To understand how far B.I has come, we need to go all the way back to his 2020 solo debut, Midnight Blue, a poignant diary of defeat and despair. Just like the inky night it draws its name from, it’s tinged with a bone-chilling loneliness and sadness. “Home is usable and comfortable, but still so cold,” he sings at one point. “When do you become grown-up, and what’s next?”

Imagine the surprise when, two years later, he introduced Love or Loved Part.1, his new EP out today (November 18), with the bouncy, sensual ‘BTBT.’ An apocalyptic cyberpunk setting becomes the background for the thundering excitement of young love. It was miles from the man sequestered on a metaphorical island, afraid of connections. Finally, B.I reveled in every moment – a victory hard-earned for both him and his fans.

In 2019, B.I’s career was brought to a standstill amidst 2016 allegations that he had attempted to purchase marijuana and LSD, and had used the former. As public backlash mounted, he apologized and forfeited his position as the leader of iKon. He admitted to violating the Narcotic Control Act, but a test conducted shortly after found no traces of illegal drugs in his system. Finally, in September 2021, a court sentenced him to three years in prison — suspended in favor of a four-year probation — 40 hours of drug education courses, 80 hours of community service, and a fine of $1,300 USD.

While he was largely out of the public eye, it felt as if any releases needed to be accompanied with a footnote. Midnight Blue was a charity single, and even as his debut album Waterfall reached the top 10 in the U.S. – thanks to ardent fans who never stopped campaigning – B.I and his team apologized for the timing of the release, since it came shortly before he was given a trial date. For a time, making music had been the last thing on his mind, but thanks to the consistent support, it eventually became his “only outlet to kind of find myself again,” he said in a previous interview.

If he’s gone from isolating himself to openly seeking new connections, it’s all thanks to the love he’s received. “My fans coming back for me was the biggest thing,” he tells MTV News, speaking over Zoom on a late Seoul night. “Even when I was in my darkest place wanting to give up on music, they sent me equipment and tools to keep going. When we reunited, we shared so many emotions together, from sadness to joy. The love I can give is expanding thanks to all the love I received.”

Love or Loved Part.1  is brave enough to separate each layer and focus on all underlying aspects of love: the all-consuming, encompassing torrential delight of emotions, and the equally devastating aftermath of when this flame is snuffed out, which he’s saving for Part 2.

Right now, though, he’s letting things be. He’s taken up playing basketball with his friends and slowly working his way through his bucket list. He takes his time to think about who he wants to be remembered as, finally settling on: “I want to be remembered as someone who was… not bad.”

Below, B.I discusses Love or Loved Part.1, his growth as a writer, his inspirations, and the themes across his work.

MTV News: You mentioned that this EP is specifically about love in one’s youth. It’s very different from falling in love when you’re older. What do you think is the difference between the two?

B.I: When we’re young, we can be more passionate, and we’re not afraid of anything. You don’t have to worry about anything. But as you get older, you have to care about a lot of things, you know? You become more cautious, when it comes to love.

MTV News: The acronym for this album says LOL – which we use to laugh. We all make mistakes when we’re young, but when we look back, we laugh about how stupid or how naive we were. Is that one of the interpretations of the album?

B.I: It’s implied a little. To “love” and “loved“ in the past. I did think this repeating pattern is surely an “LOL” situation. The album is about feeling passionate in love and, at the same time, the emptiness when it ends. It’s almost finished, and now I’ll have to think about adding some LOL in there.

MTV News:  “Tangerine” captures the folly of young love, because the song talks about being attracted to someone who is the complete opposite of you. When you’re young, that looks attractive. But when you grow older, these differences become something that you can’t get over. Was that the motive behind it?

B.I: I got inspiration from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the movie, the main character (Joel) calls the female lead (Clementine) “Tangerine,” and I got inspired by that. There’s a very good line in it, and I actually applied it to the lyrics [in the song].

MTV News: What was the line?

B.I: In the last scene of the movie, the characters notice that they’ve already met before. They erased all of their memories, but they met again. They fight [again], and the main character just says one word: “OK.” The word “OK” seemed to contain a lot of meaning, which is why I loved that line. [Editor’s note: In the scene, Clementine argues that she and Joel might be driven apart yet again by the same reasons that broke them up the first time around. Joel, however, would take the experiences and the pain rather than lose her completely.]

B.I poses in black against a a warm sunburst gradient backdrop

MTV News: You said in an interview you have yet to be very seriously in love. Where, then, do you draw your inspirations?

B.I: Well, I like to reflect on what love is. I like to watch a lot of movies, hear other people’s love stories, so I get inspiration from there.

MTV News: What was a movie or show you watched recently where you liked how love was depicted?

B.I: It’s not the most recent movie I watched, but it’s Charlie Countryman. The male lead falls in love very spontaneously. He’s crazy in love. My favorite line is: “Yeah, well, if I do, I die for love.” I think that’s the best part.

MTV News: Do you ever get scared that when you do fall in love, it’s not going to be all that you imagined it would be? Is that something you might be planning to address in Part 2?

B.I: I have never felt scared. I have never even thought about that. I don’t ever want to worry about this subject, because once I do, that’s when maybe I could no longer fall deeply in love. Part 2 is rather focused on breaking up and feeling alone. I do agree [that] the deep, serious love I picture in my head versus the one, in reality, could be different. I don’t fear that contrast because I know it’s totally possible. While Part 1 is about love that is ongoing, Part 2 is about one that has ended. Part 2 will definitely be more toned down and blue than the fiery love that burns with passion.

MTV News: You’ve been writing songs since your idol days. Do you ever go back and revisit some of your old songs?  What do they make you feel?

B.I: (Smiles) It makes me feel pretty embarrassed. It’s too childish and too cringy, you know? My voice has changed a lot, so I cannot hear my old songs.

MTV News: Since the beginning, you’ve worked with a very close-knit team. We’ve seen Millennium, Sihwang, Saint Leonard, Padi, and others feature alongside you. What’s your dynamic like in and out of the studio?

B.I: We were friends before they became [my] producers. So when we’re [not in the] studio, when we don’t work on music, we just go to a restaurant and talk. We’ve worked together for a while now, so we have exceptional synergy and we share the vision to create great work. We exchange new ideas and inspirations together all the time.

MTV News: What are your studio sessions like?

B.I: First of all, we usually make the most comfortable vibe. Some guys drink, and you just try to mix all of our ideas and we [usually] pick the best one.

MTV News: You’ve also written songs for other artists throughout your career – how do you approach writing for your albums vs. you working on a song for somebody else?

B.I: Well, to put it simply, I produce songs for others because I know they can complete the picture better. B.I’s songs, on the other hand, truly only belong to me because they’re like my diary. I put my genuine emotions on those tracks. When I make a song [for someone else], I’m just like… let it be. It might depend on the artists that I work with, but the artists I’ve been working with, they’re all great. They’re doing great as they are. So, I just let them be who they are and see where it goes.

MTV News: You have two songs titled “Remember Me,” one on Midnight Blue and the other on Waterfall. Are you scared of being forgotten?

B.I: Well, I think everyone wants to be remembered and not forgotten. I am the same way; it’s very sad to be forgotten.