BTS BE album review: A journey through lockdown from isolation to the dancefloor

Artists making lockdown albums could have leaned into the misery of the year – but thankfully, BTS have given sadness a swerve.

The K-pop kings have dropped their fifth Korean language album, their second this year, and it will be a tonic for the ARMY after a tough year.

BTS’s BE was described as reflecting the ‘thoughts, emotions and deepest ruminations of BTS’, and it’s clear from the opening track Life Goes On that RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jin, Jungkook, V and Jimin have taken their cues from the past year. BE is a game of two halves – an inward look at the hardships of 2020, with a skit separating them from a series of upbeat bops to distract us from all that. 

The first three tracks on BE is as close as BTS have come to an easy-listening mini-album, the equivalent of a rocking chair – albeit a very slickly produced one. Life Goes On, a mature mid-tempo number, reminds us just that, that we all need to persevere through these tough times. What could have been a standard album opener in the hands of other acts is elevated by BTS with butter-smooth vocals and rap verses that add a slight edge to the comfort.

If Life Goes On is an encouraging boost, track three Blue & Grey is a more personal take on the pandemic, with the refrain ‘I just want to be happier’ painting a picture of how BTS have coped in a year where their world tour has been cancelled. I suspect this will be a fan favourite; while BTS are skilled at producing the bops, it’s nice to see them get more personal with their lyrics. While on first listen, Blue & Grey may seem like a standard ballad, it acts as a 2020 time capsule and will likely connect with a lot of people who have struggled with their mental health – and the more you think about it, it’s refreshing for the biggest band in the world to address anxiety and depression so candidly on a record.

Blue & Grey follows the Suga, J-Hope, Jimin and V subunit track Fly To My Room, which at first listen is a slice of 90s R&B and a more grown-up, sexier sound for BTS. However, the lyrics focus on the boys being trapped in their rooms and struggling with being contained. In 2020, even BTS’s sexiest grooves are tinged with lockdown woes. 

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That’s not to say that the album is a downer – in fact, I’d go as far as to say Telepathy is one of BTS’s strongest dancefloor tracks to date. Sounding like a more retro accompaniment to Holiday by Little Mix, the post-skit (only BTS would include a skit about their Hot 100 ranking smack bang in the middle of a half hour album) banger immediately boosts the energy of the record. While album closer Dynamite may be the full BTS disco experience, Telepathy is a more subtle funk-tinged effort, but has an added maturity, confidence and ease that pips it to the post as the album’s most successful bop.

Dis-ease also leans into the retro vibes, with a highly produced chorus and old school hiphop references, and the one-two shot of Telepathy and Dis-ease is definitely the highest point of BE, a double hit of the energy BTS are so known for. The upbeat tone follows on with the RM, Jin and JK subunit track Stay, but switches from funk and hip-hop to EDM. It’s a fine segue into Dynamite, but less original and more paint-by-numbers than the rest of the album’s second half, with its beat drop into the hook and more emphasis on the production than anything else.

Before we know it, the album is closing with the US number one track Dynamite, the English language song that has soundtracked everything from Samsung ads to HRVY’s salsa on Strictly Come Dancing. Despite it getting more radio play than any BTS song before, Dynamite has yet to grate, and is a reminder of how much the band has grown into international superstars.

In a time where deluxe editions, added tracks and collaborations are par for the course, BTS’s tightly packaged albums are an anomaly, with its seven tracks and a skit coming in at just 28 minutes. Is it enough for the ARMY? Well, while we’re sure they’d welcome a four hour extravaganza from BTS, it doesn’t feel rushed or like a cop out. BE is more like a well curated tasting menu of BTS’s talents – showcasing their growth, emotional vulnerability, subunits and knowledge of trends and music history without packing on filler.

It might be thinner on the dramatic bangers than Map Of The Soul: 7 and it doesn’t break the mould, but BE is a reminder that when it comes to production, energy and openness with fans, BTS are the band to beat. 

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