In what might be the supergroup’s most cohesive album in years, BTS (comprised of RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook) has produced an album that is, for better and worse, uniformly theirs in BE, an album born from the isolation and anxieties sprung from 2020 and the devastating pandemic. While the album has plenty of songs that speak to the mental unrest and the weariness this year has wrought, there are also elements of their deliberate brand of youthful defiance in the face of hardship that allows the album to transcend what would have wallowed in other hands. In BE, rather than simply mourning loss, they offer the greater strength of empathy. Similar to Charli XCX’s how I’m feeling now, it is a perfect time stamp in a year where time has both taken on new limitations while simultaneously feeling limitless. It’s an album of self-evaluation, introspection, and ultimately healing, providing ballads and pop anthems to dance and cry to in equal measure.
The all-hands-on-deck approach to the album is demonstrated immediately with the title track, “Life Goes On,” a loose and vocally dense single with playful instrumentation, supported by backing vocals and layering, give way to a song that is lyrically poignant in approaching the time that we’re in. An alternative hip-hop track that melds light guitar with an unassuming beat, the group sings:
“Time goes by on its own/Without a single apology.”
It’s somber without burying us in emotions, and while it’s not the strongest song on the album, it sets the tone of what’s to come.
The album effectively could be split in half in terms of mood—pre and post “Skit”—which sees BTS euphorically celebrating their chart-topping “Dynamite” which did the unthinkable and pushed them further up in the cultural zeitgeist, solidifying them as the band of the moment. Pre “Skit,” the songs are wistful, even bleak, as with the case of “Blue & Gray,” a song that speaks pointedly to those struggling with depression in the age of isolation. Produced by vocalist V and originally planned for his own anticipated mix-tape, the song is a soulful weepy that plays to his crooning, emotive strengths.
It’s the back half though where the album takes off into delightfully weird territory with three new songs that all express fresh perspectives on the bands musicality. “Dynamite,” which closes the album, ends up being an effective send off, ending on a much needed hopeful note. The world hasn’t been righted yet, but we’re going to dance anyway. No song expresses the idea of laughing through the pain as much as the glitter pop anthem “Stay.” The Jungkook produced EDM track is breathlessly exhilarating, playing to the strengths of the sub-unit of Jungkook, Jin, and RM. It is perhaps the best use of RM on the album (beyond his endless songwriting credits) as he lets go of some of his laid-back rap stylings from the other songs for something more assertive, more easily melodic which contrasts with Jin and Jungkook’s sweet, piercing pop vocals.
“Dis-ease,” one of the greatest highlights on a uniformly strong album, is further proof J-Hope is more often than not the bands not-so-secret weapon. A 90’s inspired track that superbly escalates as the song goes on, it opens with J-Hope and his singular rapping style. “Dis-ease” is packing so much punch that it threatens to spill over, but it’s the barely contained mania that starts as a jog and ends as a sprint that makes it so wonderful, starting with J-Hope’s soul, moving to Suga’s laid-back verse (his best showing on the album) to a bridge that shows all four vocals bouncing off of one another until reaching its crescendo.
It’s a tough draw between “Dis-ease” and “Telepathy,” a retro song that has producer Suga’s fingerprints all over it, to determine which track wins the title of best song on the album. While “Dis-ease” instantly announces itself as a near masterwork, “Telepathy” takes its time. By your second, third, and then likely 20th listen to the song, it hooks itself in with an infectious and odd head-bopping rhythm. It is a song about how the happiest moments for the band are the ones they’ve shared performing in front of their fans. The disco-inspired beat and vocal processing both dominate unlike anything they’ve created before, while also calling back to the energy of earlier, hip-hop works, such as fan favorites “Ma City” and “Boys with Fun.”
Their most comprehensive work since the 2018 Love Yourself: Tear, BE doesn’t live up to the epic scales of their last few albums, especially the melancholic and stadium ready Map of the Soul: 7, which features two of the bands best songs in their long discography (the moody and beautifully produced “Black Swan” and the pop-anthem of the year “Moon”). Still, there’s both an undeniable synergy throughout all the tracks and a confidence that makes BE one of their most interesting and mature products to date. In only six new songs they manage to convey the fear of the unexpected, the longing to bridge the gap and interact with fans again, and empathetic resilience in unthinkable times. A gift of an album to fans, perhaps I won’t be racing to listen to a song, such as the V, Jimin, J-Hope and Suga subunit song “Fly Me to My Room” often, despite its crisp and funky production, but even still from start to finish the cohesion is addictive in treating it as a whole piece of work rather than individual songs. BE, despite lacking any obvious rallying, is hopeful because there’s no artifice to it. At the height of their powers with more eyes and ears on them than ever before, BTS has produced an album that’s as raw as anything that has come before, gone against the grain and, once again, challenged and defied their own expectations.