Album Review: BTS – Map of The Soul: 7

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BTS’s global success is unprecedented. Whilst most international artists are described to have ‘broken’ into the western mainstream, the South Korean group has instead seen the rest of the world pander to them. Since their debut as a K-Pop group in 2013, the seven members of BTS (RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook), have attained superstardom. With the release of Map of the Soul:7, the group show no signs of slowing down. Though the success of BTS tends to be credited to their high-intensity live performances and powerfully performed choreography, MOTS:7 allows the group to further showcase their often-overlooked expertise in music production.

BTS will perform two sell-out shows at Twickenham Stadium, London, this July. Image: ChoHyeri via Wikimedia and Creative Commons.

BTS’s working process is far more sophisticated than critics are willing to give them credit for. Their Map of The Soul series, which began with the EP Persona in 2019 and continues with 7, is inspired by the works of psychologist Carl Jung, specifically his scholarship on the science of human development and subsequently, self-acceptance. This twenty-track long album shows BTS graduate from their previous Love Yourself series and embrace a more complex mediation on the path to self-love.

BTS kicks off with five tracks from their previous EP in the MOTS series – RM’s solo track Persona is perhaps the best introduction to the mega-album BTS could offer. Combining mainstream rap with electric retro riffs, the theme for the album is set in the lyrical hook: ‘Who the hell am I?’

BTS’ Map of the Soul series is inspired by the work of Carl Jung.

The other six members also have solo turns, beginning with Jimin’s “Filter”, a sultry Latin pop piece, acknowledging his versatility as a performer in both the lyrics and melody. The solo series continues with the youngest member, Jungkook, reflecting on his journey growing up with BTS with the R&B track “My Time”, capturing the hardships of spending his adolescent years within the K-Pop machine. In a similar fashion, member V uses his solo minutes to speak to his younger self with “Inner Child” and, in classic BTS style, Jin’s solo “Moon” is a wholesome love letter to fans. The solo series concludes with the outro, “Ego”, an optimistic and celebratory blast of positive energy from rapper J-Hope.

“Black Swan” incorporates traditional East Asian music styles in combination with mainstream pop, demonstrating how BTS refuse to shy away from their cultural roots.

Perhaps the most impressive solo turn comes from rapper Suga, who shares his experiences with paranoia in Shadow, perhaps the darkest piece of the album. The final minute of the emo-rap track is taken over by Suga’s ‘shadow’, resulting in a change of beat to a far more aggressive, almost violent, energy. His shadow taunts him, declaring ‘You can’t escape, wherever you go / I am you, you are me, now you do know’.

BTS have become darlings of the press, especially through appearances on The Graham Norton Show and The Late Late Show with James Cordon. Image: TV10/TenAsia via Wikimedia and Creative Commons.

Clearly, BTS do not shy away from presenting the darker sides of their fame and the hardships they have encountered as K-Pop artists trying to break into an international scene that is not always welcoming. This is perhaps best demonstrated by “Black Swan”, fitting into the fan theory of a darker album concept, and documenting the groups’ fear of eventually losing their passion for their art; ‘The heart no longer races / When hearing the music place / That would be my first death / I been always afraid of.’ In a similar way to several of their earlier cuts (notably “IDOL” and “Ddaeng”), “Black Swan” incorporates traditional East Asian music styles in combination with mainstream pop, demonstrating how BTS refuse to shy away from their cultural roots.

The album includes several slower paced tracks, notably “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal”, in which the group reminisces on their seven years together, and the duet “Friends”, which shares with fans an intimate ode to brotherhood, complete with string backing. In a complementary tone, “00:00 (Zero O’clock)” sees the vocalists of the group assure fans ‘And you’re gonna be happy’ in a moving power ballad.

BTS are forcing the mainstream market to pay attention to a new kind of global phenomenon

However, the album’s real shining moments come in the form of high-intensity beats which feel nostalgic to BTS’s earlier sound, borrowing the aesthetics of their debut-era sound and revamping it to sit alongside contemporary trap and RnB. The track “UGH!” takes centre stage – the rap piece is undeniably energetic, following a scalic hook and incorporating vocal play, call and response, autotune and even gunshots to create an infectious anthem that reigns over the album. The explosive, stadium ready lead single “ON” also sits in this category of more dynamic tracks, incorporating a fierce marching band with soulful choral harmonies in a track that can only be described as triumphant.  

With MOTS:7, BTS have successfully demonstrated their versatility as artists, forcing the mainstream market to pay attention to a new kind of global phenomenon. As the members themselves have said, ‘the genre is BTS’MOTS:7 has a track suitable for every taste, something I predict will be successful in inducting a new generation of fans. Overall, the album is an outstanding accomplishment in entertainment. We can look forward to an explosive world tour in which BTS’s stand-out characteristic – their high-energy stages – will complement the album well.

BTS’s latest album, Map of the Soul: 7, is out now via Big Hit.

Image: TV10/TenAsia via Wikimedia and Creative Commons.

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