BTS - Map of the Soul: Persona Album Review

Map of The Soul: Persona perfectly illustrates how BTS is taking over mainstream music worldwide.

From K-Pop sensation to global superstars, the rise of BTS is nothing to scoff at!

It is not a stretch to say that BTS is the first group to master the fusion of Eastern and Western pop culture. While their predecessors such as Big Bang were absolutely crucial for setting the stage, BTS have successfully achieved heights that were previously unheard of. To have phenomenal mainstream music success in both the East and West is unprecedented and yet the boys are living proof that it can be done – Since forming in 2013, BTS’ popularity soared throughout South Korea and beyond. Entertainment company Big Hit must have seen early on that they’ve hit the jackpot with BTS, however no-one could have predicted the global magnitude that the band is now flying towards.

Breaking the boy band mold one track at a time.

After completing sold-out worldwide tours, BTS are already embarking on a brand new global tour to promote their ‘Love Yourself’ campaign and of course, material from their new album release ‘Map of the Soul: Persona’.

In April 2019, the group dropped a trailer solely featuring Kim Nam-Joon, known as RM and the track ‘Intro: Persona’. To be completely honest, it was not what I had expected to hear from a K-Pop boy band, and I mean that in the best way possible. In fact, it seemed like a track that belonged in the same leagues of iconic rap artists such as Eminem and Busta Rhymes - not a statement to make or take lightly! Truly, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with RM’s flow, lyrical content and heavy-hitting beats. He had the bars and punch lines to match and the attitude to carry it forward.

As everyone knows, RM is far from a wall-flower, but the fact that he has the mindset and the talent to back it up makes him an ‘artist to watch’.

If this teaser trailer was anything to go by, the album would be a true to form representation of the BTS legacy in the making. Not only that, but it would give peers, fans and critics an insight into their star-studded world and what truly makes them tick as both individuals and artists.

Well done BTS, you were able to pique my interest, again not an easy feat for a genre that is far removed from my usual listening tastes.

With millions of fans all over the world, BTS must be doing something right… right?

Regardless, I knew that this boy band had something and there was a reason why the ARMY (fanbase) was growing in their millions daily. There was a clear mainstream appeal that was cleverly crafted through the use of a winning formula. Underlying that formula is a simple sentiment: ‘use what is known to work and simultaneously break the mold’. Clear influences from acclaimed pop artists of the 90’s, 00’s and 10’s can be heard throughout the album’s duration. Take a bit of early-day Ye, a big helping of ‘97 Backstreet Boys, a dash of ‘01 N-Sync, a smidge of The Qemists, a drop of Air and a hint of The Weeknd vocal and Future swag and you have 2019 BTS.

Needless to say, the group demonstrates an unwavering dedication to their music, performances, fanbase and of course, carefully maintained ‘Personas’. In the world of the K-Pop idol image is everything. Which appears to be the main subject matter of the latest album. Upon listening to it in its entirety for the first time, I felt like there was more being said than the mere celebration of fame and success. There were clear moments of vulnerability, the desire to connect with others, to share their message, music and personalities. It was almost as if they were saying “yes, we are famous music artists and performers, while we are living the dream, we still have good and bad days. We laugh and cry, just like you do. We like to hang out, have fun and not take ourselves to seriously. We know we are blessed but we are dedicated to who we are and what we do. So we would like to continue to share that with you’.

As such, they are unabashed in their new kawaii-esque 90’s boy-band image and penchant for candy-pop, playful music videos. Unconventionality plays a big part in their branding as well as their evident desire to the show the dualism between depictions of feminine and masculine traits, often mixing them together and creating fresh and unique fashion styles. This intertwining of the passive and aggressive also comes across in their music. While ‘Intro: Persona’ has a more dominant delivery and typically masculine, low pitched rap vocals, ‘Make It Right’ and ‘Jamais Vu’ offers a more honey-tongued, graceful lure into familiar romanticised themes, commonly found in Pop and R’n’B.

Map of the Soul: Persona - final thoughts.

Initially, I found the dynamic chop-and-change between genres, vocal techniques, harmonies and melodies somewhat disorientating but intriguing all the same. As a stand-alone album I feel it makes it clear where BTS is currently headed. It reaffirms all that makes the band what it is and why fans all over the world are loyal to them. In terms of marketing and branding, it was the perfect album for asserting their position in the global market and a clear presentation to a new audience of what the group represents.

My impression from the title alone is that this will be one of several works featuring the title ‘Map of the Soul’. It would seem that each album will discuss a specific aspect of the human condition. I could be wrong, but that’s my logical guess. If so, I’d be very interested in hearing how the group tackles the different subject matters. After all, music gives you an insight into an artist’s soul, or in this case into the collective consciousness of the group. Just how far will BTS allow us to delve into their being? Will their lay bare their souls or will we just get a glimpse from a comfortable distance? Only time will tell.

‘Map of the Soul: Persona’ is an unlikely collection of music tracks to travel through on a single sided album and yet BTS manage to pull it off effortlessly. Unexpected gems include Intro: Persona and Dionysus. Overall it is a demonstration of the varied influences on the band’s music which also clearly influenced their own ‘Personas’. If you like pop music that has a little more to offer in terms of it’s sound and style, this is the album for you.

Music narrative originally published on VIBBIDI. Created by Brenda Adiyiah (@TheLlamaQueen)