With catchy lyrics and sharp social commentary, global pop sensation BTS finds a big fan in the Falls. For Carole Showell, the group “gives us the best of us” during a troubling time.
If you watched the Billboard Music Awards this May, you probably noticed the entire audience – fan and celebrity alike – going absolutely wild when the seven members of Korean pop group BTS took the stage. BTS made history as the first Korean group to perform at the Billboard Music Awards, presenting a high-energy performance that was sung almost entirely in their native Korean.
BTS, or Bangtan Sonyeodan (Bulletproof Boyscouts) in Korean, is comprised of four vocalists (V, Jungkook, Jimin, and Jin) and three rappers (Suga, RM, and j-hope). At first glance, BTS might seem like the typical pop boy band, only with significantly better dance moves. In reality, BTS are highly accomplished musicians, producers, lyricists, and dancers.
They use their platform to affect direct social change through their partnership with UNICEF and vocal support for the LGBTQ+ community. Through their music, BTS explores complex philosophical themes and psychodrama concepts, in addition to offering commentary on socioeconomic disparities, harmful societal expectations, and reflections about self-concept, mental illness, and unhealthy relationships.
BTS’ songs often have multiple layers of meaning. Their songs can be enjoyed casually or you can create theories within the fictional alternate universe that the group has created across multiple albums. You can also appreciate BTS songs as social commentary. The group’s ability to convey multiple concepts simultaneously allows them to connect with a wide demographic of listeners. In a perfect example of music being the universal language, BTS has become a global phenomenon, recruiting millions of fans of all ages, races, and ethnicities to their fandom (called A.R.M.Y.).
Rather than review every song on their new album, Love Yourself Tear, I’ve chosen six songs from four albums in BTS’ discography that I feel exemplify how and why the group’s songs resonate with fans both young and old, amplifying our voices when we would otherwise feel unheard.
BTS uses idioms and metaphors common in Korean culture. A quick Google search shows that these idioms have clear parallels in other cultures, making the lyrics very relatable regardless of the audience. In Baepsae (also called Silver Spoon), BTS uses these common cultural themes to speak to the now false promise that says if you work hard and do certain things, you too can move up the socioeconomic ladder.
Global economic uncertainty and stratification of wealth means that many Millennials are pushing themselves to the breaking point attempting to meet impossible standards and struggling to achieve economic stability that is now out of reach.
The message of Baepsae has also struck a chord with older listeners, many of whom have found themselves similarly struggling in recent years. Many are realizing that despite their years of hard work, their financial stability and hope for a secure future are as ephemeral as the dreams of Millennials.
Album: The Most Beautiful Moment In Life: Young Forever
If Baepsae forces us to face the realization that we are chasing a lie that is available only to the privileged few, then Fire is a rebellion against conforming to societal expectations and a rejection of the lie of Baepsae.
On a daily basis, we see this passionate energy in Generation Z and younger Millennials and this song perfectly captures that spirit of self-realization and empowerment. Many of us seem to lose that fighting spirit as we grow older.
Fire reminds older listeners that although we may have grown jaded and complacent, that youthful, rebellious energy is still there waiting to be reignited. Younger listeners’ experiences are validated and affirmed. Their voice, their passion, is important and should not be quelled.
Song: Blood Sweat & Tears
Based on the novel Demian by Hermann Hesse, Blood Sweat & Tears is a criticism of, or warning about, how we can become addicted and obsessed with something until it destroys us completely. The temptation becomes irresistible and consumes us.
To interject with a personal anecdote, I discovered BTS in November 2017 after seeing them on the American Music Awards. At that time, I was becoming disillusioned and dissatisfied with my job as a trauma therapist. I saw my peers making more money and achieving greater social standing.
As I fell further into fandom, I realized that I’d started to become consumed by materialism and a desire to achieve a higher social status. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remember that I was working as a trauma therapist because I was passionate about helping people and not simply because it was my ticket to higher earnings and buying more things.
Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of myself and had gradually become obsessed with, and consumed by, my own greed. The lyrics of Blood Sweat & Tears have stuck with me since then and understanding the message of this song was a pivotal moment in my personal journey.
Album: Love Yourself Tear
Anpanman is a superhero from a Japanese children’s cartoon. His head is made of a pastry and he loses his powers if his head gets wet. He also loses strength when he feeds the hungry with bits of his head, sacrificing himself to help others in need.
Despite being a rather weak superhero, Anpanman always saves the day by making the most of his abilities and trying his best. We often feel as though we can’t affect much change because we’re not particularly powerful or influential. We have moments of weakness and self-doubt. BTS reminds us that we don’t have to be super to be a hero and we can make a difference in small ways using the skills that we have. We should not be paralyzed by inaction because even the smallest action matters.
One would assume that being in a globally popular group would make BTS feel invincible like a superhero. As BTS explains in Anpanman, they have the same doubts and fears that we do and they wonder if they’re super enough to be a hero. Their genuineness in sharing their insecurities allows us to see the group as a reflection of ourselves. We see qualities in them that we wish we had but we’re also reminded that our own strengths are pretty formidable too.
Song: Magic Shop
Album: Love Yourself Tear
The Magic Shop is an actual psychodrama technique that involves exchanging negative aspects of self for positive ones. In this song, the listener is encouraged to replace negative thoughts and self-criticism for a positive visualization where we are being comforted and strengthened by the seven members of BTS.
As a therapist who appreciates the power of the arts to heal and comfort, I’m particularly fond of Magic Shop and how a psychodrama technique has been incorporated into a song that was written as a love letter to the fans.
Song: So What
Album: Love Yourself Tear
At the end of the journey, we return to the theme of Fire. We’re under immense pressure to conform to certain expectations and behave in a particular way. We’re forever measuring ourselves against others and, from our skewed perspective, we frequently fall short of our unrealistic expectations.
So What asks us to pause for a moment, forget what people say we should be, and just be ourselves. So What tells us that we shouldn’t allow our fears and perceived shortcomings to define who we are or who we can be. We understand that we don’t have to be perfect and our worth isn’t determined by measuring ourselves against our peers. We can slowly learn to transform our negative self-concept into a positive self-concept and in the process we learn to love our authentic selves.
We live in a time of increasing socioeconomic stratification, rising ethnocentrism, racism, and xenophobia, and toxic populism where opinions are shaped by manipulation.
Somehow, BTS has become the antidote that we never knew we needed. Their existence certainly isn’t going to magically solve the ills of the world but they have inspired millions to love ourselves and by doing so we learn to love others, not in spite of our differences but because of our differences
Fake Love (title track music video from Love Yourself Tear):
Intro: Singularity (intro video from Love Yourself Tear):
Introduction to BTS (fanmade)
Burn The Stage (official YouTube Red documentary)