If you asked Big Matthew back in 2011, when he was just Angeleno teenager Matthew Kim, what he wanted to do with his life, he would have sworn that he would complete a degree in psychology to become a counselor while moonlighting as a choreographer.
Fast forward a decade or so and the only thing the 29-year-old Korean American artist got right is the dancing. On the way, there may have been a Rolex or 10 promised to friends and family who supported him as he packed up his life in Los Angeles, where he was born and raised, to head for idol auditions in South Korea.
“Everyone who has an IOU on this one, don’t worry, I’m holding myself accountable and I’ll make it before I’m dead,” Kim insists, although he did slip with a grin that the waitlist stood at 60 years for highly coveted models.
BM, short for his stage name of “Big Matthew,” as he is now best known to his legion of fans — 2.5 million and counting on Instagram alone — is one-fourth of Kard, the hit coed K-pop group he’s formed with fellow performers Somin, Jiwoo and J.Seph since 2017.
While he gravitates more toward rap as a personal preference — “Lil Wayne, Pharrell Williams, Big Sean, I could go on for days,” he says — he credits K-pop for giving him the freedom to explore other genres. “I feel this diversity in sound, even within one song, is one of the reasons K-pop is booming,” he adds.
After Kard went on hiatus in late 2020 following J.Seph’s departure for mandatory military service, Kim’s schedule opened to other projects. His solo debut last summer, with the triple single “Broken Me / Body Movin / 13IVI,” was well received. His latest, trap-rock track “LIE (Lost in Euphoria)” racked up more than 2 million views on YouTube in the six days after its Jan. 28 release.
And then there’s his foray into the fashion world.
Hot on the heels of signing globally with U.S.- and South Korea-based management agency Altm Group, what started as a quiet runway debut last September — Hugo Boss in Milan — quickly snowballed into him being revealed last month as one of the faces of Boss’ younger line Hugo alongside fellow musician Saint Jhn, model Adut Akech and TV star and dancer Maddie Ziegler.
Not to mention being front row at Nigo’s Kenzo debut during Paris Men’s Fashion Week, where “it felt really good to have people who felt I belong there with that lineup of Ye, Pharrell Williams, J Balvin, Tyler the Creator,” he says.
WWD caught up with the Korean American artist in Paris as he gears up for a busy spring that includes Kard’s comeback and Paris Fashion Week dead ahead.
WWD: How are you planning on celebrating your bandmate J.Seph’s release from military service?
Big Matthew: We’re not. He’s got to come to the studio right away and get ready to work. (Laughs.) We’re planning a summer come back and then another world tour.
WWD: What’s your favorite part of touring?
B.M: Being able to reciprocate the energy that our fans give us on a more intimate level than we’ve had for the past year and a half. Time is a resource that no one can get back, so just seeing the expression on their faces during a concert, knowing that you’ve touched someone for even just a moment is the most rewarding part of being a performer.
WWD: In the meantime, we’ve seen a fair bit of you at fashion weeks. Paris twice, your runway debut and campaign debut at Boss…
B.M: Don’t forget witnessing Nigo’s debut at Kenzo. It was exciting for fashion as a culture to see him take on the challenge of such a house. My interest in fashion goes hand in hand with my desire for self-expression…not for vanity’s sake, though. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good silhouette with a bit of swag thrown in, but it’s the parallels that draw me in. Putting colors, adding texture, creating messages and emotion are expressions that are used to describe both fields.
WWD: Are you getting any ideas there?
B.M: Let’s just say that seeing designs up close, not as a consumer but as part of a creative process, even just at the end of the chain as a model, has really sparked a desire to share creativity in a dialogue with other artists — not just in music but in a multidisciplinary crossover.
WWD: For the music video of “LIE (Lost in Euphoria),” the single you released last month, you decided to portray both characters yourself. Is acting something you want to explore?
B.M: It’s another field of self-expression I’m really interested in and want to see where I could take that side of my career. The challenge here was exploring the dialogue between the lyrics talking about the promises you make to your significant other when you’re so in love, lost in that moment, and the visuals showing the emotions of when you don’t uphold them, turning them into lies.
Whenever I’ve met actors, my first question has always been, “How do you do it? What is acting?” because I imagined that you had to be something else, someone else [to portray a character].
But I’ve since come to realize that a successful incarnation is in reality still you. What you’re training yourself to play out is always you, but a different facet of who you are — with a script memorized, a given situation, in that emotion.
WWD: When did you start looking for new avenues of expression?
B.M: Dancing and music were the first fields where I felt I could express myself fully. Having grown up in the U.S., I had a deeper desire to connect with my roots and bring it back home, to Korea.
Arriving there age 20 was an interesting experience because I had no functional knowledge of the country — not even the language. I’d grown up in a Los Angeles household where we stopped speaking Korean altogether after my two younger brothers were born — strictly English-speaking house.
Now, having grown into who I am today, I feel it’s time to go full circle.
WWD: What stories do you want to tell?
B.M: Most of all, my experiences have opened my eyes to the importance of representation — of all communities. When it’s not there in meaningful ways, those words that get thrown at you? You end up throwing them at yourself, too.
And although I was fortunate to develop a sense of self-worth and who I am as an Asian and Korean American person, I see the parallels to many other kinds of labels that can be stuck on people — any of us can be a little bit different, depending on how someone else looks at us. As an artist and public figure, what I want to push is not just acceptance but to love each of those specific traits because they are what make you, you.
On a personal level, there is this stigma that Asian Americans and the wider Asian community is facing, especially after the pandemic. I’ve had the opportunities, and that’s given me courage, so now, I feel that my responsibility is to keep the door open. I’ve been involving myself more with creatives of Asian descent, not in a move to exclude others, but because, for me right now, what is important is to heal together. Whether it’s in my music, potentially acting or expressing myself through fashion, I want this to be an ongoing conversation that moves us — humans — forward as one.