'Love Yourself': On BTS' seventh anniversary, a look at the K-pop boy band's journey to self-realization
Seven years since they rocketed onto the South Korean music scene, BTS' music has evolved from a celebration of 'young love to self-love'
As the world comes down from the incredible high that was the 'Bang Bang Con The Live' – BTS' mega-online concert streamed across 107 countries, that celebrated the group's seventh anniversary in style – we once again recede into a phase of calm where we await the next big surprise this crowd-favorite boy band has for "their ARMY" or fans.
Since we have time to kill, here is a walk down BTS' memory lane, looking at some of their most iconic releases over the last seven years. Listen up, and allow yourselves to truly appreciate how far they've come.
2014: 'Dark & Wild'
Starting out, BTS focused heavily on the issues of a younger audience or more specifically a young male audience. Most of their music spoke to anyone who experienced young love and their lyrics talked about everything from a playful crush to an intense obsession. At the time of the group's debut, the popular image for a male K-idol was that of a "bad boy", someone who looked and talked tough but had a soft side, especially when it came to the "object of his affection".
BTS and their early music were designed to reflect this popular trope, something that would lead the group to a tiny bit of controversy in their early career owing to their lyrics being perceived as misogynistic. 'War of Hormone' for instance, was called out for "objectifying girls and women and treating them like a gift to be won or attained". For their part, BTS apologized for their early lyrics and vowed to do better with future releases.
And do better they certainly have. Each subsequent release, the group has progressed further towards deeper, more philosophical themes and artistic concepts, showing us how they grew out of "young love and embraced self-love" instead. That's the message they have increasingly shared with their ARMYs since 'Dark & Wild' first came out.
Given that this was their first studio album, it is expected that it would not be as complex as their later work. The ease with which the band goes from hard-hitting hip-hop and rap to smooth jazz and funk on this release certainly showcased their range and versatility as artistes long before they embarked on their journey towards world domination. While it doesn't quite hold up in comparison to their later work which reflects more depth and experimentation on BTS' part, it does remain an eternal throwback.
Influenced by Hermann Hesse's coming of age novel, 'Demian', 'Wings' was built around the experience of temptation as well as growth, and it's rather fitting given BTS' own shift with this release, both sonically and lyrically. In addition to 'BS&T', this album also includes standout tracks like 'BTS Cypher 4', which saw the groups rappers RM, J-Hope, and Suga come hard at haters in an ode to self-love that declares their resolve to stand firm even in the face of constant attacks, as well as '21st Century Girls', which has the group remind their young, largely-female fanbase that they deserve to love themselves.
To top it off, the repackaged version of 'Wings', 'You Never Walk Alone', released in 2017, featured the song 'Spring Day', which remains the all-time favorite BTS song for their ARMY, as recently confirmed by the fandom in the '2020 BTS Music Election' segment of their '2020 BTS Festa' live broadcast.
There are many reasons why 'Wings' ranks as one of, if not the best BTS album to date. The most obvious reason is that it included some of their biggest hits, including 'Blood, Sweat, & Tears', which was the song that shot the group to local fame and began to put them on the map internationally. But what really stands out with this release is that it marks the moment when BTS truly set themselves apart from other acts, marking their shift from more traditional Korean hip hop to a style that infused a wider range of genres and blended in everything from art to poetry into both their lyrics and their visuals.
Essentially, this album was the culmination of their growth up to that point and sealed the deal on BTS as a group that promotes concepts like self-love and personal development. Two years after 'Wings' and fresh off the heels of their 'Love Yourself' series, the group would go on to deliver a powerful speech at the UN General Assembly in New York inspiring young people to believe in themselves, becoming the first-ever K-Pop group to address the United Nations.
2016-2018: The 'Love Yourself' Series – 'Her', 'Tear' and 'Answer'
The 'Love Yourself' movement was a major turning point for BTS. While their previous releases saw the group getting increasingly more philosophical and artistic with their music as well as their videos, these two releases saw the group completely move past simply touching upon conceptual themes like "self-love and acceptance" to fully embracing them as part of their musical identity.
'Love Yourself' is a four-part series made up of three albums and one video release split into sections based on the traditional East Asian storytelling format of 'Kishōtenketsu', which has a beginning where characters are introduced, development or a story progression with an unexpected twist in the story, and a final conclusion.
'Love Yourself: Her' introduces the concept of love, plain and simple, via hit tracks like 'DNA'. 'Love Yourself: Tear' encompasses a painful yet inevitable breakup, a sad tale delivered through tracks like 'Singularity' and 'Fake Love'. The final compilation album 'Love Yourself: Answer' switches the focus to self-love, and when combined with recurring themes and motifs like masks and tracks like 'Idol' which saw the band call out detractors who looked down on their profession, it becomes evident the group's message was that one must embrace their true self, unapologetically, before attempting to love anyone else.
This marked the group's shift from "self-love to conceptual themes like self-reflection and introspection", which their most recent 'Map of the Soul' series tackles in much greater depth.
2019-2020: 'Map of the Soul: Persona' and 'Map of the Soul: 7'
Featuring the smash hit 'Boy With Luv', which featured Halsey, 'MotS: Persona' took BTS from an upcoming international artiste and turned them into a global phenomenon. The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, making BTS the first band since the Beatles to have three number-one albums in less than a year. They also became the first Korean act to achieve a number-one in the UK, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. 'MotS: Persona' also became the best-selling album in South Korea at the time.
This release also included 'Make It Right', featuring Lauv, and fan-favorites 'Dionysus' and 'Mikrokosmos'. The follow-up release, 'Map of the Soul: 7', saw the group take their careers to even greater heights: it debuted at the top of the US Billboard 200, making it the group's fourth consecutive chart-topper, in addition to topping charts in all the top markets across the globe and earning BTS the distinction of being the first Asian group to achieve the feat. Within nine days of its release, the album sold over 4.1 million copies and earned the title of 'best-selling album in South Korean history, breaking the group's own previous Guinness World Record set by 'MotS: Persona'.
A standout from the album was the group's fight song 'ON', which took the desire for worldwide dominance from their earlier track 'N.O' off their first EP, 'O!RUL8,2?', and told the world that they were going to keep rising no matter what. But with tracks like 'Shadow' and 'Black Swan', the group added another layer to their artistry – vulnerability. Despite always being open about their struggles, this release saw BTS bare it all, revealing just how deep their own fears and insecurities run, further deepening their fans' respect for their message.
Sadly, their promotional run for 'ON' was cut short amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, the group has ensured a seamless transition from in-person events to virtual ones and has continued performing for their ARMY via events like 'Bang Bang Con'.