The year 2020 has been one of the most dismal years for many around the globe, jolting people to face a harsh new reality where the most mundane things in life have become a luxury.
BTS, the K-pop act that has grown into one of the biggest pop groups in the world, is no exception. Carefully planned concerts were indefinitely postponed, and the band’s seven members began to question what it means to be musicians when they can’t perform in front of fans.
The answer to that question is their latest full album “BE,” which reminds listeners of a simple but strong truth — “life goes on.” It’s also the title of the lead track that talks about living life regardless of what comes your way.
“‘Life Goes On’ is a song that is weighty and firm but also soft and comforting in a sincere way,” RM said, “It’s a track in which we tried to show the obvious yet stern truth that life goes on, in a warm way through the color of BTS.”
RM explained how the underlying theme of the song comes from the same roots as the chart-breaking hit “Dynamite” that propelled the group’s success to become the first K-pop act to top the Billboard Hot 100. The pre-released song was included as the final track of “BE.”
The album, packed with eight songs that were partially written by its seven members, addresses what it means to live at a time when traveling is no longer possible and meeting fans in person is a distant dream.
“We encountered a situation where everything came to a stop. I feel that the past year was spent in confusion and in emptiness … we tried to honestly put in that sentiment in the album,” Jin said in a press conference held at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in central Seoul. “We felt it would be great for listeners to empathize and comfort each other and people around them.”
Jimin said the process of questioning their roles as musicians in an age of pandemic, talking it through with his bandmates, and turning that into a whole new album was itself an act of comfort for him.
“I started to feel that I don’t know what to do … but talking with the members on what we were each thinking offered comfort,” he said. “That helped me realize why I like this so much and why I’m striving so much. It eventually helped me stand up from despair.”
Compared with previous albums where most details were kept secret until release, the septet opened up to fans more than ever by sharing details of the production stages and the roles they took for the album.
Jimin, for instance, took part as a music project manager, going back and forth between BTS and their management agency Big Hit Entertainment to tweak the details, while V supervised the overall visuals of the album. Jungkook directed the teasers for the lead track.
“Everything is contact-free, and I felt that the physical connection was severing. Like how good restaurants share the recipe for their sauce, we experimented with this,” RM said. “We had to. I hope this gives a feeling of connectedness.”
The band’s members — all of them in their 20s — said the attempt to take a more hands-on approach to the album helped them show their more natural side.
“Instead of the fancy versions of us, we wanted to show the everyday lives of men in their 20s in the concept clips,” J-Hope said. “We took selfies and chatted and played around when we did the shoots.”
After spending seven eventful years together and cementing their status as a major player in the global music industry in 2020, the band’s members said they sometimes feel burdened by all the pressure and gossip that follows.
BTS is constantly mentioned in debates on whether celebrities should be exempted from the mandatory military service and has recently been embroiled in a diplomatic incident. The band’s name also made headlines after its management agency debuted in the stock market.
“Like some people say that fame is some form of tax, I always feel a certain level of pressure,” RM said. “But we are still immensely loved. Although the things that happen are not always right or rational, I try to accept the noise as part of fate as a musician.”
Jungkook, however, said the joy of standing on stage and sharing messages outweighs that pressure.
“The reason we dance and sing is not only to accomplish something but because we are people who are so happy on stage,” he said. “I don’t want to linger on rankings, but I want to perform the songs that we can and share the messages that we can.”
After ruling global music charts and sweeping awards at pop music ceremonies, the hype surrounding their possible Grammy nomination — a first for a Korean musical act — has become bigger than ever.
BTS acknowledged the situation and said it would be a great honor to be nominated.
“I think the feat we would like to additionally achieve is the Grammy,” said Jin. “We have the Billboard Hot 100 achievement, which is also very honorable, but I hope our name is called during the Grammy nominations announcement.”
The band, however, said their yearning for a nomination and a possible trophy is not because of the award’s reputation but because of the meaning it holds for them in their growth.
“It was a stage that left the biggest footprint when we were trainees who were dreaming and growing … It was one of our goals and thoughts that kept us as a team. I think I’ll be in tears when I receive it,” said RM, adding the team will probably be staying up for the nomination announcement next week.
Rather than having a set goal for the future, the septet said they plan to take on things as they happen going forward.
“Like we met ‘Dynamite’ in a destined way, I’m sure there will be songs we are destined to meet if we keep doing what we like,” J-Hope said.
“I don’t know what kind of music we’d like to do in the future. … It will depend on how things unfold in the future. The music that we would have to do will depend on that,” RM added.
But despite all the musical milestones, the band’s ultimate goal is to be there for listeners.
“Moments when we forget about who we come from quite often,” RM said. “Staying firmly planted on the ground, while continuing to do something and most importantly offering moments of comfort at such a difficult time to people in the United States, in Korea, all around the world, that’s the best work and business we can do.” (Yonhap)