Article. Randy Suh (Music Writer)
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC
Whenever I see Jin from BTS and how radiant he is, he seems just like a boy to me. As an idol, he naturally wears many faces, but that’s my overall impression of him. Though he has some sharp, handsome features, his soft face makes him look younger than he is. He’s always cracking little jokes with the other members of BTS and their staff in all their videos. He’s been a big fan of the game Maple Story for half his life and likes cute characters like RJ, the character he created for the group’s BT21 line. At the same time, he comes off as very upright and elegant, looking good in a suit and maintaining excellent posture in any position. His consideration of others comes across in his gentle way of speaking and occasional idle chatter, and he stays levelheaded in tight situations, emphasizing the importance of keeping the music sincere. He’s one of the less open of the BTS members, but it’s not to maintain an affected air of mystery—more that he chooses his words carefully because he only wants to share the good parts with his fans. Similar to a metaphor he used in a previous interview, Jin is the kind of person who wouldn’t cross the street on a “don’t walk” signal, even when no one’s around to catch him. Looking at the full context of what he said, he wasn’t exemplifying strict obedience to social norms but a conviction that being good is the right way to act. His is the image of a lifelong boy or an adult who’s pure of heart.
Jin’s vocals are a part of that image as well: boyish, yet mature. Of all the BTS members, his are the most straightforward. He has a soft, beautiful voice, but he can also reach high notes with such force as to be cathartic. Sometimes his voice is also slightly, but nonetheless recognizably, nasal, adding to his vocal tone a childlike quality well-suited to his beautiful voice. He leverages this to make some of his performances sound affectionate and others plaintive. The song “Yours” from the Jirisan soundtrack is a perfect example. His soft, boyish voice sounds like it’s going to break but never does, sounding plaintive yet elegant—like a plant growing on the side of a rocky mountain, tender but never broken.
The influence of older Korean pop music on his vocal style is clear as well. He’ll sing the opening note of a song like a sigh or else bend it (a technique where the singer starts at one note and slides to another). This works especially well when he’s singing pop songs from the 1990s and 2000s in various videos from Run BTS and BANGTAN BOMB, among others. This technique makes his songs sound more mature, drawing an interesting contrast with his otherwise youthful voice. The effect is electrifying—like a child actor reciting difficult lines in a historical drama or a manager who’s used to baby-talking at home and accidentally speaks the same way to his employees. Such contradictory ingredients make for a sweet mix.
Jin’s solo songs all have a number of things in common. They tend to center more around melody than rhythm, have poetic lyrics, use a slower tempo and are Korean-style (or even rock) ballads rather than hip hop. The first song he ever covered online was “Mom” by Ra.D—a favorite among teens—and his first solo song on a BTS album was “Awake,” a ballad featuring a lush string section and melodic vocals. His next solo song, “Epiphany,” takes the ballad parts of “Awake” and builds up to an arena rock song. He also uploaded a cover of Yoon Do Hyun’s “Autumn Outside the Post Office.” The first song he ever wrote, “Tonight,” is another ballad whose sweet lyrics tell the story of having to part with one’s pet. He also wrote a folk ballad about depression, “Abyss,” which features a simple composition and uses words sparingly to get its message across.
In that respect, this differentiates his solo music from the cutting-edge(?) style of K-pop that BTS ushered in with their debut in 2013 and continued with throughout the 2010s. At least for their singles, BTS focuses on K-pop with complex rhythms, mainly leaning toward hip hop/R&B and EDM. Before introducing BTS, BIGHIT MUSIC (then Big Hit Entertainment) was known for their ballads in the vein of groups like 2AM and 8eight, but once BTS came in, the label made their mark with these faster-paced songs. Thanks to Jin’s solo work, the rising strings of these ballads of old are under the BTS umbrella as well. When “Awake” was released in 2016, SUGA told Jin that he never realized they could have ballads like that on their albums and said he enjoyed listening to it (WINGS concept book). In that way, Jin’s catalog of solo songs also extends one end of BTS’s musical spectrum. Using his songs as a stepping stone, BTS has come to incorporate elements of 1990s and early 2000s K-pop into their music.
It’s easy to think Jin might feel burdened, but there’s nothing in his live performances to suggest so. The most notable feature of Jin’s performances is that he’s nothing if not reliable. At any given performance, even when something goes wrong, he can be counted on to give a consistent performance. He said he felt like he might lose his voice in the lead-up to Yet to Come in Busan, his latest performance, but you never would’ve known it to see him singing. He also says that, because he felt he got into music late, he practiced intensely behind the scenes before his debut and after as well. His habit of persistent practice only served to emphasize the characteristics of his vocals already mentioned—his soft tone, straightforward sound and clean-cut image—and make them a flawless gem.
“The Astronaut,” the single Jin released in October, was a gift from British band Coldplay. It’s the second time the two have collaborated, the first being “My Universe” off Coldplay’s album Music of the Spheres, which features all the members of BTS. The writing credits for “The Astronaut” list the four performers of Coldplay, the DJ Kygo (under his legal name, Kyrre Gørvell-Dahll) and the late film score composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. The latter is credited because the song samples the soundtrack from Arrival, a movie documenting an encounter between humans and intergalactic intelligent life.
“The Astronaut” Is unmistakably both Coldplay and Jin. If you had told Jin, or any of the members of BTS, back in 2013 that they’d be collaborating with Coldplay in 2022, they never would have believed it. But to listen to “The Astronaut,” it’s clear that Coldplay’s signature sound is a good fit for Jin. I’m reminded of the band’s ballads that rose to such popularity in Korea in the 2000s. The hallmarks of Coldplay’s sound—Chris Martin’s ear for catchy melodies, the songs’ rich guitars and pianos, the straightforward yet oddly comforting lyrics—are all heard in songs like “Yellow” (Parachutes, their debut album in 2000), “The Scientist” (A Rush of Blood to the Head, their second album) and “Fix You” (X&Y, their third album). A lot of Korean pop music lovers liked these songs because of those characteristics even if they weren’t terribly familiar with other music from abroad.
Both Jin and Coldplay have a history of tying together the themes of love and space. Jin did so on “Mikrokosmos” and “Moon” (his solo song off MAP OF THE SOUL: 7), while Coldplay put a fairytale spin on the universe with their most recent album, Music of the Spheres. Fans had a theory that the imaginary planet that appeared in the poster for Jin’s song could be the last planet in the story within Coldplay’s album. Coldplay is no stranger to writing songs about time, the stars in space, love and comfort. It was true when they were in their post-Britpop phase of the 2000s, it was true as they came to explore popular genres outside rock through the 2010s and it remains true to this day. The cosmic synths that form the center of “The Astronaut” come courtesy of Norwegian EDM producer Kygo and make the song that much more remarkable.
The Korean lyrics, written by Jin, are a serenade sung by an aimless space traveler to his loved ones. The song also doubles as a love letter to his fans, ARMY, ahead of his military service. The Little Prince-like image of sailing past the stars is already beautiful, but knowing it’s also his way of bidding a brief goodbye makes it that much more touching. On October 28, Jin explained on Weverse Live that BE, released in late 2020, would be BTS’s final album before he serves. He pushed back earlier plans to enter so the group could enter the Grammy race following its release and again to hold concerts after waiting a long time for COVID-19-related social distancing restrictions to be eased. He hinted at his future plans during their “BTS Dinner Party” video in June this year but they were delayed once more when the group was asked to perform in October to support Busan’s bid for the World Expo. In the two years his plans were repeatedly delayed, the question of Korean pop superstars BTS’s military service was widely talked about. I imagine he likely underwent a lot of stress on a personal level. Nevertheless, his parting present to fans is a song full of thoughtful words and delivered with love. The song, like Jin, is radiant and wise.
I keep emphasizing how youthful Jin is, but he was actually the only member of BTS to join the group as an adult. This placed Jin in a unique position to take care of his younger bandmates as they went through the life-defining transition from adolescence to adulthood. Though he entered the industry with his personality already largely solidified, he was always the oldest of the BTS boys that ARMY would see. He’s like a “forever boy,” and one who exists as a paradox: an adult from the outset who helped young fans of BTS to grow. And perhaps he’s a more affectionate boy for this reason.
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