Boy group BTS is doing what many said couldn’t be done: they’ve brought K-pop to the western market, becoming undeniably the biggest K-pop act of the moment. After last year’s sold out Wings Tour, documented in the YouTube Red series Burn the Stage, the group went on to win the Top Social Artist Award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards thanks to their zealous fanbase, and later to perform at the American Music Awards. The group is up for Top Social Artist again this year (which they will probably win) and will perform their latest single “Fake Love” during the Billboard Music Awards.
But this success didn’t come out of nowhere. The group has been building their massive international fanbase since their debut in 2013, gaining traction abroad even before winning over Korean listeners. Thanks in large part to their fans, the group is now gaining attention from non-K-pop audiences. But if they’re feeling the pressure of the spotlight, it doesn’t show on their latest album, Love Yourself: Tear, which stands as their most relaxed to date.
On “Singularity,” the album’s introduction, singer V slinks in with a quiet confidence that sets the tone for the rest of the record. His rich, expressive voice blooms and lingers, like the smoke rising from a candle after it goes out. Similarly sultry “Paradise,” penned by the British hitmaker MNEK, brings the traditional R&B that had been missing from the group’s recent repertoire. One of the album’s strongest tracks, “134340,” goes jazzy, looping in a playful flute and allowing the rappers room to relish in their verses between soaring choruses. Suga especially stands out with deft, yet suave delivery.
In stark contrast to last year’s bright “DNA,” lead single “Fake Love” turns dark and marries the drama of Wings with the angst of their 2015 album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life. But perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the Steve Aoki feature on “The Truth Untold.” A far cry from last year’s “MIC Drop” remix, the emotional song strips down to bare bones instrumentals to showcase the nuances of each singer’s voice: Jin’s smooth, comforting tones, Jimin’s delicate sweetness, V’s smoky notes, and Jungkook’s sturdy vocals all get a chance to shine.
The second half of the album feels like a private party for fans. Youngest member Jungkook scores his first production credit with “Magic Shop,” a song promising to repay fans for all their love and support. “Airplane pt. 2,” a continuation of rapper J-Hope’s luxe mixtape track, takes on a new life in the hands of the full group. The take on tango sees the members, who have recently been enamored with “Despacito” and “Havana,” venturing into full-on cheesy Latin territory. “Anpanman” is an anthem meant to hype up the crowd (and each other) in the vein of “Boyz with Fun” and “Attack on Bangtan,” with a little bit of “Silver Spoon” self-deprecation thrown in for good measure. Leader and rapper RM kicks down the door of “Outro: Tear” and stomps all over the song, with Suga and J-Hope not far behind, daring fans to ask about the next “Cypher” again.
Although the first part of the Love Yourself series, Love Yourself: Her came out last September, the growth BTS has made since then is remarkable. Whereas the first installment of the series seemed uneasy and disjointed in its span of styles, Love Yourself: Tear’s genre-hopping sounds like the group is simply having a good time. Like they expressed many times during Burn the Stage, the members are still in awe of their own success yet aware of how easily it could fade. So instead of fixating on their popularity, they are choosing to enjoy the moment, each other, and their fans. Love Yourself: Tear does just that.