Lai Jing Xuan
A History of BTS Albums
BTS has exploded in popularity over the years, soaring in global charts and receiving prestigious awards. The seven-member boy band has climbed the industry ladder, reaching new heights after starting from the very bottom.
They first debuted in 2013 with the album “2 Cool 4 Skool” from a small company called BigHit Entertainment. Receiving much attention in 2014 with their title track “Boy In Luv”, they continued to grow and flourish into the biggest boy band of today.
BTS at the GRAMMY Awards (Source)
BTS debuted with the hope of conveying the sentiments of youths to the public, such as the fear of growing up and the pressure of academics. Their Korean name, “Bulletproof Boy Scouts”, reflects how they deflect stereotypes and pressure put on young people. Endearingly, their fans’ name, “ARMY”, is an acronym for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth”.
With the release of their first anthology album “Proof” on June 10th, I’ve decided to take a trip down memory lane and look through BTS’ albums over the years.
The lyric translations I’ll be using in the article are all credited to doolset lyrics, who does an amazing job archiving BTS song lyrics in a blog post.
2 Cool 4 Skool (2013)
BTS’ debut album expresses their core belief – sharing the story of teens and young adults.
True to advocating for the youth, their debut single No More Dream highlights the pressure adults put on the young regarding their dreams and passions.
Why do you keep telling me to go on a different path, hey, take care of your own business.
With a callback to a pre-debut song, We Are Bulletproof Pt.2 introduces their passions and struggles with debuting as a hip hop focused group. They also call out the K-POP industry that pushes out song after song with little artist agency.
On the other hand, for you guys, contacted by your company by luck and got labelled as rappers because you couldn’t sing, the rapper title is an extravagance.
Their debut tracks have insane choreography that caught the eye of the public, such as the hat trick choreography. Evidently, the boys showed that they were serious in their pursuit of music.
Continuing the theme of their debut album, BTS highlights the regrets of not living your life and the hopelessness teenagers feel from growing up and academics.
Their lead title N.O. questions the education system and discusses the pressure of being a high scoring student and getting into prestigious schools.
Their b-sides (such as We On and Cypher Pt.1) are a decisive response to the criticism they received from haters, which included fellow hip hop artists and senior idols in the industry. Hip hop artists disliked BTS as they felt that the incorporation of “idol” practices into their work such as choreography and make-up “disgraced” the hip-hop industry. Senior idols also looked down on them for being in a lesser-known company.
RM and Suga being mocked in a discussion about hip hop (Source)
Additionally, their small company had no budget to support the group at this point in time. This leaves the future of BTS very uncertain.
Despite all the hate and struggles, they produced hit after hit. With songs singing about their might and plenty more love songs, the album is extremely cohesive for a low-budget rookie group.
Skool Luv Affair (2014)
Their 2014 album delves into young romance by expressing the different shades of love. Intro: Skool Luv Affair and Boy In Luv both highlight the intensity of teen love.
Alongside the intense love songs are sweeter b-sides (side tracks) that sing about the innocence of young love. My personal favourite is Just One Day with its heart-fluttering lyrics describing a future with one’s spouse. The song’s iconic chair dance shows that BTS aren’t afraid to use props to accentuate their performances.
BTS also uses their music as a platform for social commentary. For example, Tomorrow describes the frustrations of living and encourages a brighter tomorrow.
Because the dawn right before the sunrise is the darkest, you, in the future, never forget yourself of now.
The album was a hit, with Boy In Luv garnering much love from the public. It looked like BTS was finally gaining attention for their music.
Dark & Wild (2014)
Following their first few releases, BTS continues to sing of the “dangerous” side of love in their title track Danger – the lack of communication, the false promises, and the break-ups.
Their b-sides also discuss various topics. BTS renews their love for hip hop and reminisces on their beginnings as hip hop artists in Hip Hop Phile. They use metaphors to express one’s misery on a rainy day in Rain. There’s even a commentary on cellphone addiction in Could You Turn off Your Cellphone.
All in all, the album has a great blend of genres – Rap, Rock, Lofi, Ballads – that made for a cohesive album that is still highly regarded by fans today.
However, this era proved to be a struggle for the boys. This album struggled to gain as much traction as their previous one. When things seemed like they were looking up, BTS are once again thrown into more hardships and obstacles.
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1 (2015)
BTS returns with a discussion on young adulthood in “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” series. This trilogy of albums has a very nostalgic and softer sound that highlights the pains and thrills of youth. Part 1 of the series talks about uncertain futures and longing.
Alongside songs about youth, BTS also sings about their past. Moving On showcases their journey of moving from their older, cramped apartment to a bigger apartment, interspersed with fond reminiscing over good memories.
Do you remember when we first got here 3 years ago? When you and I used to fight each other without any reason. Wallpaper, bathroom, and veranda were all blue. Back then I thought this was really a huge house.
Most importantly, their title track “I Need U” gave the boys their first music show win. This marked the start of an upward path for the group. However, not everything about this era was flowery.
The boys were accused of sajaegi (chart manipulation) as their album outsold the then biggest boyband, Big Bang. While the band was eventually cleared due to their company’s inability to commit such crimes with a limited budget, the allegations continued to haunt them for years after.
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2 (2015)
The second instalment of the series focuses on running forward despite the uncertainty and insecurity of youth. This theme is highlighted by Suga’s song INTRO : Never Mind and the title track Run.
If you think you’re gonna crash, accelerate even harder, you idiot.
BTS does a brilliant job of using metaphors to express the themes in their songs.
A butterfly motif is present throughout the album, symbolising the fear of a loved one flying away like a butterfly. This is seen in the lyrics of Butterfly and Run. The choreography for Run even shows the shape of a butterfly.
Will you stay by my side? … If I touch you, that you might fly away, that you might be shattered, I’m scared.
Other b-sides include Whalien 52 (a reference to the lonely 52-hertz whale) which describes the fear of being left alone, Autumn Leaves (using the metaphor of falling autumn leaves to describe a withering relationship), and House of Cards (likening a fragile, ending relationship to a house of cards).
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever (2016)
To conclude the series, BTS released their first repackage album with brand new tracks as well as full versions and alternate mixes of previous songs in the series.
The title track Fire included their hardest choreography yet, with many fans doing dance covers of the song. The 333 dance, referring to the 3:33 mark of the music video, remains iconic to this day.
This album also gave BTS their first major award – a Daesang – solidifying their presence in the K-POP scene. A Daesang is one of the biggest awards an idol can receive, focusing on digital and physical sales from the artist. As is with BTS’ early career, their wins are shadowed by hate from antis.
Antis are people who specifically target artists to hate on. Oftentimes, these antis are fans of competing groups in the industry.
During this time, many antis trended hashtags on Twitter such as #PlagiarismBoys to dampen their spirits. The constant hate was exhausting for both fans and the boys. This hate is referenced in future songs and concert videos.
A reference to the hate in their 2017 concert VCR (Source)
A new chapter begins for BTS with “Wings”, emphasising the concept of temptations. This theme is best illustrated in their title track Blood Sweat & Tears. This was definitely a newer, more sensual side to the boys.
Kill me softly. Close my eyes with your hand. I can’t even resist it anyway, I can’t even run away anymore.
This album also featured the first solo songs in their official discography, reflecting their passions and history. Separately, they shared stories of love (for fellow members, for music, for motherly love) and struggle (with self-blame, with self-introspection, with great ambitions).
Alongside these tracks are wonderful b-sides like Am I Wrong (a critique of income inequality and big-headed government officials) and 21st Century Girls (a song about women empowerment). The first official fan song, 2! 3!, is also included.
While I had been listening to BTS' music since 2015, this album was what officially made me join the fandom. I look back to this era with incredibly fond memories.
You Never Walk Alone (2017)
This album was a repackage of the “Wings” album and included a few new songs, including Spring Day. In my opinion, Spring Day is BTS’ magnum opus. The song encapsulates the emotions that come with longing for a best friend. This is a song meant for comfort, with implicit links to the Sewol Ferry incident (see the boat choreography below).
The sinking of the Sewol ferry was a tragic incident for the nation, with many criticising the boat crew for abandoning its passengers and then-President Park for downplaying the incident.
This is one of the most well-loved songs by fans with beautiful lyrics written by members RM and Suga based on their own experiences.
Past the edge of cold winter, until the spring day comes again, until the flowers bloom, please stay there a while longer.
Other b-sides sing about the “wing” motif (Outro: Wings and A Supplementary Story: YNWA), expressing the wish to fly to greater heights with a loved one.
Love Yourself 承 'Her' (2017)
The “Love Yourself” trilogy follows different kinds of love. This album specifically focuses on romantic love.
The songs place emphasis on destiny’s role in falling in love. This is expressed through the title track DNA.
Because all of this is not a coincidence. Because we’re the two who found the destiny.
Alongside the sweet love songs comes the hard-hitting MIC Drop which sings about their success and the parody song Go Go which sarcastically sings about materialism. The iconic MIC Drop choreography shows Suga dropping his microphone at the end of the performance.
“DNA” brought BTS their first entry in Billboard Hot 100, peaking at 67. This song was also their first performance in a U.S. Award Show, the American Music Awards. I remember dissolving into tears after the performance, especially remembering all the hate during 2015-2016. It really proved that the boys had overcome many adversities and struggles.
More importantly, the “Love Yourself” series marked the beginning of the Love Myself campaign in collaboration with UNICEF. The campaign fights against violence toward children and teenagers around the globe.
They mentioned that the true meaning of love is "loving oneself and sharing love". Giving support to these vulnerable people is an important part of the “share love” message. It is incredibly inspiring seeing BTS use their platform to enact change in society.
Love Yourself 轉 'Tear' (2018)
The second album in the “Love Yourself” trilogy focuses on the pains of break-ups.
The lyrics of their title song FAKE LOVE are praised a lot, with the line “I grew a flower that can’t be bloomed in a dream that can’t come true” being highlighted as a perfect representation of hopeless love that isn’t meant to be.
Every single one of their b-sides is meaningful and holds up to this day. 134340 compares love to the forgotten dwarf planet, Pluto. Paradise comforts listeners that it’s okay not to have grand dreams. Anpanman is based on a Japanese hero with no superpowers yet still helps people.
This album is a beautiful blend of many genres including R&B, Lo-Fi, Rock, Latin pop, Rap, Ballads, and more. The album is definitely proof of BTS’ mastery of different styles.
Despite the perfect tracklist, this era was a time when BTS seriously considered disbandment due to the pressure that comes with their insanely fast climb. The rappers wrote the track Outro: Tear while thinking about fellow members during these hard times. Relistening to the album is especially heartbreaking remembering the context.
We used to walk towards the same place, but here becomes our last. We used to talk about forever, but now we mercilessly destroy each other.
Jin talking about the issue during the 2018 MAMA (Source)
Love Yourself 結 'Answer' (2018)
The finale to the “Love Yourself” series is a repackage album that emphasises that true love comes only when you learn how to love yourself. This theme rings true in songs such as IDOL, Epiphany, and Answer : Love Myself.
Their title track IDOL has many Korean elements incorporated into its instrumentals and lyrics. This track gave birth to a stage with Korean elements such as modern hanboks and traditional dances embedded into their performance. It is genuinely cool to see them embrace their Korean culture in a time when many haters dunked on them for catering towards the Western market.
This repackage is particularly special to me as it came to me during a time of a lot of self-hatred. There is a line in Answer : Love Myself that was really memorable — “Even the scars made by your own mistake mark your constellations”. It reminded me that my imperfections are still beautiful.
It was inspiring seeing thousands of fans singing “I’m the one I should love in this world” and “You’ve shown me I have reasons I should love myself” in stadiums across the globe.
MAP OF THE SOUL : PERSONA (2019)
This album kicks off another series from BTS. With “PERSONA”, the boys share how much of their ‘persona’ of BTS can be credited to their fans. Thus, the album is filled with songs like Mikrokosmos and HOME that sing about the ARMYs.
A favourite b-side would be Dionysus, named after the Greek God of fertility and wine. Dionysus’ choreography features his thyrsus (a staff) as well as more chair choreography. This song gave us the fan-voted “best performance” in BTS’ history during the 2019 Melon Music Awards.
Aesthetically, I think this album has the cutest concept. Its bubblegum pink theme shines through concept images and music videos. Not to mention, their retro title track sparked a trend in K-POP, with many retro songs entering the music scene in 2019.
In my opinion, this comeback was also the happiest comeback BTS and their fans have experienced. There was a balance of recognition that was absent in their early days, as well as an absence of fear from growing at such a rapid pace.
MAP OF THE SOUL : 7 (2020)
Continuing the series, this album comes with an acceptance of one’s shadows and scars as a part of oneself too. The album was released as a celebration of their seven years together, seven being a significant number as it represents the number of members in the band.
Their title track ON has the toughest choreography out of all BTS songs, with the incorporation of many backup dancers and band instruments like the drum.
This era brought about an emphasis on art. The “CONNECT, BTS” project showcases curators around the world who resonated with BTS’ philosophy of connecting people through art and music. For example, the interactivity of Gormley’s “New York Clearing” reminded BTS of the interactivity of their performances which are complemented by the fans’ cheering.
Additionally, Black Swan was released via an art film. The film shows an interpretation of the song in a dance form, expressing the fear of losing your passions. As an ex-dancer who lost her passion for the art form, this film really resonated with me.
Unfortunately, the ambitions of this album were dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, with large-scale performances like ON going unperformed due to COVID restrictions.
This album is one that provides comfort during the pandemic, with songs like Life Goes On that encourage listeners to hold on for another day despite the new normal that the pandemic has brought.
The other tracks also highlight emotions that are linked to the pandemic; Being stuck in your room (Fly To My Room), anxiety and burnout (Blue & Grey), and the inability to enjoy so much free time during lock-down (Dis-ease).
Every aspect of this comeback was heavily curated by BTS themselves including the album packaging, contents, and concept images. Jungkook even directed the music video.
The album also includes the hit track Dynamite which was stuck in everyone’s minds. Dynamite came in at Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, a first for the band. It also received a GRAMMY nomination and charted extremely well globally.
However, I felt that this album did not receive the acknowledgement it deserved, especially after the release of their full-English track Dynamite. There is a popular meme among fans about how Life Goes On barely got any radio plays in America due to it being in Korean instead of English.
ARMYs "cheering" when a radio station played Life Goes On (Source)
So that’s it! A walkthrough of all the BTS albums. At the end of the day, each album released is a part of the band’s history and is meaningful in their way. Going through their releases really gave me a newfound appreciation for the boys.
Once again, BTS is releasing an anthology album “Proof” in a week’s time, so do remember to check it out.