The seven-member boy band Bangtan Boys — commonly knows as BTS — hailing from South Korea returned with a repackaged second album, “You Never Walk Alone” (2017), this past February. The group has come a long way from its debut single “No More Dream,” released on June 13, 2013, having headlined both of the KCON music festivals in the United States last year. Additionally, BTS has sold out all five shows in the American leg of their Wings Tour in March and April this year.
The band’s second full-length album, “Wings” (2016), and its repackaged complement “You Never Walk Alone” has achieved widespread commercial success. “Wings” finished the year in Korea as the No. 1 selling album, while the repackaged album reached over 700,000 pre-orders.
The group also achieved international recognition. “Wings” charted at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 200, the highest position ever achieved by a K-pop group. Of the singles from “You Never Walk Alone,” “Spring Day” also reached No. 8 on the U.S. iTunes Singles Chart, the first time a K-pop song had broken into the Top 10.
With 18 tracks, “You Never Walk Alone” can be described as a true music confection, as BTS incorporates various genres of music. These genres range from the typical dance and club R&B influences heard most commonly in their tracks to the more surprising elements of reggae seen in their song, “Am I Wrong?”
In a refreshing break from K-pop’s highly manufactured image, the album also comprises seven solo tracks, one by each member. These solo songs give room for the members to display their songwriting and producing abilities and tell their own personal stories. In doing so, BTS allows listeners inside its members’ personal lives, forging a connection with their fans, a concept perhaps otherwise taken for granted in Western pop music. Ranging from ballads to rap, the pace of the album changes continuously, freshening it up at every turn.
The album begins with the introductory track “Boy Meets Evil,” sung by member J-Hope. Listeners are then greeted by the lead single, “Blood, Sweat & Tears.” This track draws heavily on moombahton trap, a growing phenomenon in K-pop created by American producer Dave Nada. Thematically, these songs deal with how youth struggle to deal with the temptations that life offers.
The second single off the album, “Spring Day,” is a melodious ballad that discusses the pain of losing a loved one. The lyrics express a sense of longing and desperation for a loved one that has been gone for some time, but they also give a sense of hope. The youngest member of the band, Jungkook, reminds us that “no darkness, no season, lasts forever […] I will meet you […] past the end of this cold winter / until spring comes again.”
Another highlight of the album is the fan-tribute song, “Two! Three! (Still Wishing There Will Be Better Days).” Having risen to meteoric success in just under four years, it is no wonder that the boys are thankful to their management company and their fans for “believing in someone like me / dealing with these tears and wounds.” To BTS, its supporters became “[its] light / for becoming the flower in the most beautiful moment in life.” Showing off their growth as lyricists, rappers Rap Monster, Suga and J-Hope recorded “BTS Cypher Pt. 4,” the fourth part of their rap project showcased across two studio albums and four extended plays.
Yet, despite all the experimentation within their music, BTS remains true to its beginnings. The final single from the album, “Not Today,” is a powerful anthem that calls for the underdogs in society to not lose hope. The band asks listeners to “throw it up, throw it up / Throw away the fear in your eyes … Till the day of victory (fight!) / don’t kneel, don’t break down, that’s not today!”
However, for all the dynamism that is embodied in the album, listeners may find that the album fizzles out at the end with “Outro: Wings” and “A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone.” While both songs are well-produced, they might leave listeners feeling unsatisfied.
What nonetheless sets BTS apart from other K-pop groups is its eagerness to address globally pertinent topics, emphasizing social issues and how society shapes its youth. The group’s approach to these issues is eloquent and intoxicating. The beat and hooks of each song pulls casual listeners in, but those who decide to delve further into the lyrics will not be disappointed.
BTS’s new album addresses feminism, youth, temptation, community and good versus evil. Some references to these topics are explicit, such as how the song “Not Today” calls for listeners to break the “glass ceiling.” The album also includes intriguing references to literature and cinema, alluding to Hermann Hesse’s youth novel “Demian” (1919), Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” (1973) and Bong Joon-ho’s movie “Snowpiercer” (2013) in both its lyrics and music videos.
Through its new music, the band continues to passionately defend their youthfulness as its members mature as artists. By playing into universal themes, BTS creates an experience that impacts a diverse group of people and enables listeners to mature with its members as they learn to navigate the world.