On Map of the Soul: Persona, and why BTS deserves your deeper consideration
There’s a certain level of cynicism that K-Pop artists face, and there’s a certain level of cynicism that boybands face, and it just so happens that BTS sits right in the intersection of this particular Venn diagram.
And in case you somehow, somehow haven’t heard of them, BTS is just about the biggest boyband in South Korea — and currently one of the biggest in the entire world. The seven-member boy band recently embarked on their US tour, and just last month released their highly anticipated album entitled Map of the Soul: Persona. And if that title is anything to go by, the album is quite a standout from any of its peers in the pop music scene.
If it sounds a little familiar, it might be best to dust off your old psychology and history books for better recognition — the album’s title is derived from none other than psychologist Carl Jung’s theories on the human psyche, itself famously divided into three parts: the persona, the self, and the shadow.
What with their massive worldwide fanbase — affectionately nicknamed “ARMY” — the majority of whom belong to the teenage girl demographic, it can be easy to dismiss BTS as yet another teeny-bopper boy-band sensation in the pop music canon; and indeed, for those unfamiliar with the septet until very recently, their sudden massive global popularity can be jarring.
But in retrospect, it’s not so surprising that the BTS members, namely RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jungkook, V, and Jimin and their music have impacted as many as they currently have. Map of the Soul: Persona marks their sixth studio album, and barely over a month later has garnered a host of awards and broken a streak of records quite literally all around the world — in effect, perhaps forever changing what South Korean entertainment looked like to the rest of the world. Sure, BTS stands on the shoulders of many K-Pop artists and bands of years past — Super Junior, BIGBANG, Girl’s Generation, to name a few — but none have crossed the cultural barrier quite as successfully as they have, and upon deeper inspection, it’s not really hard to see why.
If Map of the Soul: Persona is any indication, BTS are aces in producing catchy, radio-friendly pop hits, but their appeal goes far beyond that: delve deeper into their lyrics, and you’ll find figures and subjects more likely to appear in college textbooks, including that titular shout-out to Jungian psychology. This is, in fact, what hooks and defines the entire mini-album, and perhaps most of BTS’ discography so far: introspective, intellectual lyrics packaged in sleek, highly polished pop music. As a whole, Map of the Soul: Persona is essentially a reflective coming-of-age identity crisis, almost poetic in its delivery, neatly wrapped in streamlined pop music — and above all, it’s incredibly honest, itself an admirable feat, given the deeply restrictive history of the K-Pop industry.
At times, the latest album pays homage to the group’s beginnings, particularly in the now chart-topping ‘Boy with Luv’ recalling their 2014 song ‘Boy in Luv’, but with older, more mature perspectives — the boys have grown up now and expanded their universe, but they haven’t forgotten where they came from.
It is perhaps this humility, this frank groundedness and authenticity, that most captivates their now millions of fans: the very humanity of seven artists using music to connect — no more, no less. In retrospect, the current “BTS-mania” may have been an inevitability, but one thing’s for sure: pop music has been all the richer since these seven boys dropped in.
Originally published in the SnippetMedia app on May 29, 2019.