Review: BTS’s ‘BE’ shines with hopeful outlook during pandemic

South Korean group BTS released its second album of 2020, “BE,” on Nov. 20 along with a music video for the album’s lead single, “Life Goes On.” The album delivers a raw and intimate message of hopefulness amid the ongoing frustrations of the global pandemic.

The album has eight tracks — consisting of seven songs and one skit — including “Life Goes On” and “Dynamite,” the group’s all-English songs released Aug. 20 that broke two YouTube records for most views in the first 24 hours and the first video to hit 100 million views in the first 24 hours.

Unlike their previous work, the new album was produced by BTS themselves. Each of the seven members took on a key role in the project, ranging from conceptualizing the theme and producing the music to directing the music video. Little input was taken from the in-house production staff at the group’s label Big Hit Entertainment, as stated by the members in multiple online posts.

The choices each member made in their role were so fitting for an album meant to be as raw and personal as it was. One choice that outlined this intention perfectly was Jungkook’s decision as the music video director to film the video inside the group’s apartment, giving fans a peek of the members’ private space that they have never seen before.

In a way, “BE” can be seen as the essence of BTS that intends to closely examine the group as a whole by revealing their vulnerability in a sweet way that other artists rarely show their fans.

“Life Goes On,” the first track of the album, starts off with upbeat and soft tunes, focusing on the melody of the song and accentuating the vocals. There isn’t a lot of heavy bass or aggressive rapping compared to some of the group’s past lead singles.

Mirroring the album’s intention, the song reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic, describing the world as being paused while time is still moving forward. The almost-somber lyrics contrasting with the gentle melody can be quite surprising, especially for listeners that are not fluent in Korean, like myself, but it doesn’t take away from the song.

The other two tracks in the first half of the album, “Fly To My Room” and “Blue & Grey,” reiterates the vulnerable message portrayed in “Life Goes On.”

“Fly To My Room,” featuring Jimin, V, J-Hope and Suga, pairs seemingly misaligned lyrics and sounds. The lyrics describe being frustrated with being stuck at home while the music is bubbly with somewhat of a big band sound. While expressing their frustration with the pandemic, it alludes that it is temporary and not as serious as it seems.

“Blue & Grey,” while being a beautiful song with its gentle melody, tells a tragic story that questions the members’ happiness. For fans, when BTS produces a sad song, it is gut-wrenching; “Blue & Grey” is no different, and I will cry no matter how much I love it.

The fourth track offers a skit, a recording of an off-the-cuff conversation of the members’ reaction to ranking no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for their song, “Dynamite.” The skit captures the group’s excitement, especially because the news was delivered on Jungkook’s birthday. BTS has included skits on their past albums, with the most recent being the “Love Yourself: Her” album that records their Billboard Music Awards acceptance speech for Top Social Artist in 2017. The skits are always interesting because it shows that there was a moment so important to the members that they needed to share it on their album, which is touching and sweet for fans.

The latter half of the album switches to funkier, retro-style tunes that feel a little jarring at first. “Telepathy” is a techno, upbeat love song dedicated to their fans called ARMY. They sing about wanting to jump to the future to be able to perform live and meet fans worldwide again. It’s a dance track that prompts listeners to swing their hips, even for those who are not much of a dancer like myself.

“Stay,” similar to “Telepathy,” is also a love song to ARMY. The song, featuring Jin, Jungkook and RM, uses a poppy EDM touch to express their gratitude that, no matter what, ARMY will always love BTS. I’m quite a sucker for BTS’s songs about ARMY, so “Telepathy” and “Stay” are easy favorites of mine.

“Dis-ease” also made me want to get up and dance. But like the earlier tracks in the album, it juxtaposes bouncy sound with lyrics relating to stress and anxiety. It’s another song that can surprise you with its meaning if you’re not familiar with Korean. Still, the song is a great listen that makes your feet move.

The album is rounded out at the end with the eighth track, “Dynamite” — still as fun and positive as it was when it came out on Aug. 20.

The album feels like a gift from BTS to ARMY, especially because the group produced it mostly on their own, making it feel personal. There is clearly pride and love in everything the group produces, and it shows in the album. With that love and pride, however, frustration and agony permeate the message and captures the reality that we live in today. “BE” may be a short album, but it is perfectly BTS.

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