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BamBam: Your Friendly Global Superstar

The Thai rapper, singer-songwriter and producer on his solo creative process, working with Red Velvet’s Seulgi, and if we’ll really see a GOT7 comeback in 2022

Riddhi Chakraborty Feb 21, 2022

"It was a lot of pressure before I started solo, because I was not sure if I was good enough to do this." Photo: Courtesy of ABYSS COMPANY

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BamBam and I first met in 2019, backstage at GOT7’s ‘Keep Spinning Tour’ in Seoul. It was a fleeting moment of hello and goodbye as I was ushered through a hallway packed with the South Korean band’s friends and family, so I doubt he even remembers it, but I know I’ll never forget the absolute positivity he radiated. GOT7 concerts, in general, are some of the happiest events you could attend — a safe space for the group and their fans to exchange laughter, tears and excitement — so it makes sense that I get that same feeling again when the Thai rapper agrees to do this interview.

His schedule is too jam-packed for a call, but BamBam still manages to send in his answers via voice notes instead of the standard PR team emails. His vibrant personality shines through, unfettered by the fact that this isn’t a face-to-face interaction, and there’s soft laughter, contemplation, humility, introspection and dashes of his signature ‘skrrt skrrt’ as he takes me through his evolution as a producer and songwriter. “Am I surprised by who I’ve become today?” he ponders at one point during the conversation. “Yes, I am. When I was a kid, I never imagined I would go to the studio and make my own music, write my own lyrics and everything. Even today, sometimes I still feel kind of weird when I’m sitting in the studio. It’s just, you know, a dream come true. I couldn’t even imagine it at that time, but I’m really happy right now. I’m happy with who I’ve become.” 

BamBam’s journey to build his identity as a solo powerhouse kicked off last year when he and his fellow GOT7 members decided to walk away from their longtime label JYP Entertainment together. Since their debut in 2014 with the EP Got It?, BamBam and his bandmates, Jay B, Jackson Wang, Mark Tuan, Yugyeom, Youngjae and Jinyoung, have built an incredibly rich and versatile discography, diving fearlessly into different genres and expanding their individual skills as producers and songwriters. In fact, GOT7 is one of the strongest groups in the K-pop industry as far as production is concerned. Every superstar member has participated in the creative process for each album, and BamBam alone holds over 20 songwriting credits and nine production nods across the group’s discography. Throughout their eight-year tenure with JYPE, GOT7 also dabbled with solo and sub-unit releases, but it was after the exit from the label when the seven members truly got to unleash the beast that was their diverse individual artistic personas. GOT7 chose to remain together as a group, but each artist signed under different labels that would offer them the best possible path to establish themselves as soloists. 

In March 2021, BamBam joined the roster of ABYSS COMPANY and launched his solo career with his sparkling debut EP, Ribbon. The record was a gleeful celebration of color, independence and rebirth, serving as the ideal introduction to the artist we all knew he wanted to become. The homonymous title uses the English pronunciation of ‘ribbon’ as a playful pun on the word ‘reborn’ as BamBam declares on the lead single: “See a better version of my side/ I’m like a feather now I feel so light/ What do you want/ I can give you anything for sure/ I’m ribbon.” The entire album is a breezy, bright and wholesome listening experience, built mainly of pop, R&B, trap and dancehall. It was the start of a new era, but BamBam makes it clear that it was just the first chapter in a book that’s still being written. His sophomore EP B, which dropped this January, digs a little deeper.

“So Ribbon was my first solo and I wanted people to know my personality, what I can do,” he says when we begin to discuss the different points each EP aims to make. “For B, I want people to know more about me, not just the bright side, but how I feel, and what I always want to say through the music. That’s why it has more styles. Every track has a really different style. I’m really happy about the result of the two albums.” He began working on B in May 2021, and the seven months it took to make turned out to be a period of introspection for the rapper; this record provides a deeper look into who he is under the layer of joy that’s always surrounded him, and is designed to contrast Ribbon’s pure jubilance. “The story behind the [title]… ‘B’ is actually for my name, Bam, and I want to let people know about my world and my story. So yeah, this album is mostly about my story and it’s about what I think and how I feel.” 

When BamBam dropped his sophomore EP’s pre-release single “Who Are You” in December 2021, it was an immediate game-changer for the way he would be perceived as an artist. Haunting yet seductive with its blend of decadent dark synth and acoustic pop, the track takes a look into a fractured relationship while also doubling as a confrontation of the self. BamBam brings in a collaborator for the first time, girl group Red Velvet’s vocalist Seulgi, and their breezy voices harmonize and add a certain dreamlike effect to the entire listening experience. The lyrics use the metaphor of a labyrinth to describe navigating emotions; a gorgeous example of the depth BamBam wanted to express. It’s my personal favorite on B, and BamBam shares the sentiment. “‘Who Are You’ is my favorite song on this album,” he says, adding that it was actually written two years ago. It was always a sound he wanted to share with the world and the timing works brilliantly with what he wanted to convey at this juncture in his life. “Actually at first we didn’t call it ‘Who Are You,’ we called it ‘Someone Else In Mind,’ but I feel like ‘Who Are You’ is a really good sentence and it has a lot of meaning. You can ask yourself, or you can ask another person, ‘Who are you?’ So, yeah, I think it’s more meaningful. People can understand and can really feel what I want to say through this song.”

He knew he wanted a female artist on the track, but it took a long time to find the perfect fit. “You know, there were a lot of artists in the list,” BamBam reveals after a moment’s contemplation. “At first, we didn’t think about Seulgi. We were thinking about a lot of people, but I feel like no one really matched the song until I met Seulgi from Red Velvet. I met her at the radio show she’s on [Seulgi.zip], and while we were doing the radio thing, I just came up with the idea. So I asked her right away, and working with her was the best. She did really well, she worked really hard on this. I learned so much from her, she learned so much from me and now we’ve become besties. So I’m really happy about the result and everything she did on this song.” 

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The combination of the two artists was unexpected, but it works on several levels; their vocals have similar light and breathy tones and they’re both powerful dancers — the music video for “Who Are You” sees the duo mirror each other’s moves (a central theme of the visuals), and Seulgi’s grace brings out BamBam’s surprising proficiency in contemporary dance.

The rest of B is just as experimental and complex. The all-English “Intro (Satellites)” immediately pushes BamBam’s soundscape into darker territory with the way it cruises through autotune-heavy vocals, complemented by spacey trap transitions. The lead single “Slo Mo” is full of synth-pop longing and soaring melodies, while the second English track “Subliminal” simmers with eerie reverb and synths. On “Let Me Love You,” BamBam dips his toes into breezy pop again before shifting gears to take a sharp turn into his anthemic, hip-hop roots on “Ride or Die.” He feels he’s achieved his goal of diversifying his sound, and points out some of his other favorite sonic moments on the record. “I like ‘Satellites,’ because you can’t really hear this kind of sound in K-pop. ‘Subliminal’ is really emotional, so I really like [it] too.”

We move on to discuss his production process, and he surprises me when he unveils what serves as the starting point for each record. The lead single is of course the first thing he sorts out, but it’s the manner in which he goes about it that’s fascinating. While most artists tell me they begin with a certain sound or lyric, he kicks off with color. It’s a very BamBam thing to do to be honest, and it makes perfect sense if you go through all his solo work thus far. “If I want this album color to be pink, then it has to be bright, have a lot of energy,” he shares enthusiastically. “But if I want this album to be red, then it’s going to be strong. So [I start] mostly from color and from my title track. While working on this album, everything went really well. It was a lot of fun to do!” It’s a similar situation when it comes to conceptualizing the visuals for his music videos. He begins with “Who Are You” as an example: “When I first heard “Who Are You,” I was thinking about black and white and dancing with bare feet.” 

At this point I can hear in BamBam’s voice that this is a topic he’s been ready to launch into for a while. He needs absolutely no prompting as he decides to break down the preparation process for each release, and volunteers as many fun facts as possible. “Every one of my solo music videos have a really different style,” he begins, pausing for a moment with a hum to organize his thoughts before continuing, “I think every song has a different preparation. If we start with ‘Ribbon,’ I had to start with my hair color. If you are my fan, you might know that I change my hair color a lot, but the reason I change my hair color so much is because I just want everything to match the song, you know what I mean?” The image of a platinum-blonde, pastel-pink haired BamBam from the cheery “Ribbon” music video immediately springs into mind as he says this, and yes, I realize I know exactly what he means. 

“The next one is ‘Who Are You.’ For that, I had to work out a lot because the clothes are really tight and then I had to grow my hair long again because when I dance, I feel like it’s better with long and dark colored hair.” Again, it’s easy to visualize the surreal, somber black and white themed music video that goes with the track and the clip plays in my head, switching promptly to the next one as he continues, “‘Slow Mo’ is a really bright song, so I needed to change my hair right away too. So I cut it really short and changed my hair to white color again.” All of this is just part of the journey that includes the recording process, choreography and physical fitness; although he humbly brushes off the challenge of choreography as a normal part of a pop star’s life: “Dancing is a thing that you have to do anyway, so I don’t think this is preparation. So yeah, mostly the hair color and my health — I need to just try to keep myself in a good condition.” 

We return to the idea of how one builds their foundation and legacy as a soloist, and he takes a moment to think about it when I ask where his journey of writing for himself began. “This is a really good question,” he says after a while. “You know, it’s a lot of …what should I say? It was a lot of pressure before I started solo, because I was not sure if I was good enough to do this and I was not sure if you guys were going to really like my music. But I think people slowly started to give so much attention to my solo work these days because I think people can really feel my music and what I push through my solo career right now.” There’s another moment of silence on the voice note before he decides to open up further. “I think it starts with the music. You have to write your own music and you have to know what you’re talking about through the lyrics, too. Not just get a song from someone and then just do what they said. When you do a solo, you’re not supposed to do that because it’s only you, you know?” He believes every artist needs to have their own method to communicate their thoughts and feelings to their audience. For him, a hands-on approach to every single aspect of a release is a must. “Then besides the music, the music video — this is just for me, what I did — but I edit them myself sometimes. Not just music, video and music, like the album design, the clothes… everything. If you’ve got 100, you have to put in like 500 to everything, so people can really feel you through the album, through the visuals, music video and everything.” (True to his words, BamBam dropped the self-edited and directed music video for “Subliminal” a couple of days after our conversation.)

BamBam’s evolution from the tiny 16-year-old who debuted with GOT7 in 2014 to the confident global pop icon he is now hasn’t been without trials, but he insists he wouldn’t change a thing. “From GOT7 to solo, you know, just every moment. Every moment from start until today, every moment– even if it’s a good moment or bad moment — it just made me who I’ve become today,” he says, a smile evident in his voice. “I learned a lot from everything I did. Starting as a group, and then now I’m doing solo… Every time you have a world tour, you perform a lot, right? And then you have to prepare a lot of stages, a lot of songs, a lot of new stuff, too. I think every time we go out for a world tour is the time I learn so much. Not just from performing, but from people I meet all around the world and a lot of new stuff that I see, I feel. So every moment just made me who I’ve become today.” 

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For an artist who has been in the game for nearly a decade now, growing up with a supportive and encouraging fandom is the key to long-term success. When it comes to GOT7’s fandom in particular, there’s a lot of trust and happiness on both ends and I make sure to tell him how unique the experience is of being an iGOT7 and getting to witness his evolution. He thanks me before saying, “Sometimes I feel like it’s a really long time, sometimes I feel like it’s a really short time, and the best thing about this is we might start as artists and fans but if you look through my social media and everything, or what I do every time I meet my fans, I feel like… I don’t want to call them just ‘fans,’ you know? I feel like it’s more than fans, it’s like family, like friends.” 

I think back at this moment — about the two GOT7 concerts I’ve attended — and indeed there’s an instant feeling of comfort and ‘family’ when you see them onstage. BamBam is particularly active on social media, keeping up with his fans’ activities, posting his own memes, trolling his fellow members and hosting Twitter Spaces sessions. He recalls how fans often tell him about their problems, their joys, the good days and the bad ones, their losses and their victories. He feels it truly cements a bond because he can always help in some way with his music and his content. “Because I got my fans’ backs,” he says. “When I have a bad time, I also tell my fans, so I know that they got my back too. It just feels good to have someone all around the world to share my feelings with and we have each other. You know, these people are really hard to find; so I’m just really happy I have such a big family right now. I never feel lonely, I never feel down, and I never feel alone. I want you guys to feel the same too. We have each other, man, you know what I’m saying? Skrrt skrrt!”

This provides the perfect segue into discussing India, and BamBam lights up immediately as soon as he gets to the possibility of an India tour. “Actually, every time I go live on Instagram or Twitter, you might know that I check a lot of comments and I see what [the fans] post a lot on social media. I’m not gonna lie, I always wanted to go to India. India was always my top country that I want to perform in and I want to meet my India iGOT7 in real life. Even though I’ve been doing this for eight years now, I’ve not even had a chance to go yet but a lot of people are still waiting for me. I will make it happen soon and I promise you guys. There’s a lot to do if I go to India and I can’t wait. So yeah, I will make it happen soon, so please wait for me.” He reveals a tiny connection to India as he shares, “You know, I have watched a couple of Indian movies and dramas also. My mom loved to watch Indian movies when I was young, so I can’t really remember what I saw, but she loved it. I feel like Indian music is always around me.” I ask if he’d be open to working with Indian musicians and discovering our rising independent scene, and he confirms he’ll give it a shot if the right opportunity arises. “I don’t really know a lot of artists over there, but if you guys have any recommendations, just let me know. I want to try. It’s something new and I want it to happen.” 

“I don’t want to call them just ‘fans,’ you know? I feel like it’s more than fans, it’s like family, like friends.” Photo: Courtesy of ABYSS COMPANY

When it comes to turning the page and unveiling the next chapter of BamBam, he starts to dodge the question, but then decides to take pity and give me a little something. “You know, Ribbon and B… it’s just the beginning. I still have so much more to do and I still have so much more in my laptop,” he teases. “I have a lot of songs, a lot of new sounds, old sounds you know, old school, new school, everything. I’ll put it out one by one. I’ll give you guys a little spoiler: the next one I want to try is something that’s really different from Ribbon and B. So please look forward to it!” Sure enough, a few weeks after our conversation, he drops a brand new collaborative trap single “Skrrt” with fellow Thai rappers F.Hero and Youngohm and sends the fandom into new heights of excitement. 

I prod a little more about the current rumors surrounding a GOT7 2022 comeback and he laughs. “I cannot spoil any more about myself and GOT7 also! Just stay ready. Because you never know when we’re going to come out–” At this point, I wait with bated breath, but he swiftly dashes my dreams of a confirmation as continues, “When I’m gonna come out or another member… I don’t know.” He makes sure to stop himself before he truly spills the beans on anything, and my quest for information ends promptly as he playfully states, “I always have a surprise for everyone. So if you stay ready, then you’re ready to go. That’s it. That’s all I can say!”

The last section of the voice note is particularly sweet as he conveys his appreciation towards our team for reaching out to do this interview. “I’m really happy and I want to say thank you to Rolling Stone India for giving me a chance to have an interview and I can finally say hi to Indian fans. I want to say sorry and thank you for always waiting for us, GOT7, and waiting for me, BamBam, for the past eight years. You know, as I said, I want to make it happen soon. India is the top country I want to visit and perform in. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun if I go over there and then I promise you guys, if I have a concert or anything, I will not let you guys down. Just stay ready, I’m coming to you!”

Check out BamBam’s special message for his Indian fans:

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