On Feb. 21, the South-Korean boy band BTS (Beyond the Scene) released their seventh studio album “Map of the Soul: 7.” The album is made up of 20 tracks, five of which come from their previous album “Map of the Soul: Persona.” Each track, regardless of whether it was pre-released or not, secured a spot on the U.S. iTunes Top Twenty sales list within hours of the album’s release, effectively wiping the entire chart clean.
This immediate upheaval of charts and streams is nothing new for the internationally acclaimed K-pop group, which continues to break records and global boundaries with every song release and every public performance. BTS is the first group since the Beatles to win three Billboard No. 1’s in a year, and they have the highest number of Twitter engagements on the platform. They are also the first Korean group to present at the Grammys as well as to perform on a U.S. award show. As 2020 is the seven-membered group’s seventh anniversary of their incredibly expansive career, “Map of the Soul: 7” is indeed a symbolic ode to themselves, their fans (who are nicknamed ARMYs) and the mountains they’ve climbed together.
In 2013, BTS debuted as nobodies within the K-pop industry, with little funding or name-recognition due to their label’s ongoing recovery from bankruptcy. As a result, their early tracks were populated with lyrics yearning for fame and success such as “No More Dream,” where member Suga raps, “I wanna big house, big cars & big rings.” A few years later, their songs evolved to celebrate their successes. For example, in “Mic Drop,” they boast: “Another trophy, my hands carry ‘em / Too many that I can’t even count ‘em.”
Now, in “Map of the Soul: 7,” the group seems to be looking over their shoulder for the first time since reaching the peak, grappling with the sudden responsibility of fame, as well as questioning how to stay in love with the craft itself. “Black Swan,” the pre-released angsty, East-Asian influenced melody tactfully epitomizes this agony over the possible dwindling love for one’s art. The members’ distorted voices apprehensively chorus, “If this can no longer resonate / No longer make my heart vibrate / Then like this may be how I die my first death / But what if that moment’s right now?” This doubtful and pensive theme re-appears in Suga’s “Interlude: Shadow” where his rap lyrics parallel a heated dialogue with his inescapable shadow that represents his overwhelming fame. The metaphorical shadow ominously echoes Suga’s older, debut-era lyrics: “I want it all mine / I wanna be rich / I wanna be the king,” while his newfound self fretfully confesses, “I run but the shadow follows / I’m afraid, flying high is terrifying / No one told me how lonely it is up here.” In understanding that their entire career is based off of their art, BTS’s vulnerability in revealing their future’s uncertainty is admirable — it shows how BTS consistently prioritizes authenticity over mass appeal.
The album, like all of its predecessors, also allows for plenty of showcasing of the group’s diverse abilities to work both alone and in sub-units.
The three rappers — RM, Suga and J-Hope — collaborate on the bass-boosted, trap-beat-saturated, hard-hitting diss track “UGH!” which calls out the pessimistic, “malice-filled rage” permeating today’s global mindset. The acidic lyrics and punctual beats layered on top of a distinctly East-Asian inspired melody make the track addictive and exhilarating. The four vocalists — Jungkook, V, Jimin and Jin — team up on “00:00” (Zero O’Clock), an uplifting guitar-riff and pop-infused melody that encourages fans to view every new day as an opportunity to start over and strive toward happiness. The message of this track immaculately encapsulates the key factor behind BTS’ ever-expanding fan base and positive brand: their masterful ability to provide genuine support and intimate assurance, not just love songs or catchy beats, to those who listen.
Additionally, each of the seven members contributes his own solo track. From an unforeseen seduction in Jimin’s Latin-inspired melody, “Filter,” to a nostalgic retrospection in V’s angelic ballad, “Inner Child,” to Jin’s heartfelt gratitude toward ARMYs in his upbeat pop track, “Moon,” we witness dynamic and individualistic qualities coalesce into the kaleidoscopic collage of what makes this group so great.
Ultimately, BTS has reached a point of fame and worldwide acclaim where any content they release is guaranteed to be well-received. Yet, instead of settling, their efforts in “Map of the Soul: 7” make it clear that they remain committed to exceeding both their and our expectations with every story told and song sung.