It’s just over a week since BTS dropped Map of the Soul: Persona. At the dawn of a new musical era, the band shift their focus from the universal messages of the Love Yourself trilogy to turn towards introspection. But this isn’t new territory. Critics and fans alike have hailed BTS’ ability unite a generation of listeners by remixing their struggles and insecurities into music.
Flip that thesis upside down, and you’ll find it’s the strength of the members’ collective identity that allows us to peek behind the idol persona, and follow the winding “Path” the Bangtan Boys walked to find their “Wings”. BTS are at their musical best when they’re flawed but still fighting. Fuelled by this determination, they have curated an ever-shifting soundscape; building the kind of mythos that commands attention.
From the day they debuted as a ‘nugu’ group from a no-name company, BTS knew who they were. It was only a matter of time before the world started to listen.
The overall vibe of BTS’ debut was bold, brazen hip-pop. But “Path”, a hidden track only available on the physical version of 2 Cool 4 Skool, stands as an early testament to the rap line’s strength as songwriters. Suga and J-Hope both name-check the group in their verses, using the word bulletproof to symbolise their solidarity.
I thought I was alone but I’ve learned that we are seven
No longer barefoot, wearing shoes called Bangtan
I nurture my notion to bend rather than to break and run for 3 years and ignite the stars in my heart
Now see me anew I carve ‘Bangtan’ into a blank page that means the whole world
Backed by nothing more than a pure old-skool beat, BTS proudly claim their name. They’ve reached their debut, and they stand united, ready to rise.
As they dropped their second album, BTS were still struggling to make their mark. But instead of fearing their status as ‘nugu’ idols, they took ownership of it, and penned “Rise of Bangtan”, a song that proudly reps their unacknowledged talent. Posturing is a hallmark of hip hop, but Suga’s verse demonstrates the way BTS stand tall even though they’re at the bottom, in a neat reversal of rap’s rags-to-riches archetype.
From our debut till now, we keep going up
Reaching the top is just a matter of time,
The first block of dominos has been knocked over.
Yeah, knock them over, if you blink
We captivate ears on the stage
With its anthemic production, this song was built to be a stadium smash before BTS played their first concert. The chorus of “Rise of Bangtan” warns the audience that if they haven’t heard the name, they should remember it. As BTS ride the wave of global chart success, the surety of their youthful confidence in this song couldn’t be sweeter.
Who are we? The rising Bulletproof Boy Scouts
Who are we? We swallow them all up without fear
Cuz we got fire, fire fire
Get higher, higher higher
If you don’t know us, then take a good look
As BTS matured musically, their initial defiance evolved into more daring lyrical depth. By now, social critique has become a backbone of the band’s identity, but on their first LP, “Second Grade” was a bold step. In this seemingly bright b-side, BTS turn on their listeners; issuing a blistering critique of K-pop’s double standards.
Teachers didn’t give pressure last year
Saying that I’m just a rookie and that it’s okay
They sat me down and taught me how cold the world is
With a few subjects
Bias, negative comments, double standards, smack talk and disinterest
Even as RM acknowledges the potential pitfalls of their career, BTS come together in the chorus to demonstrate that they will push harder to beat the system.
Work it out work it out 24 hours
Burn it up burn it up, burn up every moment
Put back your worries
Even after a year, we live for today
In a neat twist, BTS conclude by promising to live in the moment, proving that even in the darkest days, their faith won’t falter. While “Second Grade” could be read as a gritty insight into coming-of-age struggles, the song’s effervescent energy is elevated to a call to arms by the boys chanting that chorus. Facing down the challenges; BTS’ dreams for their future burn bright.
“Boyz With Fun” marks a turning point in BTS’ musical trajectory. It’s the sixth track on The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1, the album that led BTS to their first music show win and mainstream recognition. “Boyz With Fun” is a clever play on the group’s Korean name, Bangtan Sonyeondan (방탄소년단), and encapsulates their work hard, play hard attitude in racuous style. “Boyz With Fun” is often overlooked in favour of “Dope”, the standout hype track from the same album, but it functions as an intriguing inversion of the latter lyrically. While “Dope” juxtaposes glory with the treadmill of idol life, “Boyz With Fun” implies that striving for success is what makes BTS who they are.
If hope is with us, we won’t know time is passing
Let’s wash ourselves with sweat
Today, I’m it
Don’t ask me, I was always like this
I don’t even know, cuz I’m me from start to finish
This is the moment the boys invoke their name not as a metaphor for the strength they need to carry on, nor as a word they pray you’ll remember. By smoothly switching the word ‘방’ to ‘흥’ BTS rename themselves ‘Fun Boys’, or ‘heungtansonyeondan’ (흥탄소년단). Whether you love them or hate them, these kids don’t care – they’re just here to have a goddamn good time.
It was in the Love Yourself era that BTS shifted from raw, aching synth-pop to a smoother, brighter soundscape. “Anpanman” is a deft twist on the band’s older, spikier anthems. BTS aren’t here to prove themselves – they know they’ve arrived. This is their moment to take a step back and admit that the armour isn’t bulletproof – but they’re better for it.
Keep spinning and spinning my Anpan
Keep ballin’ ballin’ still Bangtan
As I open my eyes, I’m a hero but still in maze
That young man, young man, young man
Keep secretly secretly getting covered in bruises
But ballin’ ballin’ still Bangtan
In a 2018 interview with South Korean newspaper JoongAng, Bang Si-Hyuk revealed his goal to create an idol band that could be “a hero who can lend [fans] a shoulder to lean on”. By owning their struggles and their successes, BTS have built a career trajectory fans can relate to. From their humble beginnings, they’ve turned their setbacks into symbols of strength.
BTS are about to embark on a new era in their careers; mapping their personas as they enter uncharted frontiers of global success. It’s this confidence in their own indelible identity that will make them not merely the stars that entertain us today, but the people we will remember long after the spotlight fades.