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[FULL TRANSCRIPT] Big Hit CEO Bang Si-hyuk says ‘anger is driving force’ at SNU commencement

  • Published : Feb 27, 2019 - 18:06
  • Updated : Feb 27, 2019 - 18:06

Big Hit Entertainment chief and founder Bang Si-hyuk, the mastermind behind global sensation BTS, on Feb. 26 delivered the commencement address to graduates of Seoul National University, his alma mater.

Bang, who graduated at the nation’s top school with aesthetics major in 1991, came up on the stage as BTS’ hit song “DNA” was played by the college orchestra. He addressed the graduating class, stressing how his source of energy that created BTS and its label Big Hit Entertainment was “anger” and “rage” toward mediocrity and unfairness in the society.

Big Hit Entertainment CEO Bang Si-hyuk delivers commencement address at Seoul National University. (Seoul National University)
“Looking back, I was always furious, instead of having a special dream,” he said. “I came to where I am today with anger and rage against the reality that cannot be accepted and situation that made me unhappy. That was my driving force behind my actions, and the reason I cannot stop.”

Bang called on graduates to get angry against unfairness in the society and fight for change. Meanwhile, he also urged them to not settle with standards and goals set by others, but find ways to be happy by pursuing after dreams that are based on common sense and contribute to the society.

Read the full transcript of Bang’s address to the graduates below:

Esteemed Seoul National University President Oh Se-jung, faculty members, graduates, family and relatives, Hello, my name is Bang Si-hyuk, CEO of Big Hit Entertainment.

Today’s weather is bright and beautiful to celebrate your graduation. Sincere congratulations on your graduation.

When the president asked me to speak at the graduation, I immediately accepted because it’s a great honor to deliver a graduation speech at my alma mater. But frankly, I contemplated a lot before coming up to this podium. Because I am undeniably part of the older generation. I worried that I will talk like “kkondae” (Korean slang for an elderly person who is stubborn and lectures a lot). I was also concerned whether I will have something meaningful to say to the graduating class who are taking their first step today.

But come to think of it, a commencement speech is where the speaker talks about what they learned in their life to the graduating class or perhaps from “seonbae” to “hubae” (senior to junior). So I will stop worrying about sounding like a “kkondae,” and try to speak honestly as possible about myself. I will probably brag about myself a bit, and talk about my life journey that crosses your own as well.

I attended high school at the end of 1980s. It was the time when you have good grades you study law (in college). So my first choice was law school. It wasn’t that I had a strong desire for law. Frankly speaking, I had no passion nor dreams, but followed the goal and the prerequisite for success that others set up for me. The time for college entrance exam was approaching, and due to my close score, I had to choose between applying to law school with the risk of failing to get admission and retake the exam the following year, known as “jaesu,” or enter Seoul National University with other non-law major. I chose the latter.

As I just told you, I had no such an aspiration for law, nor did I want to retake the exam next year. When I was searching what majors to study, I found the study of aesthetics. The adults in my family, who expected me to study law, strongly opposed this decision. But I fought them back by threatening, “If I fail the exam, it’s bad luck,” and that’s how I enrolled at the aesthetic department.

Surprisingly, aesthetic was a perfect match for me. The classes were so interesting, although I didn’t know what aesthetic was. I had so much fun taking aesthetic classes, which others found difficult, probably because I was always interested in arts and even vain discussions. So I put music aside, which I pursued since middle school, and totally forgot of following my dream of a music career.

Then how did I ever become a music producer? Honestly speaking, I can’t remember exactly. Lot of people assume I have some kind of great story or grand decision for a SNU-grad to make music his career.

But even when I look back, there wasn’t any exact crucial moment. The right way to put it is, as time passed by, I was doing music. Are you disappointed?

I started music as if I was possessed by something. Since 1997, I became a full-time producer and found JYP Entertainment with Park Jin-young. After I left JYP, I found Big Hit Entertainment and worked as the chief and producer. Funny thing is, there were many other choices after JYP, but I can’t quite remember why I decided to establish a new company.

The reason why I am telling this long story about myself is, some of the most important decisions in my life and seemingly meaningful moments really don’t mean that much. And I can’t even remember the reason behind those decisions.

I am not a person who is ambitious with a big picture, or a big dreamer. To be exact, I never had an exact dream. So I made decisions based on what I want to do at each time.

When you take a look at recent activities of BTS and Big Hit Entertainment, It’s hard to believe what I just said. BTS won Billboard’s Top Social Artist Award for two consecutive years and sold out a concert immediately at New York Citi Field with a capacity of 40,000 audience. Recently, BTS was invited to present awards at the Grammy Awards, making another record as the “first.” The foreign media even overpraised BTS as “Beatles of the YouTube Generation.” Not to mention, BTS is one of the few artist who can do a world tour concert at stadiums of major cities around the world. Based on this achievement, I received an honor to put my name on Billboard’s list of “25 Top Innovators,” while Big Hit Entertainment is evaluated as an innovation in the entertainment industry and a unicorn company.

When you heard this story on the news, everyone would probably thought there is a great dream behind this success, or Bang Si-hyuk is a high-flyer who plans a big future and fulfills them step by step. But when I said I don’t have much ambition nor a dream, you will wonder what that means. And I am not trying to say I got to where I am today by doing whatever I want spontaneously and choosing anything.

Let me change the topic a bit.

I don’t have many dream, but I am a person with endless discontent. I think this phrase best describes me. As I look back my life for today’s Big Hit and BTS could exist, one clear image that comes to my mind is that I am a person with lots of dissatisfaction.

There are so many compromises in this world. Many are complacent about change, even when there are better ways to do things for many reasons, from not wanting to stick out, not wanting to cause trouble, or perhaps because it was always done this way. But by nature, I can’t just compromise. When it comes to my work, and even with things that are not directly related to me, I will complain if the best efforts are not made in any situation. And if the situation doesn’t improve despite that, I become furious.

Some will remember me as a mentor from audition program “Star Audition: The Great Birth.” You will remember me flaring in anger when participants didn’t try their best. I know I wasn’t the most likable person. Since then, I realized expressing anger doesn’t bring out good results, so I rarely lash out like that. But the reason I am referring to this episode is because it’s a good example of how I am a person with lots of dissatisfaction.

That kind of temperament is shown in my work as well as the company I made. I was angry for complacency of picking the second best instead of the best, or the custom and practice of settling for mediocrity for many different reasons. But above all, I was most unhappy with the situations facing the music industry. This industry was absolutely unreasonable, unfair and irrational. As I chose music as my career, getting to know about this world, my anger got bigger. It felt as if the music, which I loved the most in the world, was treated unfairly and is being used by this world.

I have been in the music industry for 21 years since I began as a composer. But my colleagues and juniors in this industry are still having a hard time frustrated with reality. Many music industry personnel are still ashamed of saying they are part of this industry, due to the industry’s corrupt practices, unfairness and undervaluation by the society. Many young people still regard a music company as paying pittance for hard work.

Our customers aren’t much different. Fans, who love K-pop contents and played a leading role behind globalization, are still degraded as groupies. They can’t proudly say they like K-pop idol’s music. I cannot understand such a treatment, and it angers me, in a time when the industry and the society should praise and respect them.

Our artists, who are enjoying global reputation and give comfort and move fans, are hurt by groundless criticism by anonymous people. There are still so many cases where contents, the product of our blood, sweat and tear are unfairly distributed and used as means of filling pockets of unethical people.

That’s why I am always angry, and has been fighting against these problems. It’s still continuing.

I am not a revolutionary. But I cannot simply overlook the irrationality and irregularities of the music industry. Ignoring, settling and compromising are not my ways of life. This is not because I have a grand dream or big plan about the future. But it’s because I can see it with my eyes right now, and I feel that is unfair.

Now, I feel that anger has become my calling. Getting angry for people in the music industry to receive fair evaluation and reasonable treatment, getting angry for unfair criticisms and belittle against artists and fans. Fighting for what I regard as common sense to be realized, is the tribute to music which I loved and was with me for my entire life, as well as in respect and gratitude for fans and artist. And lastly, it’s the only way for me to be happy.

I believe there are two ways to become happy.

Aren’t you happy when after a long day of studies and work you take a hot shower and go inside a clean blanket? You will feel the similar happiness when eating tasty food. There are this kind of “emotional” happiness, as well as realizing happiness rationally. If you want to feel happiness in certain situation, you have to first define when you feel happy. And then you have to constantly work hard to be in that circumstances and status.

For me, based on the definition of the second type of happiness, I want to put it this way. I am happy when my company spreads good influence in the society, and especially gives positive influence to our customers who are young people, helping them create their own world view. Going further, I feel happy when I can be part of changing paradigms of the music industry for development and take part in improving qualities of life of the professionals in this industry. My happiness is when Big Hit and I achieve this kind of change.

Now, let’s go back.

Earlier, I said I didn’t have details or big dreams. True. That’s who I am, even when I was young and now. I didn’t have a picture of what kind of company Big Hit Entertainment will be, or what the future will look like for BTS. Even more, I had no idea what kind of person I will become.

But from the outside, I will look like a person who is following and pursuing constantly a big dream. And it could look like an ideal situation where in the process of achieving my personal dream, I created happiness for people around me and clients who I have to serve. But as I said, this is half true and half false.

I was always furious, instead of having a special dream. I came to where I am today with anger and rage against the reality that cannot be accepted and situation that made me unhappy. That was my driving force behind my actions, and the reason I cannot stop. So maybe the reason why I can give comfort and happiness to many could possibly be driven not by my dream, but my dissatisfaction.

I will continue to live without a dream. I will try to improve unreasonable problems in front of me, rather than spending time to actualize uncertain future. Big Hit Entertainment will strive to improve lot of problems facing the music industry, while BTS will work hard to break the wall that is regarded as inherent limitation as a band from Asia or as a K-pop band. I will continuously improve and examine myself to live up to carry out this kind of work.

What I want to tell you today is this. There is no need to feel devastated because you don’t have a big dream or a detailed future planned out. Don’t devote yourself to pursue happiness that is defined by others, and not by you. Instead, strive to give your best in each and every moment of everyday life. Contemplate on what makes you really happy. But be prepared in advance to find answers based on your own consistent standard so that when the decision time arrives, you don’t run after standards set by others. Define the situation that makes you happy, get rid of things that hinder you, and in the process of pursuing continuously, happiness will come. And when you continue, repetition forms habit, habit becomes a calling that will lead your future path.

One more thing to add, I hope your happiness is based on common sense. Things that harm common good, or negative and destructive desire that can’t improve one’s life are not happiness. To do this, you have to keep unceasing interest in the world outside, while show affection and tolerance toward your surroundings. In this process, you will discover the problems facing your life, and factors that are disturbing your happiness. In doing so, you will strive hard to solve and implement what you think is common sense. In other words, pursuing your own happiness will expand happiness in this world, while this is also responsibility given to the graduates of our school.

At this time, I would like to conclude my address.

I would like to congratulate all of you once again for successfully completing college, which is one of the very important steps of one’s life. I hope that all of you will live well and happily through the next steps of life that will start now, so that you will become a person who can say after 10 or 20 years from now, ‘I’ve lived a pretty good life.’

Personally, I want my tombstone to read ‘Bang Si-hyuk, who had lots of dissatisfaction, lived a happy life and was blessed by many. Until that day when common sense prevails and when music contents and consumers receive fair evaluation, I will live fiercely, and get angry, while also feeling small moments of happiness every day.

Please define your own happiness and find it, and live out a great life.

Congratulations on your graduation.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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