Album Review: BTS – “Love Yourself: Tear” (South Korea, 2018)

In the five years since their debut, BTS (방탄소년단) have gone from strength to strength, becoming an unstoppable Korean Pop force. There is no denying it, BTS continue to boldly make their mark.  Expanding in global popularity over the past two years, the septet continue to break records the world over, winning an enviable trove of some of the most coveted awards within the Asian and Western music industry, all the while maintaining one of the most wildly passionate and dedicated legions of adoring fans across the world.

Yesterday’s drop of their third LP Love Yourself: Tear was momentous; not only did it continue to solidify their position as one of the biggest musical acts in the world, but it proved once again that BTS consistently deliver where it matters. This album alone shows how versatile BTS are in the way that they can flawlessly shift and transform between different beats, sounds, and genres. Indeed, their ability to masterfully release dangerously addictive and extremely likeable hits is enviable. Of remarkable and profound significance, however, is the way in which their music has immense global influence. Within hours of its release, Tear claimed the no. 1 spot on iTunes charts across the globe, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Following on from ‘Her’, this second instalment of the LOVE YOURSELF series continues to explore the complexity of love, in all of its different forms.

The album begins with ‘Intro: Singularity‘, a song that is already affectionately familiar to ARMY; featuring V (Kim Taehyung), this track was released little more than a week ago, complete with a full MV, in anticipation of the scheduled May 18 comeback date. In form, Singularity truly sets the mood for the whole album. Full of metaphor and symbolism, the lyrics represent the pain of remaining true to oneself. Taehyung’s voice is masterfully showcased in this song, a remarkably reflective R&B track with strong jazz influences; it is melancholic, and luxuriously mellow, swelling in a series of deliciously deep bass guitar harmonies which are warmly juxtaposed with the ebb and flow of pizzicato string arpeggios. With an ending that leaves you almost on the edge, gasping for more, this prelude is mature and sophisticated enough that it confidently stands out all on its own. It is of little wonder why the release of the song garnered global attention.

This introduction is appropriately followed by the already successful title-track FAKE LOVE’; within 24 hours of being released, the MV for this single garnered a staggering 40+ million YouTube views. Indeed, the video is a tremendous, breathtaking piece of story-telling. However, the song on its own is equally as notable, arguably becoming one of BTS’ most outstanding single releases to-date. Stylistically, it is not too dissimilar from their 2016 smash-hit ‘피 땀 눈물’; at the heart of it there is something about it that is so essentially Bangtan. In addition to this, there is an overwhelming sense of invigorating intensity paired with incredible maturity; hip-hop and trap elements undergo a distorted grunge-rock treatment. This maturity is not only is this found in the compositional production of the song, but also within the lyrics. It makes for a smooth transition from ‘Singularity‘, similarly dealing with the pain and consequences of not being true to yourself in love. The diverse rap styles of RM (Kim Namjoon), J-Hope (Jung Hoseok), and SUGA (Min Yoongi) add to the dramatic dimension of this song. These punchy rap verses flow into the choruses, altogether creating something that can only be described as poetry. In a feat of incredible lyricism, “For you I could pretend like I was happy when I was sad/For you I could pretend like I was strong when I was hurt,” becomes a centring piece throughout the song, Taehyung’s rich tone is exquisitely matched with the lightness of Jimin’s own vocals as they sing in ethereal harmony. In a similar vein, the refrain, “I grew a flower that can’t bloom in a dream that can’t come true” holds a tremendous amount of weight throughout the song, despite that is is only repeated on three separate occasions; sung by Jungkook (Jeon Jeongguk) and Jin (Kim Seokjin) separately, and then once together at the end, it possesses incredible honesty and beautiful sadness, encapsulating the true essence of the song as a whole.

‘전하지 못한 진심 (The Truth Untold)’ is the second song that BTS have released in collaboration with Steve Aoki. After last year’s remix of ‘MIC Drop’, fans were expecting this song to be another hard-hitting, techno track with dance and hip-hop influences. The fact that this song is not like that at all is altogether utterly surprising, completely unexpected, and rather wonderful. The song is very stripped down instrumentally; for most of the track, a piano is the only accompaniment, with an almost singular focus on the vocal melodies of Taehyung, Jeongguk, Jimin, and Jin. Each member takes it in turns to sing different parts of the song; the airy, exposed yet robust vocals from all four members of the vocal line emphasise the emotions of sadness and loneliness that are expressed through the lyrics. And while each vocalist is strong, the difference in each of their vocal timbres adds a true sense of delicate contrast. It is not until the end where a drum kit and an electric guitar are added. As the tempo increases, the piano gets louder and more forceful, a full string section creating a dramatic balance before the song ends. Even without this rather exultant conclusion, the song is almost overwhelming significant. Yet, it is not grandiose or pretentious; rather it is exquisitely gentle. Altogether, this song is beautiful as much as it is heartbreaking – a true stand out on the album.

Deriving its name from Pluto when it was downgraded from planet to asteroid status,134340‘  is a refreshing bop with strong funky lounge vibes and a jazzy folk-like style, complete with pan-flute interjections that run throughout. The narrative of regret in love continues in this song, with epodic references to the thrown-away fate of Pluto itself. Despite the nature of the lyrics, the song is groove and a half; the mellow raps of the verses faultlessly transition into punchy choruses, and Hoseok’s edgy rap in the bridge is incredibly catchy. And while there is an over-arching relaxed tone throughout the whole track, upon multiple listens you begin to appreciate the underlying complexity; each member brings something so different to the track and it is some kind of wonderful magic when it all comes together; each voice adds true dimension to the track.

Without being swayed too heavily by the title, it is not too bold to say that there is a lot of warmth in 낙원 (Paradise)‘. Indeed, the robust retro R&B sound of the track is complemented by a funky bass-line and an angelic xylophone synth melody, creating something instantly memorable and a whole lot of fun. The interplay between the smooth and controlled vocal lines and the interspersed raps is playful, and the anthem towards the conclusion of the song is strong and full of a bright youthfulness. This liveliness is deliberate. It is a comforting feeling, a point that is further emphasised throughout the nature of the lyrics that are centred around the idea that it is okay to not know who you are or what you want in life; instead of having big dreams, it is more important to find happiness in what you are doing right now. It is a big call, but I do not think it would be too bold to suggest that ‘Paradise’ will become a fan favourite because of this message alone. After all, well-written lyrics with a confronting, yet no less beautiful messages are a defining feature of some of the most successful songs from the group.

As we get into the second-half of the album, the tone changes a little dramatically – away from the underlying sadness that came with the first few songs, Love Maze‘ looks at love through a different metaphorical lens; like a maze, love is complex, but with the end goal to exit the maze together, your best chances of making it out are with the support and help of each other. Here, the analogy could very easily cross that line into awkward melodrama, but the lyrics are remarkably effective. The variety in the vocal melody, and the the mid-verse rap rhythm changes suit this R&B track perfectly.

Reminiscent of ‘2!3!’ from 2016’s WINGS, ‘Magic Shop‘ has quickly become a stand-out song on the album, and is bound to be a fan-favourite, based on the fact alone that it was similarly written and produced with ARMY in mind. This love song to their fans finds strength in the important message of being true to oneself. There is an overwhelming honesty within the lyrics, but therein lies a real softness too. This is perfectly matched with the electro-pop feel of the song; the instrumentation is delicately understated, giving the vocals enough room to slowly build intensity. The echo-like melody during the chorus creates a united effect. I am calling it now, the performance of this one will be a collaborative effort between the boys and ARMY during their upcoming LOVE YOURSELF world tour.

Airplane pt. 2, the follow-up to Hoseok’s mixtape hit and instant fan-favourite, ‘Airplane’. There were a lot of expectations with one, and those expectations were largely met with the sultry Latin influenced track. Not too dissimilar from the original track, the lyrics deal with their feelings post 2017 WINGS tour, and their travels around the world. It is a great track, but it must be mentioned that I was a big fan of the OG ‘Airplane‘ and I feel that I may need a bit more time for the follow-up track to grow on me.

Anpanmanis a tongue-in-cheek romp, the hip-hop influenced tropical house track creating an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm. It possesses the same levels of energy as similar BTS tracks, ‘뱁새’ and ‘Go Go‘. There is a lot that is going on this song; the multi-layered instrumentation, complete with whistles and car sounds is equally matched in perfect pandemonium through the many melodic transformations; within all of this, all seven members bring something different to the song, resulting in some fire rap hooks and killer vocals. The chorus is an anchor in all of this, tying everything together. It is a whole lot of fun, and definitely delivers on some relief after the heaviness of the first half of the album. However, while the tone of the song is mostly a jest, there is an undercurrent of sincerity. Lyrically, using Anpanman as another metaphorical device, they draw parallels to themselves, detailing their humble desires to bring more hope to the world through their music. In a way, it acts as a promise to their fans – no matter what happens from here on in, they will always be their be there for their ARMY.

So What is the penultimate track of the album, a sure-fire dance track that is full of vitality and vibrancy. As is inherent within the name, there is a certain sense of youthful recklessness throughout the song. This is reflected in the lyrics that reinforce the importance of not worrying too much while you are young.

Closing out the LP is ‘Outro: Tear. Soon after its release, ARMY  begun to affectionately refer to this as the unofficial fifth ‘Cypher‘, and for a good reason – it has all the same hard-hitting elements. The water-drop effect from the piano at the beginning of the song is quickly followed by a full string accompaniment and a number of distorted synths; this alone is enough to get the heart-thumping. However, soon Namjoon kicks in with some of the fastest rapping on the album. Hoseok, never lacking in energy, is practically fierce. Yoongi continues to reinforce why he is considered one the best Korean rappers; the way in which he flawlessly transitions from this to more melodic lines is as bewitching as it is surprising (let’s be honest, the man needs to sing more because it is beautiful). All three of them spit fire, and it is an incredibly technical and immensely powerful thing to witness. The track is edgy and fearlessly dark, the perfect conclusion to a stellar album.

As ARMY know all too well, every ending only hints at more exciting things to come – I, for one, can hardly wait to see what else is in store!

This album delivers faultless and infectiously glorious diversity. ‘Tear’ saw a mix between new and old 방탄소년단; some songs are nostalgically Bangtan, others are fresh and full of vitality. Indeed, BTS are enviably versatile and transformative, flawlessly shifting between different sounds and genres while still remaining true to their own unique style.

Altogether, BTS are passionate, strong, and almost viciously dynamic; mature and robust, yet not insufferably excessive. Sharp, strong, and full of energy, they do not let go or give in, in a determined effort to push barriers of expectation. This is maintained through an indescribable energy that they have always possessed in abundance. Their talent is undeniable, something that is only strengthened by their collaborative team work, a particular strength that makes them one of my own personal favourite groups.

Together, Bangtan continue to push the limits of what it truly means to be bulletproof.

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10