By now, you’ve probably heard of that one popular South Korean band, BTS. They’ve topped charts, sold-out albums and stadiums, released their own mobile game app, and recently, their seven-month old album, Map of the Soul: Persona, jumped hundreds of spots to the top of the charts, all thanks to their supremely dedicated fanbase.
And if you’re still among those wondering why or how a boy band from a small entertainment agency in South Korea managed such massive worldwide success, all it really takes is a short listen at their extensive discography.
As any long-time #BTSARMY would know, BTS has been known to constantly break molds and push boundaries, whether it is through their chart-topping success, intensely symbolic music videos, or their deeply insightful music — particularly in terms of their lyrics. Since their debut, the band has openly dabbled in subjects not commonly addressed by the larger K-Pop scene, from social issues to figures, concepts, and ideas more commonly found in the pages of college textbooks. Here are 5 times BTS referenced literature in their music.
From their 2018 Love Yourself: Tear album, the catchy, beat-driven track draws its title from a Japanese comic-book character from the 1980s of a superhero made of red bean bread. The catch, however, is that Anpanman defines as the “world’s weakest superhero” who wants to help others, yet has nothing to offer except pieces of his own self. In their song, BTS compares themselves to Anpanman in the sense that although they do not possess cosmic superpowers, they still aim to help others by offering pieces of themselves — in this case, their music.
2. Pied Piper
Probably one of the oldest myths the band has drawn on, the original ‘Pied Piper’ legend traces its origins in Germany, all the way back to 1284. The original story told of a musician named only as the ‘Pied Piper’ who played pipes so alluringly that he drew children to follow him wherever he went. BTS’ version is a playful jab at their ultra-dedicated fanbase, with lyrics that poke fun at the ARMY’s obsession with the band, with name-drops from the popular V app to their own reality series, Bon Voyage. This track is truly as meta as it gets.
3. Magic Shop
Perhaps now one of their most memorable and beloved tracks, BTS’s definition of the ‘magic shop’ is one of a special place of sanctuary and comfort within each person. The term itself, however, is derived from an autobiography by a neuroscientist named James D. — of which the full title is ‘A Neurosurgeon’s Quest To Discover The Mysteries Of The Brain And The Secrets Of The Heart’. Leave it to BTS to turn a neuroscience book into a hit pop song.
Take one listen of this highly energetic track from Map of the Soul: Persona, and you’d never guess its title is taken from centuries-old literature — ancient Greek literature, to be exact. If you’re a little familiar, ‘Dionysus’ is the Greek god of wine and partying, and the track’s themes are just that, infused with the band’s signature introspective lyrics. In BTS’ history of literature shout-outs, this might be one of the most stellar.
5. Intro: Persona
Look no further than Persona’s intro track to see just how deep and introspective BTS can really get. Rapped entirely by BTS leader RM, Intro: Persona is arguably the most self-reflective and poetic of the album, and although its lyrics don’t feature many literature references, the track itself as a whole perfectly captures the essence of Carl Jung’s theories on the persona, psyche, and identity.
In retrospect, with music filled with such themes and ideas, it’s no wonder that BTS has become a worldwide sensation and representative of a generation. There’s no telling on what the band are up to next, but one thing’s for sure: there aren’t any other global superstars who do it quite like them.
Originally published at SnippetMedia on November 12, 2019.