From their first performance in 2013 as a rookie group from an unknown music company wearing designer knock-off brands and aggressively rapping about the social pressures of South Korean teenagers to their recent release of MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA in 2019, BTS have broken 7 Guinness World Records (3 of which done by the ‘Boy With Luv’ music video), have become the first South Korean artists to win 2 BBC Radio 1 Teen Awards, 4 Billboard music awards, and an American Music Award over the ponds in the UK and America. In the Western music industry, where Despacito was a new generation’s first introduction to foreign music, BTS has followed and grown from a niche audience of fans to global fame and mainstream success.
BTS produce, sing, rap, and dance to music about mental illness, LGBTQ+ relationships, and female empowerment
To people unacquainted with BTS and K-pop at large, the combination of languages (Korean and English) in a single song can be confusing and often evoke an initial reaction of discomfort – “But if you can’t understand the lyrics why listen to it? I’ll get bored not knowing what they’re saying!” To which I can only offer the question, why do people also listen to classical music? It’s because of the melody, the atmosphere, the emotion that is communicated through music that gives it value. Also, a quick Google search can easily yield the answers you seek. BTS as a unit produce, sing, rap, and dance to music of varied genres about mental illness, LGBTQ+ relationships, and female empowerment. The music might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but to disrespect a music group who have even spoken at a United Nations conference to world leaders to take part in a global campaign promoting self-love, you would sound like an idiot to hate it because it’s in a different language.
The album starts with ‘Intro: Persona’ and is a structural return to 2017 and previous BTS albums in which the beginning features a hard hitting rap from a single member. Harking back to their 2014 album Dark & Wild, RM delivers this opening song with questions of “Who am I?” and facing the haters that tell him “someone like me ain’t good enough for music”, responding “The ‘me’ that I want myself to be / The ‘me’ that people want me to be”.
‘Boy With Luv’ is a bright summertime fling bop delivered right in time for dances by the beach and road trip playlists
Sharply contrasting the style of the intro track but continuing the answer of self-assurance and self-love to “Who am I?”, the album’s second track ‘Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)’ and core single is a bright summertime fling bop delivered right in time for dances by the beach and road trip playlists. Much more than just it’s audio, the music video features polished, fun choreography and even Halsey joining in on a boogie in the chorus is worth watching. One flaw of this song, however, is the amount of lines Halsey receives, in despite of it being a collaboration, she only sings a couple lines of the chorus.
‘Mikrokosmos’ builds on the happy vibes from previous song, ‘Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)’. It sounds familiar and comforting like a combination of Disney soundtracks and One Direction wholesomeness with sprinkles of rap. Next up, ‘Make It Right’ is more chilled, bringing down the tempo and excitement in a chorus structure that reflects their past song ‘Blood, Sweat, and Tears’ from 2017 album, You Never Walk Alone.
MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA acts as a safe introduction to BTS’ poppy, synth heavy sound while lending glimpses to other genres
Overall, this album sees a return to their previous albums in a reminiscent summing up of their journey as artists. To an audience of an increasingly growing population, MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA acts as a safe introduction to BTS’ poppy, synth heavy sound while lending glimpses to other genres. To those invested in their hip-hop leanings however, this album could be a slight disappointment as the only experimentation in rap is Yoongi and Hoseok who take influences from trending Future-esque mumble rap in ‘Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)’, ‘HOME’ and ‘Dionysus’, in which though it’s pulled off effectively, adds nothing unique and is arguably settling into a Western mainstream mode of music. BTS’ past albums have been more innovative and experimental, and it’s a step away from the path set in their previous album Love Yourself: Answer which had ‘Go Go’, an exciting, hype track heavily influenced by Korean traditional music mixed with already familiar American hip-hop beats. MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA’s length means it can’t cover the depths that its predecessor did, and as a result, feels safer, and a product of their growing global audience.