The new BTS album confirms they’re K-Pop’s most emotional group
'BE' is the intimate, introspective lockdown project released as a balm for 2020.
Image courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment
All things considered, BTS have had a pretty good 2020. Back in February, the seven-member, K-pop supergroup released their record, Map of the Soul: 7, topping charts across the world and becoming South Korea’s best-selling album of all time. Only a global pandemic could stop the biggest boy band on the planet, and when the outbreak of COVID-19 meant they had to cancel their world tour, BTS quickly changed gears. They went back into the studio and came out with the disco-pop summer bop, “Dynamite”, their first English-language song and their first to top the Billboard Hot 100. The song broke practically every YouTube and streaming record. And then the group jumped on a remix of Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo’s “Savage Love” which shot straight to number one on the Hot 100, making them the fourth group in history to simultaneously occupy the top two positions on the music chart.
Now, the group — comprising Jin, SUGA, j-hope, Jimin, V, Jung Kook and leader RM — have released their second album of 2020, BE, which, in just a few hours, has already reached number one on iTunes across the world and is projected to continue BTS’ very, very successful year. But the making of this comeback album has been strikingly different to their previous records. Back in April, RM announced the group were working on a new album which started a series of mysterious livestreams on BTS’ YouTube channel and Korean streaming platform VLive.
In some, the seven members ignore the camera, discussing their plans for the new album, while in other streams, they chat merrily to their live audience of millions about the group’s division of labour: Jimin was music project manager, V managed the visuals, and the other members took on songwriting and production duties. These videos gave their fanbase, known as ARMY, a glimpse behind-the-scenes from the beginning of the album-making process to the end result. In a recent, pre-recorded stream, we even see the members unboxing the album for the first time, excitedly leafing through lyric sheets and photocards.
These livestreams signalled that BE would be a new evolution for BTS, pushing the group’s creativity in new ways, as well as a deeply personal record, evidenced as fans watched the members pour their hearts into its making. “It felt like we made [BE] with our fans,” RM explained during the album’s press conference about the decision to live stream parts of the creative process. Made during the most turbulent year in most people’s memory, BE embodies the emotional turmoil most of us have been through during 2020, and speaks, frankly, directly and unapologetically, to the current moment.
On the opening song and lead single, “Life Goes On,” the group reflect, in Korean, on their summer of lockdown: “The world came to a stop one day / Without any warning.” The accompanying music video, directed by Jung Kook, shows the members going about their daily self-isolated lives: V takes off his mask in the car and Jimin wanders around brushing his teeth before they all crash onto the sofa to play video games and watch the news. A shot of Jin sitting in front of the TV suddenly cuts to a shot of him and the group performing on stage, singing to an empty Seoul Stadium, a callback to Map of the Soul ON:E, the live-streamed concert the band performed in October. “To that future, let’s run away,” he sings.
““Life Goes On” is the core of the album,” RM explained during the record’s press conference last night. “[We] want to talk about what’s happening right now. In the summer, “Dynamite” was right for that time and “Life Goes On” is right for now. It’s our message of healing.” This desire to heal and comfort is all over BE. “Fly To My Room” is a playful attempt at mentally escaping while locked down during COVID. “This room feels too small / To contain my dreams” raps SUGA, while j-hope rates the takeaways he’s been ordering: “The delivery food, three stars… I’m full!” The soft acoustic guitar of “Blue & Grey” carries lyrics about an aching loneliness as V sings: “I just want to be happier, is this too much greed?” Meanwhile the j-hope produced, old-school hip-hop track “Dis-ease” plays on different forms of illness, revealing that, for BTS, their struggle has been an addiction to work: “I feel like I have to do something until my body breaks / I’m obsessed by achievements everyday / This is unstable, this is a disease”.
While this year has given BTS plenty of time for introspection, it’s not all gloomy. “For everyone, life has stopped because of COVID-19,” explained Jin at the press conference. “We feel frustrated and sad but these emotions aren’t always melancholic and we wanted to contain all [emotions] in this album. It seems like the world has stopped but life goes on.” On “Telepathy,” produced by SUGA, the group admits to “[Feeling] disorientated / Thanks to all the leftover time” over a funky, 70s-inspired beat, while the shuddering bass-heavy, “Stay,” is an optimistic club banger that looks to a future when we’ll be able to dance together: “It ain’t the end of the world / The present, it shines like a pearl”. Concluding the album is “Dynamite,” a fittingly feel-good end to a record that wrestles with how to move forward. RM described it as the “show encore” when “the fireworks go off” and, after working through every emotion under the sun on the record, its disco-pop is pure catharsis.
BE feels like a gift. An album made by young people about how it feels to be young right now. And while we might not all be history-making K-pop superstars, the record makes good on the truism often touted as the reason behind BTS’ success: that music transcends all barriers. For everyone, the “new normal” involves wrestling with a difficult spectrum of emotion – grief, frustration, loss, anxiety – and while BTS aren’t afraid to dive into and dwell in dark places, BE also celebrates the little things: sunlight hitting an old desk, a sip of coffee, very average takeout food. The album is an oasis, “the small island in the middle of the blue sea,” as Jung Kook sings on “Telepathy.” It might just have saved 2020.