The arguably most popular current boy group in South Korea, BTS, has released a new music video and dropped their second full length album — WINGS. Before the album released, BTS produced a series of seven short films — the beginning of each featuring the leader of BTS Rap Monster reciting, in English, from the book “Demian” by Hermann Hesse. Whether or not “Demian” has a connection to the concept for this WINGS era has yet to be acknowledged by the boys.
Following their trilogy of “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life,” WINGS continues the confusing but beautiful story of friendship, loss, tragedy, and pain. Although Part 1 and Part 2 of “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” seem more directly connected through their music videos, following one story after the other, the WINGS concept seems to be all on its own — unless one knows where to look. The short films contain references to the “Most Beautiful Moment in Life” era and videos, and the new “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” music video from the WINGS album contains hints giving the viewer the idea they’re all linked in some way. The past two, and now three, eras BTS has implemented begs the question: “What is going on?” and the answer is probably unknown to anyone but BTS themselves. The majestic aesthetics and delightful music of the WINGS album nonetheless leaves every fan pleased.
The introductory track to this album, “Boy Meets Evil,” is also accompanied by a video featuring rapper and main dancer — J-Hope — who’s seemingly trapped in an underground brick room. After completing an impressive flip in the air, room lighting changes from a dim purple to ultraviolet, revealing neon paint splattered all around. The lyrics themselves remain dark, dreary, and tragic. “My breath is getting shorter. I close my eyes every night from twisted reality… I didn’t want to let go of the devil’s hand.” J-Hope raps, giving us a forlorn peek into the rest of the album.
Unlike any of their previous — and other K-pop bands’ — albums, WINGS contains seven solo songs featuring each member, giving them their own spotlight and highlighting their talent and abilities in singing or rapping. Thus proving the absence of a weak link in the band. The songs themselves remain slower than one would expect from the proclaimed hip-hop group. Instead of the obvious hip-hop influence shown in other BTS albums, WINGS’ solo songs contain a more calm sound with less build up. Each song features lyrics about pain and tragedy — reminding us of the forewarning intro. “Caught in a lie. Take me out of this hell. I can’t free myself from this pain,” sings Jimin in his solo track. “Lies.” J-Hope’s song “Mama” however brings hope, as his name suggests, with help from the lyrics — despite the laid back rhythm. “Hey mama, you can lean on me, I’ll always be next to you… now you can believe in your son, you can smile,” he raps.
Then the album takes a whole new turn. Picture a roller coaster that instead of building up and dropping, goes straight for a long while and drops without warning. The calm solo songs do not exude any feelings of anticipation, but from the final solo song “Awake” to “Lost,” BTS changes the mood around completely. “Lost” contains a more upbeat feeling than “Awake,” despite the lyrics saying otherwise. And from there, the album reaches its peak of excitement.
The climax of the album lies in “Lost,” “Cypher 4,” “Am I Wrong,” and “21세기 소녀.” In these songs, the hip-hop concept BTS has identified themselves with in the past remails solidified. “Cypher 4” is the fourth edition of their Cypher series featured on other albums. And although number three remains the most fast-paced, the slower rhythmic, but no less heavy, “Cypher 4” fits in perfectly with the WINGS album. Any fan nostalgic for the hip-hop style of the older BTS should remain satisfied with the “Cypher 4” addition.
“Am I Wrong” comes in with a whole new sound and influence never before seen with BTS. Although the song still contains BTS’s own personal style, “Am I Wrong” features a bluesy rock sound. The intro of the song seems like it belongs in an 1800s US Civil War era film, with a deep southern voice saying “Am I wrong?” and an acoustic guitar with a slider. The kazoo comes in later, adding to the bluesy style of the song. However, once BTS joins in with their own personal flair, the thought of this being only a blues song flies out the window. “Am I Wrong” simply proves BTS succeeds at any sound they wish to feature.
Once “21세기 소녀” started, however, I smiled. This is the BTS band I know so closely. This is what I was waiting for. Despite BTS always doing well with any concept and sound with which they decide to tinker, the boys debut song is hip-hop to the core. Two of their members performed in the underground rap and hip-hop scene in South Korea before deciding to audition for an entertainment company. Hip-hop will forever remain part of their identity and roots and this shines through with “21세기 소녀.”
The album ends with the song titled “Interlude: Wings,” bringing suspicion that we have not seen the last of this confusing and unknown concept. “Interlude: Wings,” ends the album on a happy note with an upbeat rhythm and light-hearted voices, “I fly higher than the sky. I beat my red wings with all my might” the listeners hear the band sing — giving hope that perhaps the next album will answer the question, “What just happened?”
WINGS remains a masterpiece from beginning to end. With the many influences and stylings, I’d argue to say it doesn’t follow a specific formula. It is not a pseudo-individualistic album that can be taken at face value. Heavy concepts, deep suffering, values, and onerous theological ideals are weaved and intertwined within in the lyrics and music. Writing this article, I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of this deep, moving album.