All Eyes on Me: Life, Thoughts, and Dreams of Bambam Kunpimook Bhuwakul [Billboard Thailand Issue 36] (BamBam)
Travelled to Korea by himself when he was just a little over ten years old, debuted as a K-pop idol when he hasn’t even hit twenty years old, 21 year old BamBam today is a young man from Thailand who is one of the most beloved and followed.
We have met BamBam many times because GOT7, a 7-member K-pop group under JYPE with a mix of Korean members, Chinese members, and only one Thai member, is right now insanely popular. How popular are they – they are the only K-pop group in history that is able to have a 4 region 4 provinces tour in Thailand with sold-out tickets (previously GOT7 also had their first concert at Impact Arena for 2 consecutive days with tickets sold out within minutes). From a period since last year to this year, it is considered their golden year. Just looking at their endorsements, they are presenters for many brands – varying from food to cosmetics. This is why we get to meet BamBam and GOT7 quite often at press conferences and concerts.
BamBam, from a perspective of someone who is “off the stage” like us/me (the writer), is a nice idol, humble and friendly; when meeting one-on-one for the first time today, he walked into the studio casually without having the staff clear the area or do any special preparation. The young man with bright red hair and long legs smiled and said “sa-wad-dee-krub” with his hands together to “wai” as soon as we made eye contact, without even us getting to introduce who’s who (T/N: BamBam was paying respects to everyone in the studio, before he was even introduced to who’s who.) Then he walked over, rested his body on the one sofa in the dressing room, nodded for me to sit beside him and said “I’m tired, but you can start noona, please just let me have some water, I don’t need food – I already just had my favourite som-tum-poo-plara” (Thai spicy papaya salad with fermented fish).
BamBam’s path to K-pop started when he entered Rain’s, his idol, cover dance contest and won Rain Cover Dance In Thailand in 2007 when he was only 10 years old. He also won second place as a member of WE ZAA COOL (BLACKPINK Lalice-Lalisa Manoban was also on the team) from the contest LG Entertainer In Thailand in 2010. His talent caught the eyes of JYPE and BamBam moved to Korea (to live) as a trainee until he finally debuted with GOT7 in January 2014.
Leaving his home country and moving to a foreign land by himself when he was extremely young is not an easy decision, but once decided, he never had the thought of failing.
“I didn’t go with the thought that I might get sent back to Thailand. The only goal I had was that I have to make it when I go. It’s not about being over confident, but it’s more like a way of thinking. If I think of it as ‘just trying it out’, ‘will sort things out if I can’t make it’ then I believe I wouldn’t have made it. So when I went, my only thought is that I have to make it no matter what, I have to succeed.”
Going all out is a double sword, life could keep dropping if it’s a failure, but it would build up confidence if it’s a success. “When you actually make it, your confidence increases for the next piece of work. I think like this with everything. Like when working on music, if there is a flash of thought ‘Eh? Will this work? Will this be good?’ I will stop making that song and make a new song that gives off the feel of ‘Yeah this is it, it has to be like this, it has to work’ and it really did, it makes me more confident about my own thoughts.”
“This is a tough question.” He smiled when we asked if he thinks he is already successful. Before answering this question, Bambam talked with his eyes lit up, that this year is a year in which he is really happy.
“Everything is resolved, the bad passes, on the second day of the 4 region tour concert in Bangkok, when I stepped off the stage, I had no regrets. There was not a thought of if I had made any mistakes in the choreo, I only thought “Bam, you’ve already did your best, it can’t get any better today.” I was proud of myself, proud of the concert, including everyone who was involved that day.”
Another highlight for him this year is the Final concert in Japan, which closed off GOT7’s 1-month tour. What’s special was BamBam got to show another side of his skills – video filming and editing. It was shown at the massive concert and received very good feedback from the fans. It is his personal pride in addition to the impressive concert.
“I’ll say success at a certain level.” The young man finally answered the question with a smile. “But I’m the type that likes to set goal. When I achieve one then I’ll keep setting the next goal, it’s never ending. I had the goal of having a concert at Impact Arena and that has already happened. The next goal is performing at Rajamangala National Stadium (biggest stadium in Thailand). It might be too big of a goal but it’s better than not having a goal at all.”
Many might be surprised that 21 year old young man who seems to be living a good life has a determination that seems strict on himself. But if you have known BamBam before, you wouldn’t be surprised; as the third son in a middle class family brought up by a single-mom, one of the reasons he decided to be a K-pop artist is because he wants to help lessen the burden of his family. He plans and set goals in various things like he usually does, starting with the goal of buying a house within 1 year after debut and using his own money to buy a car for his sister – which he really accomplished.
But when talking about living life, his thoughts and socializing in general, Bam is actually laid-back and okay with whatever. He confirmed that he has always been like this and still is up till this day; we can feel it after sitting and talking with him until now. The “K-pop idol” status that was there started to fade away. If I don’t think about GOT7’s fame, I would say it’s like talking to a younger brother. The more we talk, the more fun it gets, the more talkative and comfortable/relax he gets; but even so, he said there is seriousness in the relaxation. Things he has experienced and learned as GOT7 BamBam have changed him quite a bit.
“I think there are more aspects about me that have changed than those that did not change. After debuting, my thoughts, personality, feelings, everything has changed quite a lot. I wouldn’t lie and say that I didn’t change” he admits. “I’ve changed to the point that some said Bam has changed. But working in this field everyday, it’s inevitable that you change, it’s only a matter of how. I didn’t go to school, but I learned a lot outside the books. I learned that this is the real world. Many said those who learn from only the books wouldn’t know the outside world. When facing the real world, we can’t apply what we learn from the books 100%. I’m not saying to not study, but for me learning outside the books is good, it made me different from most 21 years-old.”
In his personal life, experiences have made him learn to protect himself by choosing whom to be friends with.
“I meet a lot of people, at first I hung out with everyone but as I learn more and realize whom to be friends with, I will step back. That is why some say I’ve changed – I really did change, it’s better than letting them fool/deceive me.” Even though he ended the sentence with a laugh, but the bitterness in his voice and dejected face when he was talking couldn’t keep us from thinking that things are not all beautiful for celebrities.
Work-wise too, BamBam would be serious at the highest level.
“In the past, out of 100%, if the work came out at 70% then I’ll be like.. ‘Yea just a bit, it’s okay,’ but now even if it’s just a little bit, if there’s glitches in the work, I will feel upset. “Why is it like this? Why didn’t it turn out this way?” There is no letting things pass anymore.”
He simply concludes that he is more “sensitive” in many things, even with food.
“If food was supposed to arrive at noon, but came at one and work starts at one-thirty then we’ll have to eat in a rush and go dance right after. Then we get stomach ache. I’ll be upset about why it was an hour late and I would have already asked about it. If I didn’t ask and the food came late, I’ll take the blame since I didn’t ask, I didn’t care; but I care because we have to start work at one-thirty. It is important that we have time to eat, time to digest before dancing, then why was it late? It is actually a small matter, but I’m just giving an example, I get serious and am a perfectionist with everything – something along this line.”
We actually wanted to tell Bam that his example is not about food but about punctuality. It is adorable – his occasional confusion with his Thai, his honesty, and his effort in giving us an example.
Being different, having self-confidence, and being laid-back are three things Bam uses as basis in life. He laughed and said the last thing might seem off from the others, but as he has mentioned, even though he is strict with himself, but on the other end, he is also comfortable and laid-back.
“I thought about being different since they casted me to be a JYP trainee. I didn’t go the first time but they offered it to me again for the second time; that made me believe that I probably have something different from others so they wanted me. There are many who are good at dancing and singing, but what makes you charming and pop out is in being different. They probably saw this in me.”
JYP wasn’t wrong, Bam confirmed with a stubborn look that he doesn’t like doing things inside the box. Starting from making songs, given how the company wants it, he would like to do it outside the box even just a little for it to be fresh and unique with colors that is more like himself. All the way to fashion, if you recall, him wearing “8 cm heels” performing on stage have caused a buzz before.
“People might think we have to follow the company’s order to a T but actually we can fight,” he laughs with his eyes squinting. “But fight with reason. Like the 8 cm heels, they asked if I can dance since it’s so high, I said I’ll try. I know I can do it and I like things that are different. Okay, I might not be great at dancing or in the Top 10 K-pop idol but I have something unique and fresh for people to see – who would wear 8cm heels to perform!”
Being Thai among Koreans and Chinese in the K-pop industry is another different and unique point. Even though there are Thai members in many idol groups, it is still considered a small proportion. Everyone knows each other, but how much they get to meet up depends on the time and opportunities that allow for it.
“I’m already close to Liz noona, we talk about everything. Khun hyung (Nichkhun Horvejkul from 2PM) – we are in the same company but I was scared of him at first; he was already so famous and I was very young back then, so there was nervousness. We only got close around last year. Khun hyung drove to pick me up and brought me out for a meal. At first it was a little nervous/unnatural, two men, 21 and 28 year old meeting and talking. It would start with serious topics about life and then fun stuff later. But the next day Khun hyung called me again “Bam, let’s go out for food again” I was like… “Again? Ok let’s go” It seems that friends of his age only talk about life and not much fun stuff so he got hooked when he went out for food with me.” Bam laughs as he tells the story. “We met almost everyday that month. I slept over at Khun hyung’s place for 8-9 days. He said eating out with me feels like going back to his time in the US – getting to talk and have fun, there is no stress, it was like being a kid again – so he wants to eat with me often.”
Aside from being different in the K-pop industry, being Thai makes BamBam feels comforted/warm when he thinks of Thai people.
“I feel that Thais is another group of people that really keep supporting us. Wherever we are, even if we perform in a country and there might be only like 300 people in the audience – in which sometimes I/we can’t help thinking there’s only this many people? – but as I think that, another thought that would pop up immediately is that there are still lots of fans waiting for us in Thailand. Or when there were negative news about me, and say if there were 100 comments from fans of many countries, including Thailand, bashing me – even if it’s like that, in my heart, I’ll say to myself that even if there are 100 people bashing me, there are still Thai fans that still love and support me/us and maybe another one hundred thousand that might not be fans but know me as a Thai boy who is working in foreign country and cheer for me. There is the feeling of being comforted/warmth.”
The feeling of having Thai people supporting and cheering him makes him want to repay (them) by making everyone proud, and so, hoping that everyone wouldn’t laugh (Bam said) if BamBam’s highest goal in life is to be called “nation’s treasure”.
“Someone had called me “nation’s treasure” before. I think it’s a compliment that’s even better than handsome or cute. I felt really good when I heard it. I want Thai people to be proud of me.” Bam repeated with a firm voice. “I am proud of being Thai. I always say it wherever I go. Sometimes I make it into a gag “Hello, I’m BamBam, the Thai member” because I want people to remember that I am Thai. I talk in Korean so much that some might have forgotten that I’m Thai. When I come to Thailand, I speak Thai. People might not be used to me speaking a lot of Thai because they have heard me only speak Korean. But actually whether I’m/we’re K-pop idols or whatever, I’m/we’re still Thai. (T/N: How he said it is like wherever you are/whatever you are, you’re Thai – he doesn’t forget where he’s from and telling others not to too) Now, there are a couple of Thai people calling me “nation’s treasure”…
If I can make the whole country call me this, how good would that be.”