Many are well acquainted with the tale of BTS‘ rise to global stardom. Some have even secured a place in the annals of history alongside them as their fans. It is a story of art and culture that transcends the borders of a country, or the common tongue of a people. In short, BTS dominate the global music industry with emphatic pride in their Korean roots. In their story, I find similar parallels to the rise of South Auckland-raised Samoan-Cook Island music producer Jawsh 685, who today released ‘Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat) [BTS Remix]’.
The remix itself is wonderful. Hearing Jungkook sing “don’t give two fucks” with his voice dripping in seduction might have redeemed 2020 for me, and as always, the colour of his vocals is divine. I was pleasantly surprised to hear Yoongi and Hoseok jump on the track too, which elevated the song. Any time I get to hear them rap to a melody is a good day. It is a perfect song for us as we move into a New Zealand summer, and the pairing of Jawsh 685 with these three members of BTS is a home run.
Symbolically, the track holds so much meaning. Not only do we see three artists on fine and exuberant form — I would argue two, Jawsh 685 and BTS — but it carries some cultural weight, a thread in this tapestry of art and culture.
Jawsh 685, born Joshua Nanai; 685 being Samoa’s calling code, took the world by storm when his Laxed – Siren Beat track became a TikTok sensation. Cool, awesome, epic. Artist Jason Derulo took this as an invitation to steal the beat for his track without permission. Not cool, awesome, or epic. It spawned outcries from the Polynesian community on every social media app imaginable, demanding he give credit to Nanai, which he eventually did. It made Jawsh 685 a global name, and it took the music of his youth to an international audience.
Siren beats have an illustrious history. In the suburbs of South Auckland, Polynesian youth would ride around the streets with elaborately rigged car batteries, AUX cords and siren speakers strapped to bicycles, blasting their music. It gave way for ‘street battles’ where the loudest music with the highest treble won the day, where booming a song from the islands was putting respect on the name of their country. It’s since taken off nationwide.
That’s where Jawsh 685’s beat comes in. It’s an amalgam of Polynesian music that characterizes the youth of Pacific Islanders and classic reggae. Graham Reid, teacher of NZ pop music history at the University of Auckland, told The New York Times that the reggae beat is a shift from the Māori strum, that ‘Laxed’ is “just behind the beat — that’s a kick back, Pasifika thing.”
So, to have Jawsh 685 take a style that holds so much meaning to Polynesian youth, who express themselves through this kind of music, and then remix it with BTS, the biggest band in the world, is a dream come true. He shows his pride in his music, like BTS. Consider the music production on BTS’ IDOL, how it interweaves Korean instruments, how the band takes us sonically to another part of the world, and how there is inherent pride in that. I find that kind of pride in Jawsh 685’s work too.
South Auckland gets a bad rep. And it’s because of racism (Yes, it is). Culture thrives there. That place is the culture. It means the absolute world to see someone so young, with such raw talent, and – as I would imagine – a killer work ethic. The avenues he will open up for other young Polynesian artists is something I am most looking forward to. Beyond that, I hope we get to see him explore himself, and make the music he wants to.
We watch in awe as BTS’ SUGA turns every track he produces into sound-wave gold, infused with his own artistic flair, but steadfast in his Korean identity — see: all of Daechwita. I envision the same for Jawsh 685; absolutely golden hot tracks, never compromising on who he is and where he comes from.
There is a lot of talk about how BTS paved the way, and I am excited for the day where I can look at the landscape of Polynesian music on the global stage, and say that Jawsh 685 paved the way, too.