On Feb. 21, the revolutionary K-pop group BTS released its highly anticipated new album “Map of the Soul: 7.” Named directly after the number of members, the album works to highlight the growth of a seven-year group who is nearing the seven year anniversary of its debut in June 2013.
Ever since BTS released the single “Boy With Luv” in April 2019, garnering over 700 million views on YouTube, the general public has been on its toes awaiting the next hit release from the group. Although BTS has been reasonably popular since 2014, “Boy with Luv” seemed to rekindle and solidify the public’s love for the Kpop group, with subsequent appearances on Jimmy Fallon, collaborations with artists like Becky G and a sold-out worldwide stadium tour in famous venues such as Wembley Stadium in London.
Ahead of the album’s release date, the group launched a global art initiative called “Connect: BTS,” which worked to gather the artwork from artists all around the world whose art deeply reflected the philosophy of their next album. In the months prior to their highly awaited album, the group also released an art film performed by MN Dance Company to a preview single , “Black Swan.”
With a two-month long pre-promotion period for the album that included not one, but four phases of teasers, the bar has risen as their global audience has increased two-fold. With a tracklist of 20 songs and collabs with artists like Troye Sivan and Sia, this album was long overdue.
Whereas “Map of the Soul: Persona,” the group’s previous album, seemed brighter and happier, “Map of the Soul: 7” attempts to tackle some of the darker aspects of being in the music industry. In this final installment in the Map of the Soul series that deals with the Jungian psychoanalytic concepts of the persona, shadow and ego, BTS works to challenge both themselves and their audience in remedying the identity they keep to themselves and the identity they put on for show.
The album as a whole felt less cohesive than expected but still managed to be impactful in different ways. Although the overall message carried through in some songs, others felt more distant. Some standouts from the album include “Black Swan”, “Louder Than Bombs, “My Time” and “Fiter.”
“Black Swan”, a pop-rap track that mixes classical instrumentals and trap beats, chronicles the seven-member group’s growing anxiety with potentially falling out of love with a passion for music, singing “The heart no longer races/ When hearing the music play/ Tryna’ pull up/ Seems like time has stopped/ Oh that would be my first death/I been afraid of.” Inspired by the 2010 film “Black Swan,” the song reflects the universal fear of no longer finding joy in an achieved dream.
Another hard-hitting track off the album, “Louder Than Bombs” explores a similar fear. Co-written by Troye Sivan, the haunting, experimental pop song echoes the group’s desire to have music that overcomes the struggles and darkness in their fans’ lives. The refraining wish to be “louder than bombs” seems to symbolize finding reassurance within the noise of life’s troubles and being able to confront one’s shadows with the reassurance that they will persevere. In the third verse, main rapper Jhope says “Where’s my way?/ The ground keeps quaking/ I collapse on my own, mute/ Louder than bombs, yeah/ I want to tell you, that darkness/ Exists everywhere, don’t be afraid of it”
In “My Time,” main vocalist Jungkook laments over a life that is not entirely his. In this RnB-influenced solo song, the young singer talks about the childhood experiences he missed out on due to the career he’s chosen, singing “24, feels like I became a grown-up faster than everyone else/ My life has been a movie all the time.” As someone who joined the industry at such a young age, the song reflects Jungook’s desire to find time for himself while having a life where he is constantly put on display.
“Filter,” a Latin-inspired pop solo by sub-vocalist Jimin, plays more on the persona aspect of the album, where the singer cheekily asks audiences “Mix the colors in the pallette, pick your filter/ Which me do you want?/To change your world, I’m your filter/ Overlay me in your heart.” Although the song remains fairly light-hearted, it presents a reflection of Jimin’s desire to change himself into whatever person his audience wants him to be.
The rest of the album, however, was more of a hit-or-miss with more casual and lighter songs such as Jin’s solo “Moon” and duet song between Jimin and V “Friends” proving not as memorable as the others. The title track of the album “On” felt flat as well when compared to the catchiness of the previous hit “Boy with Luv.”
Overall, “Map of the Soul: 7” is indisputably one of BTS’s best produced albums. Compared to the last album, which was compositionally lacking in production and felt rushed in completion, this album compensates for those missteps. The songs are much more developed and reflect the current maturity of a group that has been in the industry for seven years.
That being said, “Map of the Soul: Persona” beats out this album, its saving grace being its distinctness. Although this current album has advanced the musical production of BTS’ songs, it lacks a distinctive sound that distinguishes it from other artists. Although this album was supposed to commemorate BTS and their seven-year long brotherhood, it was missing the collective group identity that effectively carried that message across.
Interestingly enough, BTS’ music exists in a distinct grey area at the moment, where the songs are drastically different from the traditional K-pop sound but are mediocre when compared to American artists who have been functioning within this music industry for decades. Gravitating towards a new sound that follows western trends is not necessarily bad, but this album was not impressive simply because it was imitating the sound of current western artists instead of attempting to establish a sound distinct from those. As stars who have often been called the revolutionaries of K-pop, the songs all sounded like reiterations of American songs, with the only difference being language.
However, like a brand new pair of shoes, BTS seem to be trying on a new genre that just doesn’t fit the band yet. They are taking a drastic step in terms of musical direction, and this album feels like a reflection of that adjustment period. It’s possible that with time, they may be able to start carving out a unique identity for themselves.
At this point in the group’s career, it should not be about reproducing what’s already been done before but experimenting and finding a sound that makes the group stand out from the rest.
Hopefully, the next album will attempt to rectify this since BTS will continue to experiment with sound and solidify the kind of music they want to put out.