BTS - Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’ (Review)

Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’

Whoever spent the last couple of days on Twitter has witnessed a massive fan organized campaign to vote for BTS as best social artist on the BillBoard Music Awards. Even a bunch of Austrian and German people who usually never took notice of the American award turned their accounts to huge advertising channels for the South Korean boygroup. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. Big YouTube channels with millions of followers devoted videos to the group and their 2017 EP Love Yourself 承 ’Her‘ even managed to peak at number 17 on the Austrian charts, which is impressive considering we’re a CD buyer nation and their albums’ physical editions aren’t available in Europe. They already broke records in their home country, and it is safe to say that BTS are the next big international stars on the rise. I mean heck, they even charted in the US. As I write this, chart positions aren’t out yet, but if this album isn’t already in the top ten over here, their next record probably will - and hopefully, they will release their music physically in the future for even better sales.

With a hype this inescapable, it makes you wonder what the Bangtan Boys have that makes them appeal to such an international audience. You know, usually it’s the US, Great Britain and maybe some neighboring countries that make it big in a nation. Occasionally, a one hit wonder pops up that brings one song at the right time so that it achieves global attention. No matter how big they are in their home country and how great their other music is, their fame abroad usually lasts for one track only - but which is usually remembered. South Korea had exactly this with Psy and his blockbuster Gangnam Style. Although it’s universally liked and was a worldwide chart topper, barely anybody outside of Korea followed his other musical output (which is, by the way, just as fun). But with BTS it’s different. They were immediately recognized as album artists and great pop musicians, and developed a devoted multicultural fanbase that digs deeper into their output. I am not musically comparing the artists in any ways just because they are from the same country, as their premises are pretty far away from each other. Psy has a comical dance pop approach while BTS found a perfect balance between ambitious art pop and boygroup sounds. I am not AllMusic who thinks that Rammstein, Tokio Hotel and The BossHoss sound alike. It’s just that from a Western point of view, South Korea isn’t the first country that is known to create international hits, so the two artists that managed to gain international recognition so far stand out very much, and to me, who is always interested in the evolution of pop culture, I want to know how a mainstream crowd that is usually oblivious to everything that’s not on the radio or the commercial norm found so much bliss in a foreign culture that’s usually not very present in the Central European media (unlike Japan whose culture heavily influenced us in the last 20 years, but is yet to have a music export to chart over here). The hype is too late to be traced back to Psy who might have caused a bit of curiosity for popular South Korean music, and too soon to be a craze started by the Olympic Games.

But listening to their newest output Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’, it’s not hard to see where the love comes from. Firstly, of course, they are a boy band, which always succeeds in attracting teenagers with their attractiveness. Always did, always will. Plus, they can dance and have memorable music videos, so there’s more than enough eye candy for everyone. But now, don’t make the mistake of confusing having perfect visuals with lacking musical qualities. It’s a misconception many boygroups and girlgroups have suffered from in the past. Take That were seen as mere singing models before Robbie Williams left the project and showed the world that he is a first class singer songwriter, and only after that was their art reconsidered, although they always were more than just performers, having written and composed their own music since the beginning. And the Spice Girls, who crafted a feminist movement called Girl Power all by their own, didn’t receive critical acclaim until they disbanded. The thing is that in most cases, such bands consist of casted vocalists who perform manufactured tunes with little personality, so true artists who are also responsible for a majority of the creative vision often don’t get the credit they deserve.

Every member of BTS is responsible for at least a couple of their songs, and apart from their looks, their music perfectly hits the musical zeitgeist of the late 2010s. There’s a healthy amount of modern trappy hip hop swagger, subtle earworm choruses and the braveness to experiment with different facets of pop music. Although pretty damn good dancers themselves, BTS definitely don’t aim to deliver the next trending dance tune, but instead craft music that needs to be listened to and savored. Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’ is a bag of surprises, you’ll never know what pops up next.

The intro is a surprisingly bleak trip hop / soul song called Singularity. “Over the winter lake I was thrown / A thick ice has formed / In the dream I shortly went into / My agonizing phantom pain is still the same” the translation reads. Wow, what a dark way to start off an album. It’s definitely not the sound you expect from a boyband, but that’s exactly the point: they aren’t a gimmick and sell out product, they are musicians with an artistic vision who just happen to be good looking male individuals. What follows this sinister intro is Fake Love, the irresistible lead single that compiles everything a hit needs in 2018. Its chorus, full with autotuned “I’m sick of your fake love!” screams, immediately burns into your brain - but, and that’s the great thing, it’s never forced or tries too hard. In the late ‘10s we’re at a point where a pop song doesn’t need to be all uptempo and quirky to leave an impression. Speaking of Autotune, the album does one thing right: using it as an effect, not as the core piece of vocals. There are several instances when members of the group show good and emotive singing voices, for example on the powerful ballad The Truth Unfold. The both latin and oriental influenced Airplane Pt. 2 is what Despacito wanted to be but wasn’t. But even this summer vibe bears a certain melancholy, as thoughts are spent about whether the moment of success will be over soon, and So What manages to create a fine night club atmosphere.
The odyssey through the highlands of pop finishes with the twisted outro / title track Tear, that ends the record just as violently self tormenting as the opener, just with a sicker beat work: “Although we thought that we dreamed the same dream / That dream has finally become a dream / My heart is torn, please burn it instead / So that pain and regret, none of that would be left”. Wow. Rather erasing a romanticized idea and burning it to nothingness than realising it was nothing but a fantasy all along is just too relatable.

Throughout all of the album the rap verses of RM, Suga and Jhope are very compelling, and they all prove to have a great sense of flow and vocal delivery. Most importantly, they never take the spotlight away from each other or the other singers in the band. All 7 band members take equal terms on the mic, and they never try to outdo each other with their parts, instead they all give in to the common musical vision. And that goes for much of the album: it plays together perfectly, drawing from both negativity and positivity to create a pop record rich in moods and genre influences. It provides a thrilling experience for those seeking pleasure in catchy tunes, and offers more developed ideas than most other current stars in the game. Conclusion: the hype is justified.


Update: whoa. They topped the US charts with this album. I didn't know that they were that popular. Chart positions in Austria will be released soon. - Martin_Canine

Update#2: The album peaked at number 5 in Austria, so I was right. But next to their number 1 peak in Germany, that's a little less impressive. - Martin_Canine