20151202_seoulbeats_bts_tmbmlp2In K-pop, there are a lot of firsts to be shared between idols and fans: their debut stage, their first year anniversary, their first award. In fact, I still remember when I first watched “No More Dream” by BTS. While the song didn’t initially wow many listeners, something about them told me they had the potential to be great.

Nothing has been more fascinating than watching their growth from the beginning. When BTS debuted in 2013, their powerful performances had everyone asking if they were really rookies. Since then, they’ve continued climbing their way up the charts, steadily growing their fan base along the way. Who could’ve predicted the popularity of this group two years later?

BTS has never been short on surprises, much to the delight of their fans. Big Hit has been smart in crafting their image as a youthful and energetic group that loves hip hop. It would’ve been easy for them to stay in their lane, but instead, they chose to dive off of cliffs. Their leap of faith is tested with the release of The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2.

We’re treated to the standard rap intro, “Never Mind,” performed by Suga, J-hope and Rap Monster. The track opens to fans chanting “Encore! Encore!” before Suga starts his rap, with lyrics focusing on his journey towards his dream. Apparently, his desire to become a rapper was met with disdain from his family and friends, but he pushed forward confidently to achieve his goals.

The piano and guitar provide a good background for this intro track, which sounds like the anthem for fighters preparing to enter the ring. The line that really spoke most to me was “Moss surely grows on a stone that doesn’t roll.” One certainly can’t progress if one doesn’t make a move, and Suga attributes his assertive actions to his growing success.

This is followed by the title track, “Run.” The tune is a uptempo departure from the group’s typical hip hop fare. We still get the rap verses, but BTS takes on a style that’s more grounded in Euro-pop with EDM beats. The fast-paced, futuristic sound complements the theme of the song.

The song speaks of enduring the trials and tribulations of love. BTS is a group of hopeless romantics, chasing a love that could end at any moment. The group is no stranger to love songs, but sometimes their message is mired in misguided misogyny. “Run” demonstrates how much their songwriting has matured, giving way to another perspective of love.

Run, run, run again
It’s okay to fall
Run, run, run again
It’s okay to get hurt
I’m alright, even if I can’t have you
Pitiful destiny, point your finger at me

They acknowledge that it’s okay if love fails because it’s that just happens sometimes.

Next is a blissful ballad called “Butterfly.” This is possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve heard the entire year. There is something pure and inviting in the gentle acoustics with a tiny touch of trap hidden underneath it. We know how many producers have failed miserably in the mixed genres game, yet everything blends so well together here. The lyrics are touching without being too saccharine, but what truly stood out was the tonal layering of the vocalists. Their breathy voices are punctuated by an occasional run that doesn’t come off showy or gratuitous. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard this much attention to detail in K-pop.

Things lighten up a bit with “Whalien 52,” which is a peculiar title that makes sense once you read the lyrics. The song is about an alienated whale. Obviously, it’s a metaphor, but I still thought it was cute as hell. This track exhibits an old school ’90s hip hop vibe with the high-pitched “whale call” added in the background. I can see teenagers skipping to class while humming this bittersweet tune about loneliness.

Lonely lonely lonely whale
Singing alone like this
Can even an out of the way island
Such as my myself shine brightly?

20151202_seoulbeats_bts_vintageApparently, BTS found a solution to their solitary woes in “Ma City.” This is one of the few, if not only, groups whose members are given license to use their satoori dialects in their music. While most idols are coached out of the habit, BTS proudly represents their humble hometowns by speaking the dialect of their people. The members give a shout-out to their cities, encouraging everyone to come visit them if they want to have a good time.

The song has a retro feel with the ’70s funk of an electric guitar taking center stage for the instrumentals. Going back to the vocals, I really love the use of Rap Monster’s rough voice here. He usually strains his voice when singing, but he sounds miles better here because he’s not forcing any notes. Suga also comes through with his Daegu accent, boasting how he’s a “D-boy” – minds out of the gutter; it’s not what you think.

Because the next title (뱁새) is slang, there are different English titles for it — “Parrot Bill,” “Crow Tit,” and “Silver Spoon.” The term roughly translates as “try-hard,” which is so appropriate for this song. BTS satirically apply the phrase in their social commentary about the power struggle between the youth and their seniors, symbolized by a pair of birds fighting for control. The youth are tired of being lectured by their seniors who bask in luxury while others struggle for their dream.

The track blends a heavy drum bass line with Southeast Asian elements for a gritty, urban appeal. I love the shifts in tempos as the instrumentals back up the hyped vocals of BTS. V and Jin shocked me the most with their ability to alter their voices for this song. It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that they got more lines in this album, which shows how much their vocal training paid off.

That brings us to their skit called “One Night in a Strange City.” It’s a humorous interlude between songs in which the members tease each other and discuss how far they’ve come since debut. The group talks about how different things would be if certain elements of “I Need U” didn’t exist. They also poke fun at Suga for being talented in killing the vibe of the room. It’s a funny piece of fan service.

“Autumn Leaves,” “Fallen Leaves,” or “Dead Leaves” — doesn’t matter what you call it as long as you understand how much this song demonstrates the production value of this album. In the song, BTS expresses their fear of their lover changing her feelings with the passing of the leaves. They don’t want things to fade away into winter, so they beg her to stay as long as possible.

Please don’t leave me, please don’t fall
Never, never fall
Don’t go far away

The vocals are layered almost too perfectly with ad-libs in all of the right places. I love the combined harmonies of Jimin and Jungkook, but V’s breathy vocals work the best here. Suga really outdid himself on the song production with the direction of everyone’s parts. I love every attention to detail: Suga’s echoes. V’s verse. J-hope’s quirky staccato rap. Jimin’s runs during the crescendo. There’s so much that you hear something new upon each listen.

Finally, we have the outro known as “House of Cards.” This song is my absolute favorite off the album. The vocal line sings sensually about a delicate relationship that will collapse any minute like a house of cards. Despite knowing this, BTS promises to stay with their lover, even if it means inevitable heartbreak.

Accompanied by haunting string instrumentals, Jungkook amps up the sexy volume in a slightly cracked voice. Jimin counters with his raspy vocals as Jin and V fill out the rest using their unique timbres. In fact, the entire vocal line harmonizes smoothly like buttery caramel. This song deserves a standing ovation for inserting a jazz break with scatting. That kind of attention to detail right there is what separates the musical craftsmen from the idols who like to coast on creativity.

I didn’t expect BTS to display this level of confidence in their work, but this is what I love most about them. They take artistic risks instead of relying on a fervent fan base to support their album simply because it has their name on it. There is so much complexity in both the production and the songwriting that I find more to love about it with every repeat. They are clearly set on defining themselves as a respectable group whose brand stands for quality over superficiality.

The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2 proved to be just as the title says. It was practically effortless in its execution, and the theme was cohesive. It still amazes me how a group that hails from different parts of South Korea can manage this level of synergy in their music. I encourage our readers to give the album several listens and read the lyrics for the full appreciation their efforts.

Album rating: 5/5

(YouTube [1][2], Images via Big Hit Entertainment)