South Korean pop band BTS released their latest album, “BE,” on Nov. 20, making it the band’s fifth in Korean and ninth overall. Out of all their albums,“BE” feels the truest to the K-pop all-male band: Seven songs, seven members and a skit interlude to celebrate their group achievements. 

The album was heavily written and produced by its members — J-Hope, RM, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jin and Jimin. While common for the Grammy-nominated South Korean giants to take ownership of their work, the high level of involvement they put into this album was more than usual. Beyond songwriting, Jungkook also directed the “Life Goes On” music video, four of the seven have production credits and Jimin oversaw the album’s A&R as well. The eight tracks make up an album that reflects frustration, depression, listless boredom and isolation, but it also displays moments of soothing brightness and hope for a better future. BTS showcases personal stories of quarantine, challenging their fans to take heart in these emotionally trying times.

“BE” is a testament to the versatility of BTS, a group that has already demonstrated their ability to produce spectacular stadium anthems like “IDOL,” “Euphoria” and “Mikrokosmos.” Though “BE” features BTS’ usual genre-blending style, it is nevertheless a drastic shift from their past work. “BE” is mostly acoustic, heavily featuring guitar and piano riffs with the occasional touch of hi-hat and EDM elements, which mirrors the accompanying lyrics. As a result, the entirety of the album feels stripped down in comparison to their previous high-energy work.

BTS at the 2019 Seoul Music Awards. (Wikimedia Commons/TenAsia)

Starting off slowly with the reflective single, “Life Goes On,” the album features tracks that build onto each other. The album’s opening song establishes nostalgia for better times, as “I remember” repeats in the background. Similarly, “Fly To My Room” beautifully captures the frustration of isolation and the desire for company, only to settle for technology as a connection to the world. “Blue & Grey,” initially slated for release as a solo track on V’s upcoming mixtape, is the most vulnerable BTS has ever been: “I just wanna be happier,” V sings. Jin finishes the song off optimistically, singing, “In the distant future, if I laugh / I’ll tell you that I did.”

“Skit,” a non-musical track, is a respite from the melancholic tracks and the slightly more upbeat, encouraging songs. It is a recording of BTS’ conversation celebrating one of the rare moments of joy that 2020 has given them: “Dynamite” hitting No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, reminding listeners to appreciate every moment, a common theme throughout “BE.”

“Dis-ease,” the album’s sixth track, is vibrant, old-school hip-hop that is reminiscent of BTS’ songs from 2014 to 2015. Largely written by J-Hope, the song reveals the band’s anxiety about their success and just how much they sacrifice for their jobs. The title is also a play on words, using “dis-,” a prefix meaning opposite, to change the meaning of “disease” to “the opposite of ease,” commenting on the uncertainty of the pandemic. “Stay,” originally made to be released on Jungkook’s mixtape, is an energetic EDM track that again highlights the disconnection that comes as a result of social distancing. “Dynamite,” the first all-English BTS song, is a groovy disco-pop song that instills confidence and happiness, and completes the arc of “BE,” bringing BTS’ music back to a place of happiness, hope and self-love.

I was really looking forward to “BE,” but was hoping that the album would take after the band’s 2017 EP “Love Yourself: Her,” in that it would be full of sparkling EDM and intense hip-hop tracks that would energize me in a time when I could really use an aural 5-hour Energy in my life. That is not what this album is. While quite versatile and impressive, their past work typically features a level of complexity of vision and fusion of sounds that this album lacks. 

However, I’ve come to appreciate what “BE” does provide, which is a comforting message — no one is alone in their feelings, it is okay to rest, to reflect, to just “BE.” I appreciate the group’s vulnerability in their writing and significant role in the album’s production process. The band truly sets an example for their fans to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and grow. As BTS says, “Life Goes On,” and we ought to use this time of separation to reflect and improve ourselves so we come out stronger and more complete.

Grade: ★★★★☆