It’s been a big week for BTS and their ARMY. On Wednesday, the band received its first Grammy nomination for their smash hit “Dynamite”, which is a goal they’ve been talking about for years. Their new album, BE, their second of 2020, was released last Friday and is expected to challenge for the top of the album chart.
BE, as RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook have said, is an album that could only have happened during the pandemic. This is BTS singing about their uncertainty, about their frustrations, and sharing in the loneliness and fear that so many people around the world have experienced this year. It is also, however, an album about grounding yourself in what’s real and what can never be broken – friendship, connection, and the empathy that is borne from that combination. This is what BTS constantly tries to find and then transmit.
I love this album, and maybe it’s because it came at a time – like exactly on the day – when it was announced where I live that we’d be heading back into lockdown and I don’t know when I’ll be able to see my parents and I miss my friends so much so the songs went straight to the soul and stayed there. But even though BE is for the heart, BTS is also on this album flexing their musicality. And, for me, no song illustrates that more than “Dis-ease”, led by j-hope. The title is a clever play, hitting on both the pandemic but on how COVID has not only threatened us physically but emotionally. It’s made us vulnerable biologically but it’s also eroded our trust: in information, in leadership, in what was “normal”, in each other, in ourselves – all that wrapped up in a track that’s funky and retro, a song you could totally party to… which adds another layer to its meaning. That’s the imbalance of it, right? What you’re hearing sounds so fun but what they’re actually saying is unsettling. That is the unease of “Dis-ease”. It’s the best song on an album full of very good songs.
I do have a complaint though. And it’s not necessarily a criticism, more a fan’s lament: there are several unit tracks on BE that are so great, I can’t wait to hear them live… except when they’re in concert (whenever they go on tour again), there’s only so much time available and it’s not possible between their already extensive catalogue, and their own solo songs, to fit in enough of the units. “Fly To My Room”, for example, is suuuuuch a cute, fresh sound for BTS that it would suck not to be able to hear them deliver it in a stadium. But the song that this applies to the most is “Stay”, the second to last song on the album that’s a collaboration between Jungkook, Jin, and RM.
“Stay” is exactly the kind of song that should be played near the end of a show – high energy that builds and builds, a beat that should get everyone jumping up and down and sweaty, with their arms in the air and the lights blasting and streaking across the arena and everyone’s screaming and laughing and you can’t help but toss your head back, your arms thrown around the people next to you…
F-CK I miss concerts. And this should be a BTS concert jam. Like a concert staple, the way their older song “Run” got everyone stomping. The fact that there are only three members of them on it means that it may not always be included though – which would be such a shame. I also want to mention here that “Stay” has exactly that kind of Calvin Harris club vibe that would make it a monster hit on western radio if not for, you know, the fact that it’s mostly in Korean and reliably xenophobic radio programmers.
Anyway, if you haven’t already, and if you still haven’t given into my nagging and fallen for BTS yet, maybe because there’s so much content to consume, you’re overwhelmed – ease in with BE. You already know the last song on the album (“Dynamite”).
In other BTS news, they’re featured in the new winter issue of Esquire. The cover piece, written by Dave Holmes, is one of the best (if not the best) western profiles written about the band to date, not only because it’s an accurate and comprehensive explanation of who RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are now but because of what they represent: a new model of masculinity. And when you consider that this is a magazine traditionally by and for men, and in this case specifically American men, spotlighting seven men from South Korea who do not uphold the version of masculinity that is most familiar in America is a CHOICE. Dave Holmes doubles down on that choice in his thesis: that the way BTS performs masculinity is the way masculinity should evolve. This is what Esquire and Dave Holmes are proposing to their readers, American men, in this issue. And what makes this essay that much more special is that Dave, as a vessel for the reader, seems to be experiencing that idea firsthand:
“[BTS’s affection with one another, their vulnerability and emotional openness in their lives and in their lyrics, strikes me as more grown-up and masculine than all the frantic and perpetual box-checking and tone-policing that American boys force themselves and their peers to do. It looks like the future.”
When I posted about BTS’s soft masculinity earlier this year, I wrote about their sensitivity with each other but also in how they engage with people who come into their orbit: a male florist invited on their reality show to teach them how to arrange bouquets, more recently a group of elite gamers who also made an appearance on the show to play silly games with them, and now an American journalist over Zoom; in each interaction the kindness they offer to each other is also shared with strangers. And this kindness is precisely why they’re so desired … by women and by men. Which directly repudiates the archaic notion that sex appeal comes from badness. If there’s any good takeaway from 2020 then, it’s that BTS’s brand of masculinity is going viral too.
Their brand of male beauty is also going viral. They are SO BEAUTIFUL. These pictures are SO BEAUTIFUL. All of them… although I do want to single out Jimin because, please, look at him in this shot. Maybe it’s a good thing that Jimin doesn’t wear his hair back too often because I don’t know that I could survive it.
Just a final note on pictures though and how they project their sensitivity and vulnerability and kindness through their images…
If you’ve been lucky enough to have your picture taken by someone who truly knows you, and loves you for what they know of you, you appreciate the difference it makes in the image. And those looking at it can tell. The affection and the intimacy is unmistakable.
It was Jungkook who directed BTS’s “Life Goes On” videos (there are three version of the video now) and it is so obvious from the visuals how much deeply he adores and respects his bandmates that’s the perfect illustration not only for this song but for the model of masculinity that they demonstrate and uphold.
Click here to read the BTS cover story at Esquire.