Looking back at BTS’ “Love Yourself” series

Allison Kachel, Staff Writer

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For BTS, the Love Yourself era marked a huge turning point in their career. It not only launched them into the western music landscape but also solidified their place in the fast-paced and ever-changing Korean music industry. It brought us music with meaning, something that people could identify with. BTS put their vulnerabilities and insecurities on full display, promoting others to do the same. This era held meaning for so many people and now that it’s officially over, we should take the time to reflect back on what exactly made the series so impactful.

 

LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’

BTS’ fifth mini album, the album that officially kicked off their Love Yourself series, features a total of nine tracks. The ethereal opener “Serendipity”, sung by vocalist Jimin, explores the concept of soulmates, destiny, and how this connects to the universe. The lyrics are eloquently written and when combined with Jimin’s pleading vocals, express the hopeful nature of young love. The idea of having a soulmate is carried over into the album’s lead single “DNA”. The electropop track describes a love fated since the beginning of the universe’s creation and that their DNA is what connects them together. At number 3 on the tracklist is “Best Of Me”, an uplifting EDM collaboration with the Chainsmokers. “Best of Me” narrates the euphoria of being told “I love you” for the first time. The incredible cheesy but adorable “Dimple” tells of how cute a girl’s dimples are, so cute it’s almost illegal. It’s silly, I know but you just can’t help but sing along. 

The next song, “Pied Piper”, when taken at face value is an alluring tune, and that’s kind of the point, in an ironic way. BTS’ see themselves a modern day pied piper, luring their fans away from their responsibilities with their seemingly endless content and activities. However, the lyrics are a reminder of how unhealthy that obsession can be. They assure their fans that simply enjoying their music as is is enough. “Pied Piper” is interesting in that provides a sort of self awareness that you don’t often see in an industry that almost pressures its fans to keep watch of it’s every move. It shows that BTS care about their fans enough to remind them that they aren’t everything, that their studies should come first before anything else.

The EP takes a quick pause with “Skit: Billboard Music Awards Speech”, which is literally just that. The skit plays a recording of the group’s speech when they won Top Social Artist at the BBMAs. It’s a memorable moment because of how big of a milestone it was for BTS. At the 2017 BBMAs, BTS marked their first ever American award show win. They follow up the skit with their hip-hop hit “MIC Drop” that sends a clear message to their haters. Unlike other diss tracks though, BTS aren’t resentful or full of spite. They’re confident, saying that what the haters say don’t bother them anymore as their accomplishments speak for themselves. The group then goes on to criticize the culture of consumeristic materialism in youth with the satirical “Go Go”. And finally, BTS round off their album with “Outro: Her”, a rap-focused track reminiscent of 90s hip hop. Taking a look at the lyrics, they’re almost sorrowful, saying that everything they do, they do for their fans because without them, they’d be nothing. There exists a symbiotic relationship between artist and fan, but sometimes fans ask for too much and BTS feel they have no other choice than to comply.

On physical copies of LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’ are two hidden tracks “Skit: Hesitation & Fear” and “Sea”. Both offer insight on how BTS feel about their newfound success. They express an uncertainty about the future, wondering if this is their peak or if there is more the world has to offer. BTS know the fragility of their careers, know that at any moment they could crash but are still so grateful to be where they are now. They’ve been through many struggles before and uncertainty isn’t new to them. However, now that they’re in the limelight, with both the East and West watching their every move, they have to be conscientious. 

LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’ was the album that fully launched BTS into their global success and opened up a whole new market to the Korean music industry in ways that were previously unattainable. BTS became the first ever Korean artist to break the top 10 on Billboard with their song “DNA”. The “MIC Drop” remix is becomes certified Gold by the RIAA, along with “DNA”. They were the first K-pop group to perform at a major American music aware when they performed “DNA” at the AMAs. As you can probably tell by now, LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’ provided a lot of firsts for not only the group but for their whole industry as well. Shortly after the release of the album, BTS launched their Love Myself campaign in collaboration with UNICEF, showing a commitment to their message and what they hoped to achieve with the LOVE YOURSELF series. 

At its core, LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’ is an exploration of love and its many forms. From the powerful and cosmic love of a blossoming romance, to the sometimes unhealthy relationship between artist and fan, and even the basic desire that humans have for material goods. It’s fun, fresh, playful, but most of all lighthearted. LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her’ is the type of album you can listen to again and again without feeling emotionally exhausted

 

LOVE YOURSELF 轉 ‘Tear’

At a total of 11 songs, making it BTS’ third full-length album, LOVE YOURSELF 轉 ‘Tear’ is the darker second installment of the Love Yourself series. The intro, sung by vocalist V, entitled “Intro: Singularity” is a haunting  neo-soul track about masking your real self to the point where you feel you’ve lost your identity. The song is lyrically poetic offering its true meaning for interpretation. Some believe “Intro: Singularity” gives voice to the way V as a public figure has to hide certain parts of his personality in order to be received well. Others however, felt the song reflected the experience of LGBT living in a non welcoming environment. Regardless of the deeper meaning, the same theme of hiding or changing part of yourself for another person carries over into the title track “Fake Love”. Unlike the intro though, “Fake Love” is more overt, venting about the toxicity of a relationship. The narrator reveals how they were pulled into their lover’s lies and manipulation only to realize there was no love between them in the first place. 

The vocalist of BTS grace us with a pleading ballad, “The Untold Truth”, based on an Italian story “La Citta de Smeraldo” from the 15th-16th century. It tells the story of a man who shelters himself away in a castle because of his self-hatred for his grotesque appearance. He consoles himself by tending to a flower garden. One night, a girl in ragged clothing comes by and begins to steal his flower. At first the man is angry and waits every night to confront her but never finds the courage to. As time goes on, his anger fade and he becomes interested in the girl. His interest grows until one night he follows the girl home only to realize she was selling the flowers she stole in order to buy food for her family. He follows her home again and again, his desire to help the girl increasing with each visit. He decides to help the girl by breeding a new kind of flower for the girl to sell. When he goes into town to them to her, he finds out she died or starvation. Ultimately, this story is about how individuals are held back by self-instituted obstacles. We tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough, and end up holding ourselves back from achieving something in life. I think this song is a good testament to BTS’ thought process and desire to send a meaningful message.

BTS spice thing with the jazzy bossa nova track “134340”. The group combines mythology, astrology and science the surround the former planet Pluto, for which the song is named for, to tell a story of a failed relationship. It’s another great example of BTS’ lyrics and wordplay. Continuing on with “Paradise”, but remind listeners that its okay to take things slow sometimes and to live a little. “Love Maze” describes how navigating a relationship can be a little like trying to find your way out of a maze. BTS console their fans in “Magic Shop”, hoping that by telling their stories of pain and struggle, their fans can find comfort in them and go out and share their own story. In the latin infused track “Airplane pt.2” BTS list all the places they’ve been to now that they’re global superstars. “Anpanman” is a reference to the Japanese cartoon superhero made of bread who superpower is giving pieces of himself to the needy. BTS may not be physically strong like Superman but they still want to provide some comfort to their fans by being emotionally strong, even if that comes as a detriment to them. In actuality “Anpanman” is a woeful song disguised by an upbeat 90s hip hop tune. The groups brings back an EDM sound with “So What” they prompt listeners to let go of their worries. The rapline album concludes with the hard-hitting, “Outro: Tear” in which the boys express the frustration of knowing a break up is inevitable but are unsure of how to approach it.

LOVE YOURSELF 轉 ‘Tear’ is a stellar album, easily one of their best. There’s not a single song that falls behind, each track is unique, each with its own story to tell. Each song flows into the next, whether it be lyrically or musically, making the whole thing feel cohesive. The album begins with pain, taking you through toxic relationships that eventual end with a break up. It then leads you into the second half where BTS advise and comfort the listeners before bringing everything back together in the outro. 

 

LOVE YOURSELF 結 ‘Answer’

LOVE YOURSELF 結 ‘Answer’ is the third and final installment of the Love Yourself series releases as a compilation album featuring select songs from the previous two album along with eight brand new ones and four remixes. The album is split into two sides, side A containing 16 tracks arranged to tell a story, and side B with 10 songs composing of popular b-sides from the last two installments and remixes of the lead singles. 

Getting into the new songs, “Euphoria”, BTS member Jungkook’s solo song previously revealed in the LOVE YOURSELF 起 ‘Wonder’ short film, starts off the album with the feeling of young love. Directly following that is rapper J-Hope’s “Trivia 起: Just Dance” that compares dancing to being in love. The sixth track is main rapper RM’s song entitled “Trivia 承: Love”, makes use of clever visual wordplay and rhyming korean words to describe the simplicity of love. Rapper Suga’s solo song “Trivia  轉: Seesaw” relates a collapsing relationship to the back and forth motions of a seesaw. Lead vocalist Jin shows off his silver voice with the rock-ballad “Epiphany”. In the song, Jin comes to the realization that an empty relationship was not what he needed to be happy and that all he needed to do was to love himself. “I’m Fine” is the first of the new songs to include all members of BTS. The track exists as a direct parallel to their 2016 song “Save Me”, expressing that they no longer need someone else to save them, that they’re just on their own. The title for this compilation album is “IDOL”, an energetic and unapologetic expression of self love. BTS embrace their flaws and are now ready to confidently proclaim that they love themselves. The closer for side A, “Answer: Love Myself” is a sentimental track conveying the importance of loving one’s self and successfully concludes the Love Yourself series.

At its core, LOVE YOURSELF 結 ‘Answer’ explores the theme of self love, taking you on a musical journey of love, pain, and reconciliation. The album begins with the warm and fuzzy feelings of being in love and believing that love is sacred, as expressed in songs like “Euphoria”, “Serendipity” and “DNA”. But slowly that love becomes a burden as shown in “Her”. The narrative then takes a turn with “Singularity” and “Fake Love”. The love that was once thought to be written in the stars has turned sour and now the narrator no longer knows who they are anymore. They gave everything to this person only to be met with lies and mistreatment. “Trivia  轉: Seesaw” and “Tear” depict the feelings of helplessness one has when stuck in an unwanted relationship. However, they finally break things off by realizing their self worth in “Epiphany”. The narrator slowly begins building up their self esteem before realising the answer was loving yourself all along. BTS spent two and a half years cultivating this message and LOVE YOURSELF 結 ‘Answer’ provided a satisfying conclusion.

The Love Yourself era was an incredible time for BTS who were finally getting the recognition they deserved. It was an era in which their fanbase had skyrocketed, bringing in thousands of new fans with every release. By the end of 2018, they had the second and third best selling album in the world with LOVE YOURSELF 轉 ‘Tear and LOVE YOURSELF 結 ‘Answer’. They received plenty of awards and accolades in both Korea and the US for their work as well. Not only were these albums critically acclaimed, but well received by fans. BTS’ music inspired people to share their own journey towards self love, a journey that many of us are still on, and that’s okay! BTS themselves have shared that loving themselves hasn’t always been easy. It’s always going to be a work in progress but at least we can recognize that we’re all deserving of love, especially love from ourselves. If there’s anything that perfectly embodies the purpose of Love Yourself, it’s BTS’ company’s slogan, “Music for healing”. BTS put so much raw emotion and compassion in this series in hopes that it at least one person could find comfort in it even if they were the ones in need of comforting.