Upon seeing BTS in the title, you’re probably thinking one of two things:
- Aye haye, not another article on that boyband! Does MangoBaaz have nothing better to do?
- YES! Someone else who has something good to say about BTS!
If it’s either one of these, or even none of these, I suggest you still read through it, and see whatever right or wrong opinion you have about the band towards the end.
By now, I’m fairly certain BTS needs no introduction. This group of seven young men from various parts of South Korea (none of which are Seoul, surprisingly), with different backgrounds, social classes, and even personalities, have taken the world by storm by being THE most popular musical group out there.
How does one like a group singing in a language that they don’t even understand? To quote the director of the OSCAR nominated film “Parasite” Bong Joon-Ho: you’ll be introduced to so much more amazing content “once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles.”
Absolutely sick beats aside, once you read the translated/subtitled lyrics of BTS’ music, you’ll realize that the messages they are spreading are so simple yet so extraordinary, that you never even knew you needed to hear them. At the core of these, it is being to be able to achieve a sense of self-love, but not painting it as something that is easily attained thorough means such as blocking an ex and putting on a face mask.
BTS’ music describes the rough terrain, the gut-wrenching process that one goes through to truly achieve that self-love; the sadness, denial, heartbreak, and self-doubt that one encounters when truly trying to heal and achieve. They NORMALISE the fact that growth is non-linear and most definitely not a smooth transition, but at the same time, it’s completely okay and the entire process is worth all that is waiting on the other side of fear.
As if to try and make the listener feel better, BTS often cite their own experiences and feelings too; their struggles through bankruptcy and financial status with their company not being big enough, the odds of them ever debuting let alone being successful, and how they “created an ocean from the desert they were struggling through with their blood, sweat, and tears” (referenced from their song “Sea”).
However, they tackle success from quite a unique perspective, through a lens no one really looks at: achieving more success than one expects to.
These boys weren’t even expecting to hit it off as big as they did and while they mention their immense gratitude for it, they also talk about how that puts more pressure on them. What do you do when you’ve gained more than you could have ever imagined? Do you strive for more and more or do you take what you have? Do you work yourself to death so you don’t lose it all or do you rest? What does one do when, according to one of their descriptions in a past interview, “reach the 60th floor when they only wanted to go up to the 15th floor?”
They’ve even gone as far as to confess about possibly disbanding at the peak of their career due to being unable to cope with the pressures of such an immense success, and that their fans were the main reason they chose not to; to make their listeners happy triumphed their own fears and gave them a reason to live their own dreams.
A very recent example of that could be seen in their latest comeback for their upcoming album “Map Of The Soul: 7”
The Map of the Soul is a reference to psychologist Carl Jung’s way to map the human soul, with certain archetypes being used to symbolize aspects of it, which include, well, Persona, Shadow, and Ego.
The comeback trailer for this latest album is called “Interlude: Shadow” (the one for their last album was called Intro: Persona) and shows Min Yoongi (SUGA) singing about how the more he shines, the bigger his shadow grows and the more that scares him; highlighting both the good and bad that comes with his dream coming true. It begs the question of which outweighs the other; would you be willing to take the growing risks of bad things that could happen if you become successful? It shows glimpses of an internal battle on what one would want, as the lyrics go:
“Don’t let me shine, don’t let me down, don’t let me fly, now I’m afraid”
Towards the end, it shows that perhaps Yoongi has accepted that his “shadow”, the bad parts of his life as SUGA, will always be a part of him so might as well make it work. Do be sure to turn captions on before watching the music videos.
They also released their second single called “Black Swan”, which was shown as a performance art film by the MN dance company. This song talks about the loss of one’s passion for art as being the first of two deaths, with this first death being more painful than the second one.
They talk about the possibility of not being in love with your creative process, with the mesmerizing dance performance showing shadows reigning in the main dancer within their hold until he begins to show resistance to fight for his passion. Using art to talk about the loss of passion for art? Ingenious! Who’s doing it like them, really?
The boys also launched a collaboration with 22 artists from around the world called “CONNECT: BTS”.
The artists will hold exhibitions that are free to the public and their work resonates with the message that the band wishes to spread and aligns with their diverse world views. In the panel with the other artists, BTS’ own views on interpreting each of their styles and work show how they are so much smarter and analytical than we give them credit for; how they are above being asked the typical questions of what their favorite city or color is or who their celebrity crush is.
I don’t even need to talk about them being one of the ambassadors and speakers at the United Nations General Assembly for their “Love Yourself” and “Speak Yourself” campaigns to end violence among the youth.
In both their group albums as well as their solo work (SUGA/Agust D, J-Hope and RM all have solo mixtapes) they talk about the fear of losing it all, the greed for more, the impact all of it had on their mental health and most importantly, how they themselves are still learning and growing to be at peace with themselves.
These boys have tackled mental health in both a direct, raw way as well as one that acts as a soothing balm for listeners.
SUGA and Kim Namjoon (RM) have been open about their struggles with anxiety and depression, and going to therapy; Jimin on perfectionism and confidence in who he is and his weight; Jin on trying to be fun and extroverted as the band’s “Worldwide Handsome” when he really is an introverted soul, and Jungkook (the youngest) on how the other six have practically raised him into being the man he is today.
They talk about both the good and the bad that comes with success.
They talk about beauty and the ugliness of healing, and use well-researched psychological, cultural and literary references instead of just throwing them in as an effort to being fancy and lyrical; the music video for “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” is a testament to that.
They address these topics with such confidence and in a way that they should be addressed: as a part of everyday conversation. They address them so wonderfully and directly that one can’t help but wonder how much bravery it takes to do so, and think about how we could be this brave.
Where do I come in? This time two years ago, I was pretty passive towards BTS’ music; I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t think they would fit my vibe either. Besides, there was a lot of stuff I was going through to even care about listening to their music. Alas, peer pressure from my friends and cousin succeeded in the end, and I listened to their track “Not Today.” I’d heard ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears’ before through my brother, but was a little too captivated by the visuals of the music video than to pay attention to the lyrics. That, and a couple of fan-made videos on YouTube, sealed my fate and I knew there was no going back from there.
When I started paying close attention to the lyrics, I realized that there really was something to be said about what they’re putting out in the universe.
Oh, and if you’re thinking how people like me should turn to religion instead of music for comfort, you should know that while I’m far from being perfectly religious, I do pray frequently and I believe God really did send them as a form of comfort for a lot of people.
As someone who often finds it hard to deal with life in terms of mental health, postgraduate studies, work, my future, my self-worth, the spark-notes version of this would be that they make me feel immensely better about myself. They don’t just simply tell me to chin up or be happy or everything is going to be okay. They tell me that life has various points where it sucks and pulls you down, as it has to them as well, but that’s okay; we’ll figure it out, get through it, and emerge stronger than we were.
And quite frankly, I would rather hear that over both an overt sugar coated way of someone telling me to be optimistic or a jaded reality check on how I should deal with it because life will only ever be a series of knockouts unless I steel myself from emotion and vulnerability.
They don’t romanticize my anxiety, burnout, sadness or struggle. People like me aren’t painted to be looking beautiful with a heavy heart and tearful eyes; they paint us and themselves as young adults who struggle every day, whether it be due to expectations of elders and more successful people who call us lazy (listen to “Baepsae” and “Dope”), overcoming a huge amount of self-doubt and stress about living our dreams and being our best selves (listen to “Sea” and “Paradise”), or even feeling lonely, confused, and not having it all together (listen to “Magic Shop” and “Answer: Love Myself”). They also leave their songs on a hopeful note, on how maybe we can find answers together, and one day, we will be in a much better place than before.
If anything, BTS is a true representation of poetic justice.
They show how giving good to the world comes back to them in the form of their own dreams coming true, leaving all those who looked down on them far behind. They deserve their popularity and achievements with all the good they are spreading in a world that seems to be brimming with the bad.
At times, it really feels like we do not deserve people like them. A few western celebrities such as Halsey and John Cena have shown to truly understand and admire them for what they are and do, while a lot of the rest seem to only love them for their fame. However, it’s safe to say that they did, indeed, pave the way for other groups and K-Pop to become a global phenomenon. If nothing else, the very least one can do is to respect their artistry and their efforts to make ARMYs’ and any listeners’ days a bit brighter.
Cover image via @bts.bighitofficial/Instagram