BTS’s latest album “BE” embodies the band’s experiences of the year 2020, culminating their highs and lows in a self-produced, eight-track album. Though COVID-19 postponed the Korean group’s international tour, their impeccable work ethic and continued success proves that, if you’re the biggest band in the world, life goes on.
Rather than taking a single country by storm, BTS has steadily spread across the globe with their positive lyrics, impressive choreography and unique approach to K-pop. What they lack in manufactured perfection they make up for with genuine soul and gratitude. BTS is one of the only K-pop groups to gain success without an already prominent music label, and their smaller start granted them freedom to criticize societal demands and oppression in and outside of Korea.
The group has spoken at the UN General Assembly, worked with UNICEF to raise over $2 million to end violence in schools and donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter, a number their fans surpassed within 24 hours. Time’s Next Generation Leaders in 2018 are now Time Magazine’s Entertainer of the Year for 2020, as well as the first Korean artists to be nominated for a Grammy.
In the wake of their newest project, Lyon Chung ’21 spoke about his gratitude for the group.
“It has been great to see BTS succeed not only in Korea but in the world,” Chung said. “I appreciate them for allowing Korean culture to be loved everywhere and [for creating] a road for other Korean musicians, athletes and filmmakers to receive acknowledgement in the future.”
The members of BTS worked to create “BE” during quarantine in Seoul, with their album’s title track reflecting their time together. In the song “Life Goes On,” overproduction is replaced with simple guitar and lighter vocals. Uniform dance sequences are replaced with shots of the boys in their daily life, directed by the group’s youngest member for authenticity. As soon as that same member sings “One day the world stopped without any warning,” you feel their longing for a brighter, COVID-free future. The incorporation of the rap verses is natural, with each of them using a calmer tone and optimistic metaphors. It sets a tone for the rest of their songs, and, considering the album’s 200 million views and Billboard #1 slot, it seems that tone was well received.
The next two songs walk a similar line. “Fly To My Room” (내 방을 여행하는 법) depicts the impact of quarantine on one’s physical space, whereas “Blue and Grey” gives listeners a window into the band’s darker headspace. “Fly To My Room” is a hopeful subunit track, with four of the seven members yearning for novelty. “Blue and Grey” is its demotivated complement, featuring the album’s most prolific lines about depression.
Avid BTS fan Natalie Chan ’23 spoke about the effect of “Blue and Grey,” her favorite track on the album.
“Sometimes I just need a good cry song,” Chan said. “‘Blue and Grey’ fills that.”
As an English and Cantonese speaker, Chan said she couldn’t understand a word of “Skit,” a three minute recording of the members’ reaction to being the first Korean artist to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with their all-English single, “Dynamite.” Despite that, she doesn’t skip the track.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for Asians in music,” Chan said. “If being Asian is all we have in common, the least I could do is let it play.”
The group’s gratitude and joy are tangible in this chatter, which serves as a transition to “Telepathy” (잠시), a retro-pop track. Full of positive energy and references to previous songs, both a diehard fan and a new listener can find something to enjoy in the tune.
Playlist connoisseur and casual BTS listener Sophia Lindus ’22 said she is excited to see BTS build upon its prosperous international presence.
“The group in general is really amazing,” Lindus said. “Their stage presence, the high production quality of their performances and the impact they’ve had on Western culture are all very impressive.”
“Dis-Ease” (병), the old-school hip hop track that comes next, plays on the fact that its Korean title means both bottle and disease. It promotes freeing bottled up frustrations and self-doubt. Layered with record scratches, seamless background vocals and a killer bridge, “Dis-Ease” is an undeniably strong production from the group.
“Stay,” an EDM track featuring the three members absent in “Fly To My Room,” takes the band’s personal frustrations and expresses them in a pointed love-letter to their fans. Amid electric energy and heavy bass, they reaffirm the promises they’ve made to fans before—to be connected through unpredictable times and stay true to themselves and their music.
K-pop fan Matthew Ko ’23 said he isn’t a BTS- specific listener but enjoyed listening to “Stay.”
“It’s really catchy,” he said. “I love the combination of light instruments like the guitar with the more dance style and intense bass. Even though I totally don’t understand Korean, I feel like I can feel the emotions that they’re conveying.”
The final track, “Dynamite,” ends the album with a bang. Sparked from a lucky demo track and the band’s English-speaking leader rallying the troops to learn new pronunciation, the disco-pop hit brought the most YouTube views ever recorded in 24 hours for a music video (101.1 million, according to Statista). They also received an influx of Western attention and their first Grammy nomination in the Best Pop Duo/Group category.
History teacher Lilas Lane said she found herself impressed with the song when her daughter played it around the house.
“It’s got to be my favorite song of theirs,” Lane said. “I loved “Stay Gold” when she played it too, but “Dynamite” has good energy, the music video is phenomenal and it’s just really fun. That’s what people need.”