BTS’ Album ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ Is a Triumph of Self-Love (REVIEW)
The biggest group in South Korea, BTS, returned with their second repackage album and the last installment of their Love Yourself series on August 24, capping off an incredible two-year music journey with the aptly titled Answer.
Love Yourself: Answer includes seven new songs, including the single “IDOL,” which is interspersed between tracks from 2017’s Love Yourself: Her and 2018’s Love Yourself: Tear which tell the story of first love, heartbreak and self-discovery. The compilation is split into two different sides: Side A follows BTS’ flawlessly crafted storyline, while Side B includes popular remixes and fan favorite tracks. When pieced together, Love Yourself: Answer is a triumphant release that profoundly concludes the group’s two-year journey with an uplifting, powerful message about the importance of self-love.
The album’s lead single, “IDOL,” expresses BTS’ brave ownership of their self and many personas, each of which is worthy of love. Musically, the track follows BTS’ love of genre-bending songs, blending traditional Korean music with South African gqom, trap, and EDM. Truly a global song, “IDOL” features a distinctive South African beat meshed with the group’s shouts of “ursoo” (얼쑤), a drummer’s call agreeing to the singer’s sentiments in Korean pansori, or traditional Korean musical storytelling from the Joseon dynasty.
Throughout their career, BTS have often felt stifled by labels like “idol,” enough to release tracks like “BTS Cypher Pt. 3: Killer,” fighting back against an outside world trying to define their limitless potential. With “IDOL,” BTS not only reclaims the title for themselves, but transcends all of the haters and skeptics through the power of self-love: “I do what I do, so mind your own business,” the members sing. “You can’t stop me loving myself.”
Following its Korean and South African inspiration, the choreography for “IDOL” features the members dancing gwara gwara and later grooving alongside bukcheong sajanori (북청사자놀이), traditional Korean lion mask dancers who are believed to ward off evil spirits. The song’s music video makes frequent references to Korean folklore, like the rabbit in the moon and the tiger, as they dance through the savannah. At the time of writing, its music video destroyed the 24-hour streaming record previously held by Taylor Swift with over 56.2 million views, and is currently trending No. 1 on YouTube." The album release follows suit at No. 1 on the iTunes album chart, with all tracks charting in the Top 60 on the iTunes song chart as well. A second version of “IDOL” featuring Nicki Minaj was also released on the digital version of the album.
Love Yourself: Answer can be divided into three sections: First love, heartbreak, and acceptance. The first love aspect of the album is full of dazzling, passionate songs like Jungkook’s solo single, “Euphoria.” Produced by DJ Swivel, who produced past BTS tracks “Magic Shop” and “Best of Me,” “Euphoria” is a future bass track that was released on the group’s YouTube channel on April 6. Leader RM co-wrote the song’s lyrics which encapsulate the butterflies-in-your-stomach sensation of young love. Backed by an atmospheric mix of coastal synthesizers and dreamy guitars, Jungkook’s emotional voice adds poignancy when he sings, “Take my hand now / You are the cause of my euphoria.”
While each member of the vocal line received individual singles to tease the Love Yourself series, the rap line receives individual “trivia” singles on Answer. Both the vocal and rap lines’ solo singles all contain a Chinese character in their names that, when combined, become 起承轉結, a form of storytelling that literally means “beginning, development, turn, and conclusion” in Chinese—also known as giseungjeongyeol (기승전결) in Korean. The conclusion of the story isn’t a single but included in the album’s title, 結: Answer, signifying that both love and pain was needed to reach the story’s important conclusion.
J-Hope’s future bass solo, “Trivia 起: Just Dance,” details the instant, electric connection of love at first sight between two people dancing together. Featuring a jazzy, two-step rhythm, the song is in J-Hope’s trademark style and feels like a mix between his mixtape singles “Hope World” and “Daydream.’ The song’s concept is also very fitting for the group’s main dancer. RM progresses the story’s narrative and dishes plenty of food for thought with the fascinating “Trivia 承: Love,” a track that finds the rapper grappling with whether or not to leave a relationship behind. With minimal instrumentation apart from piano and a brass band, RM takes center stage with effortless flow and swag as he philosophizes about love in both Korean and English. He compares the one letter difference between “live” and “love” in English, and the one character difference between “love” (사랑) and “person” (사람) in Korean.
Suga’s “Trivia 轉: See Saw” is where the plot twists, and not just because it’s the first song to show off Suga’s vocals. A funky, disco-inspired rap track, “Trivia 轉: See Saw” compares the ups and downs of a relationship to riding a seesaw: “This repetitive seesaw game, it’s about time we put an end to it,” Suga sings. “This boring seesaw game, somebody has to get out of here.” In the end, Suga decides that it’s for the best for him to leave rather than stay and suffer. Musically, the song feels reminiscent to previous Love Yourself tracks like “134340” and “Pied Piper” with its retro synths and funky bassline. Suga is an emotional rapper, so allowing him to perform the breakup track was a fantastic choice—the way he repeatedly mumbles the last verse, almost as if he’s trying to convince himself he’s made the right decision, leaves a poignant feeling with the listener long after first listen.
The first few bars of “I’m Fine” will be instantly recognizable to BTS ARMY given that they’re from the opening to the group’s 2016 single, “Save Me.” In an extremely inventive move, “Save Me” and “I’m Fine” are the inverse of each other in both theme, lyrics, and even instrumentation. In “Save Me,” the members pleaded for someone to take their hand and save them from the dark world they are trapped in; in “I’m Fine,” the members are bravely bolstered by their self-worth, finally able to stand on their own: “I’m feeling just fine, fine, I’ll let go of your hand now / I know I’m all mine.”
Just when the album is at its darkest and all hope seems lost, lightning strikes in the form of Jin’s solo single, “Epiphany.” Initially released online as a teaser for the album on August 9, the bleeding-heart pop-rock track is nothing short of inspirational. Jin’s flawless vocals float on a dreamy, slow-building melody of acoustic guitar and piano as he comes to the emotional realization that the one he should truly love and treat well is not someone else, but himself. “I’m the one I should love in this world / Shining me, precious soul of mine,” Jin croons. “I finally realized, so I love me / Not so perfect but so beautiful.” A goosebumps-inducing anthem, “Epiphany” is simple, but feels even more powerful and cathartic given that young people all around the globe will be singing along to a song championing self-love and self-care.
BTS’ overarching message of self-love is one that didn’t come easy. The group’s thrilling journey to this moment was as equally beautiful as it was difficult: realizing that true love comes from within is no simple feat. Now, with a better understanding of themselves, the group stands proud and unafraid of the long road ahead. There are many Korean music and K-pop groups who can release an amazing album, but BTS take things a step forward, using their influence and lyrics to empower their fans in critically important ways. By sharing their struggles and introspection through the Love Yourself series, BTS prove they are more than a boy band: they are truly the voice of their generation.