We are three months into 2023 and this much is clear: we have entered the era of BTS solo projects. J-Hope and RM both released new albums at the end of 2022; Suga has his first solo world tour approaching, and has set up his own YouTube show; V starred in a new series airing on Amazon Prime, and Jungkook performed at a little-known event called the World Cup. Jin even managed to sneak in a solo song before his enlistment began.
Their projects have shown an exciting amount of variety, and all generally lean towards a greater sense of individuality, unsurprisingly. Last in line to launch his solo project, but first of the vocal line to release a mini album, is Jimin. Ahead of the release of Face comes his first lead single, “Set Me Free Pt. 2”, marking a swaggering new direction for BTS’ fleet-footed dancer and vocalist. A far cry from his persona as soft, cute, and clumsy, this song sees Jimin swerve instead into his sensuality, ferocity and aggression. It’s an exciting first step, and the next piece of evidence that BTS’ hiatus is giving them the creative freedom that they need.
The MV is a relatively minimal affair, taking place on one soundstage. It is a harsh backdrop of grey walls, a stone floor with bright white lights behind and above. The opening shots reveal a crowd of dancers, clad entirely in nondescript dark greys, reaching and shuddering towards the ceiling. They writhe and sway before revealing Jimin, clad in all black, simply standing at their centre. It’s an impactful start to the MV, perhaps predictably centering dance as it’s one of Jimin’s strongest skills.
The choreography of the MV continues as its centrepiece throughout, though interestingly through the backing dancers more than through Jimin himself. The majority of the movements are arranged around him rather than including him. While he does, of course, join in, there is a distinct separation of movement between idol and dancers. A lot of this movement comes in the form of formations, like a grid or a Fibonacci-esque spiral, of which Jimin becomes the central point.
There is also a combination of military-style sharpness and marching, and the fluidity of contemporary dance in this choreography. The latter feels like a reflection of Jimin’s most practised style, while the former works to emphasise the intensity and pomp of the music. The gathering of the dancers in the MV’s opening shots offers a visual echo of the gospel choir singing the opening bars of the song, while the marching fits with the song’s brass and stomping beat in the chorus. It’s refreshing to see this mirroring done with the dancers alone—the MV is free of militaristic outfits or other such overt symbolism, and instead pleasingly stripped back.
The dancing and styling in the MV also feel heavily referential of BTS’ own past, specifically in the song and MV for “ON”. In fact, “Set Me Free Pt. 2” almost feels like a mirror to the “Kinetic Manifesto Film” MV that the group released in February 2020. Grid-like dancer formation with Jimin hidden in the back? Check. Monochrome outfits? Check. Choir backing the song with marching drumbeats? Check. The similarities are clear and multiple.
The deliberate nature of these similarities is made clear when, in the second pre-chorus, Jimin almost exactly repeats a line from “ON”:
I won’t hide anymore, even if it hurts
Going insane to stay sane
In “ON”, the members sing of “going insane to stay sane” while they suffer towards their success. They bleed, they are rained on, and they are living in a “beautiful prison”. Jimin’s choice to pick this specific song of suffering and success as his reference point gives an added depth to the freedom that he begs for throughout the track. He sings of being lost in maze and being a butterfly flying away, but most notably he constantly commands and demands, with an assertive, aggressive nature that he has never really explored before.
Just let me flow
Hey fool, just get out of my way
Shut up, fuck off
I’m on my way
In “ON”, Jimin and the members were determined to suffer through the pain. But now, “Set Me Free” gives us a Jimin who is angered by his previous suffering, and defiant in his will to break free.
This defiance and separation is echoed by the separation that Jimin has from the dancers in this MV. Whilst “ON” saw BTS execute some of their most intensely exhausting moves in perfect synchronisation, here Jimin is apart. His moves are slightly slower, with as much swagger as one would expect from one of the world’s top idols. Sometimes he is not really moving at all, but rather maintaining an elegant, balletic stance whilst his dancers move around him, hands up, cult-like. Again, it’s another refreshingly simple visual cue to his new era as a soloist, especially when we all know how much choreography he is capable of achieving. He can, but he won’t. A real power move.
Musically, this power seems to be represented by both the bite in his lyrics (Jimin, swearing? *clutches pearls*) and by the multiple effects used on his voice. These effects will be polarising, as the heavy use of vocoder and auto tuning does often render his voice unrecognisable. However, the regular switches between these modified vocal sections and more recognisably Jimin-esque singing feel calculated and knowing, perhaps even designed to be intentionally unsettling. These choices don’t feel out of step with the song itself, but rather feel mischievous, the choices of an idol getting to really play around with their work for maybe the first time.
The fashion in the MV also feels referential and at times tongue-in-cheek. This may seem strange a term to apply to a series of utilitarian grey outfits for the dancers, two basic black outfits and one white one for Jimin himself, but again, more is at play. The lack of colour emphasises the simplicity of the emotions on display: anger, yearning, desire, all more basic and straightforward, like blacks and greys. The black that Jimin wears may also be another way of reversing the sentiments of “ON”, where he was clad in all white.
The most playful moment, however, comes from the poem written in gothic script across Jimin’s bare torso in the second verse. The sensual nature of this is pretty obvious, and only amplified by Jimin’s movements and attitudes. But the actual poem itself? “I live my life in widening circles” by Rainer Maria Rilke. This poem speaks about life as a “widening circle”, and meditates on what this means and how it will progress. One hell of a thing to scrawl across your body. There is yet more wonderful knowingness from Jimin here, using his sexualised styling to deliver a very contemplative idea. This is a styling choice that provokes the viewer: I know you come here to look at me in one way, but I’m here to force you to see something else.
Added to the overt reference to BTS’ own work, the cleverly arranged choreography and lyrics repeatedly demanding to be let go, to be let out, these outfit choices add the last little flourish to Jimin’s opening statement as a soloist. Interestingly, as well as referencing “ON”, he has stated that the title of this song comes as a nod to a track on Suga’s D-2 mixtape. He saw his bandmate’s “Set Me Free” as “about some of the stories that come before, [so] I thought it would be good to come after that”.
Utilising both another moment from the past, and, in this case, the work of another group member, Jimin is again placing himself firmly in the forward-facing position. Like the bright white lights that glare behind him throughout the MV, he is propelled by the narratives of his and BTS’ past, illuminated by them and in need of them. But, just as he stands apart from his dancers, he stands in front of this light, passionately ready to move forward.
Ending the MV in a sudden change of outfit, Jimin looks out at his audience at the end of the song in all white, a colour of hope and light. Whilst this song is an angry call to be freed from his former image and former struggles, it is also energetic, playful and passionate. It is a scream of an introduction, Jimin shouting at his audience that he is not what he was before. If he is, as he sings, “finally free”, then there is only more exciting work to come from him, to be added to the phenomenal cannon that is BTS in their soloist era.