December 4, 2015


BTS: K-Pop's Social Conscience

BigHit Entertainent
BigHit Entertainent

As any K-pop fan would uncomfortably admit, sometimes it's hard to get a handle on the personalities of a group's various members. It's not their fault: In the K-pop industry, the slightest "slip-up" (like, say, an imperfect Twitter photo or the way you flip your hair) will earn a singer loads of hateful online comments that typically translate more rapidly to the Internet-obsessed general public. Most Korean pop stars are trained to give very formal answers in interviews, and sing about safe topics—first loves, parties, break-ups—to stay as much in the good favor of a society that banned PSY's "Gentleman" video because kicking a traffic cone was deemed "abuse of public property." These obstacles are particularly tough for international fans trying to get on board with K-pop but are used to the bombastic personalities of artists like Kanye WestMiley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj.

While it will be a long time until Korea's entertainment industry gets to a point of Western outspokenness, young boy band BTS is a shining example of a group that's finding a way to speak honestly about topics they deem important, even in a conservative society. And their importance to the genre is cemented with the release of their new album, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2.

Earlier this year, Fuse named BTS' Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 1 one of the year's best albums: The group found a balance of angst-ridden raps and emotionally charged arrangements, best felt in the lead single "I Need U." It was not only an artistic breakthrough, but a professional triumph, as the single became their first Top 5 hit in Korea. That trajectory is further continued in Pt. 2, which not only consists of some of BTS' best songs, but their most complex, prodding and relatable lyrics.

Pt. 2 encompasses the moment that a young adult begins thinking about the world in more complex ways.

Lead single "Run" is a follow-up to "I Need U," with an aggressive hip hop sound blended into a lush and soaring chorus. But the album opener "Never Mind," which was co-written by member Suga, feels like one of the most honest rap performances the group has given to date, as they explicitly detail how they've stayed themselves after facing not only the pressures of youth, but of success. They spit, "We are still young and immature, don't even worry about it / Moss surely grows on a stone that doesn’t roll... If you feel like you're going to crash then accelerate more, you idiot / Never mind, never mind / We're too young and immature to give up," according to the translated lyrics.

Meanwhile, "Whalien 52" explains loneliness through a yet-undiscovered whale species that speaks at the atypical frequency of 52 hertz and has been named the "the loneliest in the world." They croon over a hip-hop beat, "In the middle of this ocean, one lonely whale cries / No matter how much it shouts, no one can hear it...Lonely lonely lonely whale I sing again / This song that receives no reply / I sing till it reaches someone tomorrow."

On Pt. 2, BTS expresses all the different emotions their young fanbase is experiencing; loneliness is not a sexy topic that most pop acts can sing about in a convincing way, but it's a feeling that can be inescapable in childhood, and BTS successfully captures it with a fantastical metaphor. The band has said that their albums and EPs look to express different points of youth, and Pt. 2 encompasses the moment that a young adult is beginning to think about the world in more complex ways than "I love you"/"I hate you"—something their fanbase will soon experience, too.

In past releases, BTS has tackled school bullying, the pursuit of happiness and rejecting society ideals in its lyrics. And while what they're singing about now is important, listeners should also focus on what the members of BTS are saying outside of their music.

In an interview with the blog Kpopism earlier this year, BTS leader Rap Monster hints at mental health issues, admitting he's not always happy and deals with dark and light times. Meanwhile, Jin casually talks about how he uses a pink phone case because "it's pretty." Rap Monster has shown public support for gay rights—which don't currently exist in South Korea, is taboo to talk about, and whichvery few celebrities vocally support. He did it by recommending Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Same Love" to fans on Twitter, writing that, when he read the lyrics, he liked the song twice as much. 

BTS isn't the first Korean act to speak about substantial topics, but it is one of the acts doing it in a clever, shrewd way--and it's only getting more popular by doing so. This year, BTS sold out two small stateside tours, and it's no coincidence that The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2  has been hovering in the upper ranks of U.S. iTunes' Top Albums chart, and could potentially make a rare K-pop appearance on the Billboard 200.

In a world of social media and overexposure, everyone has a platform to speak as loudly as they want and potentially reach millions. BTS is taking that platform and talking about things that are not only brave to tackle in modern music, but especially in its traditional community. This is the type of group that will not only boast a more passionate fan base for the way they made them feel from a certain hit single, but also one that can help push a society forward while they're at it.