Review: BTS runs a victory lap with “Love Yourself”

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Love Yourself Album Cover
(The album artwork for BTS’s new project, “Love Yourself”)

It’s hard reviewing BTS. BTS is the breakaway group K-Pop had been seeking for years. They recently got a Billboard award for top social artist, a collaboration with the Chainsmokers and international recognition. It might seem sudden, but it was a long time coming. BTS has been quietly building up a massive international fan base for years. It is entirely deserved. BTS are deeply talented and creative. They are on a smaller label that allows them creative control most K-Pop groups only dream of and it radiates in their music. Every album sounds like one all of the band members wanted to make.

Their fame and talent hypes them up and makes them transcend their genre, making them hard to review. Listening to their newest album, “Love Yourself,” I found myself applying a higher standard to them than I would any other K-Pop act. It might seem unfair, but “Love Yourself” is a victory lap–BTS acknowledging their own skill–so shouldn’t it be held to a Caesar’s standard?

As far as triumphal parades go, “Love Yourself” starts off strong. “Intro: Serendipity” is a pretty and relaxing song with a mellow late-summer vibe. It doesn’t wow but that’s fine because it builds interest for the big single, “DNA.”

“DNA” is infectious from start to finish, moored by a sublime whistle and full of the BTS staples that make their hits simultaneously smooth and wildly hyped up. The quiet “hey” chant, the way someone yells out the last word of each line of the chorus, the building bass thumps, Jimin (one of the band’s singers) nailing a dramatic line before a full instrumental drop– these are things that appear in most of BTS’s big hits and “DNA” is no exception. It still sounds fantastic.

“Love Yourself” has three big love songs endemic to K-Pop – a genre made for boy bands. “Best Of Me” and “Dimple” are both solid love songs. “Best of Me” really shines when the beat drops, whereas “Dimple” has excellent bridges. Then “Pied Piper” comes in, with the best of both worlds–excellent bridges in between delightful choruses.

“Pied Piper” deserves its own article. I’d write one, but I’ve been beaten to the punch by this point. This song is a beautiful and terrifying ode to the young, largely female fandoms that are crucial to K-Pop’s culture and checkbook. The lyrics are masterful for how they can be read straight as a love letter to the fan, and a mournful acknowledgment of how predatory K-Pop can be as an industry. The song lays bare both positive and negative repercussions of K-Pop for its fans by using the metaphor of the pied piper. They employ the metaphor literally (“follow the sound of the flute” a line goes), which makes the song all the more chilling because in the pied piper story, the pied piper lures away children when towns refuse to pay him for his magical music that lures away rats.

How ominous do the lines get? Translations are never perfect but here are some:

“You may struggle but it won’t matter anymore”
“Don’t reject me”
“It may be a little dangerous but I’m very sweet.”
“I’m taking over you”

Here is the ringer:

“I’m here to save you / I am here to ruin you”

It is a beautifully heavy and frightening song that sneaks into this victory lap album and grounds the celebration. This success is built by the fans, but is the K-Pop industry relying and playing dangerously off that obsession?

After “Pied Piper” BTS inserts Rap Monster’s full acceptance speech at the Billboard Awards. It cements the album as a victory lap. Right after the skit comes “Mic Drop.” “Mic Drop” challenges anyone to hate on BTS after their accomplishments. It is wild, loud, and loaded with distortion throughout. It is exciting to start, but after a while the aggression and energy stops being impressive. In my eyes it does not play to all of BTS’s strengths as their more varied songs do.

“Go Go” and “Outro:Her” close the album. Both tracks are solid, but not outstanding. “Outro: Her” suffers from some strange lyrics (“You’re my tear”) and overly deep sentiment that Rap Monster sometimes falls into as a writer. “Go Go” drags in the middle and uses some deep slurring vocal segments that feel awkward against the super clean flute beat that centers the whole song. The rising action at the end of “Go Go” is nice and “Outro: Her” has a fun, 90’s hip-hop sound, but the way “Love Yourself” ends still feels lackluster. Another K-Pop group could get away with a weak ending, but this is the victory lap for K-Pop’s Caesars and so the weak latter half is hard to ignore. It sounds good, but for BTS good isn’t great anymore. “Love Yourself” is good, but I leave it feeling BTS could do better.

7.5/10

Napcloud

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6 responses to “Review: BTS runs a victory lap with “Love Yourself””

  1. I appreciate the thought provoking insight. What’s great about music is that when it touches the heart, the critical musical points take a back seat to the enjoyment. I’m into my 6th decade and was stuck into the likes of Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and Batdorf and Rodney. BTS introduced me to rap, hip hop and diss music. My surprisingly fave song is MIC Drop.
    Not a point of argument, but this is the middle album of a yet to be unveiled trilogy. I like how you called this the Victory Lap of K-Pop’s Caesar… stay tuned, the best is yet to be!!!!

    • Hey if you love diss tracks then it makes total sense that Mic Drop is a favorite. It is a classic diss track.

      Thanks for the love Jan! I am glad you liked the article, and I am even more glad you could find BTS and get interested in new genres. Not enough people do that! Here’s to the best BTS yet to come.

  2. I appreciate this thought-out and honest review and I agree with a lot of it, but not about “Go Go” which was my favorite by far lol. Everyone has their opinions though and I certainly respect yours. I do wish you had included a review of the hidden track on the album, “Sea,” produced by Rap Monster, as I think that it is by far the most meaningful (as in, most true to how BTS is actually feeling about their sudden sky rocket into fame) and beautiful track on the album. But still great review!

    • Hey fair enough! That respect is all we can ask for. I respect your opinion on it as well – and I did still like “Go Go” all things considered. Thanks also for the compliment on the review. It really does help anybody writing anything to keep going.

      I wanted to review the extra track actually! A friend of mine who loves K-Pop was hard selling me on it and I do like it! It is a very touching song with one of their more personal messages. Plus I think BTS’s singers work great for the chorus because they have such naturally emotive styles and it’s such a sincere, emotional song. Might be my 3rd favorite track after Pied Piper and DNA. I ended up not writing on it out of respect for the site, since we’re paid by word and I didn’t want it to seem like I was just pumping up the word count by throwing extra tracks in. My reviews already tend to run on the long side (though I work to make it so almost none of it’s filler)!

  3. Thank you so much for your review! I completely understand your higher expectations. BTS deserve highly critical serious reviews. To me their album is an inigma. I don’t prefer EDM, I don’t some elements of their tracks; but darn if they don’t hook me in somewhere each time I listen to each song.
    Go Go is my fun song that I really enjoy.
    Also, I love NJ but and I’ve always loved how he’ll twist an English word to make it rhyme with korean (he does it in other raps and it sounds so good) but that ‘tear/turr’ word just has to go! I’m sorry Namjoon. Please forgive me

    • Thank you for your reply! BTS just does it well. A lot of EDM artists – I feel – get lazy with their work and recycle beats or settle for overly simple ones. BTS usually layers up a lot of interesting sound in their work and it shows – that and having some of the most talented rappers and singers helps too.

      Yeah I get it’s Rapmon’s style, but totally agree, here it falls a little flat.

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