The seven-member K-pop boy group BTS is having a phenomenal year. They toured five different countries after the release of their first compilation album in May (“The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever”), headlined two major events on both coasts of the U.S., and have had two albums make the Billboard 200. They became the first K-pop group to receive their own Twitter emoji, and this past March was declared by Forbes to be the most retweeted artist on Twitter, followed by Kanye West. The recent release of their second full-length album, “Wings,” has continued their streak of success, breaking records and earning them more attention than ever.
The title track of BTS’s newest album is aptly named “Blood Sweat & Tears.” Peaking at no. 29, “Blood Sweat & Tears” is now the highest ranked K-Pop single ever on the U.S. iTunes overall top 100 songs chart, beating out BTS’ own previous record of no. 34 with their track “Fire.” Undoubtedly, the group members have poured every bit of their blood, sweat and tears into making “Wings” the creative masterpiece that it is, and fans seem to recognize the effort. The album shot to no. 1 on iTunes on the day of its release, edging out Solange’s “A Seat at the Table.” With this feat, the group now claims the highest charted full K-Pop album on the U.S. iTunes overall albums chart.
Additionally, the music video for “Blood Sweat & Tears” is the fastest video by a K-pop group to hit 10 million views. The music video showcases the new themes the BTS members explore in their latest album, which evokes a darker and more mature feel than their previous albums which explored lighter themes about youth and nostalgia. The video takes place in a museum and features celestial imagery; statues and paintings are in the background as the members dance to the chorus of the song. The dance itself features lots of hip rolling and suggestive glances, creating a sensual atmosphere.
BTS’s inspiration for the video came from Hermann Hesse’s novel “Demian,” a coming of age story in which the protagonist struggles to reconcile the world of illusion with the world of spiritual truth in order to understand his true self. There is a pause in the music video for Rap Monster, the group’s leader, to recite a few lines from the novel; the lines chosen add a sinister vibe to the video, saying “he too was a tempter, and moreover my link with the second, evil world which I never wanted to have anything more to do.”
At one point in the video, another BTS member, V, appears as an angel whose black wings seem to have been roughly ripped off of his back. We later see black wings sprouting from a pristine white marble statue. Moments like these in the video reinforce the theme of imperfection, a concept usually rejected in the world of flawless Korean pop idols.
However, BTS has always tackled themes generally avoided in K-pop with no hesitation. In their previous albums, their lyrics have covered everything from loneliness to frustrations with society, a stark contrast to the usual feel-
good K-pop lyrics about parties and first loves. Perhaps this willingness to explore deeper issues is why the group has found success all over the world—fans can easily empathize with the more gritty themes the group brings to light.
“Wings” certainly follows the group’s trend of being unconditional, as each of the seven members has his own solo track. This is fairly uncommon in the world of K-pop, in which all the songs on a group’s album usually include all of the members. BTS’s solo tracks range from dramatic ballads to angsty raps to jazz-inspired tunes, truly emphasizing the unique abilities of each member. With these solo tracks, the individual members are able to explore their own artistic interests with tracks that belong to only them, yet tie in to the overall message of the album. The members are also brought together by the rest of the group tracks on the album.
Balancing individual expression with group expression seems to be one of the keys to BTS’s success, as they continue to push boundaries and break records. BTS’s popularity can also be linked to the fresh perspectives they have on relevant topics and their audacity to explore themes others might deem too controversial for mainstream K-pop. Hopefully, as the year comes to an end, we will continue to see BTS in the spotlight as they open more doors for K-pop around the world, especially with rumors that a world tour may be in sight for 2017.