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REVIEW | "Love Yourself"


4:58 p.m.
I’m not ready.
4:59 p.m.
I can’t survive this.
5:00 p.m.
As I sat down on a bench at the Fitness Cafe and typed in “DNA” by international K-pop sensation BTS (Beyond the Scene), into the YouTube search bar, I had no idea what to expect. Bundled with six months of anticipation, I began to scream anxiously even before pressing the play button, preparing myself for an episode of dysfunctional and extreme fangirling.
At 5:00 p.m. Taiwan time on Sept. 19, record-breaking K-Pop group BTS dropped its new music video for title track “DNA,” along with a mini-album entitled “Love Yourself: Her.”

Over the past two years, BTS has been growing as music icons in Korea and around the world, becoming trendsetters with their unique largely self-produced tracks. The band sings and raps on topics not usually written about in K-Pop, such as depression and politics. [Photo courtesy of BigHit Entertainment]
On my first listen through, I was underwhelmed by how the pop-oriented album seemed like a turnaround from the group’s sentimental previous albums like “The Most Beautiful Moments in Life” and “You Never Walk Alone.” The album loses the uniquely BTS composition and themes from the past three albums. “DNA” is a conventional electro-pop song about cherishing the power of destiny in love, turning away from the BTS’s previous themes of depression and politics. While the “You Never Walk Alone” title track, the ballad-rock song  “Spring Day,” set high standards for the group’s music production quality, I was afraid that “DNA” sounds similar to generic pop songs from other K-Pop groups, making BTS part of so many of the pop song tropes we see today.
Yet, the more I listened to “DNA” and the rest of the album, the better it sounded, and the more clever musical choices I noticed (but that could just be my inner fangirl kicking in). On top of the killer showcase of vocal range and rapping (and cuteness overload of the members), samplings of whistling and Spanish guitars preserve the usual BTS flair. The intense choreography also matches the excitement and upbeat tempo of the music well. The title track, the choreography, the colorful outfits, and the live performances can all be described with one word: fun. I realized that “Love Yourself: Her” is very much a continuation of the themes of BTS’s previous three albums, focused on paying homage to youth and honoring the group’s fan base.
“Love Yourself: Her” savors the giddiness and conflict of falling in love. “Intro: Serendipity,” my favorite song in the album, contains poetic lyrics written by Rap Monster that introduce the album motifs of destiny, doubt, and love. The soft ballad shifts in tone from a sense of profoundness in love to a hint of doubt when Jimin sings with a heart-breaking softness, “I’m scared that destiny is jealous of us.” As “Intro” opens the album with themes of mutual completion and trust as well as self-love, the song also heavily alludes back to “I NEED U,” “Save ME,” and “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” recalling topics of desperation in youth and love.

When I talked to  fellow fan Natalie Hon (‘18), she says that she, like many other fans, loves BTS because “they always address their fans in everything they do.” And sure enough, fans received “Pied Piper” as a token of the special relationship. Sarah Chin (‘18) says, “They literally have a song telling fans to go study.” The members of the group all portray themselves as pipers directing their fans’ day-to-day life, acknowledging their cult-like following. They jokingly sing to fans, “Now stop watching and study for your test/Your parents and director hate me” and summarize a fangirl’s struggles. As enticing pipes toot away in the backdrop, the groovy verses on top of the incredibly high-pitched chorus make the trap another of my favorites on the album.
A BTS album is not complete without socially-conscious diss tracks. “Go Go” is a parody of materialism. Set against a mesmerizing repetition of Oriental flutes, the chanting of words like “dollars” and “YOLO” mocks the way so many young people do and say ‘cool’ and meaningless things. With this song, the group wakes the world up and tells its youthful fans to “go” instead of worrying about shallow social appearances.

[Christine Lin/The Blue & Gold]
Along with the album, BTS recorded “Skit: Hesitation and Fear,” a group voice recording discussing questions like “How far can we go until we start going downhill?” Despite their Billboard Top Social Artist Award wina monumental moment for the group and for K-popthe boys remain anxious about whether they are presenting their best work to the world, especially as public expectations rise with the group’s success. While the K-pop industry is known for overly-manufactured artists in terms of appearances and company structure, the skit demonstrates how the boys maintain their polished image purely out of respect for the fans.
Ending the album with “Outro: Her” and “Sea,” the rappers revive their rapping styles from the group’s early debut days, employing minimalist beats to emphasize lyrics that discuss all the doubt that comes with love and character growth. A thoughtful message ends the album: you must love yourself before anything else.
A few songs, such as “Mic Drop” and “Go Go,” are produced with creative variations in beats and vocals samples, while others, like “Best of Me,” did not stun with its predictable song progression (understandable because The Chainsmokers co-produced it). Though all the tracks are easy and pleasantly relaxing listens, the “You Never Walk Alone” album is definitely a stronger work as a whole.

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