BTS’ “BE”: The Calm and Mature Sound Behind The Energetic Seven-Men Group

One day, the world stopped. As it’s voiced by Jungkook in “Life Goes On”, the first line of BTS’ “BE” evokes the universal attempt to put the planet back in orbit after the Covid-19 pandemic struck every aspect of the “before’s” normalcy. Meandering lockdown days with words of encouragement, reassurance and hopefulness, the album is a refined facet of the group; not only that, it’s an echo of an inner, almost hidden voice behind the K-Pop titans’ usual upbeat sounds… and gunshots features.

Released on the 20th of November, “BE” is the ninth studio album by Bangtan Boys — second only in 2020, for it’s preceded by the critically acclaimed “Map Of The Soul: 7”, which debuted back in February. Though few months have drifted in between releases, it’s unarguable that much has changed, and this record is no different. The November-born songs seem much more mature, although they pale when compared with 7’s versatility and stunning musical construction, as heard in “Black Swan”, “Interlude: Shadow” and “ON”. However, both still share the link of beautifully threaded lyrics and unique instrumentality that have become typical of the group at this point.

Kicking off the 8-song collection is the lead single “Life Goes On”, co-written by J-Hope, RM and Suga. The mid-tempo piece, accompanied by acoustic guitar strums and bouncy drums, is, to put it simply, sweet. Musically, it’s refreshing but almost bland, and despite depicting a yearning to the future, it seems like something we already heard from BTS before. Nonetheless, hiding amid basic sounds are pungent, sensible lyrics and a feeling we can’t pinpoint, somewhere between comfort and nostalgia. This title track, utmostly, sets the mood for the rest of the album, hinting rays of warmth passing the edge of the colder days.

Following up is “Fly To My Room”, a clever play (or coincidence) on Frank Sinatra’s 1954 hit “Fly Me To The Moon”. With a lazy, nearly bedroom pop type of beat that strongly resembles Why Don’t We and Macklemore’s “I Don’t Belong In This Club”, the song mimics the feeling of time reluctantly passing, which many of us experienced as we got back into our shells. “Absorbed by memories”, sings V’s soulful voice on the confinement scenario, later on paired with Jimin’s high-pitched tone. This sub-unit, alongside J-Hope and Suga’s, is one of the highlights of the album: the unique harmony and contrast due to their different ranges and the rappers’ uncanny ability to hop on any beat displays Bangtan’s resourcefulness to deliver new things through the same voices.

The third track, “Blue & Gray”, is a strong contender for the very best on “BE”. This guitar-filled pop ballad is very personal and intimate; raw, almost, in its vulnerability and light sonicality. Deep lyrics, of course, are included as expected - but, this time, the subtle instrumentals give way to BTS’ singers, and Jin and Jungkook steal the show with angelic vocals that bleed emotion. “Blue & Gray” is somewhat of a remembrance to “Map Of The Soul: 7”’s “Zero O’Clock”, not only due to the fact that both are performed by the vocal line, but due to the progression of the latter’s “And we gonna be happy” to this song’s “I just wanna be happy”.

After the skit of the members’ reaction to topping the Billboard Hot 100 Songs list comes the more cheerful, upbeat songs in the assortment. In “BE”, the boys experiment with time travel as they tackle the sounds of past decades. While “Telepathy” is completely 80s with its layered drums, synthesizer and funk-tinged beat, “Dis-ease” is an old school hip hop track. “Dis-ease” feels straight out of the “2 Cool 4 Skool” era, going down the memory lane and depicting a more refined take on what Bangtan did best: combination of rap and vocals, record scratches and a pop-inclined hip hop experience. 

Also in the experimental note is “Stay”, an EDM track similar to “DNA” in its acoustic guitar-peppered bridge and escalating beats. The dance music is surprisingly fitting to the member’s voices and a surprise overall, given that it’s the first time BTS tries out the genre. Lastly is the record-breaking “Dynamite” — as the song itself declares, “a little funk & soul” infused with harmonies and infectious “na na nas”.

BTS’ “BE” is, although an apparently casual comeback, as complex and thoughtful as their previous works. If anything, the album shows the improvement of skills the group already excelled at - such as lyrics and musical production — alongside the members’ own growth as musicians and individuals throughout these tough times. It’s a natural successor to “Wings” and “You Never Walk Alone” in terms of concept and the creation of a safe space in music. However, it leaves you craving for more. 

The iconic rap line songs, like the “Cypher” series or “UGH!” and “DDaeng”, were missed, despite the record having some standout hip hop moments. In addition to that, the versatility as perceived in “Map Of The Soul: 7” and the “Love Yourself” era is lacking, regardless of the dips on different genres for the tracks. It seems that the boys are distancing themselves (or shied away) from the fun pop and hip hop that used to characterize their sound and that set them apart in the industry. 

Still, “BE” is a heartfelt remembrance of what is most human, even more than music in itself - cycles of emotion, from sorrow to yearning to hope. Maybe there’s where the Bangtan Boys are headed this time: a new, more mature, vulnerable path. To their future, let’s run away.

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This article was edited by Amanda Oestreich.

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