BTS is experiencing a landmark year, from winning a Billboard award to entering the Hot 100 chart for the first time, amongst the bunch of records they’ve broken with their latest album Love Yourself: Her. Their energetic title songs and explosive choreography are usually what brings in the fans from around the globe, but what exactly could a chart-topping group do musically after gaining all this worldwide attention?
Go back to the basics — love.
In K-pop, love is a theme as ubiquitous as flashy MVs and eye-catching hair colors that signal a comeback. It’s a safe concept because love is experienced in so many ways, and everyone can express these feelings. In Rap Monster‘s Billboard Awards speech, which also appears as a skit track, he thanks fans for their support, encouraging them to “love yourself”. It’s a sentimental memory that shows appreciation for the effort it took to get them to that point in their career.
If you take the title Love Yourself: Her at face value, then the overall theme of the album doesn’t seem to fit. On the other hand, if you bear in mind that this is the beginning of a new trilogy, then you may be able to view the compilation of tracks differently.
This album contains the usual hallmarks that fans have come to expect with every release: a solo intro, songs with social commentary, and at least two songs that focus on the vocal and rap units separately. “Dimple” was the vocal line’s song. Instead of the typical R&B we’ve heard in the past from them, we get a pop track with subtle trap beats. It’s very stable and showcases everyone, including Jin and V who don’t always get as many lines as main vocals Jungkook and Jimin.
The rap line of Suga, Rap Monster, and J-hope did the outro for the first time. It is a sonic throwback to their debut sound that centered heavily on piano beats with ’90s drum acoustics, bringing to mind Digable Planets or The Fugees, which melts my old school soul. J-hope stood out the most with his gritty tone that fit the vibe of the song best. It’s my favorite outro from the group.
Both aforementioned songs share a common theme involving complicated feelings towards a love interest. The lyrics are sweet, but nothing as shocking as “Pied Piper”. ARMY found themselves feeling a wee bit exposed as BTS taunts the fandom’s obsession with them. In one breath, they’re telling fans to study and quit analyzing their MVs because they’re not going anywhere. However, the tough love takes a twisted turn when BTS apologizes for “ruining” ARMY and asks for forgiveness while promising to continue taking over their daily lives:
Yeah, I’m a little dangerous, I can’t handle myself either
Don’t worry, my hands are warm, warm only to you
If I am ruining you, will you forgive me
Because I can’t live without you
Because I know
There isn’t a cypher, so “Mic Drop” fills in as the requisite hype anthem. What stands out about this particular song is the placement in the album because it’s so fitting. Coming in after the awards speech, it begins with the sound of mic feedback before delving into a grimy, dark beat. Unlike their other cyphers, we get the full group participating, which feels right since they accomplished their goals as a team. They’re telling their haters the conversation is over because they’ve won and will keep on winning. This song embodies the “love yourself” theme quite well since it’s all about being them being proud of their achievements.
Sticking to the love concept, “Serendipity” and “DNA” touch on the idea of fate connecting souls. According to the lyrics, love is predetermined by the universe. “DNA” takes a lighter approach to the subject of destined love with a heavy use of synths and some autotune. The song came off a little too mainstream for my tastes and made me think of “Best of Me”, their collab with The Chainsmokers. Someone will fight me in the comments, but these songs echo a lot of the trends in the U.S., and took time to grow on me for that reason. They’re okay, but they made me a little worried about the direction BTS took for this album. Still, it’s good to experiment as long as they don’t completely lose their identity.
“Go Go” was the only song that teetered on the love theme, depending on your perspective. Suga has described it as being about how South Korean youth are so despondent about their economic situation that they seek out release in whatever form of pleasure they can afford. That’s why BTS keeps chanting “YOLO” — an acronym that’s trending belatedly in Korea — throughout the song: if the only piece of happiness you can buy is something frivolous, then treat yourself as a way of loving yourself.
I love “Serendipity” the most. Jimin’s vocals really shone through this song. It was relaxed, sensual and perfect. Having a member of the vocal line do the intro was mind-blowing on its own, but those first few words sung by Jimin are eternally etched into my brain. It was a brilliant move to have him set the mood, cooing “Let me love you”. I can’t be the only one who threw herself at the screen, screaming “Take my love! TAKE IT ALL!”
Love Yourself: Her is a solid release for the most part. Initially, I disliked the increased western influence because it came off differently from BTS’ previous style, but after giving it a few more spins, I’ve grown to appreciate the lighter approach they took with their music. The album piques curiosity about what the rest of the series will sound like and whether it will round out the “love yourself” theme well. It’s a good base to start off the next chapter of their career.