BTS’ Map Of The Soul series continues and, presumably, concludes with Map Of The Soul: 7, a 20-track record which bends and blends genre deftly – from the emo-tinged rap of “Interlude: Shadow”, to the modern trap beats mixed with traditional Korean instruments on “Black Swan”, and the latin-pop-inspired “Filter”, it’s an album that shows off the group’s impressive versatility tenfold.
Whereas the Persona instalment of the series very much looked outward – tracks like “Boy With Luv” focussed on finding joy in love and looking out at the world for meaning – the core of 7 explores much more of the members’ internal lives. In “Interlude: Shadow”, rapper Min Yoongi explores the dark side of being at the top and expresses his anxieties about the responsibility of his position. As he pleads “please don’t let me shine, don’t let me down, don’t let me fly”, he speaks to the contradictory nature of his emotions, offering a uniquely honest and unflinching take on a situation that is often oversimplified.
The previously released single – an unprecedented move for BTS – “Black Swan” carries on from “Shadow”, and sees the members face themselves as artists. They dive deep into the fear that one day music, dance, and performance may no longer move them, whilst acknowledging that it is all that they have. They even ask themselves “what if that moment’s right now?”, suggesting that loss of love has already come, at least briefly – other songs on the album show they have moved through that feeling. It speaks to anyone who has been through depression, the uniquely crushing experience of losing interest in what once gave meaning. It reaches out a hand to acknowledge that pain and provides a reminder to fight – “nothing can devour me, I cry out with all my strength”.
It’s a theme which runs throughout 7 – it explores and acknowledges the shadows, but encourages fighting back against the darkness, building resilience and seeking out support. The title track – lead single, in k-pop terms – “ON” emphasises this most of all, the most notable refrains being the lines “can’t hold me down ‘cause you know I’m a fighter” and “bring the pain on”. It’s a loud, lively hip-hop infused song that will no doubt shine across the group’s worldwide stadium tour this summer, with hundreds of thousands of delighted and empowered members of the BTS ARMY singing it alongside them. But the message is also conveyed more quietly, in the gentle vocal line song “00:00 (Zero O’Clock)”. It’s a promise that you will be happy again, even just for a moment, even if you don’t feel it right now. It’s a sentiment that could come across as cheesy, feel empty, but as ever the band’s sincerity shines through. The four vocalists unique tones – the traditional Korean ballad style of eldest member Kim Seokjin, the smooth, soothing falsettos of Jeon Jungkook, Park Jimin’s warming and sensual tones, and the exceptionally comforting, familiar quality of Kim Taehyung’s voice – weave together and it feels a lot like a big hug at the end of the day. Even when the exact meaning isn’t clear – though thoughtful, accurate translations are heart-warming – it doesn’t matter. The sentiment is clear and fills you with reassurance.
Of course, BTS’ fans, ARMY, remain at the heart of the album – it’s inward looking, yes, but somehow they are a part of that. It’s a relationship that goes far beyond the typical artist/fan dynamic; evident in the songs, the band’s messages online, on livestreams, and at concerts, is that BTS find the same love in their ARMY that the fans find in them. Seokjin’s solo song, “Moon”, focuses on this bond the most. It’s a fun, joyful expression of love over a bouncy beat, but it’s serious and heartfelt too. In Korean, he sings “I didn’t even have a name before I met you, you gave me love and now you’ve become my reason”. It’s an idea the members echo in the album’s thank you notes and have stated time and time again before.
It is an impressive, exciting and moving album with slick production, accompanied by thought-provoking art (the interpretative dance performance in the “Black Swan” video, the CONNECT BTS art exhibitions), but it is so much more than a shiny pop album. It is a love letter to pain, to the shadows that live within us. It’s a love letter from the members to themselves, and to their ARMY. It’s a reminder that where there is dark, there is light, and it always possible to find it. It’s a reminder that there is always someone reaching out a hand – whether that be a past or future version of yourself, a best friend, or a band.