In recent years, a phenomenon has swept the world. What was formerly South Korea’s best-kept secret has now enchanted the masses. Korean pop music has been around for decades but has recently garnered more international attention due to groups like BTS with major hits such as “FAKE LOVE” and “IDOL” in 2018 and “Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)” in 2019.
BTS, a seven-member boy band, has experienced explosive success in the United States and across the globe. The members’ singing and rapping skills have captivated an adoring audience. Released on Feb. 21, “Map of the Soul: 7” is BTS’ fourth studio album. The record is filled with heartfelt words from the members — individually and as a unit — regarding their thoughts on their successes and failures.
The album opens with “Intro : Persona,” a track exclusively rapped by the group’s leader, Kim Nam-joon, better known by his stage name, RM. The song possesses an old-school rap sound that focuses more on the strong, melodic flow of the lyrics rather than a frilly tune. The best lyrics in the song read in translation, “Yeah maybe have been deceiving myself/Maybe I’ve been lying/But I’m not embarrassed anymore this is the map of my soul.” In the introspective song, RM addresses the difficult times he’s faced over the years and his journey to discovering himself.
RM is not the only one with a personal letter on the album. Sprinkled throughout the album are sentimental notes from the other members. Vocalist Park Ji-min, known as Jimin, sings the entirety of “Filter,” a song about a deeper side to him that he doesn’t often share. Lead rapper Min Yoon-gi, or Suga, uses “Interlude : Shadow” to express his fear of not being able to achieve his dreams. Vocalist Kim Seok-jin, known as Jin, delivers the gentle “Moon” as a dedication to the fans who have always supported them. “Inner Child” is an uplifting song delivered by Kim Tae-hyung, also known as V, and provides reassurance that everything will be okay. Vocalist Jeon Jung-kook, whose stage name is Jungkook, highlights the rollercoaster of emotions he felt growing up in the spotlight in “My Time.” Nearing the album’s close, Rapper Jung Ho-seok, better known as J-Hope, discusses discovering his true identity in “Outro : Ego.”
The members are given the opportunity to shine and speak their mind on each of the individual tracks. This songwriting diversity also allows the members to showcase their individual musical styles.
One of the standout tracks on the album, “Make It Right,” was written in collaboration with British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. The jazzy song’s looped horn, synthesizers and falsetto vocals strongly suggest Sheeran’s involvement, as he is known to commonly use these musical elements. The few English lyrics in the song, “I could make it better/I could hold you tighter/On that long road/Oh you’re the light” are sweet and affectionate. The combination of instrumentals and lyrics make the song a dream-like bop.
The entire album contains an ethereal quality, thanks to the group’s delicate vocals and purposeful instrumentation. The track “Black Swan” is mellow and peaceful the entire time thanks to constant and mournful strumming. The song also features a subtle autotune on the vocals. While the effect provides a more traditional hip-hop sound, it masks the vocals and takes away from the serenity of the song.
The music video for “Black Swan” is prefaced by a blank white screen and a written quote from dancer and choreographer Martha Graham that states, “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is more painful.” The quote lays the groundwork for the song, in which the members discuss feeling less in touch with their love for dancing and performing.
BTS conquers many musical genres from grungy alternative to smooth rhythm and blues to head-bobbing pop. “Louder than bombs” fits somewhere among those styles. The song is calm and confident with soft and steady bass and hushed vocals whispered throughout. The name suggests the group’s determination to overcome — or be louder than — all the hardships and difficulties they have faced.
Throughout the many years that BTS has been a part of the music industry, the members of the group have always been true to themselves and what they stand for. Not only do the members put on high-energy performances with live singing and elaborate choreography, but they use their songs as a way to deliver sincere messages to the audience.
The success of BTS, and K-pop as a whole, proves that music is a universal language.