With every new release, Korean superstars BTS seem to become more candid about their biggest joys and most profound fears. With their new single, "Black Swan," the septet divulge their most harrowing shadow yet, one that any person who lives for making art faces: losing the passion for creating.
"Black Swan," which is the first single off of BTS' upcoming album Map of the Soul: 7, is a song punctuated with a heavy trap beat and sighing instrumentals. It is also an art film featuring the Slovenian MN Dance Company that features a more classical version of the track.
The release has proved a lot to process, especially for fans (called ARMY). Mixed in with the outpouring of elation to finally have new BTS music are expressions of empathy and heartbreak at the song's message. However, there are a few specific things it seems that ARMY can't stop mulling over.
Martha Graham's Quote
"A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful."
This quote by the late dancer Martha Graham opens the video and is at the root of the sentiments inlaid in "Black Swan." Much like a dancer feels purposeless when they can no longer express themselves through dance, BTS contends that the day that music no longer fills them with the same passionate fire as before, or even if there came a day when they stopped creating music — what they feel is their life's purpose — it would feel like death. Leader RM sings, "If this can no longer resonate / No longer make my heart vibrate / Then this may be how I die my first death."
Once again, BTS affirm that despite their countless record-breaking accolades, the wealth they've amassed, and their ever-increasing fame, they are artists. What means most to them is the art — music, visuals, dances — that they create.
Both BTS and Big Hit Entertainment company's CEO, Bang Shi-Hyuk, have made it clear that the work is their priority. And fans know it — it's something that ARMY always comes back to as a reason why they are so passionate about BTS, in spite of the doubts of those around them. But this declaration feels more significant because of its particular timing — the band's oldest member, Jin, is up for mandatory enlistment. Additionally, the announcement that BTS will sponsor "Connect, BTS," global public art project that celebrates the work of 22 artists across London, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, and New York.
By connecting with and uplifting other artists around the world, BTS seem to say that no matter what, art will live on — if not through them directly, then through others in the world. That may be why BTS included a dance troupe in their art film, and not the members themselves.
So much symbolism is folded into each of BTS' emotive choreographies, but the routine in the art film by MN Dance Company visualizes the meaning and tension within "Black Swan."
There are seven dancers for the seven members of BTS, where one seems to represent the "swan," constantly feeling shackled and pushed down by the others around him. A cage of light even appears halfway through the dance, further establishing the swan's inability to escape the darkness that binds him.
Fans also interpret the dancers to represent BTS' ego and shadow. Map of the Soul: 7 follows the group's 2019 EP, Map of the Soul: Persona, inspired by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung's major archetypes of the human mind: persona, shadow, ego, and self. Rapper Suga addressed the "shadows" and darkness that go hand-in-hand with celebrity in Map of the Soul 7's opening track. The swan dancer represents the BTS' ego, struggling to contend with the rest of the dancers, "the shadows" holding them back.
The performance is not without hope, however. At the end of the sequence, the ego prevails and stands tall over the shadows. Even though the darkness isn't ever completely gone, there is a way to live in harmony with it.
Lyrical and Tonal References
Fans have also pointed out that the song's lyrics seem to refer to past hidden tracks in their discography. There is "Sea," off of Love Yourself: Her ("I cry out a silent cry /Sea where all light sinks into silence"), which deals with the power and perils of hope. Then there is "Path," off of their debut album 2 Cool 4 Skool ("It again seizes my ankle that lost the path/ No sound can reach me), which explored out the group's thoughts on their journey to becoming full-fledged artists.
Much of ARMY has also wrestled with the song's heavy use of auto-tune. While some fans bristle at the idea of the septet distorting their distinctive, talented voices, others believe this could be yet another tool to further convey the song's message.
Making their voices indistinguishable from one another could be interpreted as the members saying that they are united as one. Making their voices more manipulated and robotic could also symbolize losing your agency and creativity when your passion dies out.