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

It has been almost a year since BTS’ (방탄소년단) Love Yourself series began. During the past twelve months, the growth of Bangtan has been undeniably immense. Popularity wise, this has been clear to see; the septet have become one of the most enviable music acts in the world. With their distinct diversity, unique individuality, and their indisputable talent, BTS and their ARMY are a force that few will dare to reckon with.

Following 2017’s groundbreaking release of Love Yourself: Her and this years’ earlier hugely successful release of Love Yourself: Tear, everyone’s eyes have been glued to the South Korean sensations to see what they were going to do next.

And while it is absolute that their global fame and following has soared, with the release of their most recent album we are able to see the cultivation of their musical maturity too. Friday’s release of Love Yourself: 轉 Answer brought the series to a triumphant conclusion. Interspersed with previously released songs, and punctuated with bold, brand-new hits, this two-disc, twenty-six track, repackage album wonderfully unfolds and develops like a story; Answer is a masterfully curated masterpiece.

‘Euphoria’, a luxuriously light and lovely foray into the album, presents itself as the theme of the Love Yourself series. This song has already become a fan favourite for months; the long-awaited studio version release of this track, exclusively headlined by BTS’ youngest member Jungkook (Jeon Jeongguk), follows its feature within the groups unexpected April drop of the Love Yourself: 起 Wonder video.

A gentle guitar ostinato keeps a driving rhythm throughout the song. Added to this is a harmonious piano melody and a gentle drum beat, altogether creating a song that is rather delightful to listen to. What takes all of this to another level is the vocal prowess of Jeongguk; his voice is melodically elevated, and this song gives him room to masterfully show his ability. ‘Euphoria’ is full of incredible and colourful light, and will remind of you of that uniquely indescribable elation and excitement of falling in love, Celestial bells and digital interjections add to the overall dream-like effect of the song, reinforcing the lyrical motifs of euphoria and utopian delirium.

The exploration of these fresh feelings of love continue in the first of a trio of “Trivia” tracks, a series of songs that feature each member of the rap-line, of which are flawlessly diffused throughout the album. These tracks act as bookmarks, a trivium where three roads meet, and take upon the form of the four-part storytelling form known as 기승전결 (KiSeungJeonKyeol), written using the Hanja 起承轉結.

Trivia 起: Just Dance’: is an introduction to this story, an awakening, as J-Hope (Jung Hoseok) continues to explore the themes of carefree joy, exuding a particular sense of vitality and freshness. This song is a display of his signature style, the sound not too dissimilar from what fans have become to expect from the rapping and dancing superstar. Full of colour and variation, Hoseok’s distinct groove stands apart from the echoing synth and relaxed drum-beat of the song.

Jimin’s ‘Serendipity’ gets an extended play on this album, and the addition of the supplementary outro on this song is just as celestial as the original release. If the previous two tracks were long, summer days, this song is a long, beautiful sunset. Indeed, it is luxurious and soft, yet also smooth and reflective; dreamy and gentle, and yet also unbelievably sexy and dance-like, the piano and guitar melodies seem to playfully and delicately intertwine. Jimin maintains a certain level of youthful playfulness and matches that with equal amounts of maturity and ability.

This song is followed by their 2017 smash-hit ‘DNA’, a track that has become synonymous with its whistling refrain that lays the foundation for the rest of the song; it is catchy and immediately identifiable, threatening to stick in your memory for days. Indeed, I dare anyone not to find themselves whistling the distinct melody. Melodic vocals add to complex dimension of the song; of note, V’s (Kim Taehyung) deep vanilla-smooth voice breaks up the intensity of the high-energy chorus. From here, the song builds up again as it runs boldly towards its conclusion.  And yet, altogether, these transitions are not disjointed. It all seamlessly comes together in digitally pixelated moments. This song is a triumphant display of their incredible diversity.

It is this diversity that is quite clearly communicated throughout the rest of the album.

Dimple’ brings a change of pace; the mid-tempo track is altogether graceful and delightfully charming, showcasing the vocal talents of Jin (Kim Seokjin), Jimin, Jungkook, and V. The song builds upon energetic instrumentals that do not overwhelm the lyrics and vocals of the song; this is important as each voice is so distinctly different. Yet, at the same time, these voices seem to faultlessly weave  together – a true testament to their combined and individual talent.

Trivia 承: Love’ brings about a turn within the album; RM (Kim Namjoon) cleverly uses wordplay to detail the impasse between love and loss, which marks a very clear step away from the carefree perspective that has, thus far, been studied in the first movement of the album. There is now a new understanding, a longing; something akin to desperation that is laced within the lyrics. Here, his hard-hitting lyrical rap stands out against a R&B piano and trap beat; while remaining reasonably upbeat, there is an underlying twinge of reflective sadness. This new emergent longing is further examined in ‘Her’.

These emotions are more clearly enunciated within V’s ‘Singularity’; full of metaphor and symbolism, the lyrics represent the pain of remaining true to oneself in love. Taehyung’s voice is masterfully showcased in this song, a remarkably reflective R&B track with strong jazz influences; it is wistful 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. This rolling swell takes you swiftly to end of the song, a conclusion that seems almost unresolved, leaving you wanting more.

FAKE LOVE’ deals with the same pain with 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 found in the compositional production of the song, but also within the lyrics. The diverse rap styles of RM, J-Hope, 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 and Jin 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.

In comparison, ‘The Truth Untold’ is very stripped down; for most of the song, 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 overwhelmingly significant. Yet, it is not grandiose or pretentious; rather it is exquisitely gentle. Altogether, this song is beautiful as much as it is heartbreaking.

Yoongi’s solo track ‘Trivia 轉: Seesaw’ is a song that is quite a lot different from what we have become to expect of the multi-talented rapper. Noticeably, it is evident that Yoongi has increasingly become more confident about his vocal ability; fast, accented raps are carefully balanced with deep vocals, standing out against the funky synth-pop vibes of the song. This track serves as the pivot from which the story evolves in alluring complexity; the ups and downs of romance are never an easy thing to earnestly portray, and Yoongi succeeds spectacularly. Overwhelmingly, there is a sense of melancholy about it. But it is more than that; before we delve into the last section of the album, there is a great sense of being on the cusp of something truly great.

This feeling is brought to its apex through the hard-hitting ‘Tear’; it is here that everything comes to the fore. 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 fierce, and 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 utterly bewitching. 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, and yet there is a grandeur about it; it holds true heaviness and weight, as it explores the different sides of true heartbreak.

To go from this song, to ‘Epiphany’ is jarring, but not in a negative sense; it is almost like being jolted awake from a nightmare, or like feeling the warmth of the sun peaking through the clouds after a momentous summer storm. This pop-rock ballad is altogether a realisation, an ode, and a promise to love yourself. This kind of love is not vain, nor is it arrogant or haughty. Rather, it is introspective and reflective; with a clock-like guitar keeping time, accompanied by a comforting piano melody, Seokjin sings, “I’m the one I should love in this world/Shining me, previous soul of mine/I finally realised so I love me/Not so perfect but so beautiful/I’m the one I should love”. His voice is spectacular and the sentiment is wonderfully remarkable.

The goosebumps linger for the first few moments into ‘I’m Fine’, a drum and bass pop track that holds a lot of significance for any ARMY who has been with BTS since the HYYH era; undoubtedly, this song holds a lot of significance in its connection with their smash hit ‘Save Me’. However, unlike its sister track, this song moves away from the idea of relying on someone else, and instead becomes an affirming declaration of self-determination and sufficiency. Altogether, this track is a whole lot fun, driven by the fast beat and electric melodies that keep the song at a light, energising pace.

In a kaleidoscope of colour comes ‘IDOL’, a South African style EDM track, with an infusion of traditional Korean instrumentation. ‘IDOL’ It is a true celebration, a get-up-and-dance song in every sense; yet it is more than that, too. The song is a bold and extraordinarily fearless anthem of confidence and self-adulation; through this song, BTS has become directly responsible for thousands of people the world over singing, “You can’t stop me loving myself!”  In that alone, the song has become a movement; the power of music is phenomenal, and BTS has succeeded with, great aplomb, in ensuring her people the world over are assured of their immense strength and power. In this sense, this song is a continued and consistent testament that music is the closest thing to actual magic. On this particular theme, the sound is incredibly fantastical; it is boisterous and bombastic, with a sax-intro, whistles blaring throughout, bass synths, and a wild thumping drum beat. A deep, drone-like harmony runs throughout the song, signalling the significant statement of the track. The use of traditional Korean expressions like “얼쑤” (eolssu) and “지화자” (jihwaja) are not just wild proclamations, but add another level of reverence to their home country. Of note, it also has one of the most strikingly equal line distributions I’ve seen in a long time, with every member getting their own moment in the spotlight.

It is not surprising that the title track became an instant hit – within 24 hours, the video had secured the record for the most amount of views on YouTube for music video ever, and very quickly climbed to the top position of 75 iTunes charts worldwide (including the US, the UK, and Australia). Truly, ‘IDOL’ is a grand accomplishment.

Rounding it all off is ‘Answer: Love Myself’, and as conclusions go, this one was well-worth the wait. It is like a long, steady breath, an exhale that is both refreshing and relieving, and the group settles perfectly into what they are best known for as individual artists. Jimin’s voice is soft, with an airy timbre; Jeongguk is lyrically and vocally robust; Yoongi’s fast, tongue twisting raps juxtapose wonderfully against the incredible high-pitched vocal performance from Seokjin, who seems to get better and better in his skill and technique with every release; Taehyung’s rounded and mellow voice melts wonderfully when paired with Namjoon’s melodic rap, and Hoseok’s dance-like rhythms infect the song with just the right level of energy, as he is always apt to do.

The accompanying disc to this “compilation” features a number of fan-favourite songs, including a few remixes of some of their more popular hits. Standouts include ‘Magic Shop’, ‘Go Go’, ‘Anpanman’, and a full-length edition of the Steve Aoki remix of ‘MIC Drop’. Of note is also the surprise inclusion of their exclusively digital collaboration with Nicki Minaj on ‘IDOL’; her addition to the song is perfectly matched to the general celebratory vibe of the song.

This series has been a consistent testament to their phenomenal growth, their incredible musicality, and immense diversity as a group, and as individual artists. Each song explores a new perspective, a different side, both lyrically and musically. Their diversity has always been their strength, right from the start; and yet, at the core of it all, they are still essentially and very distinctly Bangtan

Love Yourself: 轉 Answer’ is a triumph of an album, a truly diverse and perfectly curated masterpiece. The way in which this album flows, from one song to the next, is immaculate. Indeed, something this extraordinary, in artistry, substance, and significance had to have been masterfully planned and thought out form the start. Their music is a testament to the global movement that they continue to forge.