On Wednesday (April 17), BTS scored another major accomplishment when the Korean group made Time‘s list of the 100 most influential people of 2019. Singer Halsey — who is featured on the group’s latest single, “Boy With Love” — penned a heartfelt note for the septet in honor of their latest career milestone. In it, she captures BTS and their global appeal in one simple sentence: “Behind those three letters are seven astounding young men who believe that music is stronger than the barriers of language.”
It’s a statement that was furthered echoed by the sheer enormity of the group’s global press conference the night before. Over 150 media outlets from around the world submitted over 500 questions for the press conference — including MTV News — which was both attended by Korean media and live streamed on YouTube for international press and fans. Topics included their most recent album (Map of the Soul: Persona), collaborating with Ed Sheeran on “Make It Right,” whether they find their unprecedented success to be invigorating or intimidating, and, of course, Halsey.
According to rapper Suga, in conceptualizing Persona around the themes of “love and interest about you [the fans], joy of the small things,” it was important for them to collaborate with “an artist who was able to express a variety of emotions, and we believed Halsey was appropriate for this.”
“We first met two years ago, and we felt that our passion in music connected,” he added for the group.
And it was a mutual thing. In a separate video screened for press, Halsey noted how BTS’ passion for their music and their fans made her want to work with them, crossing oceans and timezones to film the music video in Korea alongside the group. (She even learned part of the choreography — a first for the pop star.) “They are an absolutely amazing group who put so much love and so much dedication into everything they do,” she said. And that admiration extended behind the scenes when BTS, specifically dancers Jimin and J-Hope, helped Halsey work through the choreography on set. “They were so nice and encouraging and they made me feel like I could really do it if I put my mind to it.”
There’s also the fact that Halsey and BTS both have a unique relationship with their dedicated fans, who have seen them rise from industry underdogs to reigning pop royalty without losing the parts of them — their candor, humor, passion for social issues, and ability to speak to the anxieties of their generation through music — that make them special. Or, as Halsey said of the key to BTS’ success: “When an artist loves their art, it makes it last forever.”
That respect for one another and their art is what makes a collaboration like “Boy With Luv” so effortlessly seamless. A feature is a transaction between artists — a play for more radio spins and a higher chance at chart success. For BTS, collaborating with a Western artist like Halsey — who has two No. 1 singles under her belt — makes a lot of sense as they try to break into the only thing that has eluded them on their journey thus far: U.S. radio. For a self-described BTS fan like Halsey, the opportunity to collaborate with the biggest group in the world is a no-brainer. (Just ask Troye Sivan.) Still, I’d hardly call Halsey’s contribution to “Boy With Luv” a feature; it’s a collaboration in the truest sense of the word — a rich cultural exchange between artists that finds Halsey harmonizing in Korean on the hook and BTS adapting her fizzy pop to their own fluid style.
A lot of that has to do with how they approached the song as a collaborative effort. Halsey brings her own perspective to the track — which finds the seven young men of BTS waxing poetic over minutiae of someone’s day — with her signature airy vocals and punchy ad-libs like “I want it!”
“Working with BTS was really special because it’s a lot different that what it’s like when I’m making music alone,” Halsey described. “There are so many individuals in a group, and you have to take each of their personal styles into account.
It was really cool to come together and do something that reflects all of us. It’s a really special marriage of music in America and music in Korea that’s now music for the world.”
As the musical landscape becomes more culturally diverse, a song like “Boy With Luv” sets a precedent for the future of artist collaborations — a future in which hearing BTS and Halsey sing in Korean or Bad Bunny and Drake croon in Spanish won’t seem so novel. Because music is its own universal language, a mellifluous form of communication. To truly understand it one needs only to open up their mind.