Article. Kang Myungseok
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC
Jimin is friendly. When you interview him, he immediately creates an atmosphere that puts you at ease. His voice is small and calm, answering every question with honesty and an almost shy smile. Jimin has described himself as “the kind of person who likes to be loved” (Weverse Magazine) but it feels like what he’s saying is that you have to possess the sort of kindness that allows you to care for and understand others in order to be loved yourself. To take that further, he released the first song he ever wrote himself, “Promise,” on December 31, 2018, and based it on how he felt during a performance at Citi Field Stadium in New York earlier that year on October 7: “Let’s make a resolution and a promise,” he had pledged to himself, seeing that the “situation can be miserable but let’s not make myself miserable. Let’s not insult myself.” He went into detail on his thought process on V LIVE a few weeks later on January 19. “Why can’t I say something honestly?” he wondered. “I should say that I’m tired when I feel tired. But I can’t be honest with myself. That’s what made me feel so suffocated. I thought, ‘There are a lot of people who would feel more tired than I do and can’t be honest with themselves.’” Maybe this explains why the lyrics to “Promise” that draw on his inner workings are phrased as an address to an unheard listener: “Now promise me / Even if you feel like you’re alone throughout the day / Don’t throw yourself away.” It comes across as a promise to escape from his inner turmoil and a form of consolation to people facing the same issues at the same time.
If Jimin were just an average young twentysomething with a normal life, his kind soul would have been a personal plus. But Jimin is a member of BTS. He’s surrounded by attention and judgment and he even faces unprovoked, malicious personal attacks based on unfounded claims. What is it about him that keeps him friendly despite everything he goes through? There’s a clip in “Interlude : Dive,” the second track off Jimin’s first solo album, FACE, of him greeting fans at a concert, and you can hear the smile in his voice. But on top of that is a voice that seems to be sobbing instead. There is an overlap between a superstar expressing his affection and gratitude for a sea of faces and a very reserved individual who suffers in private. Jimin is credited for Foley & Ambience work on the track, a series of recordings from his life layered overtop a score like a movie. It ends with the sound of someone pouring and then drinking some water. The next track is the album’s lead single, “Like Crazy,” the teaser photo for which shows Jimin alone in a house, lying on his stomach atop a table surrounded by shattered glass all over the floor. The very act of drinking water in private is linked to ruinous loneliness. The lyrics suggest how he might drown out his loneliness with “loud music” (“Keep me drenched all night / So that morning / Gets drunk and never comes”)—the loneliness of someone everyone knows but who can’t reveal his truth to anyone. If you look at FACE as a confession in the same way “Promise” is, you get an outline of what the album is trying to express. As the title “Interlude : Dive” suggests, that song describes Jimin sinking into himself through the use of cello midway through to pull the singer’s outer world into deep, dark depths. Continuing on from there, “Like Crazy” is a sort of struggle for a brief escape from that state of mind. The track that follows next, “Alone,” opens with the sound of an alarm clock—the following morning, apparently. Here, Jimin confides that the previous night’s distractions failed to free him from his sense of loneliness: “When I fell asleep drunk and couldn’t remember a thing, I thought / What am I even doing? / Why am I the only one like this? / No, everybody’s this way / I try and pretend everything’s fine but it’s pathetic.”

Viewing the songs on FACE as one connected work, the tracks “Face-off” and “Set Me Free Pt.2,” which come before and after the three already mentioned, respectively, mark the beginning and end of the cycle of psychological distress he confesses to as well as both the will and action to overcome it. Jimin places the blame on himself in “Face-off” (“Look at me now / Living like a fool”) but also identifies how “this miserable nightmare all started with trusting others.” No one but Jimin can know for sure just why he chose this to open the album but it’s possible to make an educated guess about what’s happening with one of the most famous stars in the world. He makes a promise to himself in “Face-off” because “the damn old days are gone” and comes to a new conclusion in “Set Me Free Pt.2” (“I won’t hide anymore even if it hurts / Going insane to stay sane / Raise your hands for the past me”). The very act of having released the latter ahead of the full album adds another layer of meaning. Looking at the wider perspective of the album, “Set Me Free Pt.2” is a rumination on, and the result of, his will to overcome the personal troubles he sings about in previous tracks. But as a single, the song represents the starting point of Jimin’s solo career, where, as the title suggests, he seeks to be free. The song is at once the end of the album and the beginning of his solo output.
Jimin makes FACE easy for listeners to understand. The music video for “Set Me Free Pt.2” highlights the dance moves of one of K-pop’s best-established performers by focusing entirely on the performance itself. Then there’s the very accessible single “Like Crazy” with its synth pop disco. It’s tempting to see the choice to release “Set Me Free Pt.2” early alongside the lead single as a way to cement his status as a dancer and competent vocalist respectively through two pop hits, but the full narrative of FACE, including these two songs, suggests there’s more meaning behind the move. The choice to use black and white right from the teaser for the album, for instance, immediately conveys a sense of duality. This may feel, conceptually, like a “dark” Jimin and a bright, mild-mannered Jimin stand opposed, but in the overall context of FACE, black and white aren’t at odds but more like the outer and inner life of one person. Jimin’s dressed in black for “Set Me Free Pt.2” as a huge crowd lifts him to the sky—a metaphor for his superstardom. On the other hand, he’s wearing all kinds of white in the teaser photos and music video for “Like Crazy”—a lonely young man in a sea of people in a crowded club. These clearly defined images of black and white help him to explore the complex emotions that led to him releasing FACE. In that respect, the album is a monument to the humble, passionate life Jimin lives in order to express his feelings. He chose to make the theme of his first solo album his life as experienced as an individual and as a member of BTS, but he also doesn’t pass up keeping it approachable, using symbols, promotional material, songs and performances that people can understand intuitively.

It’s the effort that went into not shying away from the duality in things like black and white, or “Like Crazy” and “Set Me Free Pt. 2,” that makes FACE so compelling. Take, for example, when Jimin is raised high in the air by the backup dancers in “Set Me Free Pt.2,” only to briefly disappear and reappear again wearing white. It’s as though once all the people surrounding him disappear, his inner, unseen side appears. The music video for the song, too, follows the lyrics closely to reflect Jimin’s life story. When he sings he’s “standing at the edge,” the other dancers move in a way that creates a swirl, and Jimin walks into it. The swirl disappears and he moves to dance in the middle of the stage just as he sings, “Fly away, butterfly.” And when he sings that he’s “finally free,” the camera captures the entire stage in a wide angle. The transition suggests a cathartic escape from the chaotic swirling of endless troubles to fly to freedom like a butterfly. The way the music video conveys the meaning of the lyrics through contemporary dance-like choreography and camerawork are similar to what BTS did with “Black Swan.” Considering that performance from the group and that Jimin majored in dance, it seems like the right choice, but most of the moves in “Set Me Free Pt.2” are specifically from contemporary dance rooted in hip hop. Most of his moves are electrifyingly choppy or have him grooving to the hip hop flow. By contrast, “Like Crazy” is full of disco-like moves, matching the club setting of the music video. The way Jimin and his backup dancers move as a whole during the lines, “So that morning / Gets drunk and never comes,” is reminiscent of Jimin’s dance in “Black Swan.” “Like Crazy” conveys Jimin’s loneliness through dance, like when the female dancers keep running their hands around him during the words, “As the loud music plays / I’m fading away.” Jimin dances more lightly in the chorus as the disco rhythm really takes hold (“I’d rather be…”), highlighting his remarkable technique. His performance in “Set Me Free Pt.2” differs with its higher energy and almost overwhelmingly intense hip hop-derived contemporary dance crowd. Though he frames his message in a genre whose characteristics best match it in the minds of listeners, he reinterprets the genre in his own style by conveying his message in a whole new way.

It’s here that Jimin’s time with BTS comes together with the long histories and traditions of genre to create something wholly new. FACE, on the whole, falls under the tonal umbrella of hip hop/R&B. “Face-off” starts off with an R&B melody with a dash of trap from the chorus (“Break it down”) and Jimin sings and raps on “Set Me Free Pt.2,” a hip hop track. There’s also a clear R&B influence in “Alone” when the tempo changes (“Get drunk and fall asleep”). If we follow this train of thought, “Like Crazy” sheds light on another dimension of FACE: the light it casts on solo Jimin dominating the stage with an exciting disco beat. The way he sings “Like Crazy” follows the tradition of Black solo artists including the Weeknd, Chris Brown, Usher and, looking further back, Michael Jackson. If including the other tracks off the album, FACE is a rarity in the United States: a debut R&B/hip hop album from a solo artist that’s coupled with truly impressive choreography. This gives the English version of “Like Crazy” additional meaning on top of the original Korean version. When Jimin performs “Like Crazy” on the US talk show The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in English, it’s immediately clear the traditions in which the song and its dance are rooted. But Jimin doesn’t stick rigidly with tradition, adding some new flavor as well. “Like Crazy” may be a dance number suitable for a night out but, as the music video shows, it’s also about feeling alone in the crowd at a club. You can hear it in the way the song starts off calm—not a typical feature of dance music—and heavy, deep tones make up the background. There’s even a woman’s deep, tranquil vocals beneath the upbeat synths between the energetic chorus and the bridge. In other words, while the main takeaway from the song is its exciting danceability, there’s also a subtle gloom lurking underneath. In a sense, the music embodies Jimin disposition: a colorful star on the stage with a soft, almost fragile temperament. “Like Crazy” sees Jimin’s solo efforts, which he started with the release of “Lie” under BTS, taking on a new style. FACE is a delicate expression of Jimin’s emotions and deviates from typical expectations of the established genre it’s rooted in.
Jimin sings in a never-before-heard deep voice in the opening to “Alone.” He sounds slightly hoarse, apparently connecting the track to the night scene he sings about in “Like Crazy,” and now his voice is filled with the empty sadness of morning. The song’s definitely R&B but he sings, “Can I go back?” in a high, passionate voice, as though singing an older Korean ballad. FACE is centered around R&B and hip hop where genre is concerned but Jimin sings in whatever styles and tones are most appropriate for whichever theme and emotion he’s expressing in each song. When he wants to come across as tough in “Face-off,” he uses R&B vocals (“Get it out, scream like crazy everybody, yeah yeah”). Then, in “Like Crazy,” he uses fairly straightforward vocals against the song’s disco beat, echoing its obliquely downer mood, disguising something sad inside a song people can still dance to. By exploring different vocal techniques throughout FACE, Jimin’s not only showing off a new side of himself but also finding a way to express his life story that strays from the run-of-the-mill patterns and styles of certain genres, which he even describes as “a cliché story like a drama” in “Like Crazy.” Jimin sings and raps in “Set Me Free Pt.2” in different styles for the intro and the chorus. There’s the occasional use of autotune, and he matches his vocal tone and style to each section of the song. Such elaborate changes are directly linked to the song’s commitment to finding personal freedom. The song is essentially FACE’s concluding piece, and the way he chooses to project his voice is what ends up conveying the meaning. Jimin fully exploits every aspect of his album to get at exactly what it is he’s out to express. It’s an effort to communicate the kind of person he is and the trials he’s been through to arrive at where he is today. As the “kind of person who likes to be loved,” he opens up about his delicate, dark side, but he expresses it with delicacy and in the most accessible, acceptable way. The result is an album that establishes him as a unique solo artist who’s working in a sphere occupied by him alone in both the worlds of K-pop and American pop, and also a long-established artist whose first album is clearly the work of a pop star.
“Letter” is the true final track on FACE, included only on physical copies of the album, and this decision seems to encapsulate the very way Jimin chooses to express himself. Just like with “Like Crazy” and “Alone,” “Letter” gives people some insight into who Jimin is. Lyrics like, “I hope you’re happier / When I fall / The one who holds their hand out to me is you,” touch on the universal feeling of missing someone else. But for listeners who are aware of the past 10 years of Jimin’s life, and especially how he felt when he wrote “Promise,” “Letter” begins to take on another meaning. As the title conveys, Jimin intends this song as a letter to his fans, an idea that’s reinforced by the fact that it’s only on physical copies. Fans who pick up Jimin’s album in their hands will hear him sing, “When we were together, we could become desert and sea / Now, as then,” and, “You’re a warm spring day in my cold winter.” Here he references BTS lyrics in a song meant explicitly for his fans, stirring up 10 years of history between them. It’s likely this sort of mentality that explains how Jimin can remain so friendly even now. His passionate expression of love for himself and others has led him somewhere new. Yet, of course, he is now, as then, affectionate.