In Photo: “WINGS” album cover taken from BTS’ official twitter page
by Maria Isabella Alamag
The grueling yet gripping challenges of growth and one’s transition into adulthood intertwines with the layers of staple hip-hop beats, resounding trap and EDM influences in BTS’ second full-length album “WINGS”.
Catapulted into the spotlight with their songs of self-empowerment, social awareness and youth, the 7-member Korean boy band focuses on a more mature concept that complements their growth as young adults and artists.
The full-length album consists of 15 tracks inclusive of solo songs for each member that captivate the aura of life’s uncertainties and conflict with one’s desires of the heart.
Starting off with a dark and powerful prelude, “Intro: Boys Meets Evil” sets the tone for the theme of album. With an eerie backing track lead by a sharp electric guitar riff, the song highlights the tension and confusion of a boy trapped in a dangerous love. The anguish of the artist is conveyed in the rap delivery floating over the heavy horns and the dubstep influences as the beat intensifies. In the end, the song reverts back to its slower tempo with the artist succumbing to defeat, leaving the listener with his final words: “It’s too evil”.
“Blood, Sweat, and Tears” is the album’s title track that echoes the sweet agony of succumbing to temptation and choosing to endure the pain paired with such toxic love. The track is described by the artists as a Moombathon Trap, a genre in which not many K-pop artists have ventured in yet. A gentle entry of sounds and vocals slowly build up to a catchy synth section that will incline the listener to get up and dance. Although at first listen the beginning rap verse sounds out of place, eventually in future listens it seems to fit perfectly with the song. The chorus mellows down to a sound space devoid of heavy bass drum sounds to emphasize vocals and the song’s chord progression for the listener to anticipate the bop synth section. The bridge is a wonderful breakdown to the inclement repetition of the synth section refrain, keeping it from becoming too overbearing. The bridge creates an ethereal soundscape that highlights the vocal ability of the artists.
The title track is followed by the album’s first solo song “Begin”, an EDM influenced track that is juxtaposed by jarring synthesized tones and steady mid-tempo instrumental support. Soft and comforting vocals augmented by rich harmonies that echo the gratitude and empathy of the singer towards the people who care for him.
“Lie” opens with a string section giving off a classical vibe, followed by lines of an acoustic guitar overture in a style of Latin music. Preceded by verses with underlying R&B tone and with an inkling of rap-style singing, the refrain resorts to a gloomy atmosphere to build up to an explosive hook. The artist’s dream-like voice sings the powerful chorus for the return of one’s innocence and release from one’s inner prison.
The fifth track “Stigma” is categorized by the artists under the neo-soul genre with a heavy incorporation of jazz. Pleading for forgiveness to those the persona has wronged, the song explores the artist’s low vocal register and sweeps up to his highest range as well.
“First Love” tells of the one of the member’s first love: the piano. The ode is stealthily and passionately executed with an emotionally captivating rap, matching the crescendo of string orchestration and electric guitar riffs that can certainly move listeners to tears.
With only an interesting instrumental as the hook, “Reflection” delves into one’s conflict with self-perception. The slow jam opens with an English verse acknowledging the distinct stories of each life before telling the artist’s own. The melancholy tune speaks of the artist’s self-hatred and inability to be free from unwanted sadness. The track concludes with his one wish: “I wish I could love myself”.
Unlike many songs in tribute to parents, “Mama” is an upbeat retro-style track with a laid back rap-style of singing. The rhythm definitely calls out the listener to clap and to chant along with the artist in gratitude for a mother’s sacrifices.
The final solo song “Awake” is a ballad that once again shows the vocal ability of BTS. Soft yet firm vocals feather the heartfelt melodies supported with great band instrumental and string orchestration. With an OST feel, the song expresses the acceptance of truth in futile goals yet still continuing to fight despite knowing the outcome.
“Lost” has a relaxed beginning that builds up to this immense wall of sound in the chorus. The group’s vocal line sings about the uncertainty of the paths they have taken and but in the end finally finding security in the choices made for the sake of their dreams.
The rap line is back with the fourth installment of the Cypher series with “BTS Cypher 4”. Produced by Grammy-winning American producer Tricky Stewart, the kind of trap-rap influence slightly departs from the style BTS’ previous works rap tracks. Three fire-spitting verses from each member lead to a group vocal chorus assuring their self-worth and declaring love for themselves despite the hate that come their way. Not only is the head-banger song a message for themselves, but mostly to the haters who they encourage to “love yourself”.
“Am I Wrong” samples the 1984 track by blues musician Keb’ Mo’, modifying the guitar motif into a diluted electronic horn sound. The catchy hook backed with group vocals that questions the absurdities of the world and how it affects them. Stylistically this song is slightly different again from BTS’ previous works, although you can hear the signature hip-hop and trap beats that they have used in other songs. “21st Century Girls” takes more to the sound of their most recent tracks. With insistent beat claps, distorted synthesized piano and a beat drop that leads to a chant-like chorus layered on a spacious electronic backing track, the song is a female-empowerment anthem that everyone can dance to.
After a few consecutive dance tracks,”Two! Three! (Hoping For More Good Days)” slows down the tempo of the album with a more sentimental feel. From the title, the song encourages themselves to forget the sad memories and to believe in better days to come. Group vocals dominate most of the track giving out a campfire feel, signifying the oneness of the group and their fans in times of joy and adversities.
The album uniquely concludes with an interlude, hinting a possible continuation to the album in the near future. Two and 24 minutes too short, “Interlude: Wings” is a feel-good house EDM track that sings of one’s dreams of a prosperous future in the path one has chosen. Interludes are supposed to be short, but a song like this consisting of a cool chord progression in high tone piano synths supported by a unique EDM drum backing track deserves more play time. Hopefully a full song is on the way in the next album.
“WINGS” ventures into a whirlwind of genres but does not stray too far from the group’s roots of hip-hop and EDM influenced music. The strongest point of this album would be the individual songs which became the foundation of how their concept of growth is shown through the different perspectives of the members. Embodying the strife of temptation and maturity in striking melodies, passionate lyrics, and striking beats so compelling to make one dance, BTS showed their flexibility and versatility in music through incorporating different genres into their own signature style of songwriting and composition.