They have a worldwide ARMY of fans going to bat for them, but they’re slowly cementing themselves with general audiences too (despite a relative lack of western radio play). In 2019, BTS was the top-grossing touring group of the year; In 2020, they released the , an album that looked back on their history as much as it set the pacing for their future.
Then… a global pandemic swept the world. BTS , and a slate of new songs made for electric live shows were instead performed televised to empty venues or not at all. All the members of BTS have documented their past few months with livestreams, cover songs, and selfies; but Suga has been perhaps the most active. He painted as millions of people looked on. He uploaded photos of his signature gummy smile. He became DJ Shup-D on BTS’s live radio show Kkul FM, giving updates on his work and doing dramatic readings of Korean folktales.
And he released D-2, the follow-up mixtape to 2016’s Agust D. D-2’s 10 songs contrast intentionally with Agust D on a pure sonic level: “I went too hard before. I could do that back then, but I can’t rap like that now,” he said in the official mixtape interview. Agust D is a record that demands, that wants — speedy, full, and brazen whether he’s bragging about his infamous tongue technology on “Give It to Me” or analyzing his own self-hatred on “The Last.” In the latter, , he gasps out, “Min Yoongi has already died (I killed him).”
Suga said he listened to that older work while writing D-2, adjusting and improving upon it. On the new mixtape, there’s less of that open-wound approach to his rapping, though his high-pitched half-screech motif is still a habit recognizable for the period it adds to whichever point he’s making. D-2 explores new vocal ground (he’s previously said he’s ) and pushes what he himself can produce. It’s most apparent on “Interlude: Set me free,” on which he sings the refrain in English to an ambient trip-hop backdrop of birds chirping. In “Dear My Friend,” he rap-sings à la “Trivia: Seesaw” alongside Korean artist Kim Jong Wan of NELL (who he said was one of his idols growing up, and who also collaborated with RM); the piano approach lends itself easily to a heavy rehashing of painful history.
As one fan on Twitter this week, “BTS love adding a trap beat to their sadness.” It was a reference to BTS’s “Outro: Tear,” a song that Yoongi explained in Break the Silence episode six was actually written for the members when they were contemplating disbandment. Both trap beats and sadness are in limitless supply on D-2, but both are also sort of a trick: Suga refuses to be defined by genre, and he also refuses to be defined by sadness, or its frequent counterpart when talking about how he raps, anger.
back in January, “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.” She was talking specifically about “Interlude: Shadow,” the solo song that introduced the MOTS: 7 era back in January. That song, and it’s subtle counterpart, Halsey collaboration hinted at what was to come on D-2: the reconciling that comes when your world suddenly gets very big and very small.
If Agust D is about wanting, D-2 is about getting, and there’s more restraint even in the lyrics that talk about how much he’s gained. “I wanted clothes clothes, then money money, then goal goal, now what’s next,” he stutter-raps out in Korean on “Daechwita,” per the official YouTube translation of the song. “Here’s my reality check, there’s nowhere higher.” He echoes the themes in “Shadow” and in older BTS track “No More Dream” (which also gets a check in D-2 diss track ) about wanting wealth and the trappings of it, and that simultaneous revulsion at what it produces. D-2 song “Strange,” his collab with RM, is a takedown of capitalism. “Conflict, war, or if not those, survival is inserted inside/A life you can’t reject/Capital, as collateral for dreaming, injects the morphine of hope,” .
Agust D was about his past, Suga explained, but D-2 is about what the 27-year-old’s life (28 in Korean age) is like now. The genre of songs about fame is an especially interesting one, because on the surface, they shouldn’t be relatable at all. Britney Spears’s “Piece of Me,” for example, recalls a very specific circumstance of being the living embodiment of an American ideal, a product, something to consume. Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” Taylor Swift’s “The Lucky One.” The songs are about being watched, about having this thing you love turned into something else. Suga’s own fame-centric work unpacks the dualities of being powerful and losing your underdog status, of rebelling against a machine and also profiting from it. He’s undeterred from exploring the more difficult parts of living for everyone, and also giving his own hardship and grief the context of power. He appreciates the contrast, after all.
The ultimate embodiment of that is in D-2’s strongest track: “People.” The song features a winding, up-and-down marimba-type melody that creates a trapped, relentless loop for him to sing over. He quotes the Joker’s best line, “Mmm why so serious?” before turning internal, “I’m so serious.” With soaring back-up ad-libs from frequent collaborator Adora, he turns over the idea of ordinary and extraordinary and the crucial difference in perspective; he builds a maze of a song and then steamrolls through it.
If Suga is a king, his gospel on D-2 comes down to these lyrics, translated by as: “If you get hurt, what about it?” Channel the pain, or set it free, or use it for money, or use it for growth, or don’t. Do all of those things and then lay down in the middle of the paradox. Make it a song. Release it for free. Find the way to keep going.
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