I didn't know what to expect when I hopped on the phone with BM, the laid-back rapper of KARD, a co-ed K-pop group known for their flavorful bangers and good vibes. Born in California, the statuesque performer gives off an air of confidence — his stage name is short for "Big Matthew" and his personal Instagram is a treasure trove of chiseled gym selfies — and instant meme-ability. (He's initiated Monsta X's Wonho and Shownu into his self-appointed "Big Tiddie Gang.") But there's more to Matthew Kim than meets the eye.
For starters, he does get self-conscious. And he occasionally doubts himself, in and outside of the studio. KARD's latest single, "Dumb Litty," was born out of these insecurities. The relentless track is a boastful turn-up anthem complete with loud EDM drops and trendy trap beats. For BM, who produced the song, "Dumb Litty" is more than a meme; it's a powerful reminder to be yourself, no matter what anyone says. "You don’t even know but you believe what you want / Nothing 'bout me nada you don’t know / Nothing 'bout me not a thing," he raps. "The reason you talk about me isn’t in me / But it’s in you."
"Dumb Litty" isn't for everyone; BM knows this. For nearly three years, KARD — consisting of members J.Seph, BM, Somin, and Jiwoo — have gotten into a dancehall groove. But you can't grow unless you test the limits of what you're capable of, and "Dumb Litty" was a shock to (or an assault on) the senses. "Even before it came out, when I accidentally spoiled the title, fans were like, 'What's 'Dumb Litty?' Why is he so try-hard? Why is he so cringe?'" BM tells MTV News on the phone from Porto Alegre, Brazil, the latest stop on their Wild KARD world tour. "Whether you liked the title or not, it made you curious enough to listen to it."
The members of KARD from left to right: BM, Somin, Jiwoo, and J.Seph
It's that perspective that has gotten BM through his toughest times, like moving to South Korea in 2011 — a foreign place where he didn't speak the language, or understand the culture — to become a K-pop idol. And while he's never been shy about being himself, "big man tiddies" and all, it's taken him eight years to finally understand the special kind of responsibility that comes with being someone that others look up to.
Here, BM talks about his members, how "Dumb Litty" was inspired by the fans, his approach to social media, his positive persona, and the thrill of making music for no one but himself.
MTV News: Can KARD be defined by a singular sound, or is it more of a mood that you're trying to set?
BM: Honestly, when I think of KARD… after having produced "Dumb Litty," which I did most of the production for, I just feel like KARD is four dope artists that constantly feature on each other's songs. That's honestly what I feel like.
MTV News: You said that when you were producing "Dumb Litty" that you wanted it to sound like nothing else that KARD has done before. Why was it important for you to make a song that could stand completely on its own like that?
BM: We've never had a song where it's just super, super hype. I wanted people to listen to it and say, "They really snapped with this one!" That's the vibe I tried to go for this time because we've never showed that. I think we did it successfully! I just want you to feel like a badass when you're listening to "Dumb Litty" and when you're reciting the lyrics.
MTV News: You said that you view KARD as four individual artists who feature on each other's songs. How would you describe each artist and their style of music?
BM: J.Seph has a very… let me think of the word. I've been using so many different languages since the tour began. He has a very sharp tone that really hits your ear. He has really good diction as well. When I see J.Seph, I see a really talented and skillful rapper. It would be really dope if he one day put out his own rap album. When I see Jiwoo, she has this badass, dark vibe to her. She has a Rihanna vibe. She'd do well with some dark R&B-type music. Somin is so well-rounded. Her voice matches every song; she always has the right melodies. But in my personal preference, she should put out a straight R&B soul album, with a Kiana Ledé vibe, an Ella Mai vibe — something that makes you feel good when you listen to it. It's easy to listen to.
MTV News: What about yourself?
BM: Me? Oh man. I want to do so many different things. I want to make music that people can dance to and have fun to and turn up to. I want to make club music! Something that's going to make you shake your butt.
MTV News: "Dumb Litty" wasn't the initial choice for your title track. In fact, you created "Dumb Litty" because you weren't 100 percent set on the single. When it comes to choosing singles, do all four members of KARD have to agree? What is that process like?
BM: For it to be a title track, all four of us, or at least three of us, have to feel confident with the song. The song that almost became our title track, we were somewhat confident. It was really feel-good, and it was a good song, but I wasn't confident that it was going to grab attention. That was the big thing. We didn't know if it was going to captivate the fans. So in my head, I felt like we needed to come hard with this comeback. There's so much good music out there as it is, and so many artists, so we had to grab attention.
For "Dumb Litty," I wanted it to be a response to things the fans were asking. At the time when I was making the track, I was getting a lot of questions about self-confidence. "What do you guys do to become more confident? What do you do when you feel self-conscious?" I'm a person, too. Even though I'm an artist and I show a lot of the good side, a lot of the happy sides of me, I do go through times where I question myself and I doubt myself. During those times, my mindset has always been, "Screw it. I'm just going to do me and not care what people say." I'd rather be 100 percent me and have people not like it then be someone I'm not. So that's something I wanted to address in this song: Don't let anyone tell you who you are. Don't let anyone tell you what to do and what not to do if you don't want to do it. Just aggressively be you.
MTV News: I think that's why so many fans like you. You are always yourself.
BM: I try to be, as much as I can. There's a lot of different sides to me, going through a bunch of transitions from trainee to artist, from [an] American who didn't know how to speak Korean at all to being a K-pop artist who has to make music in a completely new language. I went through my fair share of self-doubt, and that's something I want to share in the music.
MTV News: You're really active on V Live and social media. You're on Instagram a lot. How would you describe your relationship with your fans online?
BM: I try to share as much positivity as I can, and the realest me I can give. If I'm sad or if I'm doubting myself, I don't try and hide it. But it's so crazy because when I'm honest with fans, they respond to me the same way I would respond to them. We're reciprocating so much good energy to each other. I love it. Social media can be very unhealthy and poisonous at times, but I'm trying, to the best of my abilities, to make it a positive place for not only myself and other artists but for the fans as well.
MTV News: How do you go about cultivating that positivity online? Are there certain practices you do, or certain things you monitor?
BM: I'm not positive and super happy every day of my life, but the times that I am I try to put out that energy out into the world. If it's going to help someone, even for a second or an hour or three minutes while they're listening to a song that I made or through words that I share online. I'm just another guy practicing it like everyone else in the world.
MTV News: Would you say that positivity comes naturally to you? Are you a positive person?
BM: Honestly? No. I don't think of myself as a positive person. I try to stay positive, and I try to put out that vibe as much as I can, but I'm like everyone else. I'm just less public with the negative side of me because I don't want that to affect my fans. There's millions of people who are watching what I'm doing online, or what I do musically, and I feel like it's not fair for me to put out negative energy into the world. It's a little different musically; I can put out a sad song and know that people are going to relate to it and know that it's going to help. But if it's just me, personally, I try not to show that side.
MTV News: Did you have any worries or concerns about "Dumb Litty?" Because you did produce it. That certainly adds a bit more weight to it.
BM: You know what's crazy? Before "Dumb Litty," there was another song that I made that almost became the title. It had a reggae vibe, and it was nice to listen to. But at the same time, I didn't know if it was going to stand out. So I went to the studio on the day we were going to confirm that other song as the title track. There was no way I was going to let my group and myself go with a song that I wasn't 100 percent on. So in the span of two to three hours, I picked a beat real quick, I felt it, wrote the melody for it, recorded it, and sent it to my members — and they were like, "This is the one. We have to go with this one." We were immediately on the same page. And that's how "Dumb Litty" was born. I didn't have time to be nervous. It just all fell into place in the really short amount of time that we had.
MTV News: Do you look at comments online? I was really impressed with how honest you were on V Live about some of the initial criticism of the song title. It was a level of openness that I haven't seen from a lot of artists, who I think would prefer to just ignore those kinds of comments. But you came at it from a place of understanding.
BM: I try to do my best and take it all as constructive criticism. I know that the people who didn't feel it this time are the people who really like our dancehall vibe and our more melodic sound. It was all a learning process for me. "Dumb Litty" was crazy on the internet. Even before it came out, when I accidentally spoiled the title, fans were like, "What's 'Dumb Litty?' Why is he so try-hard? Why is he so cringe?" I was sad for a day because I honestly thought people were going to feel this, but then I had this realization: It made people curious. Whether you liked the title or not, it made you curious enough to listen to it. So I still went with it. But those who listened to it and didn't feel it, I know what they want. If the label will give me consent for our group to go with the song that I made for the next one, I think it's definitely going to be something that will please both sides — the people who liked "Dumb Litty" and the people who liked the older KARD style.
MTV News: What's your favorite part of the creative process? Is it that instant feedback, or something else entirely?
BM: The best part is being able to say that no one did it for me. You know what I mean? I get to romanticize my own career. I did this. I'm on stage doing what I created. But don't get me wrong: A lot of people were behind the scenes on this, and they put in a lot of work for "Dumb Litty" to become the song that it is. But being able to be the core of that idea and the core of that vision is one of the best things ever. I feel like I'm in control of my life and my career. I want to do it for the rest of all of our songs, if I can!
MTV News: There are a lot more K-pop artists producing their own music and playing a much larger part in the creative process these days.
BM: It's authentic. That's the best type of music, when it comes from your heart and your brain. That authenticity — fans can hear it. Whether people want to diss it or want to love it, I'm able to say that it's still me. I did that. That's the best thing. I even appreciate the people who want to throw shade at it because I love the fact that they're being real about their preferences. And me as an artist, I can take that and make something that they like too. That's what I'm trying to do right now.
MTV News: You're about to tour the U.S., and there's been quite a bit of focus on the Western market in K-pop. When you're making music, do you ever have a specific market in mind? Or do you just make what feels good to you?
BM: Not at all. I don't have any specific place or country in mind when I make music. I just want whoever hears it to feel what I want them to feel. For "Dumb Litty," I want them to feel confidence when you listen to the song. Whether you live in North America or South America or Asia, I just want you to feel confident. I'm grateful for everyone who listens to it. But being Korean American and being that I grew up in the States, I think a lot of my personal preference is what pops off in the States. So that sound just naturally comes through.
MTV News: As a Korean-American artist, how does it feel when you see Korean groups at the top of the Billboard albums chart?
BM: It's pretty crazy! Even 10 years ago no one would have accepted it, or even imagined that Korean music could be on Billboard. It's amazing. And it opens up a lot of doors for other Korean artists as well. One thing that's a huge struggle for Korean artists in Korea is that there are so many groups. There's so much competition. There are so many names. But now that South America and North America and everywhere all over the world are starting to embrace Korean music, it makes the market so much bigger. It gives other groups the chance to find an audience, to receive light. We're so lucky.
MTV News: It's been almost three years since KARD's debut. How would you say you've grown as a person and as an artist in that time?
BM: I'm more responsible. I've realized something recently and that's something that I say or something that I do can really make or break someone's day. That's such a huge responsibility I have. Having realized that makes me a lot more careful of what I say, in person and online. Even though I'm still going to be me and I'm still going to say what I want to say, I try and do it in the most positive way I can. Life is short. And I think everyone deserves to be happy. If I can be a light in someone's life, then that's a responsibility I take seriously.