‘IDOL‘ is an overwhelmingly vivid, wildly chaotic, sensory overload, and there’s more than one reason for that.
A visual and intellectual feast to define a new era
Note: Alternate translation to Big Hit Entertainment official MV subtitles used as reference for this section; source below.
There is rarely just one layer of meaning to a BTS song (or music video). Taken from the two disc repackaged album, ‘LOVE YOURSELF: 結 Answer‘, the music video (or MV) for the group’s title track was released just yesterday to a broad spectrum of responses, igniting debate about the meaning and intent behind the video’s concept.
Instead of going into crazy lengths of detail, we’ve instead carefully selected some of the key elements that inform our own interpretation of the track. Let’s discuss.
The visual elements of the ‘IDOL‘ music video are complimentary to the cynical, rolling, lyricism of the song; they do however, require a little more analysis than usual, due to the incredibly fast blink-and-you’ll-miss-it frame rate used to achieve the electrifying pace of the 3:51 video.
The initial MV teaser fot ‘IDOL‘ revealed what most viewers thought would be an edgy, but distinctly patriotic concept. What BTS delivered however, was better.
Inky watercolours of tigers and mountain landscapes flash across the screen at appropriate intervals, layering themselves over the sound of traditional instruments, and the clever incorporation of traditional Korean performance art.
The use of “얼쑤 좋다 / Ur-soo, it’s great!” throughout, for instance, is a clever use of a traditional Korean phrase. Traditionally, it would be called out either by the singers or dancers themselves to express excitement, or by the watching audience to, what we would now call, ‘hype’ the performance itself.
If you look at the lyrics in isolation, ‘You can’t stop me lovin’ myself” is repeated as a mantra, at the end of each declaratory verse:
You can call me artist / You can call me idol / Or you can call me anything else / I don’t care / I’m proud of it / You can’t stop me lovin’ myself
Look past the drama and the boldness of the video itself, and you’ll discover that ultimately, BTS‘ message is one of self-acceptance and self-love, even if it is served with a delicious side of chaos and slippery social commentary.
There are tens and hundreds of myself within me / Today, I greet my another self / They are all me after all, so I just run rather than worrying
The inner battle between a public-facing Bangtan and the private self, was hinted at in the concept photos for Version L of the album photobook, and brought to life in a very real way , as dozens of duplicate members crowding the screen. Their expressions however, aren’t lost or confused; the member’s understand their roles as artists, and are determined to embrace their ability to create or recreate themselves with each passing day.
You can point your fingers at me, I don’t care at all / Whatever reason you have to denigrate me / I know what I am / I know what I want / I never gon’ change / I never gon’ trade
BTS make a not so subtle reference to some of the harsh criticism they’ve faced in the past, particularly in the early years of their debut. Even though they’ve arguably surpassed even the label of ‘superstar’ in the last year, they are careful to keep the memory of the difficult feeling during of this time as they learn and grow, and take their place on the world stage. The cartoon illustration of the dragon in the screenshot above attests to this; their past heartbreak and self-doubt is a youthful memory, a child’s drawing to be carefully put away (but not so much treasured in this case).
Why do you talk loud “blah blah” / I do what I do, so mind your own business / You can’t stop me loving’ myself
We’re sure this phrase is similar to the passage above, however we’ll use it to highlight the deliberate response to negative comments that RM and V reacted to during past VLive broadcasts. For RM, it’s a small act of redemption and the cheeky bite of a thumb, whereas V had already landed on the fact that his uniqueness and choice of eye wear were entirely valid some time ago, and he could never be prevailed upon to change. The bottom line however is, each to his own, and rightfully so.
The low-quality CGI, is a deliberate tactic used throughout the video as a response to the general population, who are unacquainted with K-pop, past or present, and are quick to judge or dismiss an entire genre in one glance.
The gauche giraffes casually lending a visual element to the African rhythm of the track are one thing; the plasticine BTS giants towering over a BTS fishtank are another. Looking suspiciously like a music show comeback stage, ‘plasticine’ Jungkook moves his hand in a puppeteer motion over the glass box, again, linking the MV to their concept images with themes of surveillance and control (Version S this time).
The blood red of this sky echoes the same colouring stark colouring we saw in ‘MIC Drop‘, and we all know exactly what that was about (insert video of Suga pausing during his verse at the 2017 SBS Gayo Daejeon, to let the utter absence of lipsyncing or even a backtrack, echo across Gocheok Sky Dome).
Let’s end things on a softer note.
I love myself / I love myself, I love my fans (Note: The text in the screenshot above reads 사랑/love)
BTS, like most South Korean idol groups, both male and female, unavoidably become an object of devotion. However, they are equally unfailing in their humble gratitude towards ARMYs, thanking their fandom with every release, and every win. In this track, a softer message is hidden within the cynical outer shell, quietly embedded for ARMYs, and voiced by Jungkook.
It’s okay, I’m in love with my my myself / It’s okay I’m happy at this moment
Many have questioned how BTS have dealt with their meteoric rise to stardom since the beginning of the ‘Love Yourself‘ series, and even more have doubted their ability to retain the authenticity of their culture and heritage, in an industry where certain images (and sacrifices) sell, and others simply don’t.
This track, this album, ‘LOVE YOURSELF: 結 Answer‘, is where they’re at. BTS are not a manufactured, overnight sensation. Years of literal blood, sweat, tears and anguish have taken their place alongside the joys, achievements, success and celebration. The journey they’ve been on for over five years, has been entirely in the public eye; imagine struggling to find yourself, while under the watchful eye of millions, ready to critique or slander, as quickly as praise.
Yes, BTS were born into an industry, but they have followed the path of artists, not the path of greed or pure profits. The mere fact that a groundbreaking, iconic figure such as Seo Taiji, metaphorically placed the future of Korean music artistry and discovery into the group’s capable hands in 2017, is concrete proof of this.
BTS have expressed themselves so boldly and so vibrantly this comeback, not to prove a point (…well, also to prove a point), but simply because this is where the path of their life has taken them. This, is what it could mean to be a K-Pop artist in 2018. Their voice reaches millions upon millions, through their sacrifice and effort, and the sheer enthusiasm and love of their supporters. Promoting a message of self-care, self-love and confidence, is not confusing or disorienting. It’s powerful. So are BTS. And so are we all.
BTS ‘IDOL’ MV
As always with BTS, there’s a lot of content to catch-up on! Head over to this link for a five minute read that will get you on the right track!
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Writer/Editor: Carmel-Lee Skinner