Since the popular South Korean boy group BTS began teasing for a late February comeback a little over a month ago, their newest album, “Map of the Soul: 7” has been on fans’ release radar. All eyes (and ears) were on the seven members as this year’s most highly anticipated K-pop album was finally released for streaming on February 21 at 6 p.m. KST, or 4 a.m. EST. At the same time, the group’s label, Big Hit Entertainment, premiered a dynamic, dance-focused film to their title track, “On,” on their YouTube channel, which garnered over 110 million views.
These statistics shouldn’t come as a surprise to BTS fans, also known as ARMY, who have seen their idols achieve groundbreaking success in America over the last two years. Despite their rapid climb to fame, BTS continues to deliver distinct, high-quality sounds accompanied by stunning performances, and “Map of the Soul: 7” is no exception.
The album kicks off with a few familiar tracks from BTS’s previous album, “Map of the Soul: Persona.” Leader and rapper RM kicks off the album with a heartfelt story about finding purpose and establishing identity in “Intro: Persona,” and all the members participate in fan favorites from the previous album: “Make It Right,” “Dionysus,” “Jamais Vu,” and beloved title track “Boy With Luv.”
Rapper Suga introduces the new tracks in the second half of the album in his usual distinctly tough style. The deeply personal “Interlude: Shadow” follows a theme central to the album: the spotlight of success comes with a constant shadow.
“Black Swan,” the second of the new tracks, shifts between flowing and hard-hitting syllables. The lyrics mourn over fading passion, set off by a black swan, or a rare and unexpected event that greatly impacts the human psyche. Delicately plucked strings layered with a steady snare and occasionally repetitive background vocals culminate in a lingering, slightly unsatisfying feeling.
The group’s title track, “On,” is an upbeat dance track that gave the BTS members an opportunity to show off some energetic choreography, accompanied by world class competitive marching band Blue Devils. However, “On” is more than just a crowd-pleaser. Subtle references to previous tracks make the song a fitting title song for BTS’s seventh year anniversary while its powerful message to “bring the pain on” makes it a great motivational anthem.
“Louder Than Bombs” and “Zero O’Clock” fully displayed the group’s ingenious knack for producing quality B-side tracks. Both songs are filled with emotion, and some clear English lyrics that remind non-Korean listeners of their sentiments. A quick search of translations makes these tracks even more meaningful, as the boys grapple with fear and doubt but ultimately encourage themselves (and listeners) to keep going.
Like in previous projects, the album highlights individual members’ vocal colors through solo tracks. Jimin showcases his high vocal range in seductive and emotional “Filter,” telling how easy it is for him to conform to others’ expectations. Youngest member Jungkook wonders if he can “finna find my time,” expressing a heartfelt message about having to grow up too quickly. V and Jin send positive messages of encouragement to themselves and fans through “Inner Child” and “Moon.”
The members also display their close bonds with each other through collaborations; V and Jimin celebrate their unique friendship in “Friend,” and rappers RM, J-Hope and Suga take turns preaching about respect and expressing their frustration towards haters in “Respect” and “Ugh!” Finally, the group comes together for “We Are Bulletproof: the Eternal” as a tribute to one of their earliest songs, and rapper J-Hope ends the album on a hopeful note with “Outro: Ego.”
“Map of the Soul: 7” explores the complexities of being only human; despite their enormous success as idols, the members of BTS express their desire to remain grounded and grateful through their music. From making a debut with an obscure label to selling out some of the biggest stages in the U.S., BTS has always grappled with going against expectations while staying true to yourself. “Map of the Soul: 7” is a fitting way to celebrate BTS’s seven-year anniversary with the same sentiment the group has always pushed for: accepting and challenging yourself.
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