BTS has released their fourth full-length album, Map of the Soul: 7. Aptly named as the group moves toward their seventh anniversary, the highly-anticipated album is in position to be the group’s biggest one yet! The physical disc is comprised of nineteen songs, five of which make the leap from 2019’s Map of the Soul: Persona; and a digital exclusive of lead single “ON” featuring Sia is available online as a bonus track.
Thirty seconds of “ON” were teased on TikTok prior to Friday’s official release, causing fans to effectively overpower the app and taking the top worldwide trend in minutes. As usual, the preview was a stripped down version of the track, which only meant that the real thing would surely hit much harder — a fact that was proven twelve hours later as the lead single made its long-awaited premiere.
Continuing with the theme of one’s hidden shadow, “ON” is a striking, percussion-heavy hip-hop track that’s true to BTS’ roots. The hook rings out like an anthem, daring anyone to stop the trajectory of a visionary on a mission to accomplishment despite the fear that threatens to pull them under. It’s being scared and doing it anyway, facing the shadow head-on. As the group sings about the world around them falling to pieces, they welcome the pain of the challenge, tethering themselves to the difficulties and taking a leap of faith. The stronger the trust in the self, the weaker the fear becomes until that very darkness gives way to the light.
It’s a fiery track for the group, packed with a mix of intimidating calm and battle cries that give off the feeling of an intense stare-down with your inner demon. “Gotta go insane to stay sane, throw myself whole into both worlds; Can’t hold me down ‘cause you know I’m a fighter, carried myself into this beautiful prison, find me and I’m gonna live with ya.” Equipped with a mature message and vocals to match, BTS experiments with new sounds and techniques without disconnecting from their gradual transformation from “No More Dream” to the powerhouse they are today.
The first of two official music videos, the “ON” Kinetic Manifesto Film: Come Prima evokes a raw energy that takes the single to a new level using only a minimal set, proving the sheer strength of BTS’ power as performers. Outside of a few band instruments, there are no major props, colors, or special effects to distract from what the boys, backed by a troop of talented dancers, can express with their bodies; accenting each lyric with a punch of confidence in each intricate step. The wardrobe of neutrals and leather plays well with the fighting spirit of the song, the hard exterior of cement surroundings, and the precise line formations in the choreography — every bit of it conveying a driven nature wrapped up in a rebellious streak as light and darkness unite as one. Directed by Lumpens, the “ON” video features the Blue Devils marching band and dancers from The Lab Creative Arts Studio; including Sienna Lalau, who's worked with the group before on “Dionysus” choreography with Andrew Elam and J-Hope’s “Chicken Noodle Soup.”
Map of the Soul: 7 is an introspective exploration of BTS’ growth from their early days of debut to having only themselves to face on the steep climb to the top. The first five tracks are a selected handful from Map of the Soul: Persona before “Interlude: Shadow” opens the door to the next installment of the era. In addition to pre-released titles “Shadow,” “Black Swan,” and “Outro: Ego,” the group had more special features in store, some expected and some coming by surprise.
With the rap line tasked with bringing the fire in “Persona,” “Shadow,” and “Ego,” it was the vocal line’s turn to bring the heat, and the quartet doesn’t disappoint. “Filter,” a sensual Latin-inspired solo from Jimin, showcases a blend of the singer’s unique vocal color and perfected falsetto. Jungkook shines in R&B track, “My Time,” a song that gives the youngest member of the group room to stretch his lower register, peppering the track with staccato rhythms and vocal runs. “Inner Child” is a melodic and comforting message delivered from V to his younger self that’s easily relatable, expressing that times may get tough but a brighter future lies ahead. “Moon,” a acoustic-driven pop solo led by Jin, demonstrates a love compared to the universe with the eldest in the group setting his title of “worldwide handsome” aside to insist that the true beauty is the subject of his love: the BTS fandom, ARMY.
From the J-Hope, Jin, and Jungkook combo on Map of the Soul: Persona’s “Jamais Vu,” more subunits are introduced on Map of the Soul: 7. RM and Suga’s distinct lyrical flows join forces on “Respect,” a upbeat track pressed into a fun, ticking beat reminiscent of American southern rap with a pinch of the 90’s hip-hop vibe. Coming as a sweet surprise with an even sweeter meaning was the duet between Jimin and V, “Friends.” in which the pair sings about the soulmate status of friendship. The song earns Jimin a producing credit on the album.
“UGH!” and “00:00 (Zero O’Clock)” are songs belonging to the rap line and vocal line respectively. The cypher-like flow of “UGH!” made it an immediate fan favorite, quick-tongued and biting back against people hiding behind anonymity to issue harsh words, a direct criticism of an anger-fueled society. It’s a stark contrast to “00:00,” a mid-tempo song about the world resetting at midnight, starting a new day with new possibilities, new opportunities, and new feelings — a hopeful chance to start over if life doesn’t seem to be going your way.
“Louder than bombs,” co-written by Troye Sivan, has an sultry sound and ethereal vocals that almost deceive the ear to believe it’s a song about people coming together when they’re actually coming undone. Lastly, rivaling “Friends” and “Louder than bombs” as the resident tear-jerker is “We Are Bulletproof: the Eternal,” a continuation of Parts 1 and 2 of “We Are Bulletproof,” and a finale to the series. It reaffirms the love the members of BTS have for each other as it recounts their journey from the beginning as seven then, seven now, and seven forever.
Map of the Soul: 7 broke records even before its release, boasting over 4 million copies sold ahead of February 21 to make it the highest selling pre-order for a Korean artist. The second is Map of the Soul: Persona with over 3 million copies, and rounding out the Top 5 is the Love Yourself trio: Answer, Tear, and Her.
The four-phase rollout for the new album was a different approach to comeback season for the group, providing fans with multiple opportunities to immerse themselves in music and art. Musically, there was the drop of three pre-release tracks from the album in Phase 1 and Phase 2: “Interlude: Shadow” on January 10, “Black Swan” on January 17, and “Outro: Ego” on February 3. Phases 3 and 4 brought the concept photos and album release.
While the music videos for “Shadow” and “Ego” bagged major hype online, a visual for “Black Swan” was first introduced in an art film featuring the contemporary MN Dance Company and an orchestral spin on the single. For the album version of the track, more hip-hop elements shine through. The first public performance of “Black Swan” by BTS was during their January 28th appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden.
One of the most notable experiences of the first two phases was CONNECT, BTS, a project that opened free exhibitions around the world in partnership with featured artists Jakob Kudsk Steensen (Catharsis, London); Tomás Saraceno (Aerocene Pacha, Buenos Aires); Antony Gormley (New York Clearing, New York); Ann Veronica Janssens (Green, Yellow and Pink, Seoul); Yiyun Kang (Beyond the Scene, Seoul); and curators Stephanie Rosenthal and Noémie Solomon, who organized thirteen performance artists for the Rituals of Care exhibit in Berlin. Despite their understandably busy schedules, BTS visited the Seoul exhibit upon their return to Korea in early February after nearly a month in the United States, and were able to see Antony Gormley’s installation in Brooklyn upon their return to New York for album promotions.
It’s been a hectic month for BTS and ARMY alike as tickets went on sale earlier this month for the the U.S. and Canada leg of the Map of the Soul World Tour. Half of the shows have sold out, but some standard tickets are still available on TicketMaster. The Map of the Soul World Tour kicks off April 11 in Seoul, then makes its way to North America on April 25 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. After a string of shows in Europe and Japan in the summer, the tour wraps up on September 2 in Tokyo.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait until the tour to catch our next sighting of the chart-topping group! BTS will be making an appearance on NBC’s TODAY Show on February 21 to discuss Map of the Soul: 7, and on February 24, you can check them out on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon as they take over New York. BTS will also appear in Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show with James Corden on February 25.
Have you listened to Map of the Soul: 7? Share your thoughts in a comment below!
Cover Image: BTS (BigHit Entertainment)
Written by Britt Franklin