BTS album review: Map of the Soul: 7 charts a path forward for K-pop - Los Angeles Times
|Los Angeles Times 21 Feb 2020 at 13:25|
Because what comes next is the darkest, strangest and yet most relevant and ambitious music BTS has made yet. It’s partly a hat tip back to their roots as a hip-hop act, Bangtan Boys, but attuned to today’s misty, hard-kicking sonics and bolstered by everything they’ve learned in the intervening years as pop stars.
“UGH!” seethes with paranoia and showcases the best technical rapping of BTS’ career — it’s closer to drill music than anything casual audiences might associate with K-pop. On “Respect,” RM and Suga try their hand at the wavy yelps of Young Thug and emerge with one of the strongest trap tracks of their lives.
“Black Swan” is foggy and arty and catchy as hell: If “7” has a statement of purpose, it’s probably this cut. It shows the biggest band in the world as attentive students of trippy modern hip-hop, but aware of the meticulousness and skill they bring to it as well.
On a first pass, the R&B and global pop moments are some of the most affecting, even more so given the breadth of the record. Jimin’s “Filter” is a sweaty, Latin guitar-driven single that’s his high point as a vocalist so far; “Louder Than Bombs,” co-written with Troye Sivan, is a glitchy electro-pop stomper with some of the most moving vocal harmonies in the BTS catalog.
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The group is beloved, however, for lyrics that peel off the insulation around K-pop fame and speak with singular candor about the cost of the spotlight, and what an experience like theirs both takes and gives to BTS’ friendships. K-pop fans don’t need to speak Korean to get into it, but if it prompts you to, no act is more rewarding to dig into than BTS.
I’m one of those who needs director Bong’s “one-inch barrier” of subtitles to understand what’s going on here, but after a few hours with the album and some fevered Google Translate sessions, it’s clear the band is trying to do one of the hardest tricks in pop: the road album.
It’s a cliche for a band to mine meaning out of the daily trials of being famous and adrift, but that’s been BTS’ whole mission from the start. Their phenomenal ascent as artists mirrored the K-pop genre’s rise in America, and their fans’ path into adulthood with all its promise and vague sense of closing doors. “24, feels like I became a grown-up faster than everyone else,” Jungkook sings on “My Time.” “But is it too fast? There are traces of losses / Don’t know what to do, am I living this right?”
Korean pop stars BTS have delivered a new single, “Black Swan,” with a video that stars seven contemporary dancers — and none of the group’s members.
As the album drops its landing gear, “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal” leaves fans feeling the arc of the journey, a piano ballad that insists the BTS Army really is in this together, that the band is figuring out this life thing right along with you. It would be a logical ending point, but then they throw on an old-school big-beat club number “Outro: Ego” and a remix, with a Sia collaboration, of “ON’"for good measure.
If you had hit play at exactly 1 a.m. PST, you’d be getting close to 3 a.m. at this point. The sun’s up in a couple of hours, but whatever you just went through with “7,” rest assured that many millions did it with you.