BTS released its new album, BE, on November 20 after RM announced the band’s plan to produce the record on BANGTANTV’s Log (ON) on April 17. The group was working on the album even as “Dynamite”, the single they dropped on August 21, was topping the Billboard Hot 100. This order of events is given a fresh new meaning when “Dynamite” closes BE as opposed to standing alone as a single. While the group was busy sending messages of hope by reminding us of the past where heading out happily after a cup of milk was possible and giving us a glimpse of the future that will eventually come, they were recording the emotional ride they have been on while being off stage via different tracks on BE. Such changes in emotions can be seen through different portrayals of Jung Kook’s room—the way it looks during the first verse of both “Dynamite” and “Life Goes On,” the title track of the new album. Jung Kook is captured looking chipper as he ties his shoes getting ready to go out and dances in his sunshine-filled room in the music video of “Dynamite”, but in the latter’s video, Jung Kook stares blankly out the window. BE tells the story of how Jung Kook and other members navigated their lives, which includes their time singing “Dynamite,” during the pandemic by stepping out of rooms that are distinctively less colorful than the scenes in the music video of “Dynamite”.

The seven tracks, not including “Dynamite”, embody BTS’ emotional shifts and draw what looks a lot like a V curve, with “Skit” separating each section of three songs. The album opens with “Life Goes On” where BTS asks, “there’s no end in sight / is there a way out?” to live through a reality devoid of hope and arrives at “Stay” where the group expresses their intense longing for a reunion with the fans by saying, “Thinking of you now / No matter where you are / That’s not important.” And during this journey, BTS responds to the physical limitations imposed on their daily lives by saying “They took away this whole year” while also trying to put a positive spin on it by singing, “Thoughts can change by thinking,” in “Fly to My Room”. What follows is “Blue & Grey”, where they reveal inner feelings of depression and anxiety with the line, “Still don’t know this sharp blue / Hope it’s not covered over I’ll find the exit.” “Skit” then offers a shift in direction, and the next song, “Telepathy” reveals their eagerness to meet people again, highlighted by the lyrics, “Every day’s the same and I’m happiest when I meet you.” BTS also takes a moment to let out their complex thoughts on work to reach “Stay” ultimately. It is only at the end of this process that the optimism in “Dynamite”, which feels like a conviction of hope in a time of pandemic, appears in full.

“Life Goes On” allows those who don’t know whether they should hold on to hope or give up on hope to feel what it is like to go with the flow when you don’t know what to feel. Those who want to find a reason to be positive in life affected by the pandemic can find solace in “Fly to My Room.” But it is when you listen to the album as a whole that you can get healing from the pain the pandemic has inflicted on us. The soothing ambiance offered by “Life Goes on” transitions into heavy, slow, and dark tunes in “Blue & Grey,” which is followed by faster rhythm and airy sounds in “Telepathy” and “Stay.” Then the album finally culminates in “Dynamite” where the bright sunshine lifts you up. The record in its entirety offers the chance to experience at least indirectly the emotional ride taken by global superstars BTS themselves. “Dis-ease” is the classic example of the storytelling style BTS chose for the album; the moment they let out their angst and fully devote themselves to work is when the song reaches its climax. When BTS sings, “Get up one more time / It’s morning again we gotta go out / Let’s go one more night,” towards the end of the song, the arrangement drives up the song’s tension for the peak moment, “Everyday I console myself / We’re all the same people ain’t so special / Ay man keep one, two step keep calm and let’s heal up” which tops the song off like fireworks. This ironic way of storytelling mirrors BTS’ life at the moment. There are a lot of thoughts about work and life on their mind, but they try their best to work through them. And just as they do this, their energy transforms into a musical blast.

With “On,” the single track on their previous album “Map of the Soul : 7,” BTS says “Where my pain lies / Let me take a breath.” The album covers how BTS has traveled from the past to where they stand now, and “ON” tells a story of the members having to live with the “shadow” that comes with enormous fame as discussed in “Interlude : Shadow” on the very same album. With BE, BTS finally tells the story of their lives that are still unfolding. It’s not clear whether their questions about work asked in “Dis-ease” now found answers. It’s not known how long this will last, just like no one knows when this pandemic will finally run its course. We have no way of knowing if they are still in the mood expressed in “Blue & Grey” or they’re feeling the positivity of “Fly to My Room.” One thing that is clear is that while they battle work as one would with “Dis-ease,” they still wrote songs like “Telepathy” and “Stay” to send their messages to the fans, and kept busy getting ready to perform “Dynamite” on numerous stages. BE is the album that ties together all of their real-life events, both on and off stage, as one narrative. They started as an idol group and now their lives are intertwined inseparable from their music, their very existence becoming the stories they tell.

The way BE sets up different songs is directly linked to the musical changes BTS has undergone, and thus, are evident in the album. As the members’ stories take center stage, the arrangement focuses on getting their lines and melodies across and adjusts itself flexibly to each member’s part without following a certain trend or form. The arrangement filled with sounds of guitars, synthesizers, bass, drums, and pianos or sounds similar to real instruments is fitting to songs like “Fly to My Room” and “Blue & Grey”, in which auditory shifts accompany each member’s part. The smaller number of sounds used in BE compared to previous albums further emphasizes vocals, such as by accentuating the sound of Jung Kook inhaling in the beginning of “Life Goes On.” If J-Hope’s part in “Fly to My Room” reminds you of a gospel song, it’s not just because the synthesizer highlighted the gospel-like vibes but also because j-Hope’s voice that faithfully delivers his emotions as if giving witness to an epiphany with the line, “Thoughts can change by thinking.” Just like the auditory shift that takes place with SUGA’s rap part in “Blue & Grey” where the drums begin to layer, the arrangement of BE evolves constantly in line with each member’s part.

BE also takes on new challenges in format.. The chorus in “Blue & Grey” has such long melodies that it has no clear ending, and it fades out for the post-chorus that triggers an image of a lonely winter night with gloomy vocals. The post-chorus might seem like an abrupt shift but many devices contribute to giving this song the bleak wintery night vibe: RM’s somewhat distant rapping delivered through left and right on stereo that echoes through the room as well as the vocal recording that applied different echoes depending on lyrics and the solemn sounding cello. “Life Goes On” progresses in a similar fashion, starting with percussions ringing right next to your ears that create multi-layered sounds and taking you to an imagined space by blending the chorus and synthesizer. The story they tell resembles confessions about emotional states or specific circumstances, and the melodies unfold and rap flows in new ways as the story progresses While there are a lot of shifts, there is consistency in that sounds build the same sense of space. “Stay,” while being an EDM piece, ends on a rather blue note after phasing out beats that earlier set the stage for the dancefloor stomper. It makes sense given that the song is Jung Kook’s imagination of performing in front of the fans; Festivities in the song are interrupted by the fading out of vocals and overall sound layers. “Telepathy” offers a catchy hook in a song filled with bouncy spirit, just like “Dynamite” does. But the difference lies in that “Dynamite” brings out the explosive energy through repetition of melodies and variation of rhythms and that “Telepathy” phases itself out by reducing the number of sounds. “Fly to My Room” is about coming to terms with life in the pandemic, but the acknowledgment doesn’t necessarily make such a life enjoyable. Adding vibrant melodies isn’t a solution to challenges that accompany work, which are conveyed in “Dis-ease.” Such are the mixed feelings we experience in life—in which we have no control over a break or our approach—that are clearly expressed in the album by highlighting each member’s part and various shifts. Despite the numerous musical turns, the album has been produced in a way that ensures its consistency throughout the entire work; “Life Goes On” leaves you with the chorus where the seamless melodic flow seems like it’ll just keep on going.

In “Skit”, BTS is talking about how they’re practicing their debut song for performance even on the day after “Dynamite” became No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. After they topped the chart with “Dynamite”, they came back with an album filled with songs seemingly the polar opposites of their hit single. Life seems to be on a loop but changes suddenly appear, and previous routines end up different because of this newness. BE is an acceptance of such peculiarity of life rather than an answer to it. BTS began with K-pop and now have become superstars of pop, and they’ve harnessed the power of their own story in the album by choosing neither path. The team that began its journey with “No More Dream” and have traveled to “Dynamite” leaves an open ending as to where they will head next. Still, the next chapter will be shared regardless of what it shapes up to be. That is why they can leave us wondering what comes after BE.
Article. Myungseok Kang
Photo Credit. BIGHIT MUSIC
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