K-pop, Mandopop and other Asian pop

BTS album review – K-pop giants’ sound matures and darkens on Love Yourself: Tear

One of the most widely anticipated albums of the year, Love Yourself: Tear features tracks about the pain of separation and lost love, reconciliation and ambition. It’s already topped the iTunes albums chart in 65 regions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 8:31pm

On Friday, South Korean K-pop group BTS unveiled their long-awaited third studio album, Love Yourself: Tear. On Twitter, BTS fans quickly renamed the day #FakeLoveFriday, a nod to the boy band’s newest single, Fake Love, released on the same day with a music video showing the seven-member group singing in a series of abandoned warehouses and derelict buildings.

Over the weekend, Love Yourself: Tear soared to No. 1 on the iTunes albums chart in more than 65 regions including Hong Kong, the United States, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore. Even before the album was released it was a smash success: it became the most pre-ordered album of all time in South Korea, with 1.44 million copies ordered (beating its million-selling predecessor, Love Yourself: Her), and made BTS the first K-pop group to exceed one million pre-orders for multiple albums, according to Forbes.

The group’s latest accomplishment has been celebrated not just by members of BTS’ official “Army” fan club, but by American professional wrestler John Cena, who tweeted a video of himself saying, “I am Army” in Korean.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Cena has become a fan of the group, with BTS bringing to the album a deeper and darker sound, unlike the upbeat tunes that the K-pop genre is generally known for.

Before the album’s release, the group appeared on South Korea’s VLive Show to talk about the record and its concept.

“Love is complex. There are some sides to it that make us feel bad or depressed. There could be tears; there could be sadness,” said BTS’ leader RM (formerly known as Rap Monster).

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“This time we wanted to focus on parts of love that we want to run away from. We want to say that if you aren’t true to yourself, love won’t last. This love could be between two people, but it could also be [inside you].”

Love Yourself: Tear is full of such references. Singularity, the record’s opening track, features a solo performance by member V about the pain of separation. “I buried my voice for you/ Over the winter lake I was thrown/ Tell me if my voice isn’t real,” he sings in Korean, in his signature husky alto.

The Truth Untold – a slow piano ballad that, oddly, also features American DJ Steve Aoki – is another stand-out track. “I’m so afraid that you will leave me in the end/ Once again, I put on my mask and go to see you,” the members sing about the smoke and mirrors game of love.

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On Paradise, the group sing about their collective struggle with ambition. “Your dream is actually a burden/ It’s all right to not have a dream/ The breath you breathe is already paradise.”

Tracks such as Love Maze, 134340 and Magic Shop continue to examine themes of love, pain and reconciliation. On 134340 – a reference to the dwarf planet Pluto – the group sing about continuing to revolve around a partner who is no longer there: “At one point, I was part of the world of the sun/ At the heart of the star, there is only an unpleasant layer of fog/ You erased me; you forgot me.”

It’s not until tracks such as Airplane Pt. 2, Anpanman and So What, that the group make a vibrant return to the upbeat sound they are known for.

“Waiting for you, Anpanman,” V sings about the Japanese cartoon character of the same name. It may sound silly, but the song is about childhood and growing up to become a hero.

RM, in particular, shines on the album’s final song Outro Tear. He raps about having blood in his eyes, bittersweet goodbyes, and ending the misery on the atmospheric hip-hop track. “It felt like, maybe, I never really loved you/ You’re my tear,” he says.

On Love Yourself: Tear, the band also known as the Bangtan Boys, reveal that they are boys no longer, instead embracing a mature sound that is as dark as it is real.

Stream the album here.