In campaigning for Arts support, the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts stated, “The values we support today will determine what we have when this is over.” We often say, ‘existence is resistance’. Accepting and resisting the new normalcy created by the pandemic became the need of the hour. To ensure their existence within the unhackneyed personal and social space, people started knocking at the doors they never approached before. Gradually, both practicing artists and individuals with little engagement with art, started to explore the realms of art and a surge of creativity flooded the canvas of life. The soul idea of perspective in which we approach art has been shifted to another paradigm in this period to help people to keep up the spirits and go on with the wave.
The diversity and expanse of the people following the #1 Boy Band BTS gained momentum during this time. Despite the fact that other celebrities and musical acts failed to gather limelight after they were removed from the public eye, BTS contrived to remain in the hearts of millions. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook redefined the relationship between art and music by composing songs in various genres. Becoming the first ever Korean Act to be Nominated and performed at the Grammys, BTS is breaking records (mostly their own) and scripting history day by day. It is the heart of BTS’ artistry that they are no strangers to what has ignited their work, which influenced the way they perceive their place in the world eventually serving as a provenance of comfort to all who listen to their words.
They dance, sing, write their songs, produce, direct and the list goes on. One of the important reasons why people would relate to their songs, is the way they use semantics to portray those feelings that anyone could relate to. The unfailing lyricism of BTS has always been appreciated by artists across the globe; in fact the main songwriter and the leader of the group RM ( Kim Namjoon) is called ‘Philosopher who raps’. The Korean Music Copyrights Association has awarded RM 167 songwriting credits, making him the youngest Korean artist to do so. Their lyrics, which range from incredible wordplay to beautiful metaphors to a perfect and raw encapsulation, adorns their creative painting of ‘what it means to be human’.
Martin Heidegger once stated that ‘artworks are revealers or disclosures of truth of existence’. To be more precise, it is a dimension of existence which could transcend the self of the individual and by keeping himself under the purview of artistic space; he seeks the true nature of art which is inextricably linked with the existence of the individual himself. By grounding on the motif of Martha Graham’s famous quote, “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing and this first death is the more painful”, in ‘Black Swan’, they speak about their fear of losing their love and passion for being an artist who would perform and create art in front of others. Black Swan stands for ‘unpredictable events with unpleasant consequences’. “ ‘I Hear a different voice inside of me, ‘I’ confront the Black Swan inside me”, and, ironically, they realized that music is the only thing they have. BTS hence, communicates its confession as an artist who has experienced what music means to them through contemplative and self-ruminating lyrics. In the lines, ‘With my eyes open, into my forest, jump jump jump’, they are referring to forest as a kind of labyrinth, relating to one’s own self, taking reference from Murakami’s book, ‘Kafka On the Shore (2002). Black Swan was then performed by M N Dance Company by six dancers clad in black costumes, representing wings, despair, chains and also as an inner self of the main dancer. At the end, the dancer becomes a Black Swan, with wings developed from his shadows, which represents the artist’s love for their art. Going back to Heidegger’s words, “The art work opens up in its own way the being of beings, the truth of what it has established itself.”
In their song ‘Sea’, they draw images of sea and desert, sea stands for hope and desert for despair/trials. This is a bit complex imagery as the sea can be a symbol of hope but drinking sea water is not good for health, reflecting the fact that we should not blindly rely on hope in our life. In the line,“We all know this was once a desert”, Suga is shown underwater, gasping for breath, hearing nothing but flowing water. This is precisely how the state of depression feels. At a distance, there is the sound of a whale which is a reference to RM’s songs ‘Reflection‘ and ‘Whalien 52’ where BTS once felt like being alone in the sea filled with criticism and judgment.
With foolish hope that tomorrow will be different before we fell asleep
We saw the mirage in the desert but we couldn’t grasp it.
They show the fear of meeting expectations of people around them and to satisfy those eyes. They ask “is this really the pinnacle of glory,fame and fortune? Or is it another hurdle that we must struggle through”? Sea can be hence read as their own hidden story. Climbing out of the deepest abysses in your life is an uphill task that makes you feel unbearably tiring. When you actually get to the point where you can feel better, self-doubt is always lurking in the mind. What if I return to that bleak place? What if my present happiness is just a figment of my fantasy? This song perfectly captures the nagging suspicion and swirling thoughts that accompany it.
When the main songwriters in the group collaborated, a masterpiece was born called “Strange”. Agust D ( alter ego of Suga) and RM serve two categories in society in this record. There are those who find our world ‘Strange’ and those who do not. By representing two kinds of cognizance of the popular culture, they criticise capitalism, consumerism and polarisation. They ask “How humans are all slaves to the same system without even noticing that they are chained in chicken hoops brainwashed by society ?”
In an endless zero-sum game, the very end is worth seeing
Polarization is the ugliest flower in the world
In these lines, The word 양극화 (yang-geug-hwa, ‘polarization’ in English) and 화 (hwa, which can contextually means both ‘flower’ and ‘anger’) are homonyms. When he says, Polarization (양극화 – yang-geug-hwa) is the ugliest flower (화 – hwa), there is a juxtaposition by comparing something ugly to something that’s typically beautiful. Agust D provides a vivid contrast to alert us of how nasty and unfair the world can be. “With dreams as its collateral, capitalism injects the morphine called ‘hope’”. Humans become addicted to morphine ( here, Hope), and Agust D states that capitalism as a system, is selling the citizens this addictive drug under the pretext of “hope.”
A similar context is drawn in the song ‘Pied Piper’ in which they talk about the capitalist society which motivates the youth to lead a materialistic life. Such society blames the pop culture which is itself created by human beings. In the initial lines, they call out people who accuse them and other artists for being the ‘pipers’ who keep luring the youth. Structured in a kind of conversation between the artists and their audience, BTS is portraying themselves as villains who are now despised for their work.
There’s a lot more to say about Kim Taehyung’s Blue & Grey, as it elicits and causes a plethora of responses and interpretations to varying levels. The Acoustic Pop Ballad is exceptional with its portrayal of void and genuine feelings which is let out to the listeners. Lower range tones imply melancholy, grief, and calmness, while higher range tones indicate climaxes, zeal, and power, as in the falsetto rendition of “Oh this ground feels so heavier”. On the surface, the verses are easily comprehensible and empathic, but they are also densely packed with meanings by the use of figures of speech and imagery. Blue & Grey is littered with hidden semantic precision and simplicity along the sublime nature of the song. He used the colors Blue and Grey to address the gloominess or desperation in his tone. The ‘shadow’ imagery has been used to represent the ‘grey’ or darkness that pervades our lives. ‘Blue & Grey’ also serves as a warning about the mental health issues that arise as a result of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. ‘Blue & Grey’ demonstrates his versatility as a songwriter by resonating with transcendence and sublimity.
BTS debuted with their first single on June 12, 2013, and have since released a series of singles and albums. Through their music, the members have really become open books, sharing subjects such as growing up, pressures they’ve endured, mental health issues, love and loss, coping with those who want to tear them down, and learning to love themselves despite it all. BTS partnered with UNICEF to stage campaigns targeting abuse against children and teenagers all over the world, aiming to make the world a better place through their artistry. Jungkook in his speech at the United Nations said that “If there’s something I can do, if our voices can give strength to people, then that’s what we want and that’s what we’ll keep on doing”. When all seems to be falling apart, BTS chooses not to be didactic in their message, instead leads people to see another path. This helps us to recognise the pain and distress they are feeling without mitigating it, but still turning the emphasis to what is still within our reach. They say that sometimes just coping is enough. It’s possible that balancing is the only thing that gets you through a given day. Besides emphasizing the continuum of survival, they put ample stress on the fact of our existence, which is something that we could always be proud of. BTS insists on this force of survival and everyday miracles through their lyrics, the silent heroes without capes or special powers, propelled by nothing but the inner voice asking, “Who’s going to do it if it isn’t me?”