[Pitchfork: The latest album from the masters of the K-pop formula is a slick, loosely thematic album about love and loss, with a stronger emphasis on rapping than ever before.]
The latest album from the masters of the K-pop formula is a slick, loosely thematic album about love and loss, with a stronger emphasis on rapping than ever before.
K-pop has long been poised for a breakthrough in the U.S., and the stars have aligned for the Korean boy band BTS. It doesn’t hurt that it is easier now than ever to be a K-pop fan on this side of the world, with the genre being tailor-made for our current algorithm-fed content chain. BTS has seized the opportunity, building a ravenous fanbase, not just at home and stateside but in South America and Europe as well. Bangtan Boys (their full name, Bangtan Sonyeondan, translates to “bulletproof boy scouts” in English), are designed for this moment, highly curated, aesthetically optimized for Western consumption.
BTS have been presented as the art-house alternative to K-pop’s manic energy: a modish, dilettantish, act whose music is a vehicle for larger artistic choices and statements. After debuting as a swag rap outfit, they evolved from rap-sung mashups to posh electro-pop pageantry. The concept for their 2016 album, Wings, was inspired by Hermann Hesse’s 1919 book Demian. The visuals for one of the best BTS songs, “Blood Sweat & Tears,” were picturesque stills framed in a pop-up museum featuring “The Fall of the Rebel Angels,” Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” and Nietzsche quotes etched in stone, which all produced dramatic fan readings of the video’s symbolism. The members co-write and co-produce their songs, some of which delve into mental wellness and social responsibility, a process that has led many to dub their songs more “personal,” a word sometimes used as a dog whistle for music appealing to be taken more seriously. Their tactics have been emulated by boy bands who have followed, but in many ways, BTS are simply the K-pop model maximized for efficiency.
Love Yourself: 轉 ‘Tear’, which follows the 2017 mini album Love Yourself: ‘Her’ and the Japanese full-length Face Yourself released earlier this year, is a kaleidoscopic mark of that efficiency, observing the finely tuned formula BTS have been perfecting since 2015. ‘Tear’, like ‘Her’, is a concept album of sorts. Roughly half the songs adhere to the album’s subhead. If ‘Her’ was an assortment of heart-professing love songs, then ‘Tear’ is the inverse. It deals primarily, though not exclusively, with the cycle of grief that lingers through a separation. But all of the songs generally find their way back around to self-love at some point. The album’s opener, “Intro: Singularity,” provides its thesis. “Even in my momentary dreams/The illusions that torture me are still the same,” V sings. “Did I lose myself, or did I gain you?”
[Noisey: #100 on 100 Best Albums of 2018]
K-pop is not a passing phenomenon. The genre’s current mainstream success has been a long, steady build, and now, thanks to a generation of listeners who grew up on the internet no longer biased toward the sounds of their home regions, it’s fully entered public consciousness in North America. BTS, South Korea’s most successful boy band in a pure numbers sense, capitalized on these overarching narratives this year with the release of their crowning achievement, Love Yourself: Tear.
While “Fake Love” has garnered the most success, songs like the jazz-inflected ode to Pluto “134340” and the 90s hip-hop-cribbing anthem “Anpanman” make the album feel full and diverse in a way that few pop albums do. The plush “Paradise” is the record’s standout—showing most readily the ease with which each member can bounce from lithe singing to rapping. On the whole, the record is a prime example of clean and simple pop writing, but the group’s collective quirks make it stand above everyone else, regardless of language. —Jabbari Weekes
[Uproxx: #16 of 20 Must-Hear Pop Albums From 2018]
Korean pop group BTS is the biggest band on the planet right now. The band released three (!!) studio albums in 2018 — an output that could make even Van Morrison gasp. Any of BTS’ three records deserve to be on this list, but Answer, released in August, is the culmination of the band’s incredible year. Featuring hits from their other compilations (“DNA” from Her and “Fake Love” from Tear) along with new songs, Love Yourself 結 Answer is a 26-track dream. The songs range from hip-hop to synth-pop, with solos to spotlight the unique talents of each member. Jimin is a crooner, RM and J-Hope rap, and Jungkook is a bona fide pop star. BTS also embarked on their first-ever US tour this year, selling out some of the biggest arenas in the country in seconds.
I can’t imagine a band getting bigger than this. I can’t wait to see BTS do it in 2019.–C.G.
[NYT, The Guardian: Best Songs of 2018 entries]
Fake Love also makes The Guardian's Top 100 songs of 2018 playlist (Spotify and Apple Music)
Sources: Pitchfork | Noisey | Uproxxx | New York Times | The Guardian
grammy nominated album tear was reviewed by pitchfork in may, but it doesn't look like it was posted so i grouped it in