By this point, if you haven’t heard of the Korean boyband BTS (Beyond the Scene) then you’re seriously out of touch with mainstream music. Having made waves in the western music scene a few years ago, the septet has continued to make an impression both in chart rankings and pop culture.
This year has been another upward slope for the group, whose album Map of the Soul: 7 debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 Chart. The album was BTS’s fourth consecutive chart-topping release, spawning the tracks ‘Black Swan’ and ‘On’ (which charted at number fifty-seven and four respectively). The group also made their first steps onto the international arts scene with the project Connect, BTS, which sought to redefine the relationships between art and music, artist and audience, and theory and practice. The project brought together twenty-two contemporary artists across five cities to fulfil the goal of outlining current triumphs of the human race. A tall order indeed.
BTS evidently decided they didn’t want to stop here, as they surprised their dedicated fanbase (known as ARMY) with their first ever full-English song. Whilst the group had been known for throwing out the odd line of English in their previous releases, ‘Dynamite’ was the first instance where the septet actively promoted a song entirely in English.
Prior to release, however, many fans expressed their concern that BTS were making the song just to please western audiences, effectively giving in to the pressure of being a ‘global’ group defined by American media. The group has been around for seven years, and have been in the American spotlight for at least four. What made now a good time to release an English single?
Additionally, last year, in an interview with TIME, the group insisted they wouldn’t be making English songs any time soon as they wanted to protect BTS’s image as a Korean group. The group’s leader, RM, emphasised this point, saying “We don’t want to change our identity or our genuineness to get the number one.”
So the release of ‘Dynamite’ this year was quite a shock, to say the least.
The song is an interesting look into the potential future of BTS’s music, as well as that of the K-pop industry as a whole. Whilst other artists have been known to release music in multiple languages, in particular Japanese and Mandarin, the surge in English releases is fairly new. Frontrunners in the trend include the groups Monsta X, Stray Kids, NCT127, and (G)I-DLE, as well as soloists like CL and Eric Nam. The inclusion of BTS on this list indicates a defining trend in contemporary music, more specifically the wish to connect with fans all over the world regardless of language barriers.
In a more recent interview with USA Today, the group explained how creating ‘Dynamite’ was a sort of destiny:
Nevertheless, with worries around the fact that this shift in direction would change BTS’s unique voice and mould it to mainstream music, I was quite apprehensive when I sat down to watch the music video. On listening, however, it was clear to see that the group still retained the same energy and spirit that had been their signature for the past few years. Inspired by retro beats and aesthetics, ‘Dynamite’ brings disco culture back into the present and combines it with sounds similar to previous releases ‘Boy with Luv’, ‘Idol’, and ‘Dope’. The lyrics continue to push on the themes of self-reflection, growth, and youth, but intertwine these with an up-beat track that suggests the future is one to look forward to in your journey through life.
‘Cause I, I, I’m in the stars tonight
So watch me bring the fire and set the night alight
Music videos are a much bigger deal in K-pop than western music, as they become a huge selling point and factor into the overall concept of a song. Major music labels such as SM, YG, and JYP are known to invest hundreds of thousands on a single music video, so this should give some context of just how important a marketing tool they are for Korean singers. With this in mind, fans often aim to match their idols in passion and push YouTube views to their breaking point in as small a time frame as possible. This was the case for ‘Dynamite’, which broke the record for most viewed music video in twenty-four hours with over 100 million views, beating the likes of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and fellow Korean supergroup Blackpink.
And honestly, it’s no surprise. For one, the music video is visually stunning. Based on retro nostalgia, there are details throughout the video which pay homage to music history; from the posters of David Bowie and the Beatles, to the vintage record shop used as a backdrop. Disco is also a popular theme in the video, although I’m sure if the huge sign didn’t give you a clue then the flares did. The use of these images aren’t random, however. Rather than just provide a niche aesthetic that rides on the back of the revival of 80s and 90s pop culture, the use of specific props, costumes, and sets offer another nod to western music history and music culture. This provides two messages: one, that BTS understand and recognise the concept of youth on a timeless and global scale, and two, they are quite able to use this to comfortably traverse into the western music scene. ‘Dynamite’ also solidifies the message that BTS intend to make history and redefine the ever-changing landscape of pop music, emphasising their relevance to a “global” music market more than ever.
Without a doubt, BTS have produced a highly successful song and music video. Fun, up-beat, and a shake-up to the group’s usual releases, ‘Dynamite’ is another winner for the group whose presence as a global pop icon continues to grow. It seems that the world agree, if the groups win of four awards at the MTV Video Music Awards (including Best Group and Best Pop) are anything to go by. With the release of their second film ‘Break the Silence: The Movie’ and their first in-person concert since Coronavirus lined up, the group are set to end the year just as they started it: with a bang.