Inquirer Super

Finding the ‘Answer’ with BTS

By Mariejo S. Ramos
09/2/18 6:28 AM
In their fictional universe, BTS flip the somber concept from the HYYH era to a more hopeful tone in “Love Yourself.” —Screenshot from BTS’ “Fake Love” music video

It all started with a story. In the city of Omelas, children lived in a world of fairy tales—long ago and far away, once upon a time. In perpetual sense of euphoria, they experienced no interval, no dreams—just conditional happiness. But one does not stay there forever. The ones who walked away from Omelas are those who are finding the answer beyond the trap of one’s youth.

It was also the story of seven boys who embarked on the same journey to self-discovery, armed with a commitment to music and motivated by a humble beginning.

Make no mistake, Bangtan Sonyeondan (Bulletproof Boyscouts or BTS) don’t always live up to their name. But it was in this vulnerability that their artistry shines the most. The cohesive storyline and consistent symbolism in their Love Yourself series (“Wonder,” “Her,” “Tear” and “Answer”),  are faithful not only to their music, but also to their ever-expanding worldview as young artists and individuals.

Like the fictional universe that they masterfully created since their debut in 2013, Love Yourself follows a frame narrative structure like the various literary references they have used through the years (a story within a story).  In their most recent album, “Love Yourself: Answer,” the same structure is apparent in the three “Trivia” tracks about love’s many faces: “Just Dance” for Wonder (beginning, state of happiness), “Love” for Her (development, exploration) and “Seesaw” for Tear (turn, dilemma).

No other artists have successfully mixed the same literary technique to pop music in such a scale, following Beyonce’s “Lemonade” as a narrative device for the struggles of black women, and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as a framing device for their album of the same name, appearing at the beginning and end of the record that represents a performance of the fictional alter ego band.

But essential to BTS’ consistency is their own illustrative turnaround, a palindrome of a cautionary tale flipped into a hopeful scenario.

“Actually I didn’t love myself before… I’ve drank alone in the room and thought a lot in a bad way. When I gave hard time to myself I felt I could grow,” Jimin revealed in a press conference before the second night of their Love Yourself stadium tour in Seoul on Aug. 26.

The band’s leader, RM, a young philomath, even used to hate the word “love.” He also wrote a song about the “world’s loneliest whale” (the 52-hertz whale) as a reference to his own struggles.

These young musicians have conquered their personal demons: depression, inferiority, self-hate, prejudice from others and a struggle for acceptance in a world obsessed with borders and discrimination. Their process of creating music, in a way, has also became cathartic and reflective: Love, too, has to be learned.

They carved a path and religiously walked toward it, without anticipating an unprecedented global popularity and an impact swerving like a giant wave: At the end of this arch, will they still remain true to their essence, their core as Korean musicians?

The answers have always been interlaced in BTS’ grand narrative, a Möbius strip that RM fully understands: “We have showed what we can do well consistently as a series. We were faithful to the essence, we tried to show this with music and complete it in the concert.”

True enough, Love Yourself’s intro tracks—“Euphoria,” “Serendipity,” “Singularity” and “Epiphany”—is a testament to the band’s “esse” (from Latin: to be), their true essence and reason for existence. And while upholding this essence may not be as well-choreographed as their movements on stage, “Answer” is still a fitting bookend to this rudimental journey.

The album’s anthemic “Answer: Love Myself” amplifies this transformation: “Why do you keep trying to hide under your mask?/Even all the scars from your mistakes make up your constellation.”

Maybe there’s no real answer. Maybe it’s just an enduring story, a continuous wondering, one that transcends time and language —as what music should be.