“Yo!” — BTS’s seventh album begins with leader RM’s voice exploding over a punchy guitar riff and gritty hip-hop percussion. “Intro: Persona” takes the audience on a journey of identity, as RM repeatedly questions, “Who the hell am I?” Lyrically, RM plies apart the entanglements of persona, shadow and ego that pervade throughout the 20-track album, “Map of the Soul: 7.” The album is part psychoanalysis, part introspection, delving deep into notions of identity, celebrity and visibility.
“7” comes at a time when KPOP is near synonymous with BTS. It is hard to imagine any artists with the impact and notability of BTS, a seven-member group in their seventh year of promotions. It is clear that the album name was a celebration of both. BTS’s reach and international appeal has allowed the group to experiment creatively and explore deeper conceptions of identity.
BTS’s fame has grown simultaneously with their artistic vision, evident in the scope of their latest album. This new era began with a tour announcement and hints at a worldwide arts exhibition which will engage five locales around the world, such as London and Buenos Aires, and curate the work of twenty-two artists in line with BTS’s musical vision. This was the crux of “7” — curating, engaging and mediating art through the group’s lofty global aspirations and exploration of identity.
The band’s newest album boasts five tracks from “Persona” — a seven-song mini-album with playful choruses, references to Greek mythology and a bouncy Halsey collab — and three pre-release tracks: “Black Swan” and concept teasers for “Ego” and “Shadow.”
The album is significantly self-referential, making constant allusions to other BTS tracks. Title track “ON” is a clever play on their previous title “N.O.” and “Boy with Luv” astutely calls to mind their earlier song, “Boy in Luv.”
After the first five tracks, all featured on the previous album, “7” truly begins with rapper Suga’s electrifying “Shadow.” “People say, there’s splendor in that bright light,” Suga raps. His deep, marred tone hints at the worries that fame brings: “My growing shadow swallows me and becomes a monster.” The track features desperation, a sense that Suga is engulfed by the flames of hypervisibility and fame.
“Big house, big cars, big rings,” Suga lists emphatically in “Shadow,” another lyric that BTS fans will pick up on from previous projects. In each iteration of the phrase, notions of ambition and materialism are emphasized. Though the line’s first iteration reflected the dreams of a burgeoning group, they now hold a different meaning; the big house, cars and rings are now in their possession, but this level of fame is accompanied by an acute sense of loneliness.
What Suga orchstrated in the echoes and depths of “Shadow” is developed in the succeeding track, the album’s pre-release single “Black Swan,” a dizzying, addicting blend of pop-R&B sensibilities with traditional Korean instrumentals. The music video — with its own string-led version of the song — displays a European dance troupe, rather than the actual group, which is evidence of their commitment to engaging global art.
“7,” like some of BTS’s previous full-length albums, features a series of solo and unit songs, most notably the Latin pop musings on fame and appearances in member Jimin’s “Filter.” One of the album’s stand-out moments appears in youngest member Jungkook’s solo track, “My Time,” an inner reflection on chaotic life in the spotlight. “Someday,” Jungkook croons over R&B-heavy beats, “Finna find my time.”
The album reaches it apex in moments when the music strays toward almost devastating lyrical explorations into fame, facades and fear. In the six-song section between “Shadow” and “On,” the album swells to a climax, bolstered by the strong deliveries of songs like “My Time” and “Black Swan.” “7” falters in the follow-up moments, weighed down by songs that muddy the clarity and cohesion found in some of their previous projects. With the inclusion of 20 songs, the album’s 74-minute length is noticeable but the standout moments make the album worth listening to. Buoyed along by BTS’s ambition, “7” is a powerful project that packs a punch, owed to BTS’s ability to delve deep into identity and their experimental approach to music-making.
Grade: 4/5 Stars