When BTS released their full-length album “Map of the Soul: 7” in February, ARMY was in an organized frenzy. The tracklist was the culmination of seven years as a band, a little longer than that as a team, and their individual journeys as idols and artists in their own right.
The “Map of the Soul: 7” comeback was supposed to be glorious.
The preceding album “Map of the Soul: Persona” ended with the song “Dionysus,” which drunkenly celebrates the group’s artistry and success. In contrast, the first single off “Map of the Soul: 7” is “Black Swan,” a haunting yet resolute track where BTS questions their passion for music and performance.
“Black Swan” was quickly followed by the anthemic single “ON” where the septet declare, “you can’t hold me down ‘cuz you know I’m a fighter.” With a powerful backing track by the UCLA Bruin Marching Band, ON would’ve been an energetic opening for the Map of the Soul world tour.
— BigHit Entertainment (@BigHitEnt) October 19, 2020
In a candid letter that the Bangtan Boys wrote for ARMY, they shared their desperate wish to perform “ON” among blazing lights, thunderous drums, and the voice of tens of thousands singing it with them. The guys put in their all, they said, and the fans would’ve loved it.
But a pandemic doesn’t stop for anyone. COVID-19 broke out just a few weeks before BTS were scheduled to kick off their “Map of the Soul” world tour with four sold out shows in Seoul. BTS being the beacon of hope that they are, learned to adjust to the situation.
They acknowledge that they’re in a place of privilege and that many others around the world are suffering in ways they can’t imagine. But somehow, they still knew what to say: “hope is everywhere — keep going.” They backed this up with multiple words and actions of comfort throughout the pandemic.
APRIL: A BTS CONCERT BINGE
When the COVID-19 outbreak was declared in March, we foolishly assumed that it would end in a few months tops. So while we adjusted to a work-from-home and an online learning system, BTS wrapped up their “ON” promotions on Korean music shows without an audience.
It was apparent that they had to postpone the world tour, too.
But BTS is known to turn the most difficult situations around. They couldn’t meet their fans for the Map of the Soul world tour. And everyone was already getting restless at home just one month into quarantine. So in mid-April, they introduced the concept of Bang Bang Con.
Bang Bang Con was a two-day concert-at-home marathon last April 18 and 19. Bangtan’s version of “Netflix and chill” consisted of 48 hours of free BTS concert playbacks via YouTube and Weverse.
There were breaks in between where, on pre-recorded clips, BTS made sure the audience stretched their muscles and stayed hydrated. Despite not meeting at the Seoul Olympic Stadium to open the world tour, BTS and ARMY felt more connected than ever because of Bang Band Con.
MAY: A MIN YOONGI LOCKDOWN
View this post on Instagram
To the rest of the world, SUGA of BTS is the quiet member who transforms into a rapping spitfire on stage. But to ARMY and to the rest of Bangtan, he’s much-loved for his comforting words of wisdom.
Min Yoongi is a multifaceted man. He’s got a long list of hard-hitting songs full of raw emotions, snappy remarks, and sharp comebacks. But under all that, he’s everyone’s emotional support idol.
In songs where he raps as SUGA of BTS, he reminds people that “the dawn is always darkest before the sun rises.” On livestreams where he’s just Yoongi, he reads comments and gives advice to ARMY. And on “So Far Away,” one of his most popular songs released as the solo rapper Agust D, he reminds listeners that “your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous shall your future be.”
So, everyone was happy when it was reported that SUGA produced a song for Korea’s sweetheart, IU:
On eight, IU and SUGA shared their thoughts as adults in their late 20s. ”So are you happy now,” the song starts. Then, they dive into a deep yearning for happiness and take refuge in memories of their happy place — something everyone under quarantine understands.
Then a week before the month of May ended, Agust D surprised the world with a reflective follow-up mixtape to his 2016 self-titled mixtape. He reminded us of who’s the king on the cinematic Daechwita MV:
Agust D’s D-2 mixtape is as melancholic as it is triumphant. In the song 28, which is loosely connected with SUGA’s collaboration with IU, he opens up about what it means to be a 28-year-old man who’s gradually losing his grip on the dreams of his younger days.
But aren’t we all thinking the same thing now because of COVID-19?
JUNE: A COMMENCEMENT CELEBRATION
Early in June, it was reported that BTS donated a million dollars to Black Lives Matter. They have a socially aware fanbase so it’s no surprise that ARMY quickly matched the donation on the next day.
The septet usually stays quiet with their donations and support, just like when they donated a million dollars to Crew Nation, a charitable fund for live show staff whose lives are affected by the pandemic. But their BLM donation came with a message loud and clear:
우리는 인종차별에 반대합니다.
우리는 폭력에 반대합니다.
나, 당신, 우리 모두는 존중받을 권리가 있습니다. 함께 하겠습니다.
We stand against racial discrimination.
We condemn violence.
You, I and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together.#BlackLivesMatter
— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) June 4, 2020
Additionally, the month is important for BTS and ARMY because the septet’s debut anniversary is June 13. There’s an annual celebration called FESTA where special content is released every day from June 1 and ends with a fan meeting on the actual anniversary — which didn’t happen this year.
One of the highlights of this year’s FESTA was Jungkook’s self-produced jazzy solo “Still With You,” which he released on the group’s official SoundCloud. It reflects on the gloom and loneliness of quarantine, and an ode to the fans that he misses seeing in person.
Another notable release during the 2020 FESTA is the animated MV for “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal,” a B-side track on “Map of the Soul: 7.” It’s full of metaphors that only BTS and ARMY understand.
BTS finished this year’s FESTA with Bang Bang Con: The Live. The virtual concert setlist includes oldies but goodies, like “Dope,” “Like,” “Go Go,” “Anpanman,” “Boy With Luv,” “Black Swan,” and the queen of BTS songs, “Spring Day.” There were also new performances for songs from the “Map of the Soul: 7” album including lighthearted “Friends,” wistful “Jamais Vu,” and old-school hiphop “Respect.”
But perhaps the most powerful content that came out of BTS in June was their commencement speech for YouTube’s Dear Class of 2020 virtual commencement celebration:
The commencement messages were initially for the graduating class of 2020 but the boys’ individual messages resonated with fans of all ages, in all stages of life.
Eldest member Jin, for example, reminds people that by taking things one step at a time, “you might discover the important things you were missing, and they will reach out to you.”
Meanwhile, rapper SUGA spoke of endless possibilities despite a fresh start feeling so far away. “Take your hands off what you can’t control,” he said. “Get your hands on changes you can make.”
Jimin tells viewers that there’s always a person in Korea who understands you and is rooting for you. J-Hope follows this up by encouraging viewers to chant, “I can do it… I can do it better than anybody.”
Indeed, these are messages the whole world needs to be reminded of.
JULY: A CONTINUATION OF THE MAP OF THE SOUL
Half a year after “Map of the Soul: 7” was released, BTS reminds us that the journey of the map of the soul is far from over — literally. They released a Japanese album called “Map of the Soul: 7 – The Journey.”
But whereas the February comeback was centered on finding freedom from oppression and violence, the Japanese album falls on a sweeter note. It includes the pre-released single “Stay Gold” where they remind listeners, “in a world where you feel cold, you gotta stay gold.”
The album also features “Your Eyes Tell,” a sweet ballad written by Jungkook.
AUGUST: BTS LIGHTS IT UP LIKE DYNAMITE
Over a year ago, BTS leader RM said they have no plans of singing in full English. They’re proud of their Korean roots and don’t have any plans of changing their identity just to cater to the Western music industry. But the pandemic has changed more things than we thought.
COVID-19 is a situation that affects the entire world. So they thought, why not release an endorphins-injected song in the most widely spoken language in the world? Thus, “Dynamite” was born.
The Bangtan Boys never shy away from breaking taboos. They often use their platform to help people be more aware of themselves and the world around them. But this time around, they just want everyone to toss all worries out the window and vibe to a breezy disco-pop track.
Given all the records Dynamite broke, it’s safe to say it worked.
SEPTEMBER: AN ONLINE TAKEOVER
Ask any ARMY about the best part of September and they’ll probably give you different answers. Apart from being the birthmonth of the group leader RM and the group’s youngest Jungkook, it was crazy.
The septet’s earned their first ever #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on the first day of the month — a worthwhile gift for BTS’s talented youngest member. A few more #1s and #2s on the chart followed. An appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series was a mood lifter, too.
SUGA also featured on his good friend MAX’s song, Blueberry Eyes.
The good vibes don’t stop there, though. BTS took their youthful outlook to more serious platforms including South Korea’s inaugural Youth Day ceremony. They were invited by the Blue House to deliver an emotional message to the youth of the past, the present, and the future:
They will also reconvene on September 17, 2039 to open a purple time capsule. The box is their gift to the youth of 2039; it’s currently at the Korean Museum of Natural History for safekeeping.
A few days after the speech at the Blue House, BTS once again addressed the UN General Assembly. The members shared their pandemic-related struggles on the pre-recorded speech. But they also used the platform to remind viewers that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Life goes on,” the Bangtan boys said. “Let’s live on.”
BTS wrapped up September with a week-long series of appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” The guys played Zoom Olympics and other virtual games with Jimmy. They gave a powerful performance of IDOL while wearing hanboks in front of the Gyeongbokgung Palace. They showed us an MV-worthy performance of Home, a B-side track from “Map of the Soul: Persona.”
OCTOBER: A BITTERSWEET REUNION WITH ARMY
More people are on TikTok since the pandemic erupted and quarantine started. So, a lot are familiar with teenage Kiwi producer Jawsh 685’s Laxed (Siren Beat). Jason Derulo wrote some lyrics over it and, later on, had BTS feature on the song with some lyrics of their own.
And that’s how October started — with an epic Savage Love remix. (Yes, JK cursed in it.)
— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) October 8, 2020
But there’s more to Jimin’s birthmonth than a pop song remix. BTS and their label BigHit Entertainment took everything the learned from “Bang Bang Con: The Live” from a few months back and used that to host “Map of the Soul ON:E,” a pandemic edition of the postponed world tour.
ARMYs around the world were so excited to get a sneak peek of the Map of the Soul tour — and they didn’t even have to fight tooth and nail for tickets, too! It’s no wonder that the two-day virtual concert gathered almost a million registered viewers across 191 countries.
There’s no doubt that BTS knows how to put on a show. And the virtual concerts were a feast for ARMY’s senses. The Bangtan Boys were also overwhelmed because some ARMYs were broadcasted on the screens to make it look like they were at the performance venue. Jimin shed some tears after seeing and hearing ARMYs “live” for the first time in almost a year. Everyone at home did, too.
It was an emotional affair. It was also a reminder that although people will be physical apart for quite some time, nothing’s stopping you from virtually reaching out and reaffirming strong bonds with people.
“We’ll find a way. We always have,” leader RM reassured viewers on the first day of the virtual concert. “If there’s no way, let’s draw the whole map. No worries. We’re strong and we’re still connected.”
RM reminded viewers on the second day that playing the blame game is useless when the entire world is suffering from the effects of the pandemic. “It’s not anyone’s fault,” he said. “We’re humans. We’re just doing our best. We’re just doing what we can do.”
He also reminded ARMYs that despite the way COVID-19 disrupted everyone’s plans for the near future, there are some things to be thankful for. “I have no religion,” he started. “But I thank God that we’re living in 2020. I thank God that we have this technology so we could be connected… And I hope you guys feel the same too.”
The man has such a way with words; even Lea Salonga is in awe.
NOVEMBER: A NEW ALBUM MARKS A NEW ERA
BTS wouldn’t have cemented their status as the undisputed kings of K-pop if they don’t have the talent for it. And talent they do have — a lot of it, in fact. It shows in their approach to their newest album, “BE.”
The Bangtan crew is more involved than ever in the creation of the album. They’ve always been involved in the creation of previous albums. But this time, project manager Jimin affirms that the pandemic allowed them to weave even more of their artistry into this album.
The BTS discography is full of the members’ anecdotes and raw emotions. It shows how they matured as they grow older and as the world changes. The album “BE” is no different. It focuses on life during COVID-19. It spreads messages of hope, healing, and moving forward.
— BigHit Entertainment (@BigHitEnt) October 31, 2020
As the album’s visual design director, V pitched the idea of transforming the boredom of quarantine into a work of art. And his vision is stunning. The concept photos show the members stuck in their own rooms, carefully curated by each of them.
The concept clip shows the members eventually coming together in a common room to “work from home,” eventually retreating to their private space. And the clip’s almost a 5-minute loop of that, depicting the repetitiveness of life during the pandemic.
— BigHit Entertainment (@BigHitEnt) November 8, 2020
The title track of the new album is called “Life Goes On.” This is also the theme of their speech at the 75th UN General Assembly. And based on the quality of their previous albums, there’s no doubt that the entirety of “BE” is packed with lyrical and production genius.
The main difference, I suppose, is that whereas BTS released “Map of the Soul: 7” early this year with the intention of filling stadiums with booming sounds and thunderous cheers, “BE” was produced in an intimately stripped manner.
The new album is an otherworldly listening experience specifically for when you’re alone in your room, pondering and social distancing. And what an experience it is, indeed!