Ever wonder what our favourite seven men were up to before they debuted as BTS? Here’s a little history and a few fun clips of them looking extremely young on their way to becoming Kpop idols.
Individual Members Before BigHit
Namjoon was an underground rapper in Seoul from an early age – he was already collaborating on songs and uploading them online by the time he turned 13 in 2007. He was in and out of various groups over the next three years and recorded music under the names Runch Randa, Largo, and The Nexist. As Runch Randa, he became quite prominent in the rap scene and helped organize and appeared at several rap events as a young teen. Although RM deleted all his uploaded independent work around 2010, some of his very early tracks still survive thanks to other artists who saved his work – for example, you can take a listen to Favourite Style, a collab with rapper Yammo. You can find links to his other underground stuff that survives in this great Twitter thread.
Here’s a very short clip of Namjoon rapping at one of his last underground concerts in 2011 (in the white tee and white ball cap at about the 30 second mark). You can see other well-known Korean rappers here, including Zico. You can also hear his song “F*** Cockroachez” with Zico here (when they were performing with their underground aliases, Nakseo and Runch Randa).
Namjoon was “discovered” when he went to audition for a rap collective called Big Deal Squad in 2009. Although RM claims he blew his audition by forgetting the words, he impressed another well-known rapper who was there – Sleepy. (Fun fact: You can see Sleepy on the reality show Law of the Jungle with Jin, where they spent a week surviving together on an island.)
Sleepy liked Namjoon enough to get his contact information and track down his other work. During a night of drinking, he played Namjoon’s work for his good friend Pdogg. Pdogg liked it enough to play it for Bang PD, and the rest is history.
Namjoon was signed as the first trainee at BigHit in June 2010 and moved into the brand new dorm on August 14, 2010.
You can read more about Namjoon’s underground rap life in this really awesome, well-researched reddit post by user baepsayed.
Yoongi was also active in the underground rap scene as a teen, but in Daegu, where he grew up. He dabbled with making beats while a preteen and experimented with rapping, but didn’t do much officially until he joined the rap collective D-Town in May 2010 at the age of 17. He has also said in interviews that he was working at a studio at this time and sold some of his beats – you can hear one very early mix of his here.
Yoongi used the name Gloss while performing with D-Town throughout the spring and summer of 2010 (the “yoon” part of his name translates to “gloss” in English). In addition to writing and performing with D-Town, he was also their producer and mixer – you can check out 518-062 which was produced by Yoongi and rapped by D-Town leader Nakshun, and Who Am I by rapper Reflow ft. Basick, also produced by Yoongi in this era. He also picked up breakdancing as a skill during this time.
Yoongi joined BigHit when he went through their “Hit It” audition process in August 2010, finishing second to rapper i11evn. Both were signed on by BigHit as official members of BTS and Yoongi moved to Seoul on November 7, 2010.
You can read more about Yoongi’s underground rap life in this also awesome, well-researched reddit post by user baepsayed.
Unlike several of the other members, Yoongi did not get much support from his family in his pre-debut days, and that meant that money was a problem. Although it was forbidden by the company, he took a part-time job as a bicycle delivery boy after moving to Seoul so he could afford his school fees. It was while delivering items in early 2012 that he was hit by a car, which caused a major and lasting injury to his left shoulder; it didn’t help that since he wasn’t supposed to be working, he told everyone he’d fallen down some stairs and downplayed the extent of the damage.
After the accident, he confessed his money troubles to BigHit and they immediately stepped up to help him out and pay his school fees. But the injury to his shoulder would continue to bother him for years, causing bouts of extreme pain and times when he was unable to lift his arm above his head (there are a few heartbreaking live performances where you can see him literally not using his left arm at all). He wrote about the accident in his song “The Last” from his first AgustD mixtape, and eventually confessed the truth behind his injury to the other members on camera during the filming of the Burn the Stage documentary.
Further damage to the ligaments in his shoulder was found in 2019 and November 2020, he finally underwent surgery to repair his shoulder. After missing several performances in late 2020/early 2021, he returned to the line up and is now fully healed and recovered, although he did say in a vLive that his mobility in that shoulder will never be 100%.
Hoseok was fairly well-known as a dancer in his home town of Gwangju in his teens. He was a founding member of a dance crew called NEURON, which won lots of awards and competitions, both locally and nationally (his dancer nickname in the group was “Smile Hoya” because he was always smiling while dancing!). In fact, Hoseok was so well known before joining BigHit that many people in Korea knew pre-debut BTS as “that band with Jung Hoseok.”
Hoseok told a story in a 2022 interview of going to see a movie with a friend in the late 2000s and getting street casted for the lead role in a dance musical called ‘진향 (Reverberation)’ as the main child lead. It does not appear to be available anywhere but you can check out this absolutely adorable clip from the trailer of Hobi the child acting star (he is the one doing the voiceover).
He eventually auditioned for JYP, one of the big three Kpop agencies. A couple of videos exist that claim to be his JYP audition tapes, although these are unverified (but fun to watch) – try this one or this one or this one. Hobi confirmed in a 2022 interview with IU that he passed the JYP audition in his last year of middle school.
He was accepted as a JYP trainee, but didn’t fit with any of their planned groups; as JYP himself (the CEO) was a personal friend of Bang PD, he recommended Hoseok move to BigHit. BigHit saw potential in him as a dancer and rapper and signed him as a full member of BTS. He moved into the dorm on December 24, 2010. Hoseok had almost no rap experience at that time, but worked hard to learn from the other members who were living in the dorm – all were rappers and would freestyle around the apartment.
Fun fact: the date that Hoseok moved into the dorm is printed on his helmet in the Dope video. Bonus fun fact: after finding out that Hoseok would be all alone in the dorm over the holidays after having just moved in, Yoongi cut short his own trip home and came back to spend it with Hoseok instead. And thus a SOPE legend was born!
A little talked-about pre-debut story about Hoseok is that he almost quit the band at one point. It has only been referred to a couple of times, but Hoseok did move out of the dorms and back home for a few months, most likely in the spring/summer of 2012, having decided that the idol life was not for him. It was the persuasive power of Jungkook and RM that somehow convinced him to come back (legend has it that RM told BigHit “there is no BTS without Jung Hoseok”), and he was living in the dorm again by the fall of 2012. You can see them refer to this incident in the Burn the Stage documentary, episode 3.
Jungkook gained attention when he auditioned for the third season of the reality program Superstar K when it came to his home town of Busan in early 2011, when he was just 13. You can see his audition here, when he sang This Song by 2AM:
He didn’t make it through to the final round, but impressed enough people that several agencies contacted him and wanted him to become a trainee, including JYP, Cube, and FNC. In the end, he chose to go with BigHit after meeting RM (RM famously greeted him at the dorm wearing nothing but his underwear!). JK signed a contract with BigHit in the summer of 2011 and moved into the dorm on June 3, 2011.
Jin was famously spotted getting off a bus by a BigHit staff member on his way to acting class at Konkuk University in early 2011 at the age of 18. It’s unknown what the staff member said to him, but it must have been persuasive! By the summer of 2011 Jin had signed on as a BigHit trainee (he and Jungkook signed their contracts the same day). However, Jin continued to attend university (he did eventually graduate, but with a degree in Art instead of Acting), and lived at home with his parents in Seoul while he trained in singing and dancing at BigHit in the evenings. He didn’t move into the dorm until July 29, 2012, the last member to do so.
Taehyung also has a legendary recruitment story. He attended BigHit open auditions in his hometown of Daegu in the summer of 2011 at the age of 15, purely as support for a friend of his who wanted to audition, despite having dreams of becoming a musician himself. Staff at the auditions persuaded him to try out as well, and despite having almost no training at all, Taehyung ended up being the only person selected from Daegu that day (he famously told Jimmy Fallon, who asked about the friend he was there to support, that “he failed”).
Although the Daegu auditions were supposed to be an early round of many levels, Tae was bumped immediately through and never had to go through the final rounds. Instead, he was signed by BigHit right away and moved into the dorm on September 3, 2011.
One story about pre-debut Taehyung is that Bang PD, for some reason, wanted one of the members to be a “surprise member,” and Tae was chosen. Rumour has it that Bang was afraid of Tae being poached by another company due to his obvious talent. Once the group began doing online vLogs and Tweeting in late 2012, they were only advertised as a six-member group, and Tae was never allowed to appear online with them; he still talks about this today as a time of stress for him when he was sure he was going to be cut from the group at any time. Tae was only announced as the surprise seventh member the day before their debut performance in June 2013.
Jimin wanted to be a contemporary dancer from an early age, and attended Busan High School of the Arts studying dance as a teenager. He performed in local shows, and you can see some clips of him dancing online, including this clip from the YoungNam show which Eric Nam managed to scam from Jimin’s old dance teacher.
And here’s another adorable clip showing his obvious talent, at a casual school event from November 2011.
Eventually his dance instructors convinced him to audition for BigHit, and he was brought in as a trainee in the spring of 2012. He moved into the dorm on May 15, 2012, and attended high school with Taehyung, where Tae immediately adopted him as his best friend and defended him (and his Busan accent) to the other kids there.
Although Jimin was a trainee, for some reason he did not receive vocal training, only dance training; he would stay up late at night after grilling Tae and Jungkook on what they had learned and practiced on his own. Jimin was almost cut from the group a few times but thanks to his hard work and Tae’s unwavering support and endorsement, he eventually was made an official member of the band by late 2012.
Want to see what the new trainees all thought of each other? This really cute clip from the BTS Begins concert VCR has them all talking about their first impressions when they first met the other group members.
Other BigHit Trainees
From 2010 to 2012, BigHit had about 30 trainees that came and went. Some of these were, at one point, an official member of “BTS” but were later cut from the group; others trained but were never official members. Most of the official members lived in the famous BTS one-bedroom dorm/apartment during these years and became close friends with the rap line in particular, who were also living in the dorm at this time.
Please note that most of the information in this section comes from three fabulous, well-researched reddit posts by baepsayed, and you should definitely go read them if you are interested in the history of BTS and how they were formed:
Bonus: want to see the first BTS dorm? You can see clips of it in the first Rookie King episode, here’s a bit of a tour.
BTS began in concept as a hip hop group, not an idol group, and was meant to be made up of several young, talented underground rappers including RM. Here’s a cool interview with their producer Pdogg from 2013 where he talks about the origins of the band and the original lineup. RM was their first trainee and the first to sign on with BigHit in the summer of 2010. Eventually BigHit was able to recruit rappers Supreme Boi (Shin Dong-hyuk) and Iron (Jung Hun-cheol) as official “BPB” (for BulletProof Boys) members and they all moved into the dorm in August 2010.
The lineup of RM, Iron, and Supreme Boi recorded a few independently released tracks as Bangtan, BPB or BTS, and also provided backup vocals or rap breaks on other artists’ tracks. Some of these include:
- Four short tracks were created with Pdogg to be used as audition tracks for new rappers – these are Seventeen and Dreamin’ by RM, and Show and I.N.G. by Iron.
- Hook Gayo – From September 2010, this song refers to themselves as “Bangtan Sonyeondan” possibly for the first time
- We Are BPB – an early version of what would become We Are Bulletproof Pt. 1, reworked and performed by the current BTS lineup at the BTS Begins concert
- Ashes by J-Lim (rapper Lim Jeong Hee) – features RM and Iron. Fun fact: their collab-in-progress was the first ever Bangtan Bomb!
- Love U Hate U by 2AM – co-written by RM and featuring all the BPB rappers, released October 2010
- Bad Girl by Lee Hyun – featuring Namjoon and the leader of GLAM, Jiyeon
- Because I’m a Foolish Woman by Kan Miyoun – featuring BPB
In the fall of 2010, they decided to expand the roster and held widespread auditions for new rappers called “Hit It.” One of the competitions was in Daegu and Suga – who was then a rapper named Gloss with a group called D-town – auditioned with a remix of RM’s song Seventeen with his own lyrics. He won the online voting component which put him in the finals. At the final rap battle, Suga ended up coming second to rapper i11evn (real name: Choi Ikje), but both were accepted by BigHit and officially added to the lineup.
Suga and i11evn moved into the dorm in November 2010. Suga made official recordings of the two competition raps he used in the finals – Swagger and Diss.
J-hope moved into the dorms in December 2010, and in spring 2011 the concept of the group shifted from pure hip hop to more of an idol approach with vocalists. As part of this shake up, Supreme Boi, Iron, and i11evn all left the band.
Supreme Boi became a full-time producer at BigHit, and still does producing work for BTS and other BigHit bands today.
Iron left to pursue a solo career and had a solo album in 2016. Unfortunately he also had a few run-ins with the law and passed away suddenly in January 2021.
i11evn bounced around between other companies for a while and now puts out independent music. You can find his work on his YouTube channel and he announces his live shows on his Instagram account. You can also see i11evn commenting throughout the 4 Things special that RM did after BTS’ debut, talking about RM’s transition from underground rapper to idol.
Speaking of RM’s transition…the decision to stay in the new band with its new direction was not an easy one for RM and Suga. As rappers with almost no dance training, it was a big shift, and there were already questions in the industry about what it means to be a musician or a hip hop artist if you’re in a pretty, choreographed idol group. But they did decide to stay, seeing it as an opportunity to get their music heard and trusting Bang PD that they would still have the opportunity to write and create their own music. However, they did face backlash from other underground rappers who felt that they had “sold out,” especially right after debut in 2013 when it became clear that BTS was going to be successful. You can see some of this playing out in these clips:
- November 2013 Radio interview Suga and RM did with Kim Bong Hyun, also featuring underground rappers B-Free, Deepflow, and Okasion; B-Free in particular accuses RM of being a sell-out and is pretty aggressive about it. Here’s a nicely balanced analysis of what happened including the original interview clip.
- RM released an independent song “Too Much” (based on Drake’s song Too Much) as a response to this interview.
- KBS did an hour-long special about RM called “4 Things” in May 2014, in which they talk about this transition, inspired by his song “Too Much.” This clip shows him meeting up with some of his friends from his underground rapping days and they give him a hard time for wearing makeup and being a sellout, in a friendly-ribbing (but maybe not quite so friendly) kind of way. You can see the full “4 Things” show here.
- For the 4 Things special, RM was supposed to perform Too Much but felt he had moved on, so composed a new song about his feelings on being an idol, called Unpack Your Bags.
In any case, RM, Suga, and j-hope stayed, while the other rappers decided to leave in spring 2011.
Sometime in the summer of 2011, Jungkook arrived in the dorms, and Jin was added to the lineup (although he did not move in). Two other trainees were apparently added to the official line up at this time, but did not make it to debut: Kim JiHoon (not to be confused with the idol Park JiHoon of Wanna One) and Park Yeong-Man. Very little is known about Park Yeong-Man – we only really know he was part of the group as he was thanked as a past member in j-hope’s liner notes in 2 Cool 4 Skool.
However, JiHoon does have an active YouTube channel called Bitoon where he has shared stories of his trainee days with the group, and it seems he was very close with the rapline in particular, and everyone took it very hard when he was cut from the band in mid-2012. You can also see a long featurette about his days with BTS and his regrets on VICE Asia.
After JiHoon and Yeong-Man left, the remaining seven members were the ones we know today – V had moved into the dorm in September 2011 and Jimin was the last to join in May 2012. Although Jimin was almost cut several times, in the end V’s endorsement kept him in the group and they started to train in earnest. They opened their Twitter account in December 2012 and started to plan for a debut in 2013.
OT7 Group Predebut Activities
Long before debut, the rapline as we know it today wrote and performed their very first song together, Paldogangsan (sometimes translated as Satoori Rap). This song was later reworked and recorded for the ORUL8,2? album, but the rapline (babies!) performed it on the evening news back in September 2011. This song was also used in promotions for other BigHit / Hit It auditions in the summer of 2011.
You can see them referencing this event and re-creating their first ever live performance of Paldogangsan in one of the Rookie King episodes from September 2014. And here’s a cool video from DKDKTV that deep dives into the lyrics – which are all about regional accents of Korea and contain a lot of references to Korean society.
Here’s a clip of the rapline performing together it on the Hit It audition tour in the summer of 2011 – this is the tour that recruited V.
RM and j-hope appeared on Lee Seung-gi’s song “A Song to Make You Smile” in October 2011. This was j-hope’s first official recording as a member of BTS. Here’s a related clip – RM running into Lee Seung-gi at the 2020 Golden Disk Awards in January 2020 and having a very cute moment.
Once the final lineup as we know it today was finalized – sometime in mid-to-late 2012 – the members began to make some unofficial appearances.
JoKwon of the band 2AM (a JYP group that Bang PD took with him to BigHit when he started his own company) came to give a talk to the BigHit trainees about dating back in early 2012 (filmed in the same BigHit basement training room where BTS spent many predebut and post-debut hours). This clip was aired as part of a segment on JoKwon’s comeback on KBS. You can see Suga, Jin, RM, j-hope, and Jungkook in the audience listening attentively with various degrees of enthusiasm (I think you can see V as well, next to Jin, but only from the back).
Members of predebut BTS also appeared as background performers in the 2012 MV for I’m Da One by JoKwon. j-hope is in most of the scenes as a backup dancer, and if you look carefully you’ll spot Jungkook sometimes too. Jin and V appear as bodyguards, and Suga has a brief appearance as a guy with a broken leg who tosses aside his cast to dance (!!).
j-hope also did a rap for JoKwon on his song Animal from the same album – he was billed as “Jung Hosuk of BTS.” They performed it live together on MusicCore. It’s a LOT to take in, so brace yourself.
You can also see several members – SUGA, j-hope, Jungkook, and Jimin – acting as backup dancers for the BigHit girl group GLAM in this very weird 2012 performance for their song Glamorous, featuring the computer animated idol SeeU.
Jimin was also in GLAM’s 2013 video for Party (XXO) for a split second – if you don’t blink you can see him at exactly 1:58. Fun fact: this song was co-written by a pre-debut RM!
The members also released some cover versions and a few original songs predebut, both group tracks and solo tracks. Most of these were uploaded to their Soundcloud account.
- The Rap Monster – RM – this is supposedly the song where RM got his name; something went wrong during initial recording and the line “Rap Monster” in the song was the only audible part, so BigHit staff started calling him that
- Glory – RM – contains a controversial line about “breaking 4 hymens” but this is not meant to be a reference to actual women, but a metaphor for spending the past 4 years breaking barriers in the industry (predebut RM had some learning to do about women’s issues…)
- All I Do is Win (DJ Khalid cover) – SUGA with reworked lyrics
- Dream Money (reworking of Trap Back Jumpin’ by T.I.) – SUGA with reworked lyrics
- You’re My (Taeyang cover) – Vocal Line
- Too Much (Drake cover) – RM, with reworked lyrics
- Illest Bitch (reworking of the song of the same name by Wale) – RM – this song got Wale’s attention and led to them working together later for the song Change
- School of Tears (reworking of Swimming Pools by Kendrick Lamar)- RM, Suga, Jin, with reworked lyrics (and a very cool video)
- Tipsy – RM feat. Supreme Boi
- Favorite Girl (Marques Houston cover) – RM, with reworked lyrics
- Expensive Girl (reworking of Pharrell Williams’ Take if Off) – RM, with original chorus but reworked verses in Korean. This song created quite a stir for the sexual overtones of the included original chorus, and RM eventually took it down from Soundcloud. But of course nothing shared on the internet ever dies, and you can still find it on Youtube.
- Beautiful – reworking of the Mariah Carey song with Korean lyrics by j-hope, Jungkook, Jimin, and V (find it on YouTube in video and dance-practice version)
- Adult Child – reworking of Common’s song Celebrate, with Korean lyrics by Jin, RM, and Suga (find it on YouTube in video and dance-practice version)