If you haven’t heard, the latest single by global superstars BTS “Dynamite” is destroying records left and right and just hit the Number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. With its easy and catchy melodic hooks and straightforward lyrics, there’s a chance you’ve been humming along since its initial premiere. “Dynamite” is what it is meant to be, which is a distraction from the current hellscape world around us as they dance in retro outfits with backdrops of exploding rainbows. For nearly four minutes it eases our minds and that’s what it was intended to do.
It’s an imperfect song but its impact is undeniable. As a relative new fan (last two years really) so you can take this list with a grain of salt but, in my mind, these are the songs to queue up next. The list isn’t ranked (but number one is definitely “Moon”) and on any given day there’s a likelihood some of these songs may have shifted. For now though, here are what I think are the 12 best songs by BTS – along with some honorable mentions.
Songs that are better live
The Jimin solo “Serendipity” is gorgeous in its recording but is transcendentally captivating when performed live – his charisma is infectious. “ON” will give you sympathy neck pain – its urgency best captured in its Kinetic Manifesto music video. “Idol” will leave you breathless and “Dionysous” winded. They’re all good songs in their own right, but to watch them live (or recorded live is most of our cases) is what elevates BTS into being as popular as they are – they’re made to send chills throughout the stadium.
There’s “Dimple” for being a blatant love song and one that allows the vocals to be flirty and fun in a way that feels more traditionally “boy-band.” “Paradise” finds resonance in the comforting notion that every one person’s idea of “paradise” can be their own – whether that means superstardom or being able to save enough for a new laptop. “Don’t Leave Me” is impassioned and an early marker of their future world dominance while “Blood, Sweat and Tears” changed the game for them – both musically and in popularity. “Mikrokosmos” is simply stunning and “Respect” performed by longtime band members Suga and RM is delivered with casual, practiced ease. Then there’s “Singularity” which may be the most aptly titled BTS song as V demonstrates what makes him so distinct in the group with a song that’s jazz influenced, sultry and theatrical in all the ways we’ve come to expect from him but still managed to surprise us.
Upon first listen of “Black Swan” off of the most recent BTS album release Map of the Soul: 7 it was difficult to distinguish just which vocalist was singing which part – with RM, J-Hope and Suga’s rap verses easier to decipher. That would end up being for the best in two regards: one, for the debut performance on The Late Late Show with James Corden which managed to surprise fans both with its haunting elegance and vocal distribution and, secondly, for it’s uniformity and harmony it granted a band often, vocally, notable for its singular moments rather than moments of cohesion. BTS was getting to the point where musically they needed to shake things up and play more substantially with their backing music rather than simply using it as a base for their verses. With “Black Swan” they showed immense growth as artists – both with how they approached the music and how they interpreted their own fears and dreams for the lyrics.
“Boy With Love”
“Boy With Love” is cotton candy. It’s airy and light and sweet at impact, sugary and bathed in pink hues. It’s the members of BTS seemingly having a blast with stripped down choreography, buoyant lyrics and vocals that allow for more individual coloring from all the members and rap verses that are allowed infectious playfulness. It might be the band’s more obvious claim for global mainstream success (until “Dynamite”) but it works – it’s pop perfection in its formation and delivery and one of the catchiest songs the band has released to date.
“Euphoria” performed by vocalist wunderkid Jungkook is a certified, feel good bop. Airy and weightless, it’s made great by Jungkook’s vocal colouring and it’s instant ability to lift your spirits. It is strictly pop, with playful backing runs and instrumentals that allows this song to soar with its youthful spirit and flowery aesthetic. The sentimentality in the lyrics ring through as a perfectly rendered love song – soulful, sweet and a little naive and backed by the EDM inspired instrumentals and Jungkook’s expected sugary smooth vocals, it makes for one of the strongest solos and best suited for the member performing it.
For all of the scene/emo kids who used to frequent Hot Topic in the mid-aughts (but didn’t buy anything because it was fucking expensive) “Fake Love” was both our (my) catnip and our (my) introduction into the K-Pop superstars. With their heavier than usual smoky eyes, clip in pink extensions and lyrics such as “I wish love was perfect as love itself / I wish all my weaknesses could be hidden /I grew a flower that can’t be bloomed in a dream that can’t come true” that just hit that perfect level of love lost angst, “Fake Love” wasn’t so much their breakout hit as their reintroduction as an older (kind of) more mature group with a sound that followed. One of their songs where the recording is just as good as their live versions with the elevated performances, “Fake Love” allows the singers to reach their peaks of how high their vocals can hit for dramatizing effect as their rappers – RM in particular – delivers versus dripping in resentment. It’s angry BTS – something we could use more of.
It’s hard to ignore the sweeping romanticism of “Let Go’s” instrumentation. A simple in structure song, the Japanese release is beautifully produced and an example of how a straightforward song with little tricks and gimmicks can be one of the most effective with the right vocal tools and distribution. It’s catchy, it allows for some of their best vocals (especially from Jin) and conveys yearning and want with such clarity that it’s easy for even those of us who don’t understand the language to be caught up in the emotional resonance of the song.
“Magic Shop” is so saccharine sweet in its build up that it shouldn’t work to the level that it does but it’s execution is flawless. The production is smooth with immense clarity and the emotional tug of the song and it’s instrumental crescendo as their last, sing-a-long style, give and take verse is sung is powerful. The vocalists are all given ample time to shine here and the simple message of offering a place for listeners to go when they’re feeling low is direct and effective in approach as the song itself is a balm for anyone who presses play.
We have come to the sole reason behind my writing this list, which is to heap a large amount of hype onto what isn’t just the best song of the year, but also, very likely, the best song in the BTS discography. Yes, sure, it’s a solo and not a group project like some of the mega groups other greatest hits, but it’s that perfect concoction of pop thrills, sweeping vocals and serotonin energizing catchiness that makes for some of the best pop music has to offer. Sung by vocalist Jin, it’s the best display and use of his vocals to date with verses that play with staccato lyricism and delivery, a chorus that yearns to lift the listener off their feet and a bridge that builds into a key change that is genuine hit to the heart in how it fills you. Jin has often used his solos for moments of reflective melancholy. With “Moon” there’s still hints of that introspective side but with celebratory, explosive energy that allows its listeners to be enveloped in that fold. It’s pop music wizardry.
RM, Suga and J-Hope, at their best, are forces to be reckoned with on stage and these highlights are often best on display when they group up for their unit songs. Any of their “Cypher” songs could be picked (as they lay to waste any naysayers,) or their fan favorite “Ddaeng” which is similarly scathing; even “Ugh!” off of their recent release is a superb signifier of their talents as once again they rally against those who call into question their success and talents. However, “Outro: Tear” off of the album Love Yourself: Tear” deserves more love. The versus split between the three are distinctly their own, from RM’s spit-fire and hard hitting delivery, to Suga’s deliberate drawl that accelerates the more impassioned he gets, to J-Hope’s free spirited and loose styling, and it allows the moments where they come together on the chorus to hit stronger. The song grew in significance when it was released that it had been written when the band had been contemplating breaking up, with lyrics such as “We walked towards the same place/But this place becomes our last/Although we used to talk about forever/Now we break each other without mercy” take on a whole new meaning.
Demonstrating a self-awareness of their all consuming effect on their fans, “Pied Piper” bases itself on its namesake but with a twist, focusing on the idea of their music luring fans away from their day to day responsibilities. Funny then (and suitable) that “Pied Piper” the song is so alluring. It’s production is gorgeous and it’s made all the stronger in the live performances. It’s blatantly flirtatious, playing to the wants and wills of fans around the world who see them as means of escape, all the while retaining that edge that allows their sincerity to shine through. They know they’re distractions, and “Pied Piper” works so well in narrative because it both disparages against the idea while emboldening it. There’s a soulful beat to the song that differs itself from other of the bands outing with a more R&B flow that allows each member a moment to shine.
Early BTS (and this still isn’t even that early) are distinguishable from how they weaponized youth in all its chaos, unfettered wants and adrenaline seeking ways to bottle time through music. “Run” – an early hit – is indicative of the energy that BTS were first packaged as and it’s immediately rousing. The beat is low but steady in the versus until the chorus hits with that youthful, take on the world ferocity. It’s a feeling that has evolved as the band has grown both older and in terms of global stardom, but that spirited, sprinting full speed ahead has never left them – a theme that’s especially evident in all their best songs.
There is no BTS list that fails to mention what many fans believe to be their very best, “Spring Day.” The crown jewel of BTS songs, “Spring Day” became a massive hit and to this day offers some of the most emotionally motivated lyrics the band has ever produced along with soaring instrumentals and orchestration that allowed the lyrical sentimentality to pierce listeners. It was a noted gear shift towards musical maturity, with heavy symbolic references and lyrical imagery that was introspective and longing. The members for the most part are all given ample showcase moments – though V in particular is well suited for this song with his naturally emotive vocals which elevate the lyrics here. “Spring Day” was a moment to allow the band members to bare their soul as their music gravitated from their typical hip-hop genre into something more pop and alternative, a shift that would stick with them until the present.
Despite the bands claim to fame initially stemming from their hard hitting and personal lyrics that dealt with the hardships of youth – especially the cultural pressures put on Korean teens- they’ve grown quite fond of open sentimentality in their lyrics. Their sincerity has always been present, but it’s evolved over time with songs such as “Mikrokosmos” and “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal” seemingly built to be the concert ending number, perfectly formed and produced to elicit tears as fans watch on from the crowd. One of their earlier versions of this is their song “Epilogue: Young Forever” off of their album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life. It was both a culmination of the chapter they’d been in but also a promise to fans and themselves that they’d continue to chase their dreams – it was positive and uplifting without an ounce of insincerity.