Album Review: ‘Be’ might be one of BTS’ best yet

preen_bts-be-album-review-5 tracks

preen_bts-be-album-review-5 tracks

BTS described the “Be” album as being a little different from their usual. But for fans familiar with their discography and individual releases, it doesn’t get any more BTS than this. 

“Be” is the Grammy-nominated (finally!) K-pop group’s fifth Korean-language album and their third release this year, following the full-length “Map of the Soul: 7” that they dropped back in February and the record-breaking digital single “Dynamite.” On Nov. 20, ARMYs eagerly joined the members in a live countdown event before the official launch of the album and the music video for lead single, “Life Goes On,” which marked the debut of director Jungkook

In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Jimin explained what sets “Be” apart from the rest of their work. “The pandemic unexpectedly put a lot of our original plans to a halt. However it provided us an opportunity to step back and focus on ourselves as well as our music. We reflected the emotions that we felt during this unprecedented period into this album. We were also able to take a step further by taking roles in overall production, such as concept development, composition and visual design,” he said.

BTS embraced the “quarantine album” label with grace and thoughtfulness. “Be” is part of the slew of so-called pandemic albums created by artists under quarantine and, arguably, one of the best (alongside Taylor Swift’s storytelling masterpiece, “Folklore”). 

“Be” might be one of BTS’ best yet and we’re breaking down six tracks from the album to prove it.

“Life Goes On”

The album begins with this alternative hip-hop lead single that bends the genre with its acoustic guitar sound. The title is the album’s manifesto, one that the members have been declaring since May. BTS has been dropping the statement in their vlogs on what goes on behind the scenes while doing their album, and even during their speech on the 75th United Nations General Assembly.

The track speaks of hope for a future where things don’t hurt as much and isn’t shy about trying to put into words our collective feeling of betrayal and anxiety. With lyrics like “Time goes by on its own / Without a single apology” and “There’s no end in sight / Is there a way out? / My feet refuse to move,” it’s a touching track. Suga’s verse stands out, a refreshing contrast to all the future nostalgia: “Let me tell you with this song / People say the world has changed / But thankfully between you and me / Nothing has changed.”

The song isn’t the most sonically interesting on the list, but (like RM said) it grows on you. There are those who’d still wonder why the group inspires a dedicated fanbase. Here’s the answer: For BTS, comforting others is a manifesto. 

“Fly to My Room”

The neo soul sub-unit track features vocalists Jimin and V with rappers Suga and J-hope. The first half of the song talks about lethargy and how being stuck inside can drive a person crazy. “Feel like it’s still day one / Somebody turn back the clock / The entire year got stolen / I’m still in bed,” sings Jimin.

It slowly transitions into an acknowledgment that our rooms can still be a place of solace. In the second verse, Jimin says that he’s a “little less lonely” when he notices the slightest changes. J-hope admits, “Sometimes this room becomes an emotional trash can / It hugs me.”

With breathy vocals and falsetto notes near the end, it’s pretty sexy (which really shouldn’t work with the topic, but does). The rap verses add a bit of bounce to the track and it should be noted that the switch from Suga’s flow rap to a more melodic style from J-hope is thrillingly effortless. Say what you will about them, but they certainly have a knack for helping their listeners find joy in unlikely spaces.

“Blue & Grey”

This soft guitar ballad that addresses burnout and sadness is our favorite track. Originally intended for V’s mixtape, it’s as melancholic as his unofficial singles such as “Winter Bear” and “4 O’ Clock.” Jin said in an interview, “When V first made it and gave it to me, it didn’t have the rap part yet…Only the instrumental was there for that part and it felt like it was time for thinking by myself. Of course, I like the full version with the rap, too, but still, I liked how there was space that made you think. It’s been a long time since I got that feeling from listening to one of the demos. The first one was ‘Spring Day,’ and the second was ‘Blue & Grey.’” Even with the rap, the track feels like an exercise in introspection.

V begins the song by crooning: “Where is my angel?/ The end of the day / Someone come and save me, please / A weary sigh of a tiring day.” The first rap verse is from Suga and he’s as candid as ever with lines like, “The blue question mark still exists / Is it anxiety or depression? / How am I so regretful? / Or is it just me, one that loneliness gave birth to.”

The chorus and post-chorus, alternately sang by four vocalists, are haunting and emotional. Backed with wistful instrumentals, the progression from “Oh, this ground feels so heavier / I am singing by myself / I just wanna be happier / Am I being too greedy?” to “Don’t say it’s okay / ‘Cause it’s not okay / Please don’t leave me alone, it hurts too much” is even more tender.

The latter part of the song contains another rap verse with RM’s line “I don’t believe in a God called conviction.” It’s followed by a chorus with a different end: “In the distant future, when I smile / I’ll tell you I did.” Then, it delicately ends with V’s outro that he sings like a prayer, “After secretly sending my words up into the air / Now I fall asleep at dawn, good night.”

“Telepathy”

BTS is never ashamed to say just how fond they are of ARMYs and this disco funk song is just one of the many proofs. “Telepathy” is the first track on the second half of the album (with “Skit” serving as a midpoint break). It’s a quasi-celebratory bop that has the group singing about how much they’re looking forward to meeting their fans face-to-face again. 

Its chorus sits at its beginning, middle and end. The lines “Every time during the same day / I feel the happiest when I meet you / Every time, even in a different everyday life / You’re the most special person to me” are definitely cheesy and fit snugly in this cheerful track.

It’s the type of earworm that puts a big smile on your face. It’s infectious. By the time the song is finished, you’d probably all but forgotten why you were crying minutes before. 

“Dis-ease”

This old-school hip hop number, complete with record scratches, is a play on the idea that the habit of overworking, work itself and the general unease under quarantine, are diseases. The group invites us to also take a step back and realize that life’s not a race in the chorus: “Everyday I comfort myself / They’re all the same, ain’t so special.”

RM’s verse can resonate with a lot of working class folk with lines like,  “My heart needs a vacation / Oh, just do your job / I’m ill, yeah, I’m the job itself.” The pre-chorus lyric “It’s because I’m sick / Becausе of my many thoughts / I hate that / I’m not so simple” laments a tendency to overthink, which many can also relate to.

It starts with a simple jazz guitar arrangement that reaches a climax with power vocals and trumpets. It’s the unexpected turn that makes the track the biggest surprise in the album.

“Stay”

Another track that was intended for a member’s mixtape is this rapturous EDM song. Originally the finale of Jungkook’s upcoming solo release, it sounds like a concert’s encore. It’s cut from the same cloth as “So What” and we can’t wait to dance to it in the club or at the pit. It’s fun and hopeful, the type of song we can add to a playlist that has Ellie Goulding and Kylie Minogue.

Jungkook sings before the chorus, “Tomorrow that does not change / Like a madman, I keep sayin’ / Wherever you are / I know you always stay.” And the word “know” from the verse feels even bigger when RM adds, “I’m talking to you with firm lips.” What follows feels like a string of affirmations, with him and Jin alternately belting the line: “Yeah I know you always stay.”

The song ends with the last lines also sung by Jungkook, “I close my eyes / We are together.” It’s enough to make you believe in the power of love and friendship—which the members have always said they share with their ARMY.

Twitter user @prodynks said in a tweet, “[The] first part of the album [is] sad as hell, then next thing [you] know, [you’re] in the club.” This was quote tweeted by @popstarjin who added, “It’s almost as if… life goes on.” As a sort-of concept album, “Be” has a logical progression. Ending on a happy note was a conscious decision, according to music project manager Jimin.

While the various genres might feel gimmicky to some, it’s a testament to how BTS welcomes their individual styles and navigates genre-bending with ease. While this might not be the album with the most impactful lyrical content, there are definitely gems here that are worth revisiting years from now.

Now, “Be” serves as an embrace. Tomorrow, it will be a time capsule. Whether or not the rest of the tracks receive the same amount of attention and recognition as “Dynamite,” the album is on our list of definitive music in 2020. 

 

Art by Jan Cardasto

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