Let’s be honest: BTS can put out mediocre content and we will probably still eat it up. But no, BTS will never be mediocre. BTS never settles. BTS’s strength lies in knowing how and when to adapt and grow, and with the ARMY to back them up, their success is always a guarantee.
It was a little under a year ago when I watched their Mic Drop performance on SNL. I was mesmerized by the live vocals that accompanied a hard-hitting choreography. Jimin’s hair was pink — but I didn’t know him then — and my honest-to-god curiosity as to who he was led me to a spiral into the world of K-Pop. Or, to be more accurate, to the world of stanning BTS. In a week, I was thrust into a world of intense choreographies and cute boys with even cuter mannerisms. I was a baby ARMY (like my then-editor who was a die-hard ARMY would say) and I was suddenly so excited about the idea of seven boys who have a long history of trying to prove themselves to a cruel world.
Yesterday, the boys released their much-awaited comeback album, “Map of the Soul:7.” I’ve given myself some sort of a “BTS Cleanse” — for lack of a better term — and prior to this, the last thing I heard from them was Suga’s collaboration with Halsey back in December. Apart from my Monday work meetings where I would glance at my co-worker’s laptop and see her watching BTS, I was definitely no longer updated about their happenings. A part of me believed that the cleanse was all because I felt like I was spending too much time as a fangirl, but really, it was a weird mix of my internal misogyny and my own way of coping with Seokjin’s inevitable enlistment to the army.
So like a real ARMY who wanted to prove her status (to whom, I’m not really sure), I listened to all of BTS’s earlier releases before listening to the new album. Suffice to say, my emotions were all sorts of a mess. It’s jarring to see all the growing up that they did in all those years together in just the small amount of time (cough, 20 hours, cough) that I spent listening to every single song. I felt as if I was fast-tracking getting to know BTS, and it was both a blessing and a curse. I was a dedicated listener — reading the lyrics while listening to the song, trying to translate with what little Korean comprehension I have, going back and forth to English translations — and when I finally, finally, listened to the new album, I felt like I was getting to know them again. And this time, there is a goodbye threaded so intricately in between layers of synths and beats, in between Korean and English phrases. I’m not even ashamed to say that I cried so much.
It’s always a must for me when listening to a new album to listen to it in the order that the artist intended it to be, and the bright and fun-sounding first few songs (which were released last year as an EP) welcomed me like sunlight that peeks through the window on a lazy Sunday morning. Intro: Persona has carved a special place in my heart, despite the existential crisis that it brings forth (thanks, Namjoon). It’s when I got to Interlude: Shadow that I started getting shookt. I found myself asking: Did BTS get a new producer?
When we say that ‘BTS paved the way,’ we mean it in every sense of the word. They have surpassed expectations from both their fans, critics, and themselves, and have carved their own place in the world with nothing but their genuine storytelling.
Change, as it seems, has come. And it has only made them even better.
There had been multiple articles and tweets and conversations that said that BTS has gone past the K-Pop genre a long time ago, but it is only now that it has become apparent to me. Coming from listening to the rap-heavy tunes from “2 Cool 4 Skool” and the crydance songs from “Love Yourself: Answer” just a few hours ago, it’s a big leap. They have always grounded themselves in writing music based on their own thoughts, crises, and introspections, and it has made them the idols that billions of people in the world have come to love. When we say that “BTS paved the way,” we mean it in every sense of the word. They have surpassed expectations from both their fans, critics, and themselves, and have carved their own place in the world with nothing but their genuine storytelling. They have given us parts of themselves through the years by baring their souls in their music, and with “Map of the Soul: 7,” we’re seeing them in yet another light. They tell the story of their seven-year journey together, all the highs and lows, all the successes and pains. It’s refreshing, poignant, gut-wrenching, and gratifying at the same time.
Clusterfuck of emotions aside, the new album sounds so different from what I expected it to be — and in a good way. Whereas the past albums were all good in their own rights, “Map of the Soul: 7” is a telling of what it’s like for an already successful musician to delve into other inspirations, genres, and techniques. There is an obvious western influence that comes through with the music production (like how Dream Glow was produced), and with collaborators like Troye Sivan and Sia, along with other credited co-writers from different cultural backgrounds, it’s unsurprising that these new songs have exceeded any sort of theories and expectations.
But then again, maybe I’m just a little biased.
All 20 songs from the album form a cohesive story and sound — and I feel like I will never find the right words to describe the feelings that this album made me feel. In On, we see them as the strong seven-member group that they are, prepared for any sort of shit from anyone who dare look down on them. And with Jungkook’s falsetto reaching an even higher level, a choreography that mixes various styles, and a music video that anyone (even non-BTS fans) could marvel at and watch in awe, it is to be expected that this comeback is a monster comeback.
Bulletproof, they have become, and bulletproof they will forever be.
Louder than Bombs is when I started getting emotional — there is so much pain in the lyrics, pain that we as fans can never truly understand about them no matter how vulnerable and honest they can be. 00:00 is like a warm hug in the middle of a storm. Jimin and Taehyung’s Friends is when I cried first — because I’ve always had a soft spot for the soulmates that are VMin. Moon lets me in on what happens inside Seokjin’s head in the midst of all the glitz and glam of the idol life. Respect makes me think of how Namjoon and Yoongi probably spend late nights in the studio, talking about the world and how big and small it is at the same time. Outro: Ego is Hobi’s sunshine persona in the form of a rap.
And then there’s We Are Bulletproof: the Eternal. We’ve always seen BTS give thanks to the ARMY in almost all of their speeches and concerts, and this song is the ultimate love letter to us — some sort of goodbye without saying goodbye — like a deep and heavy sigh that brings out nostalgia by reminiscing all the years together and also recognizing that there would be an end.
BTS has come a long way. They started as seven boys who had dreams of their own — dreams that slowly intersected with each other’s along the way. They’ve turned those dreams into reality, and their fears from before are no more, because now, they have truly owned the meaning of the “방탄” (Bangtan) name for which they were made fun of.
Bulletproof, they have become, and bulletproof they will forever be.
Listen to “Map of the Soul: 7” here: