BTS’s new album is sublime comfort pop for the soul in lockdown

What do you do after making world history by becoming the first Korean group – and only the third group of all time – to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100?

If you’re BTS, apparently you keep working. The beloved K-pop group released on Friday Be, their first album since February Soul Card: 7 fell at the start of the pandemic, and since its summer bop “DynamiteBecame their first single in the United States.

“Dynamite,” which by the way isn’t BTS’s first single entirely in English, seemed to have sprung from the recognition that the group was somehow too complex to air on US radio. It was in many ways a major change from their typical approach to their craft.

So when BTS announced a new album, the question arose as to what kind of album Be would, uh, if that would venture even further from their previous musical and collaborative styles, or represent a return to their typical blend of rock and hip-hop with an occasional light pop.

Be is a short album, with only seven new tracks alongside “Dynamite”. But almost all of them are sublime. Taken as a whole, they form a homogeneous litany of bops intended to commemorate and celebrate the crossing of the Covid-19 pandemic. Musically, Be is pure pop, all the way down – a retro and loud mix of pop sounds ranging from sparkling to funky, melancholy to mellow, filtered through a lens of determined positivity.

The harsher, more anthemic sound of the band, which put them on the map and landed their fantastic single “On” at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February, is missing here. And that’s good, because the album’s message seems to be to stay light, upbeat, and grab hope wherever possible. As many parts of the United States enter states of crisis, Be is like a deliberate roadmap for how we can all get through the next few months: songs, good humor, and trust in the bonds that keep us close.

BTS, Be.
BigHit / Weibo

Be is both a proclamation and a promise. It is normal to rest, he says: just exist, survive, be. In that sense, the album’s aural slide towards total pop seems like a very necessary response to a very difficult year – and indeed, it is meant to be.

Be opens with the group’s latest single, “Life goes onWhich was released Friday at midnight alongside the album itself. Its theme – the pandemic – is immediately evident in the accompanying music video, directed by band member Jeon Jungkook and opens with a lonely V (Kim Taehyung) driving down a nearly empty highway. It is interspersed with shots of Jungkook looking wistfully outside his window, as they both remember how “the world once stopped.”

One by one, the other band members join in, happily singing about how even if they lack company and activity, even if they are chased by melancholy, life will one day return to normal. It’s a sweet, singable song that finds positivity in simplicity – about what you’d expect from a collaboration with the songwriter. Antonina Armato, who also wrote the best song ever written: “Bet On It” by High School Musical 2.

Fly to my roomNext is a playful, playful song with a cute Ariana Grande vibe that’s about turning your room into a fantasy world tour because you’re stuck inside and can’t leave. It’s adorable and I love it. There’s a slight gospel vibe to both of these songs – they wouldn’t feel out of place in, say, a collaboration with Charlie Puth – which sets the stage for everything to come. It is pop music as meditation, as comfort, as an expression of faith.

The thematic material of the group will be familiar to fans. Here, as always, BTS frankly discuss things like sanity and the pressure that comes with being famous. But Be stays airy, even when his words are in a bad mood. Each of the BeAll eight tracks on the album, including ‘Dynamite’ closer to the album and a spoken word sketch in which they poke fun at themselves for being the top of the charts, comes as a personal reminder that we are all in the same boat. Even the lush ballad of the album “Blue greyMaintains that feeling of warm energy, although this is explicitly about dealing with the depression and loneliness brought on by a pandemic. After all, even if the boys say, “I sing to myself,” they still sing together.

There is a denominational quality to this number, not only because the band members co-wrote it – the band co-wrote the entire album – but because BTS’s magnificent voice is often the melodic equivalent. an ASMR session. Taekook’s panting opening verse, followed by the laid-back nursery rhymes of Suga and J-Hope, it all feels like someone whispering to you on your pillow. (Hiss Noise, who produced Taehyung’s two beautiful solo ballads, “Winter bear“and”Sweet night“Blue & Gray,” also co-wrote, and the same calming vibe is instantly recognizable.) Then there’s Jimin’s plaintive and cheerful tenor, who always makes him the most cuddly and secretive member. of your pajama party. BTSs are professionals at creating that kind of intimacy between artist and listener – and here, applying that skill to creating what I’m calling “comfort pop” here feels like a public service.

This brings me to “Telepathy“and”StayTwo tracks that deal with the band’s lack of fans by converting their loneliness into energetic optimism. The blazing autotuned “Telepathy”, the only song that comes close to being a dud for me, still feels like a musical boost and change of pace, reminiscent of a more eccentric K-pop group like Block B rather than BTS. “Stay”, on the other hand, is exactly my jam: a multi-level song that begins by channeling the retro ’90s vibe of BTS’s song from earlier in 2020 “Moon– my favorite song of the year – before opening up to a light EDM beat.

While discussing the specific sound of “Moon” recently with Pop enabledCharlie hardingI found that this and “Stay” channeled a specific flavor of early ’90s pop that gave me an instant serotonin boost. You’re lucky I even stopped looping “Stay” to listen to the rest of this album.

In “Tapestry” and “Stay”, BTS does this thing that it often does where the group speaks directly to its fandom as a specific “you”. Usually I find this trait more off-putting than nice, even if it’s just the kind of customization the military adores. And while I love “Stay”, I’m definitely not sure we need two different songs on this theme in an album that is already shorter than usual.

But it’s also undeniable that in this time of quarantine, social distancing, and separation, you can never have too many sound hugs. BeThe songs are all self-explanatory distractions, meant to acknowledge our collective humanitarian angst and redirect it to something happier. Even the title of the most explicitly dark song, “Sickness,Ostensibly about Covid-19 itself, is a pun on the idea of ​​unease rather than direct confrontation with the disease. His anxiety is channeled through a fabulous rotating cycle of musical motifs, hip-hop rhythm over a funk horn and guitars with an old-school boy group chorus. It all supports sly rap full of humor and pun, and it’s about facing – and overcoming – a more generalized internal doubt.

It’s as if the pandemic has reduced the emotional bandwidth of this album. Bitterness, frustration, and despair may be present, but they have no place in the sacred space of contemplation that BTS has carved out for itself.

In this context, “Dynamite”, which I had reservations about, seems to be the perfect exclamation point when it ends. Be – a fun and vibrant future fantasy whose lyrical nonsense is part of the album’s decidedly escape environment.

Be does not sound so much like a permanent abandonment of the varied framework of the group as, perhaps, a timely thesis statement. Be tells us clearly and pleasantly what BTS is and what it wants to be. And what the group wants to be is a source of positivity, hope and joy.

In this, BTS has clearly succeeded. Shine, you awesome diamonds, and keep doing what you are doing – it may not be considered essential work, but it is definitely essential art.

When will we shine again in the city with some funk and soul? Soon, BTS promises, and who are we to chat?