BTS’s Map Of The Soul: 7 Is The Perfect Playlist For Your Journey To Self-Acceptance

There’s a lot to unpack on BTS‘s latest release, Map of the Soul: 7. From the vulnerable depths of tracks like “Interlude: Shadow” and “Black Swan,” to the enlightened highs of “On” and “We Are Bulletproof : the Eternal” — and the visceral, scorching anger of “Ugh!” — the 20-track album spans the emotional spectrum.

On 7, BTS confront their shadows and learn to confidently live within the “beautiful prison” of their own ambitious making, forging ahead with a newfound sense of self. But reaching this state of acceptance is a journey, one that can span lifetimes, or in this case, an entire record. That’s the power of BTS: No matter where you are on the road to acceptance, members RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook have a relatable song for you.

Below, see which playful bop, empowered anthem, or wistful track you should listen to based on your current mood.

  • “Intro: Persona”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: contemplative about your future

    Key lyric: “The ‘me’ that I want myself to be / The ‘me’ that people want me to be / The ‘me’ that you love / And the ‘me’ that I create”

    As the intro, “Persona” isn’t just an energetic meditation on Jungian philosophy — the lyrics of which set up the foundation of the record’s emphasis on persona, shadow, and ego — but it’s also RM at his most introspective, pondering “who the hell am I?” over a sample of the group’s 2014 song “Intro: Skool Luv Affair.” The leader and rapper confronts the many versions of himself that he presents to the world while reckoning with the person he’s always been: Namjoon Kim.

  • “Boy With Luv” ft. Halsey

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: content and present / like you need to dance in the middle of the street

    Key lyric: “One after another ay, ay, everything is special ay, ay / The things you’re interested in, the way you walk or talk, and every little trivial habit of yours”

    That cup of coffee in the morning, that extra scoop of ice cream, hearing a certain song on the radio — sometimes the things that make us the happiest are life’s small moments that, at the time, seem insignificant. “Boy With Luv” is a bubbly celebration of those instances. The upbeat Halsey collaboration celebrates the act of falling in love and finding joy in the smallest of things. (The song’s Korean title roughly translates to “A Poem for the Small Things.”)

  • “Make It Right”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need to tell someone how much they mean to you

    Key lyric: “This eternal night with no end in sight / It’s you who gifted me the morning”

    The relationship between BTS and their fans, called ARMY, isn’t some kind of one-sided devotion. And “Make It Right,” co-written by singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, shows ARMY just how much of a positive impact they’ve had on the members’ lives — and it’s a meaningful reminder that BTS will always be there to help their fans through the darkness, too.

  • “Jamais Vu”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: that there’s got to be more to life than this

    Key lyric: “I’m fine but I’m not fine / I told myself I was used to it”

    RM says that he feels sad whenever he listens to “Jamais Vu.” Well, join the club. From members Jungkook, Jin, and J-Hope, this track is one of the album’s more somber moments — a glimpse into the life of someone who is just going through the motions looking for a “remedy that will make my heart beat again.” But BTS has never been afraid to get vulnerable, and the feelings of self-doubt that creep into these lyrics hint at the shadows to come.

  • “Dionysus”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: in the mood to party/create something

    Key lyric: “Art at this level is over-drinking, over-drinking yeah / The new record is the fight against oneself, a fight yeah”

    For BTS, even a drinking song takes on a deeper meaning. With overt lyrical references to the gluttonous god of wine Dionysus — “Thyrsus (grippin’) Grape (eatin’)” — the track meditates on the perils of intoxicating fame and creation through the lens of a veritable party anthem. It’s a recurring theme throughout BTS’s oeuvre: Being at the top means they’re only in competition with themselves, a limitless feeling that’s both invigorating and empty.

  • “Interlude: Shadow”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: alone with your thoughts

    Key lyric: “No one told me how lonely it is up here”

    The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. On the moody, pensive interlude track, rapper Suga, known for his furious flow and astute observations, comes to an understanding with his shadow as he grapples with the fear that comes with this maelstrom of fame and success.

  • “Black Swan”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need to remember that your art/self has value

    Key lyric: “Nothing can devour me / I shout out with ferocity”

    In the seven years since their debut, the group has matured from seven youths hellbent on disrupting the system into seven young men who know the value of self-love but still struggle to practice it. So has their music. Co-written by RM, “Black Swan” is a raw examination of a fear all artists have: that the thing that once made them feel everything — their music — will make them feel nothing. But through these moments of doubt and exhaustion, BTS comes to the realization that art is the purest form of self-expression and self-preservation, and you can’t lose something you’ve had all along.

  • “Filter”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like experimenting with a new look

    Key lyric: “Mix the colors in the palette, pick your filter / Which me do you want?”

    Each member of BTS is multifaceted in their own way, but no one expresses their dynamic duality quite like Jimin. The pillow-lipped vocalist and dancer can saunter his way into your heart with a single simmering look or dazzling smile. Here, he calls for the listener’s attention over a Latin beat. Cute or sexy, mischievous or gentle, the many sides of Jimin are like an array of colorful acrylics on a palette. He’ll make something beautiful with whichever one you choose.

  • “My Time”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: wistful and longing for the past

    Key lyric: “My life has been a movie, all the time”

    To become a member of the most successful and influential boy group in the world, sacrifices must be made. For youngest member Jungkook, who debuted at the age of 15, that meant forgoing a normal teenage experience for the sake of his dream to become a performer. JK touches on these growing pains in “My Time,” a wistful pop-R&B song that finds the now tatted-up 22-year-old reflecting on time spent on airplane mode, traversing the globe as an international superstar. “I feel as though I’ve become an adult faster than anyone,” he sings. And he’s probably right.

  • “Louder Than Bombs”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: overwhelmed and a little emo

    Key lyric: “I want to tell you, that darkness / Exists everywhere, don’t be afraid of it”

    With an emphasis on healing, BTS speaks to a generation of people who all carry their own emotional baggage with them — but all that empathy can take its toll mentally. “Louder Than Bombs,” co-written by Suga, RM, and J-Hope with pop star Troye Sivan, is the dark, atmospheric manifestation of such fears. But as that creeping dread grows sonically, so does their resolve to keep singing and, importantly, keep inspiring their fans to speak themselves.

  • “On”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you own the whole damn world

    Key lyric: “Can’t hold me down ‘cuz you know I’m a fighter / Carried myself into this beautiful prison”

    The essence of Map of the Soul: 7 is best distilled into energetic lead single “On,” an empowering track about accepting your faults, facing your shadows, and forging ahead. “We sometimes stumbled in the past seven years, and sometimes we wandered a little,” Suga said during the group’s global press conference on February 24. “We learned to ground ourselves, and the lyrics show a resolve to face and fight our fears.”

  • “Ugh!”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you want to set something on fire / clap back to a troll on social media

    Key lyric: “Rage? Of course you need it / When it burns up there’s always a reason”

    Do you ever just want to shout “Ugh!” at the top of your lungs out of pure frustration? Now there’s a song for that. From rappers RM, Suga, and J-Hope, “Ugh!” is a blistering cypher that rages against a world run by anger. Part aggressive call to action, part fiery (and very direct) response to anonymous online commenters, the rap line examines what happens when “someone’s rage becomes someone’s life” and the ripple effect it has online and off.

  • “00:00 (Zero O’Clock)”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need a hug

    Key lyric: “You know those days / Those days where you’re sad for no reason”

    On the days when everything feels wrong, when getting out of bed is a struggle, it’s important to remember that tomorrow is a fresh start. “00:00 (Zero O’Clock)” is a sweet, pop lullaby from vocalists Jin, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. The soothing refrain of “and you gonna be happy” is seeped in sincerity, delivered more like an affirmation than a promise.

  • “Inner Child”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need to remember where you’ve been/need to cry

    Key lyric: “I want to hug the many thorns in the budding rose / The smiling kid, the child who was always laughing brightly”

    Leave it to V to make everyone cry with a song written to his childhood self. The Map of the Soul era is rooted in honesty and self-reflection, giving the members a chance to contemplate the last seven years. On “Inner Child,” V throws it back even further, singing of a time when the stars were too far out of his tiny reach. Now, he celebrates his growing pains, knowing that the thorns helped him bloom brightly. “It will be OK,” he reassures himself, “because today’s me is doing fine.”

  • “Friends”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you need to tell your best friend how much they really mean to you

    Key lyric: “Me from the moon, you from the stars / Our conversations were like homework / BFFs on one day, enemies on another”

    Perhaps the album’s most endearing moment, “Friends” is a playful duet between best friends and self-proclaimed soulmates Jimin and V. The duo trace their unlikely friendship over a calypso beat, recalling the “school uniforms” and “dumpling incident[s]” that define their unbreakable bond. Jimin affectionately calls V his “alien,” and in turn, the raspy-voiced singer asks the dancer to stay by his side always, long after the cheers from the crowd go silent.

  • “Moon”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: in the mood to tell someone how much you love them

    Key lyric: “I’ll orbit around you / I’ll stay by your side / I’ll be your light”

    From eldest member Jin, “Moon” is a lunar love song in which the honey-voiced vocalist imagines himself as the moon orbiting around his very own stargirl, or in this case, the fans. The mid-tempo, saccharine serenade finds Jin contemplating just how much meaning they’ve given his life. And even though fans often comment on his striking features — “Mr. Worldwide Handsome” indeed — he says he’s nothing but a mirror, reflecting the beauty around him. [Insert ‘AWWW’ here.]

  • “Respect”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: a little bit philosophical

    Key lyric: “Admiring someone / Was it something really that easy?/ I still can’t understand it”

    What is the real meaning of “respect”? Rappers RM and Suga meditate on the oft-misused word on this lyrical hip-hop track (sonically reminiscent of some of BTS’s rap-heavy earlier work). The duo bring their different styles into this fun, dynamic mix — Suga, a vicious wordsmith, and RM, a modern philosopher — while commenting on how “respect” loses its meaning when it’s thrown around carelessly.

  • “We Are Bulletproof : the Eternal”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: like you want to cry and never want to stop crying???

    Key lyric: “We were only seven / But we have you all”

    A sentimental throwback to their humble roots (the title is a reference to their 2013 song), “We Are Bulletproof : the Eternal” encapsulates the entire journey of Bangtan Sonyeondan. It’s epic in its emotional delivery, as the members trace the more painful parts of their history — the all-nighters spent in practice rooms, naysayers, the “embarrassing” name they now wear proudly. Ultimately, they come to the realization that BTS have become so much greater because of all of the people walking beside them now. “We are not seven with you,” Jungkook sings [over the sound of our tears].

  • “Outro: Ego”

    Listen to it when you’re feeling: in the mood to dance like no one’s watching

    Key lyric: “Look ahead, the way is shinin’ / Keep goin’ now”

    The album ends with the celebratory “Ego,” a relentlessly upbeat track from J-Hope about trusting yourself even when the path ahead seems unclear. An autobiographical bop, Hobi looks back on his past struggles — when his “dancing was chasing ghosts” — with newfound perspective, a healthy reminder that accepting your past is the only way to move confidently and colorfully into the future.

Billie Eilish Hilariously Declares Her Love For Justin Bieber In Seasons Finale

Justin Bieber‘s YouTube docuseries, Seasons, has been quite the emotional journey for fans, as it’s detailed his return to music, his recent marriage, and his health struggles, among other hot topics. The tenth and final episode, aptly titled “The Finale,” premiered on Tuesday (February 25) and wrapped things up in predictably touching fashion. (In other words, yes, you will probably cry at least once.)

The episode, available to watch now on YouTube Premium, opens on Bieber surprising a longtime fan named Lindsey, who was chosen as the “One Less Lonely Girl” from Bieber’s 2011 concert film, Never Say Never. We see Bieber surprising her, and they adorably reminisce on the first time they met and about how much they’ve grown up. She even notes, “Once a Belieber, always a Belieber.”

The rest of the episode takes us through the final days leading up to the release of Bieber’s comeback album, Changes. Among the highlights: the “Intentions” video shoot, his album listening parties, lots of hockey, Hailey Bieber talking about how excited she is to join her husband on tour, and JB’s recent appearances on late-night shows and MTV’s Fresh Out.

At the end of the episode, Bieber says in a voiceover, “At the end of the day, relationships are everything. … What I want to share with people is: Spend that time getting close to the people around you.” To that effect, the episode also features exclusive interviews with some of Bieber’s friends and peers in the music world, like Big Sean, Usher, Quavo, and DJ Khaled. All of them thoughtfully gushed about their friend JB, but perhaps none more passionately than Billie Eilish.

“I would say that he’s doing better. And that makes me so happy because I, like, care about him more than anyone in my life,” Eilish, who collaborated with Bieber on a “Bad Guy” remix last year, says. She later laughs while adding, “Anything that he makes at all, I’m excited about. I don’t care if he pooped and put it on a plate and put that in a store, I’m excited. Anything that Justin makes, I’m ready to go!”

The episode ends with a text card that tells us what we already know about his stellar comeback: “Changes debuted at No. 1 worldwide. At 25 years old, it’s Justin’s seventh album to do so.” Now, the countdown for the Changes Tour begins — and you’d better believe Billie will be there.

Finneas Assures Critics That His Parents ‘Knew No One In The Record Industry’

Billie Eilish and her producer-slash-brother Finneas have been the talk of the music industry lately — especially after “Bad Guy” singer swept the “Big Four” categories at this year’s Grammys. Finneas’s star has risen, too, thanks to his own burgeoning solo career and production and songwriting work with Camilla Cabello, Halsey, and more. But a higher profile comes with a lot of added scrutiny.

On Sunday (February 24), Finneas posted some advice for aspiring musicians in a now-deleted tweet. “A piece of advice to young creatives,” he wrote. “‘Shooting your shot’ is promoted widely and I think honestly, it’s a little overrated. Work super hard alone or with your closest friends. Make shit so good it speaks for itself. Don’t pester people to work with you, let them come to you.”

It didn’t take long for tweeters to respond, explaining that for some, it’s just not that simple. “Spoken like someone born to two actors in LA,” one person wrote, pointing out how Billie and Finneas’s parents worked as actors as they homeschooled their children. “Here’s my piece of advice: check your privilege.”

After receiving many similar messages, Finneas returned to Twitter to explain that growing up, they didn’t have any connections in music and their family was not financially stable. “During my life time, our parents were never able to fully financially support us off their work as actors,” he wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Our dad worked 12 hour days 7 days a week as a construction worker for Mattel and our mom was a teacher. Our parents gave us love but knew no one in the record industry.”

Finneas continued in a separate tweet by explaining that, these days, they’re fortunate enough to help give back to their parents. “I paid off their mortgage last year and billie pays them each salaries to tour with us full time though they have told us many times they would work for us for free,” he tweeted. “Anyone who saw us on tour in 2019 knows our dad insists on sweeping the stage each night before we perform.”

Eilish herself faced criticism about privilege recently after making comments about hip-hop in an interview with Vogue earlier this month. “There’s a difference between lying in a song and writing a story,” she told the mag. “There are tons of songs where people are just lying. There’s a lot of that in rap right now, from people that I know who rap. It’s like, ‘I got my AK-47, and I’m fuckin’…’ and I’m like, what? You don’t have a gun. ‘And all my bitches…’ I’m like, which bitches? That’s posturing, and that’s not what I’m doing.”

Eilish was criticized her for singling out rap music specifically in an industry where artifice knows no single genre.

Still, even as the brother-sister duo face added scrutiny over their words — and as their stars continue to rise, performing at the Oscars and collaborating on the new theme for James Bond film No Die to Die — Finneas’s words during their Grammys acceptance speech for Song of the Year remain a more inspiring message. “This is to all of the kids who are making music in their bedroom today,” he said. “You’re going to get one of these.”

Justin Bieber Plays An Adorably Small Guitar In ‘Changes’

Justin Nature Bieber heads out to a soft environment in his new video for “Changes,” the latest Apple Music-exclusive visual from his recently released album of the same nameWhether surrounded by straw-colored grass or sitting in front of a smoldering fire, Bieber’s commitment to growth with a partner remains the oxygen fueling this relationship.

Bieber kicks off the video in front of a dying fire holding a guitar, singing the simple number about evolving through the good and the bad, in hopes of becoming a better half to his other. Clips of him walking through grass and admiring its greens, yellows, and browns, are juxtaposed with a chilly environment of white, greys, and icy blues. These two different moods are at odds with each other but melt into one with his warm vocals that ease the tension. Just as the atmosphere changes around him, so will he too.

Changes, Bieber’s first album in four years, came out on Valentine’s Day. With 231,000 units sold in its first week, its success made Bieber the youngest person in history — beating out Elvis Pressley — to have seven No. 1 albums on the Billboard Hot 200.

Recently, Bieber shared the first nature-themed video in this series, “E.T.A.,” that featured him similarly praising the ground that he walks on.

Check out the preview of Bieber’s land-loving video for “Changes” up above and then head on over to Apple Music to check it out.

BTS Brought Marching-Band Pomp And Rubber Duckies To Fallon

BTS were the stars of last night’s (February 24) episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and, after exclaiming their love for John Cena and learning how to make sandwiches at the legendary pastrami house, Katz’s Deli, the renowned group took over New York City’s Grand Central Terminal for a one-of-a-kind performance of “On” from their recently released album, Map Of The Soul: 7There’s so much happening in it that, if you even blink once, you’ll miss something important. Keep a handy-dandy bottle of eye spray next to your monitor or TV screen, just in case.

Soul Train isn’t back (yet), but by watching BTS’s vast army of dancers swing to two sides to allow the group members easy entry, it’s clear that if they wanted to, they’d have the funkiest experience to date. Their marching band-like formations that involve dozens of backup dancers morphed into gigantic shapes are beautiful and clean, expertly choreographed to leave you marveling at the scope of the entire show. “On” energetically stomps in place and vibrates happily off of the walls and floors of the station, enabling BTS and its wide cast of backup dancers to match the song’s intensity easily.

It’s genuinely hard to pick a highlight from the show. Flinging body limbs and sharp, stale-faced jolts make you scream with excitement, but then there’s one of its breakdowns where the group’s members pound on drums to their hearts’ content that steal excited hurrahs from your vocal cords. Eventually, the show becomes more of a marching band’s halftime performance when more instrumentalists join the drummers on stage. After one big energetic and smashing push towards the finish line, BTS finally end the show by turning their backs toward the camera to, finally, take a breather.

BTS were at the maximum level for their Fallon episode. In addition to this wild performance, they also answered fan questions and balanced rubber ducks on their hands while riding the NYC subway. ‘Twas a wild, wild night.

BTS dropped Map Of The Soul: 7 on February 21. Recently, the group sat down with MTV’s Fresh Out Live and told the world how they make tunes by themselves. “The way we write our solo songs is that we take the emotions that we feel and put them in the lyrics,” one of its members, V, said (when translated into English). “And we try to put them in the songs.”

Check out BTS’s unforgettable Fallon performance and other clips from the episode up above.

Tobe Nwigwe Is The Transcendent Rapper Making Purpose Popular

By Virginia Lowman

For Houston rapper Tobe Nwigwe, the key to success is simple: Be consistent. This guiding principle has transformed the tenacious spitter from an internet sensation into a hip-hop powerhouse with a fan base that includes Jidenna, Sway Calloway, Erykah Badu, and Michelle Obama, to name a few. Nwigwe’s music isn’t just about mental release; it’s a movement, an elevation that is equally healing and culture-shifting. Music just happens to be the vehicle.

A former college athlete who once had dreams of going pro, the first-generation Nigerian American was met with skepticism when he decided to pursue music. “You did four and a half years of college to become a rapper?” he recalls his mother’s response during a chat with MTV News. The pushback wasn’t opposition to art, but opposition to a life of struggle. “Nigerian parents [think], hey, we made it over here. That’s a big enough risk for you to do something safe. You don’t have to take risks [or] do anything that’s going to cause you to struggle,” he says. He details this experience in his hit “I’m Dope,” which recently made the former First Lady’s 2020 Spotify Workout Playlist: “My mama thought I was a joke, but Ms. Badu told me I’m dope.” (Yes, the neo-soul queen DMed him last year.)

Pursuing a path that felt true to him was more important than leading a life of safety. “I feel like the message in what I’m doing is a necessity in my culture,” he tells MTV News. “I don’t want to limit anybody from really resonating with the actual message. I strive with every bar, with every design, with every angle of the video to make it to where it’s unique, different, and everybody [can] receive it all. Old, young, you know what I’m saying? My people. I strive for that.”

His community has been a dominant aspect of his ethos ever since the rapper first appeared on the radar in 2017 with his weekly Instagram series, #getTWISTEDsundays. In the simple but intimate videos, Nwigwe would sit on the floor and freestyle over classic beats like Tupac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” while his then-girlfriend, now-wife Fat sat above him on the couch, twisting his hair. They weren’t dolled up. There were no fancy filters, no cliché drip — just tube socks, slides, and Black love. Beyond being his uniform, these are three things that have, in many ways, epitomized who Nwigwe is as an artist.

Turning his music into a family affair, Fat along with producer LaNell “Nell” Grant make up Nwigwe’s team of creative partners. The women are involved in every aspect of his projects, from choreography to visuals and production, infusing a softness into his emotionally dense work. Together, they create art that serves both as an homage to Blackness and a spiritual awakening, offering a reflection of culture that feels, in his words, “hella Black.”

His approach to music is refreshing. Lyrically, his bars embody the grittiness of Black manhood, the experience of being first-generation Nigerian American, and the pain of Black history, all working in tandem to address the nuances between the Black experiences in America — as lived by those who were brought here involuntarily and those with an uncomplicated lineage to Africa. “As a first-generation-born Nigerian American, I honestly and genuinely have two different experiences,” he tells MTV News. “When I went to school, I had a completely Black African American, non-Nigerian experience. And when I went home I had a full Nigerian experience. I literally can understand and relate to both cultures.”

Lines like “I grew up a lil booty scratcher named Dubem / Son of Ifeyanyi who’d remind me to be prudent / In my studies ‘cause life get ugly when you ain’t smart” from his song “Searching” juxtaposed with “Unfortunately authorities don’t consider minorities priority / So my hood got disorderly conduct in a construct that they ain’t build” from his song “Kick Rocks,” or “I grew up melancholy ‘cause I ain’t / Realize that the hemoglobin in my skin / Was connected to a lineage that never had a penny to pinch” in “Against the Grain,” speak to Tobe’s duality. The former taps into his Nigerian lineage and his family’s praise of academia, and the latter two reference his Black American experience. This kind of layered consciousness creates a bridge between two cultures that history has robbed of one another and force-fed their differences rather than their similarities.

At the same time, his cutting words still manage to have a lightness about them. It could be the bravado and confident cool with which he delivers his popular ad-lib, “OUU,” his uncanny ability to blend lyricism and melody, or his producer Nell’s savvy in lacing his message over trap and pop-oriented beats. Or it could be how he balances strife — the weight of systemic oppression, drug warfare, losing friends — with wisdom and grace (literal and biblical) gained through love, growth, and transformation. You can hear it on “Slow Down,” a downtempo new song Nwigwe released on Valentine’s Day. “You must slow down and reconsider what you know now,” he sings. “I know life ain’t easy, and it sure ain’t fair / But what got you here won’t take you there.” The track and the accompanying video reveals Nwigwe as he is: clean, authentic with old-school flair, and family-oriented.

That’s what sets the rapper apart: his music is unapologetically faith-based — but the objective, he insists, is not to convert. “My whole approach is to meet people where they are. I understand clearly, my call on my life ain’t to convert nobody to what I believe,” he says. But Nwigwe has mastered the art of persuasion, telling the listener how it is, and also how it could be, offering conscious rap that doesn’t get lost in the minutia of struggle or the grandiose flex. “I just tell people what happened with me, what happened in my life because I was one way and I’m not that way anymore,” he says. It’s more than light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel rap. It brings light to you, regardless of where you are in the tunnel.

While the heroes of conscious rap, like Common and Mos Def, are exalted — and rightfully so — others in the genre rarely make it into the mainstream; though he’s still navigating the underground rap scene, Nwigwe seems to have found the key to changing the landscape. Having amassed a cult social following, he is reclaiming rap as a shape-shifting force, making purpose popular, and highlighting music’s ability to burrow deep in the psyche to yield cultural change, creating music that reminds people they were “made to do what no one’s done.” Consistently carving his own path in the music business as an independent artist, he’s proven that knowing who you are and remaining true to self leads to influence. And, as he sees it, “influence impacts how you do life.”

In The Garden Of Eden: How This Self-Taught Producer Is Crafting K-pop’s New Sound

By Elizabeth de Luna

It’s March 24, 2019, and Warsaw feels like it’s about to explode. The small Brooklyn venue, housed in a humble Polish community center, shakes with the anticipation of over 1,000 people waiting for K-pop group ATEEZ to take the stage. It’s been less than five months since the band debuted, but their popularity in the United States has already outgrown this space.

Up in the balcony, ATEEZ’s main producer Eden leans over the banister, watching as the crowd screams the Korean lyrics he wrote. At the end of the concert, ATEEZ’s leader and rapper Hongjoong points to Eden from the stage and calls him the “father” of the group’s music. The entire audience turns to look up and wave, and Eden bows gratefully. When asked about that night eight months later, Eden confesses that he is still shocked that ATEEZ has found such a loving audience in the U.S. “I thought, ‘Where did they first hear this music? How have they listened to it to a point where they’ve memorized the lyrics?’ I was very surprised,” he tells MTV News.

The 31-year-old producer sits in his studio, a plush sanctuary in the trendy Sinsa neighborhood of Seoul. The only connection to the world outside is the faint chorus of shouting and laughter floating up from the street through a cracked window.

This is where all of ATEEZ’s music is produced. When Eden and his crew moved in, they designed the space to feel like a second home. It’s padded with rugs and lit by an assortment of shaded lamps and clusters of vintage bulbs hanging overhead. A substantial crimson sectional sits across from a brick wall lined with albums bearing long, heartfelt notes from the artists with whom they collaborate. The scent of fresh flowers mixes with smoke from two cigarettes that lie extinguished in an ashtray on a coffee table. Adjacent to this common area are individual studios separated by frosted glass panel doors that are lit from within by the glow of computer screens. Before the archway a pair of plain black slippers await the return of their owner.

Eden wears a pristine black Stussy sweatshirt, vinyl sweatpants, crisp white socks, and Nikes. His dark hair frames his face; he has a habit of running his hand through it to push it up and out of his eyes, only for it to fall back down. Though his lyrics articulate a spectrum of visceral, aching emotions, Eden himself radiates meditative calm.

Not much is known about Eden outside of Korea. Even the basic details of his history as a producer and performer are diffused across the internet, some true and others false: He is a singer-songwriter under KQ Entertainment (true); he is currently the primary producer for labelmate ATEEZ’s music (true); and he once worked for CUBE Entertainment (false, he only rented a studio in the building’s basement). Eden’s compositions will soon fill arenas 15 times the size of Warsaw when ATEEZ tours again in March, and he’s ready to set the record straight. Eden prepares a cup of coffee and takes a seat on an ottoman. His hair is in his eyes again, so he pushes it away as he says, “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”

The Origin

Eden was born in 1988 as YongHwan Kim in Yeosu, South Korea. As early as he can remember, he was playing the piano. “It’s kind of a given that every Korean child learns the piano,” Eden says, but he had natural flair for the instrument that singled him out from his peers. His admiration for virtuosos like Frédéric Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninoff led him to pursue a career in music. He wanted to become a singer, and then a composer, but the only style taught in his hometown was classical, which he mastered. To study pop, he needed to go to the heart of Korea’s bustling music industry: Seoul.

At 15, he moved alone to the country’s capital with the blessing and financial support of his family. “I told [my parents] I was studying in some formal setting when I was actually learning in my room by myself, using the internet.” His education was simple: He bought books about programming, listened to music, and explored different genres on the piano by ear.

“I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a real musician,” he scoffs, shaking his head.

In 2010, a music file he sent to a friend reached affiliates of Source Music, and he officially debuted as half of a producing unit called Eden Beatz. His stage name references the biblical garden because he sought “to make music in the most natural, basic way.” As a 22-year-old composer, he was an anomaly in South Korea; most are older, many twice his age. “That made me overconfident,” he says with a chuckle.

Eden / Courtesy of KQ Entertainment

The short-lived high was followed by years of financial and artistic struggle. Source Music was no longer able to provide the resources to continue the Eden Beatz partnership, so he joined the military to complete his two years of government-mandated service. Upon returning to Source in 2013, he found that the company was interested in taking his music down a different path than he envisioned, and they parted ways amicably. For the first time in his life, Eden had to sell his own music.

Between the ages of 25 and 29, he sold only a single song. “I was confused,” he recalls, brows furrowed. “I debuted at such a young age and thought, Am I a genius?” he says. Part of the problem was that Eden didn’t want to focus on just one genre. “In the industry, my potential as a composer was perceived like this: Eden can do everything, but he’s not great at anything.”

And then, KQ Entertainment reached out. Minutes into a meal of Chinese eggplant, the company’s vice director proposed they work together. “Actually the wording he used was ‘I like your eyes,’” Eden says, still bemused by the turn of phrase, which was likely meant to imply that a certain “it” factor was apparent in his gaze.

But Eden wasn’t in a place to question the offer, which felt like his “last hope.” He joined KQ and lived in his studio for the next two years, producing music for his solo debut. During that time, things “radically started to change,” he says, shuffling his hands. At a party, Eden was introduced to singer-songwriter Hyun-sik Im of boy group BTOB, as well as singer and producer Seungyoun Cho, then-member of Chinese boy group UNIQ. This encounter led to the deepest friendships of his life and some of the most important collaborations of his career.

Eden, Cho, and two other producers formed a collective called Drinkcolor in 2016. He then produced two tracks for BTOB, 2016’s “I’ll Be Your Man” and 2017’s “Missing You,” releases that marked a “turning point” in his career. The songs were hits for the group and helped establish Eden as a versatile talent in the Korean pop industry.

In February 2017, at 29, Eden released his first single as a solo artist. “I’m Still,” a pop ballad about lost love, was well-received and the higher ups at KQ “gave a sigh of relief” that their bet on him had paid off. And then, one day, the vice director of KQ visited Eden’s studio with a bright-eyed teenager in a school uniform trailing behind him. “They told me, ‘He wants to become an idol who writes his own music,’ and asked me to teach him,” Eden says, smiling. “That was when Hongjoong entered my life.”

“The Father of ATEEZ’s Music”

Hongjoong Kim was the first member of ATEEZ to join KQ as a trainee. Eden, who had no formal training, wasn’t immediately thrilled about becoming someone’s teacher. “There was a song of his that he brought to me, and I couldn’t get a grasp on where to start or what to work on with him. So I thought, I’ll find a way to make him give up on music,” he says, snickering at his former ruthlessness. Eden showed the teen an online encyclopedia with 200 vocabulary words related to composing. “I told him to memorize all of them by the next day. I thought he wouldn’t be able to do it and that, when he came back, I’d go, ‘Hey, you can’t do music,’ and he would quit my lessons.”

But the timid kid surprised him. “He came back with all the words memorized. He spent the whole night doing it. He hadn’t slept at all.” This effort thawed Eden’s remaining resistance, and Hongjoong became his first pupil. “What I highly praise about Hongjoong is that he was below average in every discipline when he started as a trainee. He wasn’t a natural dancer, and he couldn’t rap at all. But he sacrifices rest for practice. Watching him improve, I thought, I should think of Hongjoong as my younger self and help him grow.”

Today, Hongjoong claims his own space in Eden’s cozy studio. “He knows what he needs to work on, and I give him support and direction. I don’t try to make him sound like me but, ironically, he is becoming more like me,” Eden notes. “His style of clothing, even the way he talks — he’s not just copying the good things but also the things I don’t like about myself.” He trails off, then says softly, “There are two people in my life that are like my sons: Hongjoong and Seungyoun Cho.” He emphasizes that they would process this information differently. “Seungyoun is a rebellious type. If you asked him, he wouldn’t really agree that he’s my son. But Hongjoong embraced me. I never learned music in a formal setting from somebody else, so I didn’t want to teach anyone. But if there was one person that I had to teach music, to pass on what I know, it would be Hongjoong.”

That mentorship has had a profound effect on Hongjoong, who felt that Eden respected even his earliest attempts at composing. “I was a high school student who didn’t have any significant achievement in the music industry, but he always listened to my ideas and helped me develop them,” Hongjoong says. “That’s why I was able to grow and reach where I am now.” Though he isn’t copying Eden’s style  he admits it’s inevitable that he will “probably start resembling him,” given the amount of time they spend together.

Eden has also warmed up to the seven other members of ATEEZ. There are small moments during the group’s first reality show, a documentation of their pre-debut preparations, where his fondness for them is apparent. When the members file into a recording studio, visibly nervous while holding lyric sheets for their debut single “Pirate King” with both hands, Eden stifles an affectionate chuckle. The recording begins and every member takes a turn in the booth to receive Eden’s warm feedback.

Members (L-R) Yunho, Seonghwa, San, Yeosang, Hongjoong, Wooyoung, Jongho, and Mingi / Getty Images

In these interactions, he comes off like the group’s older brother. “I can’t yell at them when I’m on national TV,” Eden jests. But his connection to the members is real. “I witnessed their whole journey. I was there when each of them joined the group and was a judge for their monthly evaluations. Mental resilience is a huge part of training to become an idol. Even if you’ve been told you’ll be a member of a group, you don’t know when or if that group will debut. Everything is uncertain. I was there to give them mental support and advice, to be a mentor, to eat with them. That’s how we built our relationship.”

But when recording for ATEEZ’s first album began, the relationship shifted to become more professional as pressures increased. “If I don’t produce good music, the impact is greater for the eight members than it is for me,” Eden notes. In Korea, where idols are trained from a young age and forgo schooling to debut, failed careers can leave performers with limited prospects. “The possibility of ATEEZ ending up like that makes me sleepless at night. I felt that pressure like a heavy weight. So when we were working on the first album, I had very high expectations for them. During that process, a couple of the members shed some tears. I scolded them a bit.”

However, Eden never intended to have such a large role in the group’s development. “Everyone was worried when I said, ‘I will produce ATEEZ! Leave it to me!’” Eden says with a smirk. Despite his reputation as a well-rounded producer, he had become known for the signature ballad-like sound of his greatest hit to date, “Missing You.” No one at KQ was confident that he could make music for what he calls “dancing idols.” But Eden had a plan. Through network connections and word-of-mouth, he gathered a team of talented producers to help him prove his creative vision to KQ. He called them Edenary.

Introducing Edenary

Edenary’s four members — Eden, Buddy, LEEZ, and Ollounder — all work in this studio. Eden rises from the ottoman and begins knocking on doors. Buddy isn’t in, but he manages to coax LEEZ and Ollounder from their rooms. “What do you have to do?” Eden asks them, as they look around shyly. “Come on, sit down.” Ollounder, who claims the pair of black slippers, runs to put on socks.

Buddy was Eden’s first recruit; the two had worked together on a project of solo collaborations called “EDEN_STARDUST.” LEEZ, who produces the brooding rock-pop of girl group Dreamcatcher, followed. Together the three of them completed all songs on ATEEZ’s first and second albums, Treasure Ep.1: All to Zero and Treasure Ep.2: Zero to One, in a span of a single, stressful month in the spring of 2018. The group’s potent blend of trap, pop, and hip-hop was a hit with KQ.

For ATEEZ’s third album, Treasure Ep.3: One to All, the team realized they needed more help and pulled in Ollounder, their final member, who still works with LEEZ on Dreamcatcher’s music as part of a trio called Super Bomb. (“He’s probably working on Dreamcatcher right now,” Eden says, chucking a thumb towards Ollounder’s open studio door.)

Ollounder’s name is a play on the Korean pronunciation of “All Rounder,” which is apt considering that each member of Edenary was chosen for their high level of skill across multiple disciplines. “What differentiates us is that the members of other teams usually have set roles, but all four of us do everything: the tracks, lyrics and melodies,” Eden explains. “It’s like having four of me.”

And their creative process doesn’t leave much room for ego. They are bound by deep mutual respect and claim to have never had a disagreement. “What I’m grateful for is that they believe in me,” Eden says. Their working relationship is unusual in an industry where entertainment companies fill albums with songs cherry-picked from across dozens of different composers. By contrast, Edenary has been involved in ATEEZ’s music and identity from the beginning. That’s because the members of Edenary aren’t composers; they’re producers. Eden explains the difference: A composer is “someone who makes music and sells it to someone else,” whereas a producer “sets the foundation for a group’s entire creative concept with their music, envisioning the piece’s visuals, creative, and choreography, and working with other teams to bring that vision into focus.”

They’ve maintained that identity across a sizable body of work, spanning five EPs and two albums in just over a year. Using the confident “Pirate King” as their guide, the team visualizes ATEEZ’s story “like scenes from a movie,” creating music themed around exploration, teamwork, and the search for symbolic treasure. “If you think ATEEZ’s universe is like a movie, we’re probably 15 minutes in right now, in terms of the timeline,” Eden hints.

Musically, the group’s sound pulls from far-reaching influences. “K-pop as a genre is like a total art that encompasses all music. It’s very flexible,” says Eden. “We want to combine many genres, instead of focusing on and identifying with a single one. If you listen to the work we’ve released so far, you can see our attempt to mix in sources and sounds from across the world — from the U.S., India, and Brazil, to various countries in Africa.” LEEZ adds, “It’s a bit of rock, a bit of hip-hop, a bit of everything.”

As Eden continues to release music solo and through his ongoing collaborative series EDEN STARDUST, Edenary has begun producing other projects outside of ATEEZ. The same day that ATEEZ’s fourth Treasure series EP Action to Answer dropped, Korean artist YounHa released “Winter Flower,” a collaboration with RM of BTS. Produced by Edenary, the song rocketed to the top of the charts. Later that week, ATEEZ’s Action to Answer bows at No. 5 on Billboard‘s World Albums chart.

“When I first met Eden, he didn’t have any hit singles,” Hongjoong says. Watching his mentor work towards his current success taught Hongjoong the value of persistence and humility. “He always told me, ‘Be humble but noble,’” the rapper says, smiling. Since meeting Hongjoong, Eden’s mentorship has matured to reflect that advice. “During my 20s, I thought mentoring was about changing someone by transferring knowledge to them,” he says. “Now I focus on supporting an individual’s discovery of themselves. I see our relationship moving from a mentorship towards a friendship.”

Beyoncé’s Stirring Performance At Kobe Bryant’s Memorial Was Aimed At The Heavens

As far back as the 1999 remix of Destiny Child‘s “Say My Name,” Beyoncé and Kobe Bryant had a heartwarming friendship that endured through the years. That energy was on display on Monday (February 24) when she opened the memorial service for the late basketball great and his daughter Gianna at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. In her stirring show, she performed both “Halo” and “XO” to honor his memory.

Beyoncé’s two songs came with magnificent vocals featuring an enormous choir and live instruments. With an emotional smile on her face, she prefaced her performance of “XO” with an explanation of why she chose the song. “I’m here because I love Kobe, and this was one of his favorite songs,” she began. “I want you to sing it so loud that he can hear your love,” she continued. The live rendition of “Halo” ended with a roof-shattering drum roll followed by Beyoncé blowing a kiss to the sky.

Later during the program, Alicia Keys also played a song in tribute to Kobe, performing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on a piano while supported by a string quartet. Before she played it, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka explained that it was important to Kobe and his relationship with Vanessa, Billboard reports.

Kobe and Gianna died in a helicopter crash on January 26. That night at the 62nd Grammy Awards, he was honored by Keys, who hosted, with a touching performance featuring Boyz II Men and then again during a tribute to Nipsey Hussle.

Check out Beyoncé’s warm performance of “Halo” up above.

100 Gecs And Charli XCX Join Forces For A Deliriously Fun ‘Ringtone’ Remix

Here’s a nice jolt of energy for your Monday: 100 gecs — the weirdo pop duo of Laura Les and Dylan Brady — have released a remix of their beloved bop “Ringtone” that features Charli XCX, rap force Rico Nasty, and indie pop group Kero Kero Bonito. In other words, it’s one big, ecstatic party.

Charli, a natural fit for the gecs universe, starts the whole thing off with a cute, loved-up verse before tackling the song’s original, earworm-inducing hook: “My boy’s got his own ringtone / It’s the only one I know, it’s the only one I know.” The rest of the remix features bubbly performances from all parties involved, including KKB crooning in AutoTune and Rico blazing over the track’s fuzzy guitars. There’s even a cheeky moment when Laura chimes in, asking, “Wait, Charli, can you sing the chorus again, please?” Just call her “Charli GecsCGecs” from here on out.

In typically surreal style, Dylan and Laura paired the new remix with a visualizer that features the two of them wielding stick puppets of their collaborators. Check it out below.

The “Ringtone” remix launches 1000 gecs & The Tree of Clues, the upcoming remix album of the duo’s visionary 2019 debut, 1000 gecs. The project took shape as the result of a crowd-sourcing experiment, and includes remixes from friends and fans alike, including A.G. Cook’s reworking of “Money Machine” and Injury Reserve’s “745 Sticky.”

Look out for the remix album coming soon, and check out our recent profile of 100 gecs here.

Selena Gomez Put Her Emotions On Full Display In A New Acoustic Session

It started with snapping fingers and cackling voices in the background — you know, signs of people having fun. But once that all cut out, Selena Gomez gripped the microphone at Village Studios in Los Angeles, CA and whisked her self away to an acoustic wonderland with a performance of “Rare.” Soft, simple, and stirring, her indignant middle finger to neglect whispers into your ear as you listen to it and chills you when her eyes meet yours.

The only people that matter in this new world are Gomez, her feathery backup singer, and the lone guitarist who sweetens the deafening surrounding silence. Gomez keeps her eyes closed and presses on gently, drilling into your mind with her cavity-inducing voice. This new rendition of “Rare” is sweet in some places, fierce in others, sharp in its vocal run on the chorus before dissolving into mist in its verses.

On the few occasions that she glances at the camera, it’s like she moonwalking on a fresh carpet and poking you on your elbow while she’s statically potent. The crispness of the moment never gets old and no matter how many times you watch it, closing the tab on the YouTube page leaves you wanting more.

“Rare” is the title track for Gomez’s third studio album that dropped in January. Earlier this month, she released the fan-favorite track “Feel Me” after fans clamored for it for more than four years.

Check out Gomez’s breathtaking new acoustic cover of “Rare” up above.