Min Yoon-gi (Press photo courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment)
Photo: Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment

The Metaphysical Dream of BTS’ SUGA aka Min Yoon-gi

In Min Yoon-gi’s (BTS’ SUGA) music there’s a common idea floating of his dreams, even if he hasn’t identified them, or found a way to coexist with them peacefully.

Min Yoon-gi is a man with big dreams. Many of them have come true. He’s the persona, SUGA, in the extremely successful BTS. With BTS he tours all over the world, and of course, BTS was nominated for the Grammy Awards in 2020. As a solo rapper and producer, he was able to release mixtapes, break charting records in the United States, and produce music for his childhood idols.

Judging from the lyrics Min writes, it took a lot of effort to grow these dreams. But not only to turn them into reality — but to explore the dreams themselves.

The idea of potential is inherent to the idea of a dream. A dream is something that can happen. Some even think “it’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting”, as says Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist, one of Min’s favorite books. But Min’s early musicality suggests it’s the idea of dream as a potentiality itself – the dream as something that will, or must, exist.

There was a time when Min’s dream was but a seed. Like a gardener in an unknown land, he’d nurture the soil, looking forward to a yet-to-be-found seed to grow, confident that it would flourish, that it would turn into something, that there was something there. “Some non-existent things exist potentially”, said Aristotle in Book IX of Metaphysics.

Maybe it was hard for Min to access his dream because he saw dream and reality as mutually exclusive: “Breathe, or dream,” he raps in “INTRO: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life”, from the BTS’ album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life – Part 1 (2015). But no, that might not be why the “or” was placed between breathing and dreaming. Dream and reality can occupy the same space: “My breath, risen up to my chin, is dreams that are squirming”, he raps in “INTRO”, according to Doolset’s translation. The entire song is filled with sounds of his breath – non-lexical speech sound is a prominent feature of Min’ songwriting style, as Guillermina V notes – it’s Min signaling that he is alive, very much alive in the physical world, yet also acknowledging the metaphysical world of his dreams.

How did Min find these dreams? How did he decide which dream was his to grab, his to own? By acknowledging that the matter of the dreams was meant to be his, were made of the same thing he was made of. Whatever that is.

Min finishes “INTRO: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” by asking himself if he is happy right now, and yes, the answer is engraved in him, “I am happy” (“그 답은 이미 정해졌어 난 행복하다”). Doolset translates this first sentence as “The answer is already set”; Sevina & Mary translate it as “That answer is already fixed”, BangtanKorean translates it as “I’ve already decided the answer”.

There’s a common idea of something definite, either Min taking ownership of his power to his happiness or recognizing that happiness was already there inside him. While having or realizing a dream may not equal happiness (indeed, in Min’s later music, we’d find many of his dreams would be the source of sadness or even numbness), the lyrics set the standard for his approach to pursue a dream.

In The Most Beautiful Moment in Life – Part 2 (2015), Min’s rap verse in “Butterfly” compares the song’s addressee to a dream-like, unreachable butterfly flying high in the sky. (This butterfly can be a lover, but in the context of the album it seems more like it’s they’re singing to/about “youth” as a subject). Again, the juxtaposition of dreams and reality reveals his struggle with conceiving both as a compatible pair, and he fears that he’ll be defying the laws of the universe if he tries to combine both, causing a “butterfly effect”. It’s the T. S. Eliot dilemma: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”).

“I steal a glance of you from far away, fearing that I might lose you if my hand touches you”, Min raps in “Butterfly”. Oh, but how tempting is the idea of this beautiful “butterfly effect that shines on me in this pitch-darkness / Just a gentle hand gesture of yours makes me forget the reality” (Doolset translation). Yet, at least he knows the dream is there. “You’re there, but for some reason, I can’t touch you”.

Interestingly, the photoshoot for the album shows the seven BTS boys running in a field (the title track of the album is even called “Run”), and on train tracks, jumping. Motion is potency in action, Aristotle said – if dreams and happiness are located somewhere in the soul as potencies, being in motion can lead one towards the actuality of them. Min can’t touch his butterfly-like dream yet, but it’s there; it exists, somewhere, in some way.

I’m sure you’ll see me again in some shape or form, he raps in “First Love” (Muish’s translation), from another 2016 BTS album, Wings. The song was written for his first piano, yet it almost feels like it’s not to the tangible music instrumental he’s talking to – it’s to the ideas of love, passion, dream, happiness, that the piano represented for him. “When that happens, please gladly welcome me again”.

In whatever shape or form, Min Yoon-gi will come back to what first ignited his passion, because it’s part of him, it has always been with him, inside him, and in his potential. It turns into actuality through different shapes and forms. “People look for a unifying formula, and a difference, between potency and complete reality. But (…) the proximate matter and the form are one and the same thing, the one potentially, and the other actually”, said Aristotle in Book VIII of Metaphysics.

Nearly two months before Wings was released, Min released his first solo mixtape, Agust D. Here he boldly conveys his dreams of topping Billboard charts (which he and BTS would achieve in less than two years). But just as Aristotle believed “every potency is at one and the same time a potency of the opposite” (Metaphysics, Book IX), Min Yoon-gi / Agust D shows equally intense vulnerability and fear in the sister tracks “Interlude: Dream, Reality” and “So Far Away”.

“Dream. Dream. Dream,” he repeats in “Interlude”. As Kim Youngdae mentions in BTS: The Review (2019), “depending on how you interpret what ‘dream’ is, the hidden nuances of this song may also be varied. It may refer to the state of sleeping, an ideal you wish to achieve, or a futile hope. For Agust D, all of these meanings may be relevant.”

The sonic atmosphere of the track transports us to an ethereal space where Min is seemly trying to grasp the dream again, either calling it by its name or commanding himself to dream. Dream. Where is it? Where are you? “It” and “you” are one the same. And they’re “So Far Away”; ah, the confident Min Yoon-gi who dreams to take over the world – why is he feeling like he’s lost and dreamless again?

“Persona is the link between humans on a metaphysical level,” says Wallea Eaglehawk in Idol Limerence (2020). Min had to build a new persona, separate from BTS, so he dreams unapologetically. “So far away, if only I had a dream”, Korean R&B artist Suran sings in a chorus written by Min. “If only I had”? Didn’t he just say, songs ago in this same tracklist, that he had many dreams? But the dream is like Schrödinger’s cat; it is at once alive and not. How to solve this paradox? Maybe Min was wrong about his dreams, maybe he’s trying to find new ones, or maybe he’s speaking a dream into existence so it can become his dream.

The dream needs help; the real dream that is meant to be Min Yoon-gi’s, it needs him to be identified and to go from potency to actuality. Like a parent holding the hands of a kid so they’re not afraid to take their first steps, Min reassures his dream, rapping in “So Far Away”: “Dream, I will be with thee in thy birth and the end of thy life” (dansmesyeux’s translation); “(…) Dream, will eventually be in full bloom at the end of hardships” (Doolset’s translation).

Indeed, it’s hard to have no dreams — and it’s hard to have them. Sometimes Mins’ music feels like he dreams that are too big, as heard in BTS’ “No More Dream” (from 2 Cool 4 Skool, 2013); and sometimes it feels like he has none, as BTS’ “Paradise” (Love Yourself: Tear, 2018). Sometimes it feels like he wants to travel in full intensity, and sometimes the travel just makes him sick, and he dreams of a normal life. “I was born a tiger” (Muish’s translation), he raps in “Daechwita”, from his second solo mixtape as Agust D.  “Flow along the way the water flows, maybe there’s something at the end” (Doolset’s translation), he raps in “People”, just a few tracks after “Daechwita”.

But in all cases, in his music there’s a common idea floating, of an innate awareness that he has a dream, even if he hasn’t found them, identified them, or found a way to coexist with them peacefully. Things that he knows exist although he might not perceive the exact form in which they exist. But he’s trying. Whatever his dreams are made of, he knows it has always been there. “(…) there must be substances which are of the same number as the movements of the stars, and in their nature eternal, and in themselves unmovable” (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XII).

Anyone who pays attention to Min Yoon-gi’s interviews can see that the nature of his dream almost always manifests as music. “I’ll be with you, for your birth and your end / That you’d remember that I’m with you, wherever you are” (Wisha’s translation), he raps as a featured collaborator in Lee Sora’s “Song Request” (2018), impersonating a radio that is speaking to a lonely listener.

The matter of music within Min Yoongi’s soul, like all kinds of matter, takes different forms and may go through different states – “For someone, I’m spring; for another, winter / For someone, I’m the end; for another, the beginning” (“Song Request”). He’s many things to many people, and to himself too – the shape of his music’s matter may differ accordingly; but “it”, and he, changes too. Potency in motion always does, if you consider each actuality as a mean itself. Or it never differs at all if you consider actuality as a final destination.

An artist’s work is always open to interpretation and subjective response. He’s is okay with being “someone’s lullaby” or at times “a din”. As Min Yoongi, SUGA, Agust D, or BTS, his music will reach whoever it needs to, in whatever way it has to, in whatever way it can. His music reaches me in ways that I can only connect with what I know, as limited as that is, as egocentric, even Ethnocentric, as it is. But we can always expand our repertoire.

Just as each of Min’s creations surprise his audience, he’s eager to keep exploring the potentiality of his dreams until they come to their final form. “I don’t think I’ve achieved even half of my potential,” he say in the BTS documentary, Break The Silence: The Movie (Jun-Soo Park 2020). Is one lifetime enough for him to do it?

Works cited

Aristotle. “Metaphysics”. Project Gutenberg.

Bangtan Korean.Intro: 화양연화 (The Most Beautiful Moment in Life).” BangtonKorean.com

Park, Jun-Soo. Break The Silence: The Movie. (2020)

Coelho, Paulo. O Alquimista. Rocco. 2003.

Dansmesyeux. “Agust D – So Far Away“. (Annotated by dansmesyeux). 14 June 2018.

Doolset. “Intro: 화양연화 (Intro: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life)”. 17 July 2018.

_______ “사람 (People)“. 22 May 2020.

_______ “So Far Away (Ft. SURAN)”. 1 June 2018.

_______ “Butterfly“. 1 June 2018.

Eaglehawk, Wallea. Idol Limerence: The Art of Loving BTS as a Phenomena. Revolutionaries. 2020.

Eliot, T. S. (1915). “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“. Project Gutenberg.

Kim, Youngdae. (2019). “BTS: The Review”. RH Korea.

Muish. “Agust D (BTS) – Daechwita (English Translation and Ramblings)” 24 May 2020.

_______ “BTS – First Love (English Translation and Ramblings)”. 3 August 2019.

Sevina & Mary @ bts-trans. “[LYRICS] Intro: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life (화양연화) by BTS (Suga)”. 29 April 2016.

V, Guillermina. (2020). “Language structure and rapline’s poetics“. Poster for Rhizome Connect 2020 – 7-16 August 2020.

Wisha. “Song Request (Lee Sora, ft. SUGA)”. 22 January 2019.