BTS leader RM summed up the theme of their newest album, Map of the Soul: 7 best during the septet's appearance on the Today Show in New York City. "This album is like a big statement and declaration that we admit our destiny, we admit our shadows and lights at the same time," he said. "We recognize our destiny and all the paths."
Nearly 10 months after the record-breaking EP Map of the Soul: Persona topped the Billboard 200, BTS is back with one of their most ambitious projects yet. Single "ON" leads it, as an explosive, fierce anthem in which the Korean juggernauts reflect on their journey over the past seven years, their acceptance of the present surreal reality, and lay out their unwavering convictions for the future.
The video for the single, called the "Kinetic Manifesto Film: Come Prima," is strikingly stark for an important reason. Set in Los Angeles' Sepulveda Dam, and supported by creative agency The Lab's dancers (including "Dionysus" contributing choreographer Sienna Lalau) and the Blue Devils marching band, the visual puts the focus on the group and their message. (The official music video for “ON” will be released on Feb. 28, and an alternate version of the track can be found on the album that features Sia).
You don't need to understand Korean to soak up the song, but thanks to the tireless efforts of ARMY who voluntarily interpret the band's work, many can get an even more vibrant picture of what this BTS represents.
"ON," according to the group, is a reflection of the group's 2013 single, "N.O," an intense hip-hop track that detailed the asphyxiating pressure society puts on young people to excel. It recalls the previous single in the visual's black and white color palette and its opening lines, sung by Jimin and V (as interpreted by notable ARMY translator Wisha):
"Having woken from sleep and opened my eyes, I wonder where "here" is / Perhaps Seoul, or New York or Paris / Having gotten up, my body sways."
While BTS are now in their 20s and no longer necessarily feeling the weight of academic pressure or that of the adults in charge on their shoulders, they describe a foe that, in many ways, is much more threatening: themselves.
In these first lines of "ON," the group acknowledges being wrapped up in the glamour of waking up "in Seoul, or New York or Paris," and that with every leap they take to rise higher in recognition, the demons follow ("When I lift one foot, the shadow grows one step larger"). Fans might recall a poem Suga wrote in a 2018 episode of the band's reality series, Run BTS!, that reads: "It is true that the more light that burns upon us, the more shadows appear."
The "shadow" is a direct reference to the Jungian psychoanalytic idea that the human mind is made up of major archetypes that make up one's personality: persona, shadow, ego, and self. Rapper Suga divulged his fears as he faces the perils of fame in "Interlude: Shadow," which begins the series of new songs on MOTS7. “I’m afraid, flying high is terrifying," he raps. "No one told me how lonely it is up here.” RM continues with the same fears in the lyrics to "ON".
"Look at my feet, look down / This shadow that resembles me / Is the thing swaying in fact this guy / Or is it the end of my toes / There’s no way it’s not scary / There’s no way everything’s okay."
With the last line, RM echoes a sentiment he's expressed publicly before — that instead of ignoring or running away from the challenges they face, they must learn to live with them ("Together with that black wind, I fly").
But this single is far from an admission of defeat: identifying your fears makes you stronger, not weaker. With the pre-chorus and the chorus, BTS begin their battle cry, singing, "Can’t hold me down cuz you know I’m a fighter."
There's an admission that while BTS reckon with the dark side of their "beautiful prison," they chose to walk this path. In their 2013 debut single, "No More Dream," Suga rapped that he wanted a "big house, big cars, and big rings." In "N.O," BTS asks, "A nice house, a nice car — could such things bring happiness?" Seven years later, their answer is complicated. But even when their happiness is threatened, they soldier on, singing, "If you don’t want to be driven insane, you’ve got to be insane / I throw all of myself into this two-sided world [...] You can’t hold me down cuz you know I’m a fighter."
The rollicking, anthemic cries that carry the rest of the song could be mistaken for masochism. Why carry on when doing so "brings the pain"? In fact, the pain almost proved to be too much. In their acceptance speech at the 2018 Mnet Asian Music Awards, BTS revealed that the group had talked about disbanding after they had "suffered a lot." But with MOTS7's second release, "Black Swan," the group made it clear that it is their passion for making art that keeps them going. They said as much with the opening quote of the music video by the late dancer Martha Graham: “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.”
"(Eh-oh) Bring it on, bring the pain oh yeah / (Eh-oh) / Come on up, bring the pain oh yeah / Rain be pourin’ / Sky keep fallin’ / Everyday oh na na na / (Eh-oh) / Bring it on, bring the pain oh yeah"
Map of the Soul: 7 is essentially an ode to the things that have made BTS who they are over the past seven years — which also are the reasons why, despite any hardship, they keep going “on & on & on & on.” In the Persona first-half of the album, BTS showed their appreciation for the little things that make them happy, and essentially wrote a love-letter to ARMY, their dearest support system. And in the second half, BTS give thanks to their strong friendships, years of hard work as trainees and rookies, enduring passion for the lifeblood that is music, and yes — even the haters, too.
"Even if I fall, I rise again, scream / For we’ve always done so / Even if my knees reach the floor, / as long as I’m not buried, / it’ll just be another thing of the past"
"ON" is BTS' most passionate, striking rallying cry yet, and tells you much of what you need to know to understand BTS' current ethos. "Even if I fall, I rise again. For we’ve always done so."