BTS Are K-Pop’s Beatles. Map Of The Soul: 7 Is Their White Album.
Acronyms are flexible little phrases. Just ask the good people at World Taekwondo.
The Seoul-based martial arts organization was founded in 1973 after a schism within the taekwondo community related to the Cold War. South Korean military leader General Choi Hong Hi, the sport’s controversial inventor and founder of the International Taekwon-Do Federation, was exiled to Canada in 1972 after angering the South Korean government by introducing taekwondo into his native North Korea. South Korean officials soon cut ties with ITF and established the World Taekwondo Federation in its stead. The name had been in use for 44 years when circumstances necessitated a change. Increasingly, people could not take seriously an institution calling itself WTF.
Sometimes your acronym outgrows you. But sometimes you outgrow your acronym. That same year, another globally relevant organization based in Seoul tweaked its nomenclature without actually changing its name. When the singing, dancing, rapping collective BTS first emerged in 2013, the abbreviation stood for Bangtan Sonyeondan, a Korean phrase meaning Bulletproof Boy Scouts. By 2017, with the group in the midst of a worldwide takeover campaign, BTS took on a second meaning: Beyond The Scene.
This rebranding may have been packaged with corporate marketing gobbledegook like “BTS is a youth who does not conform but always moves towards the dream,” but it also made perfect sense. Beyond the scene is exactly where BTS had gone. Emerging from within a K-pop industry that trains and assembles boy bands and girl groups with military rigor, the seven-man Seoul ensemble had transcended the genre that birthed them to become a true international phenomenon. And they’ve only gotten bigger since, with more than 15 million albums sold worldwide and an obsessive fan community that helped them to top Billboard’s Social 50 chart for a record 167 weeks, including 100 straight at one point. They’ve achieved stadium status all around the world.
BTS’ sound has expanded along with their fan base. Even by the mad-scientist standards of a K-pop scene in which artists and producers mash together disparate sounds at high-octane speeds, their new album Map Of The Soul: 7 covers an impressive amount of stylistic territory throughout its 20-track sprawl. A mixture of group efforts and solo spotlights, 7 is something like BTS’ very own White Album, a collection held together less by a cohesive sound than a familiar convergence of personalities. Skeptics may flinch at the comparison because even at its artistic peaks, this album never ceases to sound like the work of pop idols. But who are the Beatles of this moment in pop history if not BTS? (And please, at this late date, do not say Migos.)
On 7, the rap, R&B, and EDM that has always been part of the group’s DNA remains, spliced into a wide range of combinations both stylish and cheesy, but team BTS uses that foundation to bound off in countless directions. Jimin’s showcase “Filter” successfully delves into Latin pop. Last year’s Halsey collab “Boy With Luv” is a sugary disco-funk glide. Several selections from last year’s Map Of The Soul: Persona — the bulk of which reappears as the new album’s first five tracks — jolt to life with rock guitars and drums, resulting in hybrids that sound at once like the future and the late ’90s all over again. And the remix of stellar R&B ballad “Black Swan” from the song’s accompanying “art film” infuses it with classical elements to go along with the video’s modern dance routine.
Whatever arc or narrative the album might contain, for listeners who don’t speak Korean and aren’t versed in the various BTS personas, it will come off more like a bustling international terminal, a world unto itself held together by the universal language of music. And it really is a worldwide endeavor, with contributors from all over the map. British pop-star-with-a-guitar Ed Sheeran cowrote the winsomely brisk “Make It Right,” while the shadowy, trap-infused “Louder Than Bombs” boasts cowrites from Canada’s Allie X and the South African-born, Australian-raised Troye Sivan. Sia, another Aussie, lends her voice to the digital bonus track “On.” A scan through the credits confirms: It takes a global village to produce a BTS album.
Most of the best BTS songs remain the glimmering pop singles that prioritize songcraft over overt experimentation. Within the tracklist is the makings of an extremely sleek, streamlined set of bangers. You could build a classic boy band LP with the likes of “Boy With Luv,” “Make It Right,” “Black Swan,” “My Time,” “Louder Than Bombs,” and “Inner Child” as your foundation. But unlike many of their Western counterparts, BTS aren’t trying to be a modern update of ‘N Sync or One Direction. They’re a wilder and more outrageous operation. Sometimes the ideas work, as on the hip-hop throwdown “UGH!” and the pop-rap delight “Respect.” Sometimes they don’t, as on the obnoxious rap-rock experiment “Dionysius.” But the adventurous spirit is part of the group’s appeal. For better and worse, it wouldn’t be a BTS album if it wasn’t all over the place.
Career-wise it’s working wonders. Seven years in, the BTS behemoth has not yet stopped growing. Rather than splintering, they seem stronger than ever. Given the unraveling that eventually befell One Direction, ‘N Sync, and the Beatles, it will be remarkable if they can keep this up much longer. If they do somehow persevere to a full decade of superstardom and beyond, who knows how pervasive they could become? They’ve already trained this lifelong indie-rock fan not to first think of Built To Spill when I see the letters BTS. There’s a whole other range of institutions that may have to change their acronyms if this crew keeps it up. Maybe they’ll even convince YouTube uploaders to stop using those letters as an abbreviation for “behind the scenes.” Like the spread of WTF, the BTS cultural phenomenon cannot be contained.
To no one’s surprise, Justin Bieber’s Changes has debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The project tallied 231,000 equivalent album units and 126,000 in sales, the third biggest debut week of 2020 so far behind Eminem and Halsey. Per Billboard, Changes’ chart-topping debut lifts Bieber past Elvis Presley to become the youngest artist with seven #1 albums. (Bieber will turn 26 this Sunday; Presley logged his seventh #1 album a few weeks before he turned 27. Billboard also points out that if you include groups, all four members of the Beatles were younger than Bieber when they released their seventh #1 album, Rubber Soul, which is insane to think about.)
Debuting at #2 with 111,000 units and only 3,000 in sales is A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s Artist 2.0. Conversely, Tame Impala score a career-best #3 debut for The Slow Rush with 110,000 units and 80,000 in sales, about 1/3 of which comprised vinyl sales. After the persistent Roddy Ricch at #4 comes a #5 debut for K-pop group Monsta X’s All About Luv via 52,000 units and 50,000 in sales. Post Malone, Billie Eilish, the late Pop Smoke, and the aforementioned Eminem and Halsey albums round out the top 10.
The Hot 100 singles chart remains frustratingly stagnant up top despite some notable milestones this week. Roddy Rich’s “The Box” remains at #1 for a seventh straight week, followed once again by Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good” and Post Malone’s “Circles.” Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey” reaches a new #4 peak, while Dua Lipa climbs to a career-best #5 with “Don’t Start Now.”
After Arizona Zervas’ “Roxanne,” Maroon 5’s “Memories,” and Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone Like You,” Bieber and Quavo’s “Intentions” rises to a new #9 peak. Per Billboard it’s Bieber’s 18th top-10 hit and Quavo’s sixth as a solo artist. (Half of them were alongside Bieber: “Intentions” plus the two DJ Khaled posse cuts “I’m The One” and “No Brainer.”) Lastly, climbing to a new #10 high point is the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” which becomes his 10th top-10 hit.
Billie Eilish – “No Time To Die”
I was initially disappointed the 007 franchise didn’t give this job to Lana Del Rey, but it turns out if you slap some cinematic strings on a pensive Billie Eilish ballad a la “When The Party’s Over,” you’ve got yourself a fire Bond theme.
The Weeknd – “After Hours”
Abel Tesfaye is three-for-three with the singles from After Hours so far. The trap banger “Heartless,” the neon ’80s pop track “Blinding Lights,” and now the cavernous ballad-turned-dance track “After Hours” have each exemplified and evolved a certain aspect of the Weeknd’s sound. I am here for it. I’m not sure I trust Tesfaye’s promises of repentance here, but his depiction of a dark night of the soul remains convincing as hell.
Sam Smith – “To Die For”
Setting aside the uber-creepy music video, this is a version of Sam Smith I can appreciate — directly in their balladeer wheelhouse, but backed by a bit of the digital slap that brought “Dancing With A Stranger” to life. Still would prefer an album of “Latch”-style dance tracks, though.
King Princess – “Ohio”
In which King Princess rock out and gives me pleasant flashbacks to A Star Is Born.
5 Seconds Of Summer – “Old Me”
5 Seconds Of Summer have so fully given themselves over to LA music-scene trend-chasing that they now sound exactly like Post Malone. I respect the hustle, but no thanks.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Grimes says Lady Gaga’s new album is “FUCKING good.” [Twitter]
- Drake says his next album will be “more concise” than Scorpion. [Reddit]
- DaBaby and Lil Baby appeared on a remix of Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good.” [YouTube]
- In other DaBaby news, he and Camila Cabello released a video for “My Oh My.” [YouTube]
- Sam Smith’s new album To Die For is out 5/1. [EW]
- The Weeknd announced The After Hours Tour with Sabrina Claudio, Don Toliver, and 88Glam. [The Blast]
- Justin Timberlake shared a studio photo with Max Martin, hinting at a Trolls World Tour soundtrack collab. [Billboard]
- The New York Times did its latest Diary Of A Song on Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey.” [NYT]
- Relatedly, Tones And I played Ellen. [Ellen]
- Taylor Swift’s latest single is a performance of “The Man” live in Paris. [Tumblr]
- Niall Horan shared his Heartbreak Weather tracklist with a meteorology newscast. [YouTube]
- Arizona Zervas finally released a video for his top 10 hit “Roxanne.” [YouTube]
- Here’s the trailer for Lil Dicky’s new FXX series DAVE. [YouTube]
- Chance The Rapper will host the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards on 3/22. [People]
- Monsta X did “You Can’t Hold My Heart” on Today. [YouTube]
- Gigi Hadid went after Jake Paul for dissing her boyfriend Zayn Malik. [Daily Mail]
- Justin Bieber got emotional talking about how he wants to protect Billie Eilish. [Instagram]
- Bieber also taught Jimmy Fallon how to play hockey. [YouTube]
- And now for this week’s most important Justin Bieber news item: He shaved his moustache. [TikTok]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Ugh I just had the best idea but forgot it because I went on a tangent (as I often do)
— Mariah Carey (@MariahCarey) February 24, 2020