CNN Seoul Correspondent Paula Hancocks catches up with BIGBANG for an in-depth interview at S-Factory in Sungsu-dong, Seoul, where the group’s 10th anniversary exhibition is taking place. From reminiscing over the last ten years to forecasting ahead to the next decade, each member of the group shares their memories of the long journey that brought them to the top of K-pop.
Below is the transcript from the three-part in-depth interview:
Paula Hancocks (Paula): So, BIGBANG, welcome. Thank you for doing this.
G-Dragon (GD): Thank you for having us.
Paula: Now you have one of the biggest fanbase in the world at the moment. You are playing to massive stadiums.
Tae Yang (TY): Thank you for saying that.
Paula: Of course, I have to say it. It’s true.
Paula: I mean last year you made more money than Maroon 5, which is the biggest, the highest-paid all male group in America. You’re bigger than all of the bands in South Korea. What makes you different?
TOP: We all have different characteristics. When all five of us are together, I think people like that vivid energy that comes out on stage.
Dae Sung (DS): Music tends to become a bit standardized after a while, but I think with the five of us, each of us bring our own personalities and talent on stage.
GD: [I think] there are different fun aspects. It’s not a performance with just one color from beginning to the end, there are also solo parts in between. There are performances that just look cool, but there are also some fun elements, so [I think] that’s why people don’t get bored. There’s also a flow, and that’s what we care about the most. Doing some sort of surprise entry for the opening, perform some fast tempo songs in between and get the crowd excited in the beginning, while giving them time to relax here and there, we’ll also do some emotional songs, then throw in fun parts to get rid of the boredom, bring the excitement to a climax and burst in the end we think a lot about this kind of flow, since the audience also feel it themselves, [I think] that’s what makes them like us and helps them to enjoy it.
TY: I think we can’t help but to be different from the other groups….because it’s us five.
TY: Wasn’t I cool?
TOP: You were cool.
Paula: But what happens when you walk out on the stage and you hear the screams? Do you hear the men, the women, the boys, the girls, screaming your name, how does that feel?
GD: When you first get on stage and the LED’s turn on, you can’t really see anything at that moment, because of the light. Not too long ago, we had a performance at Nagai Stadium in Japan, which held about 60,000 seats. It was the first time we played in the afternoon, so for the first time, we were able to clearly see each and every audience member in the stands. It’s hard to put it into words… the feeling of something boiling up inside you.
TY: I was very excited. My heart was full. I couldn’t control it.
Paula: 10 years together as BIGBANG, that’s longer than NSYNC; that’s double what One Direction managed.
GD: Oh yeah?
Paula: It is, yeah.
GD: I didn’t know that.
Paula: So you have literally grown from boys to men together. How do you manage to do that and still make it look fun?
TY: Well of course there have been hard times in between. But over the years we have become so close, and we do really like each other outside of work. The more time we spend together, the more we make each other laugh…the more we have fun together. And over time that level of closeness becomes more and more and we are happiest when the five of us are together, having that kind of relationship is the reason why our band has lasted.
GD: They are fellow band members, but they’re also brothers, they’re family. Because we spend so much time together, we have that feeling of intimacy and a bond that’s more different than other boy bands.
Paula: But I mean you must have drove each other mad sometimes. You spend a lot of time together. I mean — what do you disagree on?
GD: I mean sometimes. But it’s not a big deal though.
TY: What we mean is there are rare occasions to fight… we normally tell each other right away when we don’t like something. So we don’t harbor any negative feelings and we don’t let it grow. We just tell each other right away; “You were wrong in doing that”, all of us have that kind of personality and that’s why we’ve lasted this long, I think that’s the biggest secret to lasting for 10 years.
Paula: You clearly have very, very different personalities. So help me understand who’s who. Who would you say is the joker amongst you?
GD: Uh, in the band?
GD: It depends on the situation, but TOP is the biggest joker, even though he’s the eldest. In Korea the older brother and younger brother relationship is more complicated than in other countries. So as the eldest brother, like a friend, sometimes almost like the youngest, he makes us feel comfortable. So in that sense, I think TOP might be the one.
TY: Also even when we all tell a joke, TOP is the one who makes the hardest one. He can do that kind of stuff.
Paula: Okay, so who’s in charge — or who thinks they’re in charge?
GD: We don’t have such thing.
TY: We all think of each other as friends, and we don’t really have such a thing. But because we do have work to do… well, as everyone knows the leader of BIGBANG is G-Dragon, when we do work, and when we decide on something, we each have our own opinions, but we ask and respect his opinion the most.
GD: Yes, sir.
Paula: Okay, so next question. Who is the peace maker?
GD: Peace maker?
GD: I think it’s him.
GD: Because he takes the middle role. [In the group] he has younger brothers, I’m the leader and also an older brother, so he balances it out very well in the middle. Anytime the younger ones feel uncomfortable, older ones feel uncomfortable, or when things are uncomfortable as friends, he manages these kind of stuff with us very well from the middle.
TOP: His personality itself is a bit of a peacemaker.
Paula: Okay, so, who is the ladies’ man?
GD: Ladies’ man.
TY: Right here.
GD: Not a ladies’ man…
GD: I think Daesung is.
Paula: You’re not denying it.
DS: I don’t know, it’s amazing.
GD: What is a ladies’ man exactly?
Producer: Who’s the most popular to the girls?
GD: Yeah if that’s so.
TOP: Very much so.
TY: Officially when you say ladies’ man, many people think it would be G-Dragon. But he (Daesung) really is the real king of ladies’ man.
GD: I’m always good to ladies. He’s a good player. Not a playboy but…
TY: Good to play.
GD: He knows how to play.
Paula: Is this true?
DS: I won’t deny it.
Paula: So, G-Dragon and Seungri, I’ve heard in the past that you have been described as Tom and Jerry…
GD: How did you know that?
GD: I don’t know where they came from but I guess that’s how it looks like. Because he’s the youngest, and [I’m] the leader, that’s how we met in the beginning, so [I’d] tease him the most, and he takes it well. But in the end it always feels like he’s the one winning so I think that’s why.
TY: Yeah. Jerry always wins in the cartoon in the end.
GD: Even though Tom looks stronger.
TY: Tom bullies Jerry but it’s Jerry who wins in the end, that’s why [they are called] Tom and Jerry.
Seung Ri (SR): I think they are right.
Paula: Okay, so you’re Jerry.
Paula: Okay, got it.
Paula: Can you describe to me what is takes to be a Korean pop-star? I mean, obviously, the training appears to be brutal. It’s like you’re a world class athlete, training for the Olympics. I mean I read in the exhibition around the corner, you do 12 hours training a day.
Paula: This is true?
GD: I mean not 12 hours but almost, like most of the days. But then it’s the Korean system, I don’t know about the system in other countries because we haven’t experienced it, but Korea had such system established already, and we had no choice but to get into that system, so we didn’t have such condition to build a new system.
TY: I think how structured the system is, the 12 hours training, taking lessons, it all became more part of the system after we debuted as singers. Back when we were training, it wasn’t really about systematic training, it was more just following elder singers who debuted before us, repeating what they did, and studying to be like them. So we were actually quite lucky. But now it is much more of a system, and we do have lessons and things like that. If you look at how many entertainment companies in Korea have trainees, and the training that is in place, in some ways it does make me worry a bit that teaching has become mechanic, and I’m not sure if it helps.
Paula: Daesung, for example, how did you feel when you started training? How intense was the training?
DS: Firstly, it is quite harsh. But to some level, I think you have to have the fundamentals right in the beginning so you can focus on yourself and your feelings later, and be able to really express that. So rather than trying to show your own character from the beginning, learn the basics first and eventually you can get to know what you are good at and what you like to do its a way to really show your colors. So even though I am worried, I also think the system has a lot of advantages as well.
GD: But he was smiling all the time when he was like training. I don’t know why but. Always like smiling.
Paula: And you weren’t?
GD: I mean, yeah.
DS: You have to smile to get good fortune.
GD: Because of that people like him a lot. That’s why people love him.
Paula: That’s young. You were, you know, you were kids. How did you cope with that kind of pressure and competition within this industry?
GD: Think [we] just enjoyed it. And back then actually, before [we] think about personal feelings, we didn’t have time and room for it. Rather than taking this as a competition, or I should do it better than someone else, [we] were always busy just doing the given lessons each day, and it was continuous days of just looking forward and keep running, so yeah.
TY: I also think it was all possible because we were young. If we were a bit older we would have taken it more difficulty. But because we were young, we had much more confidence and bravery to just do it without knowing better.
GD: And because we wanted to do it [debut and become a star] so bad.
Paula: It took a fair few years before YG signed up on BIGBANG’s debut back in the 2006. Did you have moments where you thought, “This isn’t going to happen, we have put so much into this, we have sacrificed so much, it’s not going to happen“?
TY: I won’t say there weren’t because.. when we made our debut, as trainees, just before the debut, we had to make the cut on a audition show. Even by that time, G-Dragon and I had already been training for ages, but the head of YG, Hyun Suk, told us that no matter how long we previously practiced, if we didn’t do well during that audition, we would have to drop out. So yeah, there were thoughts of what if we get sent home without even being about to debut, after training for so long. We worked so hard until the debut, day after day, thinking we might actually get sent home.
Paula: Did you ever worry it’s not going to happen?
SR: For me, I barely joined the TV, almost in the end, so I think I practiced harder, feeling the tight competition going on.
Paula: To get to this point, you have sacrificed a fair bit. I mean, do you ever wonder what would have been? Do you ever have regrets that you didn’t have much of a childhood? Or teenager years? You were part of YG, you never hung out with your friends, you never hung out at a park, you never rebelled?
TOP: Because we have been making music since we were young, rather than just being normal friends, we don’t really have memories with friends, but we do have lots of memories of us five together. Because of that, because the five of us have been together, even if we don’t have memories with childhood friends, remembering the memories that we have made together, makes us happier.
Paula: Was there one moment within the last 10 years where you as a group or individually thought, “Hang on a minute, we made it. Look at this, we made it”.
GD: Well, every time when there’s a new album it’s rewarding. What we are always worried about is the next album. Whenever we release a new album, that album is our biggest homework, biggest challenge, it feels that way. So for example last time when we finished off the MADE single well, we worked on those singles after going through lots of thinking, and even though the reaction was good after its release, and it received a lot of love, we are also thinking about the collective MADE album of these singles for the future.
Paula: So you released eight singles last year. “Bang Bang Bang” is one of your most popular — and the South Korean government actually used it to blast across the DMZ as part of their propaganda broadcasts. How does that make you feel? I mean, your music was being used, effectively, as a weapon.
TY: Probably because the timing when our single came out worked with the situation back then. Also, many people were listening to our music, I think that’s why they used our song and played it in that way. We really don’t put much meaning behind it. Because our music, especially for Bang Bang Bang, is loud and powerful, i think that’s why the government chose to use the track in that way. We appreciate it.
Paula: Did they ask your permission?
GD: Actually we don’t know. We didn’t check it, yeah.
Paula: Ah, yeah, the propaganda broadcasts, they are — North Koreans were listening to your music.
TY: I know it. I know it.
Paula: Is that weird?
GD: I am pretty, pretty rare but i mean it’s a good thing. Good for us.
Paula: True. New fans.
TY: It’s just amusing, fun. Just the fact that it was used in such a place. Especially because the title is Bang Bang Bang.
Paula: Good choice. Bang Bang Bang.
Paula: So we, we’ve looked at 10 years then. So looking forward, what is next? There is, as you know, a burning question in every fan’s mind — how long will BIGBANG last? And of course you have the mandatory military service here in South Korea. You have to join up before you are 30. I mean, time is running out.
TY: Every time the five of us gather, we’re always thinking about how we’re going to live our next 10 years…because this is how we’ve spent the last 10. We mostly ask those type of questions when the five of us meet up. Of course there are tasks and responsibility lying ahead of us, but it’s things that we naturally have to do. Because we want to make the next ten years even better, i think that’s why many people worry even more. Fans or the public. They worry a lot about what will happen to BIGBANG. But for us, rather than worried, we are really happy and we have always been this way. As we’ve doing, we are looking forward to the next 10 years with a optimistic mindset, and we are confident that everyone will be doing new things. We all have dreams, so that makes each day exciting.
Paula: So I mean, T.O.P is the eldest — do you feel this pressure more than others?
TOP: People ask me that kind of question a lot and they think I must have a lot of pressure. Actually, I think I am just the type of person who leaves things to destiny. It is not about what will happen if i am going for a while, but it is more about being positive, just do well with what i am doing right now, and not think too much. Let’s have a new start when I come back. That’s how I am spending time these days, with that kind of positive mindset.
GD: When I look at him or other members, when they have no confidence in themselves, that’s when they can be nervous about the future. But because they all clearly know what they need to do from now on, there isn’t much of a pressure.
TOP: I don’t think we have that pressure about the future.
Paula: Where would you like to be 10 years from now? Taeyang, where do you want to be in 10 years?
TY: Well, whatever happens, it’s been like this so far… but I think we are going to continue to do things that we each want and like doing. For the past 10 years we’ve been able to influence a lot of people by our music and being on stage…and of course we will continue to do things like that. In the next 10 years, we need to start to look at BIGBANG in a bigger picture, and not just limit ourselves to making music and being on stage. We need to be leaders in this genre and culture, and become a group that can really be a good influence to many people. That’s who we need to be and that is our next step.
Paula: G-Dragon, where do you think you’ll be?
GD: I am always thinking about today, and that is a bit better than yesterday, and tomorrow is a day that is a bit better than today. Taking things bit by by, and though it might be slow, we are continuously moving forward. So I try to be on a new level every day, that’s it.
Paula: And TOP, I mean you’re co-curating a Sotheby’s sale, you’re acting — what will we see from you in 10 years?
TOP: First of all, I hope all of us make new work that didn’t exist before, and add to the culture…whether it be in art or something else. I want to become someone who can contribute a lot to culture. Since a young age, we’ve received a lot of generous love and attention. [I] feel like [I] want to be someone who always shows something new to people, proposing things.
DS: First, music itself, along with the movie, it’s pop culture, so we hope to be a bigger influence to the overall genre, a good influence. More than anything, i just hope we are a good influence. And even though we have been continuously working for the past 10 years, because we have a lot of people listening to our music, we need to continue to release good music and other things.
Paula: Seungri, where will we see you in 10 years?
SR: For me, rather than trying to do something new for the next 10 years, I think protecting what we’ve achieved so far, continuing like this is the most important. Because it’s easier to go down than to go up. I hope it is a consistent 10 years.
Paula: Finally the legacy. What is the legacy of BIGBANG? What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your music, your act, your look to be remembered for?
TY: That’s something I talk about most with the members, of course even up until now, looking at what we’ve done so far, it’s funny for us to be saying this but…many people say that we have set so many records that many Korean singers have not been able to previously achieve. But we never got there by thinking about breaking those records. So, even if we continue doing what we like doing, after 10 years we leave a lot of good things behind for the next generation, or for the fans that are dreaming about becoming us, and becoming singers or artists.
Paula: But, are we coming to the end of BIGBANG?
TY: Ah not at all. 10 years…
TOP: It’s more of a historical record, showing our history.
TY: It is for us to commemorate and celebrate 10 years. And there are many fans who have been watching us for that 10 years. It’s to enjoy our 10th year with them, and also to let them know to expect a lot more from the future. If it was the end of BIGBANG, we wouldn’t be laughing while doing the interview right now.
– THE END –
For more information on the full interview on CNN ‘Talk Asia’, please click on the links below: