HERO 28 cover story: K-pop superstar B.I returns with love
By Taylor Glasby | Music | 4 October 2022
Photographer Jang Dukhwa
Stylist Lisa Jarvis.
This article is part of Print Edition

B.I, by his own admission, is stubborn. The former Korean idol-turned- soloist is also gracious, curious and more than a little shy. But it’s his willful persistence, that vivid streak of determination, that brought B.I (Kim Hanbin) back from the brink of losing everything.

Having left the K-pop group iKON in mid-2019 due to his experimenting with controlled substances, and subsequent arrest and conviction, it’s not an understatement to say B.I’s career was left hanging by a thread. He retreated to reckon with himself, to work through his experience and reasons for them via his songwriting. In the summer of 2021, his period of reflection yielded the uncompromising and, at times, painfully self-flagellating debut album Waterfall.

Even if much of the gloss had been scrubbed away, the record reposited B.I in the industry for the canny, emotive writing he’d been known for and, more importantly, granted him the freedom to broaden his creative horizons. Earlier this year, he released BTBT, the first single from an ambitious, bilingual project entitled Love or Loved (L.O.L). Futuristic and dystopian in aesthetic but heartfelt and introspective in subject matter, it places B.I at the next frontier in a career that’s never been, and possibly never will be, entirely predictable.


Taylor Glasby: I last spoke to you a few months ago when you wanted to talk about leaving iKON, the drug charges, and becoming a solo artist. After that story came out, how did you feel?
B.I: I never really talked about what had been on my mind, so after the release of the article I felt lighter and relieved.

TG: Since then, BTBT has come out, which I love for how beautifully wanting it is but also its tinge of desperation, a snapshot of feelings so intensely overwhelming you can only stagger through it. Your new EP, Love or Loved (L.O.L), is imminent – what can we expect?
B.I: First of all, the story is about the love of youth across four or five songs. You’ll be seeing a wider range of styles through this new EP. I want to showcase music with more maturity this time and present a new spectrum. The overall message is ‘let’s fall in love and completely dive into feelings we may grow to be cautious of as we get older.’

TG: On BTBT, you leaned more into your vocals. Will we see more or less of you as a rapper on L.O.L?
B.I: While I’m a rapper, I’m also a producer, dancer and singer. With every single album, one particular side may stand out more. On BTBT, I performed more as a vocalist and dancer. What happens next? We’ll never know, [but] I believe you will hear more rap on my second album.

TG: If this album is about stories of youth being in love, is there a portrayal of the good side and bad side? The feeling of falling in love and the heartbreak?
B.I: This album only has the good side of love, I’m going to convey the bad side of love, maybe, on part two.

TG: What’s the best part of falling in love or being in love?
B.I: [Laughs] I can’t tell you exactly, but if people are falling in love, then we can feel alive. I think that’s the best thing.

TG: Is it important in life to experience that kind of big, heart-stopping love?
B.I: Definitely, it’s very important. But I don’t only mean that passionate, romantic love, it can be towards anyone like family, friends or co-workers. Just like I have my fans to give and receive love from, it can be felt through anyone, really.

TG: Have you been in love?
B.I: Not too seriously yet. I wish to be in that kind of love someday.

“…if people are falling in love, then we can feel alive.”

TG: The stories on the EP, where do they come from if they’re not specifically yours?
B.I: I have a great imagination. I’ve thought about deep, passionate, romantic love many, many times, then I mentally put myself in those kinds of scenarios.

TG: What’s the greatest love story of all time?
B.I: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [2004, directed by Michel Gondry]. I really liked the ending, [the characters] knew that they were going to fail eventually but they started to love again, just to try.

TG: In BTBT, you write, “The more perilous and risky/The faster my heart pounds/That’s why I love ya” – are you attracted to the kind of love that feels dangerous, that might go wrong or sparks adrenaline?
B.I: When I think about marriage, I think it should be more of a safe and stable relationship but for youth, I definitely think it should be spicy, dangerous, all those kinds of emotions that makes my heart really pound.

TG: You made Waterfall at home, saying that kind of raw environment made the songs more honest. Now you’re back in the studio, has that DIY vibe shifted into something more polished?
B.I: The new songs are more slick but I still want to deliver my genuine voice so I tried to keep my thinking about the subject of youth in a raw and rough space.

TG: How do you keep your mindset in that ‘rough space’?
B.I.: I expressed it visually. One of the many symbols of love is a rose. For the album photo concept, I chose to become a rose to express that raw and climactic love. I had thorns around my body and I even had a fire lit to express that burning type of love. I tried to present rawness visually.

TG: Because you came through idol training, have you experienced any need to unlearn taught habits when it comes to your solo songwriting?
B.I: There’s no such thing as unlearning any habits right now, but all the failures that I had in the past have built themselves into a database and that becomes my know-how in writing better songs.

shirt, trousers and boots all by PRADA FW22

TG: How has your writing process changed since your idol days?
B.I: A lot has changed. In the past, quantity mattered the most. I’ve written like three songs in a day and obviously the song quality wasn’t that good, but that was a form of practice for me. Now I know what is bad and what is good, I can distinguish that. Instinctively, I just know it. Today, a lot of attention goes into one single song. Plus, I try to express more genuine emotions and stories through many different styles.

“I’ve thought about deep, passionate, romantic love many, many times.”

TG: You’ve said you don’t want to repeat yourself creatively, so how do you keep moving forward? And how do you combat the days when you feel like nothing’s working?
B.I: There are many instances where I’m having a hard time and, back in the day, I used to spend a lot of time alone. Instead, now I try to meet more people and explore the world and experience new things, and [through that] I try to solve the problem [of lacking inspiration]. Sometimes I’ll do nothing or talk to my friends or watch a movie, but I try to get out of the thinking [zone]. Recently I did a Free Hugs thing. I liked it. It was a very attractive and interesting experience and it made me feel warm-hearted.

TG: So you stood on the street and offered to hug people? Did anyone seem suspicious of you?
B.I: I got a lot of stares [laughs] but still, a lot of people hugged me.

TG: Were they your fans or just random people?
B.I: A lot of people didn’t notice who I was. I was wearing a mask. I did it just for fun, it was something on my bucket list and I did it for the experience because I’d never done something like it before. A hug itself is a very warm thing to do, and in Korea hugging isn’t a very common thing, so people feel awkward or shy about it. I thought having physical contact delivered such warmth, I could feel their heart pounding. It was great.

TG: Let’s talk about your current relationship with music. Because you’re writing so much, do you have or make the time to listen to a lot of other people’s music?
B.I: Definitely.

TG: For inspiration or pleasure?
B.I: Both, and for vibing, or the mood. I love music. I hope that music always has a presence in my life.

TG: Do you ever feel intimidated by what’s being produced?
B.I: I can get a bit intimidated by other people’s songs, there are so many good artists out there.

TG: You said once you had an inferiority complex – is that correct?
B.I: Yeah, I still have that kind of feeling. I think it’s due to being very enthusiastic about my songs and my career. So whenever I hear a good artist’s songs, I can feel really small and angry because I’m not as good as them.

TG: What do you do when you feel like that?
B.I: Usually those kinds of feelings motivate me, they put me in the corner and I get to work and write songs. I’m having a break from that kind of hard work at the moment, so even if I do get that feeling I won’t be writing with that kind of mindset, at least for now.

jacket and knitwear both by COMME

TG: Take me back to when you were a kid, were you in love with music as a child?
B.I: I had no idea about music back then and I didn’t have any interest in it. I was into toys, like Pokémon cards. That’s what I remember most.

TG: How old were you when you first connected with music?
B.I.: I think I was about thirteen years old. My parents influenced me, they loved hip hop, and so when I graduated elementary school, I put my dream job as a rapper.

TG: Who was the first rapper that blew your mind?
B.I: There’s a few songs. Shake Ya Tail Feather (Nelly, P.Diddy, Murphy Lee) from the Bad Boys II [2003] soundtrack, and another one is Jay-Z’s song Cry. They gave me an unexplainable feeling, it was so strong. When I heard them, I felt like I needed to rap. I think I wrote my first lyric around that age and it was definitely bad [laughs]. I think it was about love or a relationship, it was very cringey and childish but it was practice.

TG: How did your parents get into hip hop?
B.I: Me and my parents lived in the US when I was three to four and they owned a clothing store. My parents’ friend introduced them to hip hop, and they started to play it in the store and got to see customers who loved hip hop enjoying the music. Sometimes the customers would even dance in the store and I think that kind of environment was what got them into hip hop. I love all genres these days.

TG: Your upcoming EP is a global project. Korean music is huge internationally and fans have no issue enjoying it, despite not being Korean speakers. Why do you feel it’s important to make an album with songs written in English?
B.I: Although there are no barriers with the music, I still think the language creates a wall and I want to express the lyrical meaning to fans globally. By mixing English and Korean the fans can better understand what I’m wanting to express.

TG: You’ve worked with The Stereotypes and Nick Lee, both of whom work with a lot of idols like Stray Kids and NCT 127, but also artists like Lil Nas X. Was their first inclination to keep your sound within the K-pop sphere, and what was your ask of them?
B.I: I started to work with The Stereotypes from Got It Like That (feat. Destiny Rogers & Tyla Yaweh) last year. Yes, B.I is a K-pop artist and they are not, but they each take their style and mingle it together to come up with good songs. It came out really well.

TG: For you, what makes a good producer?
B.I: A good producer shouldn’t have stereotypical thinking. No prejudice. They have to think more broadly and not focus too much on one thing, they have to be able to see other sides. And they have to keep asking themselves, “Is this the best?”

TG: Do you work producers hard in the studio? Are you a ‘just one more take’ kind of artist?
B.I: I tend to be like that but only towards myself. The producers I work with, we’ve never had an argument so far, we have a similar level of passion and there’s a good synergy.

coat by PAUL
BENZING; shoes

TG: Let’s get a bit random in the questions… What is your simplest pleasure in life?
B.I: I get that feeling from writing my bucket list. As I accomplish one thing, I feel more complete. I’ve done two of the twelve on it, one was the Free Hugs and the other was to go to the beach with the person in my phone book that I think I’m very awkward with. We’re not that close, we’re not really friends, but after the beach, we’re better than before. But I’m still awkward with him. [laughs]

TG: What makes you laugh?
B.I: I think I have a weird sense of humour actually. Recently I watched a Korean spy spoof/action movie that I don’t think people liked, but I really loved it and laughed a lot. It was called 다찌마와리 [Dachimawa Lee, 2008]

TG: And when was the last time you cried?
B.I: That would be when I watched Inside Out [2015] and Bing Bong disappeared.

TG: A parting question: what’s the most beautiful thing in this world?
B.I: That’s a really hard question. I’ll say, time. Time is the only fair thing to humans. I cannot define time, I cannot do anything to it with my will, and I think that’s the most precious and beautiful thing.


hair SOHEE KIM; make-up HANGYEOL NOH; floral artist HAI IHWA; production KELLY SUH

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