BTS has returned with their latest EP, “Love Yourself: Her” (2017), the group’s first release since the repackaged album of “You Never Walk Alone” (2017) in February. The nine-track EP is part of their new “Love Yourself” series — a concept that will define the next few albums.
Released on Sept. 18, “Her” has received almost instantaneous success worldwide. Stars such as Steve Aoki and Wale have come out in praise of BTS’ new project. The album sold over 1,000,000 preorders and charted at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 200 albums this week, becoming the first ever K-pop album to crack the top 10 in the history of the charts. Their previous record was set at No. 26 in 2016 with “Wings.”
Meanwhile, the lead single “DNA” (2017) charted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 85, a first for a K-pop boy band; this comes on the back of “Spring Day” (2017) which was No. 15 on the “Hot 100’s Bubbling Under” chart in March. Their music video has also seen phenomenal success, becoming the 11th most watched video with just under 21 million views on YouTube in the first 24 hours — 6th in music videos — knocking aside previous records held by Taylor Swift and Rihanna.
BTS’ leader Rap Monster explained that “Love Yourself” is the “beginning of our chapter two.” The album demonstrates BTS’ ability to move into new sounds and new storylines; traditional vocalists Jungkook and V push themselves by taking on rap lines in “DNA” and “Go Go” respectively. In an artistic departure from their traditional hip-hop style, “DNA” features a whistle-driven introduction and is mixed with trap, synth and dance influences. In doing so, the band effectively produces a unique sound that is rarely heard in mainstream K-pop.
The music video for “DNA” is also a new beginning as it departs from the narrative that loosely strung through the music videos off their other albums, “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” and “Wings.” Instead, the video heavily features the use of CGI with colorful costumes and settings.
What is most striking about BTS’ new album is its global appeal: the most obvious international favorite comes in the form of “Best of Me,” which was co-produced by The Chainsmokers, while “MIC Drop” was inspired by President Obama’s famous mic drop at his final White House Press Correspondents’ Dinner. Some might accuse BTS for pandering to a more international audience, but while BTS takes a step out of their comfort zone by going into a more EDM-heavy sound, the former track remains artfully organic to the band’s roots; this ability to strike such a fine balance makes this track and the album a success on multiple levels.
Almost arrogantly, BTS included a clip of their Billboard Music Awards acceptance speech to remind listeners and haters alike of their most famous achievement to date — beating American favorites Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez by almost 300 million votes to win the Top Social Artist Award. For all the experimentation, elements of their swagger shine through on the album. “MIC Drop” has the group ironically apologizing to Billboard and the rest of the world for being successful. BTS daringly asks the listener, “Did you see my bag, my bag’s filled with trophies,” so many that they’re “too heavy, [their] hands aren’t enough,”and the boys are “too busy [that] one body’s not enough.”
The penultimate track on the album, “Rather Than Worry, Go,” also deserves a mention for keeping true to BTS’ tradition of social consciousness. Featuring flute and marimba as well as meme-inspired dance moves, the track, more well-known as “Go Go” — a play on the Korean word for worry, “go min” — is a fun, rhythmic and almost obnoxious take on the spirit of YOLO and materialism in Korean society. While it’s somewhat critical of the culture, it is even harsher on the rigid social structures that bring about the “brutal reality that forces people to live and spend as if there’s no future.” The dissonance between the sarcastic lyrics and energetic sounds makes this socially-critical track a fan favorite.
Ultimately, BTS’ success, as evidenced by their Billboard win, is fueled by the connection with their fandom, A.R.M.Y. (Adorable Representative M.C.s for Youth). “Pied Piper” features a smooth funk, playfully calling out their fans for their over-dedication. They open up to listeners even more in the two hidden tracks, “Sea” and “Skit: Hesitation and Fear.” The former reveals the fears and struggles BTS had pre-debut and how they held onto their hope, while the latter reflects a more candid conversation among BTS members about their past, how far they’ve come since then, and thoughts about their future. In these hidden tracks, the band pays a small homage to those who had been behind them all the way since their trainee days in 2013, and to those who have joined in for this ultimately successful ride.