B.i kim hanbin btbt kpop k-pop
B.I (Courtesy of 131 Label)

Meet B.I, the guy who made our hearts go BTBT

Exclusive interview with the K-pop sensation and multi-hyphenated artist Kim Hanbin

While reading this story, I hope you can take a few minutes to isolate yourself from the outside world, put your earphones on, and listen to B.I music. It might seem crazy, but I have done the same while editing this piece, which, for a long time, I dreamed of writing.

B.I is a K-pop icon. For those who do not know him, B.I - whose real name is Kim Hanbin - is what we can consider a music genius and a master of words. Rapper and songwriter, after his debut in 2015 as the leader and songwriter for the seven-piece boy band iKON, in 2018, he received the Songwriter of the Year award for iKON’s Love Scenario.

But life it’s not always an easy path. After departing from the group in 2019, B.I took the K-pop world by storm and came back in 2021 with his first solo album, Waterfall. The album features songs written and produced by B.I himself, showcasing his talent as a solo artist.

B.I is known for his introspective and emotional lyrics, which often touch on topics such as mental health, self-reflection, and personal growth. He is also highly regarded for his skills as a rapper and producer, and his fans appreciate his dedication to his craft. With his distinctive sound and infectious energy, B.I has quickly become one of the most sought-after musicians in the industry. His talent and dedication to his craft have earned him a legion of loyal fans who admire his honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity. Despite facing challenges and controversy throughout his career, B.I has remained focused and committed to his music. He continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in the K-pop genre and has emerged as a true trailblazer and innovator.

The hit song BTBT, part of his last EP Love or Loved Part.1, showed B.I's signature style and impeccable flow. BTBT’s lyrics are witty, clever, and full of personality, showcasing B.I’s unique perspective and creative talent. When combined with the driving beat of the song, they create a powerful and unforgettable experience that led the song to the top 10 on Spotify Viral 50 Global Charts and became viral on TikTok. A true gem inside his last EP is Keep me up, a powerful dance track that centers on the young, intense infatuation that is well-portrayed through B.I’s romantic vocal tones with the catchy hook “Cause you keep me up up/불꽃이 피어/I’m just tryna love ya/불꽃이 피어 피어 피어/Cause girl you keep me up.” “불” & “꽃” characters together in Hangul mean “fireworks,” but when separated, it means “fire” and flower,” respectively. B.I utilizes wordplay with P.O as the literal sound for when you pronounce “피어,” which translates to blossoming. The whole hook translates to both “fireworks are bursting” and “fire flowers are blossoming.”

After his show in Paris on the stage of the MIK Festival, B.I is ready to embark on a world tour. But first, he spares some time to chat with Panorama.it in an exclusive interview.

Nice to meet you. It’s absolutely unnecessary, but can you please introduce yourself?

Hi everyone, it’s B.I. Nice to meet you all.

I want to start talking about your music. BTBT. It was undoubtedly the song of the Summer of 2022 and the biggest hit of the year. Did you expect such success?

It truly was a surprise. We’d like to think it’s all of our hard work paying off.

Some address the title as 비틀거리다, the onomatopoeic sound of staggering, others to theshaking because of love. Where is the truth?

It contains both. We shake and stagger from being drunk in love.

But, most importantly, what does BTBT as a song mean to you?

This song marked the starting point for my music and my existence to be recognized by a wider audience, so it’s surely a very significant and precious track for me.

Let’s talk about love and all its stages. It’s the central theme of your album Love Or Loved, which can also be written as L.O.L. The laugh. Also, the concept of a deck of cards and an album with 1:1 posters is genius. Can you tell us more about your album?

My team and I came up with a variety of different ideas together to express love in various ways through the album! Video gaming, for example, is a key aspect of the story of our music video. It appears both in BTBT and Keep me up like a series of episodes, which led us to decide it’d be fun to incorporate a game concept in the album as well.

What is something that you deeply love in your life?

Family, friends, colleagues, and fans.

You are a prolific writer. illa illa was born while you were taking a shower. But I’m curious: where do you usually write your songs, and how many are now hidden in your drawer waiting to be released someday?

Well, I write songs mostly in the studio, but I do get inspired by various situations and spaces. I wouldn’t say any of them are hidden per se, but considering the ones not yet released and the ones that won’t ever, I have about 200 to 300 songs.

You started training when you were 14. Now, at 26, what do you think K-pop taught you?

To love your fans.

In Mindset, you recorded 12 episodes (6 tracks and six boosters), acknowledging a lot of intense themes: from being stuck in a dark room to burnout and the necessity to give yourself a break when it’s time to. How hard is it for you to speak about your past and present?

It surely wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t difficult either, because I learned a whole lot of lessons while enduring those dark times.

If you could describe yourself using only one song. Which would it be and why?

For now, I would say WATERFALL. It’s an emblem of my past challenges, then overcoming those hardships, determination, and such.

Which is the most underrated track in your last album that is a rough gem that still has to be discovered?

To be frank, I really love all of my music, and while everyone has different tastes, I think each one of them is a true gem, (he laughs).

You are going on tour. L.O.L THE HIDDEN STAGE will kick off from Bangkok and will travel through Asia first. Will we have the chance to see you perform in Europe?

Yes, I believe…? I want to so badly. I promise I’ll make it happen. You guys have to come see me, alright? I’ll put on the best show for you.

You recently announced that you are stepping down from your position as head of 131 label. You announced a studio album in the first half of 2023 and Love Or Loved part 2 in the second half. A lot of changes. What should we expect next from you, and what do you expect from yourself?

Pretty straightforward. You can expect to see more dynamic music, more exciting stages, more bold messages, and such.

I have one last question: who is Kim Hanbin?

I am a total cutie.

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Marianna Baroli

Giornalista, autore

(Milano, 1986) La prima volta che ha detto «farò la giornalista» aveva solo 7 anni. Cresciuta tra i libri di Giurisprudenza, ha collaborato con il quotidiano Libero. Iperconnessa e ipersocial, è estremamente appassionata delle sfaccettature della cultura asiatica, di Giappone, dell'universo K-pop e di Hallyu wave. Dal 2020 è Honorary Reporter per il Ministero della Cultura Coreana. Si rilassa programmando viaggi, scoprendo hotel e ristoranti in giro per il mondo. Appena può salta da un parco Disney all'altro. Ha scritto un libro «La Corea dalla A alla Z», edito da Edizioni Nuova Cultura, e in collaborazione con il KOCIS (Ministero della Cultura Coreana) e l'Istituto Culturale Coreano in Italia.

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