The Covid-19 pandemic has fractured our sense of normality, putting careers, relationships, and futures on hold. In this time of intense global uncertainty, many of us have turned to music to ease our fears. BTS have proven they excel at this audio-visual mode of escapist fantasy, with MVs like 2019’s “Boy With Luv” and 2020’s “Dynamite” offering fans a candy-coloured exit hatch into a brighter world.

This is why it’s arguably a bold move for BTS to lead their latest comeback with an MV like “Life Goes On”. The song is a guitar-driven ballad, elevated by a punchy hip-pop beat, and the accompanying visual is a masterclass in sepia-toned nostalgia. The MV’s muted colours, low-key fashion, and total lack of choreography are the antithesis of the kind of kaleidoscopic content that has transformed K-pop into a cultural phenomenon.

After the Covid-19 pandemic grounded their Map of the Soul Tour in April, BTS turned their attention online. Via V Live logs and YouTube videos, the members shared the ups and downs of their life in lockdown and gave fans an unprecedented insight into the making of their fifth studio album, BE.

The missed opportunity to meet fans on tour has produced another bittersweet silver lining.  No longer tied up with rehearsals and endless travel, the members have taken more creative control over their music than ever before. “Life Goes On” was produced by the band’s long-time studio partner Pdogg in collaboration with Suga, RM and J-Hope. Jimin acted as Project Manager for the album, V took charge of the visuals and Jin decided to try his hand as group stylist. Meanwhile, maknae Jungkook directed the MV.

BTS’ direct involvement in the making of the MV is interesting, because “Life Goes On” is a clear visual homage to the MVs for “I Need U”, “Run”, and “Epilogue: Young Forever”. These three Tumblr-ready title tracks defined The Most Beautiful Moment in Life era. The trilogy of albums, released across 2015 and 2016, gave BTS their first slew of music show wins and officially put the group on the map. The trilogy also introduced the BTS Universe – now complete with its own fanfiction-driven mobile game – and leveraged the band’s lyrical authenticity into a powerful bond between BTS and their fans, ARMY.

This fan-artist connection took BTS to the top of the Billboard charts, and now the boys have followed their first US number one hit with an entirely different kind of MV. If “Dynamite” was affirmation dusted in 70s disco sparkle, “Life Goes On” is BTS after they’ve dropped the proverbial mic and slipped away into the shadows beyond the spotlight.

The video opens with V driving through Seoul. He takes off his mask in the first scene, and every present-day clip in the MV shows the boys at home, grounding the video in our current reality. During the first verse we see Jungkook standing in a dim room, gazing at the shaft of sunlight glinting through a closed window. RM stands on a rooftop, staring down at the city he’s now barred from wandering freely. He brushes the dust from his bike with a rueful smile.

Like “I Need U” and “Run”, “Life Goes On” makes a clear distinction between the emotional resonance of the members in isolation and as a group. Every solo shot is faded, but the colours deepen to sunny oversaturation as soon as the seven boys come together. They play video games, eat pizza and snuggle up in a cosy dorm room, but even these sweet scenes are tinged with pathos. We see Jimin sigh as RM dutifully waters the plants, echoing the kind of cabin fever-induced frustration that has defined life in 2020.

The rap line allude to these feelings of impatience, helplessness and hesitant hope they’ve battled through over the past year. While RM compares his anxiety to an oncoming storm, J-Hope envisions the future as dawn breaking on a new day.

Running faster than that cloud of rain
Thought that’d be enough
Guess I’m only human after all
I’m in a world of pain
Stopped for now but don’t hide in the shadow
Only again daylight will glow

As director, Jungkook expertly draws on the visual cues that have come to define BTS’ filmography. Pictures as memories are a key motif in the BTS Universe, whether it’s all seven boys cheesing in a photo booth in “Run” or Jin forming a camera with his hands in “Spring Day”. Jungkook makes use of this metaphor again, as the first chorus plays over a series of monochrome snaps. BTS pull silly faces in Polaroid pictures, interspersed with grainy film footage of the members chilling around a campfire and messing around outside on a glorious blue sky day. The visuals deliver a gut-punch of nostalgia as BTS huddle together inside, seemingly watching back the same footage we see. It’s a siren song of the freedom we’ve lost, as the world waits on an as-yet-uncertain future.

“Life Goes On” evokes this sense of fragile hope via V’s road trip. The MV returns to his drive through Seoul during each pre-chorus. As V passes a stadium and glances back with a sigh, he and Jungkook sing of the frustration inherent in staying still and the hope they hold for tomorrow.

There’s no end in sight
Is there a way out?
My feet refuse to move, oh
Close your eyes for a moment
Hold my hand
To the future, let’s run away

During the final chorus, the camera slowly zooms in on Jin. He appears to fall asleep in the cosy sitting room, surrounded by the other members. When he opens his eyes, disorientated, BTS are onstage again. But it’s a different kind of stage, the setting reminiscent of Map of the Soul ON:E, the virtual concert BTS streamed live in October. As it was then, the boys sing surrounded by a sea of static ARMY bombs. The final scene is shot in monochrome, giving it a sense of unreality. There is no audience present in person, but “Life Goes On” bridges the oceans between BTS and their fans. As Suga raps in the second verse, despite the distance, the bond is unbroken. The lines could also allude to the friendship between the band members, which has remained strong despite their extended period of shared downtime.

Let me tell you with this song
People say the world has changed
But thankfully between you and me
Nothing has changed

The members shed the 70s flares and pastel suits of “Dynamite” and “Boy With Luv” to don more lockdown-appropriate fashion in this down-to-earth video. The entire MV is essentially a duvet day in BTS’ dorm, as the boys hang out in colour-coordinated pyjamas. Even the colours are soothing, with RM, V and J-Hope in comfortingly neutral tones, while Suga and Jin add a splash of colour in teal.

The song is the most mellow title track BTS have released yet. “Spring Day” and “Epilogue: Young Forever” both carried more emotional heft, and even “Just One Day” had a livelier feel. Riding a wave of smooth strings and a soft auto-tuned refrain, “Life Goes On” encapsulates its message in its lilting rhythm. The sing-song chorus has soaring stadium potential for the future, and the rap line’s verses add some edge to the sweetness. What it lacks in momentum, “Life Goes On” makes up for in its reassuringly repetitive melody. In a press release, BTS asserted their goal was to assure listeners that “even in the face of this new normality, our life goes on”. The title track achieves exactly this, via a dreamy mid-tempo cut of hazy hip-pop.

“Life Goes On” is a bold departure from the complex narratives and kaleidoscopic visuals that have defined BTS’ career thus far. Instead, it foregrounds the group’s friendship in an MV that reflects the raw realism of the song’s lyrics. “Life Goes On” isn’t spectacular. Instead, it’s honest, and it’s this ability to evoke empathy that makes BTS brilliant. If “Dynamite” was a burst of summer energy, “Life Goes On” is that silvery sunbeam Jungkook wakes to at the start of the video. A sweet sliver of wintry dawn, that reminds us tomorrow is on its way.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]. Lyrics via Genius. Images via Big Hit Labels.)