BTS just dropped a new album with a different sound than their previous work
On April 12, fans from all across the world eagerly awaited the drop of Korean band BTS’ 2019 comeback. Their album was released alongside a music video for the song “Boy With Luv,” featuring American pop singer Halsey. “Map of the Soul: Persona” is BTS’ sixth extended play album, and it marks a new era in the group’s musical narrative.
This comeback has been BTS’ biggest yet, and thanks to the momentum the band has gained throughout the past year, they’ve been able to make monumental breakthroughs in the western pop world. The “Boy With Luv” music video broke the previous record for most watched video on YouTube, garnering approximately 146 million views at the time of publication. BTS also made history on April 13 as the first k-pop group to perform as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live.
BTS teased the album by dropping the first track, “Intro: Persona,” on March 27. This track was a solo song by the group’s leader and main writer/rapper RM. The lyrics offer a framework for the narrative of the album. While BTS’ last three albums were part of the “Love Yourself” series that described different aspects of love and ultimately ended with a journey to self-love, “Map of the Soul: Persona” delves deeper into self-reflection and explores the different masks, or personas, we often put on.
RM raps in the intro track, “The ‘me’ that I remember and people know / the ‘me’ that I created myself to vent out / yeah maybe I have been deceiving myself / maybe I’ve been lying / but I’m not embarrassed anymore / this is the map of my soul.”
The lyrics in “Intro: Persona” encourage fans to become better versions of themselves but also to embrace their past selves. “Maybe I made a mistake yesterday, but yesterday’s me is still me,” RM said during a speech he gave to the United Nations assembly in 2018.
The new album carries on this theme by echoing one of the group’s earliest albums, “Skool Luv Affair.” The second track on “Map of the Soul: Persona” is called “Boy with Luv,” perhaps referencing the second song on “Skool Luv Affair” called “Boy in Luv.” The intro songs on both albums also sample the same instantly recognizable background vocal track.
While BTS’ previous albums carried an edge, “Map of the Soul: Persona” is largely bright, optimistic and relaxed. “Boy with Luv,” which features Halsey, is your typical upbeat, catchy pop song about puppy love — a universal boy band staple that not even BTS is above, apparently. “Dionysus” feels like an early-2000s party rock anthem. The album’s fourth song, “Make It Right,” was produced by BTS member/rapper Suga in collaboration with pop icon Ed Sheeran and features another earworm synth-pop melody punctuated by an echoing trumpet refrain.
While BTS’ frequent collaborations with Western pop artists like Steve Aoki, Nicki Minaj and The Chainsmokers might help attribute to their rise in popularity, they have also received criticism for these collaborations. Some claim the group has altered their sound to appeal to mainstream Western audiences.
Earlier fans of the group, however, know that BTS is famous for switching up their style. When BTS made their debut in 2013, most of them were still teenagers, and they were branded as rebellious schoolboys with a hip-hop sound. The songs they wrote back then expressed their teenage angst and criticized South Korea’s strict education standards. Many of their songs also aggressively tackled issues like class inequality, the wealth gap and corrupt government.
As the group matured, however, they began writing more reflective songs, paring down the intensity of the music to match the introspective quality of the lyrics. This can be seen in the drastic difference between the band’s first studio album, “Dark & Wild,” and their second studio album, “Wings.”
The fact that BTS has the freedom to change their music to reflect their personal evolution is a testament to their label, BigHit Entertainment. In an industry where artists are expected to project an image of perfection, BigHit makes a point to be intentional about transparency.
From the start, BTS members have been open about the struggles and pressures they face as k-pop “idols,” sharing the bad days along with the good days via social media and livestream. This has served to foster a stronger connection between the band and their fans.
Because of this, fans know that even if BTS’ sound changes, their music will remain authentic to their experiences. This time around, the remainder of the new album’s songs are light and uplifting. “Jamais Vu” describes the feeling of returning to something you’ve done before, but this time around, it’s completely unfamiliar—the opposite of deja vu. “HOME” is a love letter to fans, while “Mikrokosmos” expresses wonder at the infinite potential that every individual possesses.
Though the newest album is a bit of a departure from the band’s earlier work, BTS continues their voyage of self-discovery and invites their fans to join in on the journey.