Internationally renowned K-pop boy band BTS returns with a new EP, Map of the Soul: Persona, hot on the heels of their last album release. The album, released just five months prior, is also the first Korean album to be certified gold in the US, making it a tough act to follow.
The seven-member boy band is iconic for incorporating complex themes and messages into their concepts and lyrics. Their last series of releases, the “Love Yourself” trilogy focused on encouraging personal growth and acceptance. BTS once again aims high with an EP centered around identity and self, drawing on the theories of psychologist Carl Jung for inspiration and on the book Jung’s Map of the Soul for its title. This influence is apparent in lyrics that examine conflicting personas and identities: “I’m still not so sure if I’m a dog or a pig or what else,” leader RM confesses in “Intro: Persona.”
Although the overarching theme is contemplative and somber, Map of the Soul: Persona is anything but. Peppered with funky hip-hop beats and summery pop and tied together with the breathy vocals of singers Jin, Jungkook, Jimin, and V, the EP makes for a cohesive, colorful package.
Transitions between tracks slide smoothly from dynamic hip-hop to colorful pop to melancholic ballad. However, these seamless shifts are a double-edged sword, as it’s difficult to distinguish between individual songs. Elegant lyrics such as, “Perhaps the reason this night looks so beautiful / Is not because of these stars or lights, but us” from “Mikrokosmos” are lost amidst a sea of lovely, if forgettable, numbers.
Shaking free of the monotony is “Make it Right,” a collaboration between BTS and singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, but not in a positive way. “Make it Right” is easily the weakest song on the album — the repetitive honking synths act as a strange counterpoint to vocalist Jungkook in the chorus, and the sparse instrumental backing only draws attention to the awkwardness.
Although Map of the Soul: Persona lags in the middle, it redeems itself with the rap-heavy, rock-influenced banger, “Dionysus.” The dynamic track touches on elements of Greek mythology while reaffirming BTS’s status as stars despite criticisms launched at their status as idols in an industry that is often called out for its cookie-cutter songs, faces, and concepts. Rapper Suga confronts these criticisms through the lyrics, “What does it matter if I’m an idol or an artist, cheers / Art at this level is over-drinking.”
Aside from “Dionysus,” however, the EP takes on a more pop and EDM sound as opposed to the aggressive beats and spitfire raps of BTS’s early years. Making this shift in style even more noticeable are the multiple callbacks to their 2014 EP, Skool Luv Affair, including sampling the instrumental of “Intro: Skool Luv Affair” in the very first song off their 2019 release. In drawing attention to their evolution as artists, BTS cleverly connects to and emphasizes the themes of self-discovery and identity.
Map of the Soul: Persona stands in its own right as a solid, cohesive album that propels BTS into a new era while nodding towards their roots. However, the content itself falls short compared to the ambitious intent behind the album, and the meaningful messages are lost in an amalgam of formulaic songs. Rather than pushing boundaries with their music as they did with their concept, BTS appears to be pandering, albeit through enjoyable beats and melodies, with Map of the Soul: Persona.
Photo Courtesy consequenceofsound.net