BTS have become one of the most highly anticipated Hallyu groups. Since their debut in 2013, their popularity has steadily grown. But after their “Hwayang Yeonhwa花様年華” or “Most Beautiful Moment in Life” (HHYH) series, they are becoming recognised as one of the most formidable groups of this Hallyu generation.
After weeks of short story-like teasers, BTS’ second studio album “Wings” was released on 10th October 2016. Underlying all these teasers were various symbolic allusions to “Demian”, a coming-of-age novel written in 1919 by German author Herman Hesse. The album also, for the first time, features individual members’ solo tracks, all of which were first revealed through the teasers and which are shaped by a trope in “Demian”.
One of the major questions that fans had was whether “Wings” served as the continuation of the story canon established in the HHYH era and given the content of the teasers, this seems to be case. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hopes that we’ll get some answers to the HHYH tracks ‘I Need You’, ‘Run’, ‘Butterfly’, and ‘Epilogue’, all of which were beautifully shot and crafted. As for the tracks of “Wings”, they’re all fantastic and the fact that we get a chance to sample some solo tracks as well is a major plus. Overall, the album plays with various genres such as electro-pop, house, R&B, hip-hop, and rap. However, unlike recent Hallyu releases, employs them very differently, giving BTS a very unique sound that we haven’t yet heard from them.
1. Intro: Boy Meets Evil
Chaotic, confusing, but crafted, ‘Intro: Boy Meets Evil’ finally gives us an answer to what ‘the boys have been meeting’ so far! Featuring a heavy rap line from J-Hope, this short prelude to “Wings” gives us a sense of some of the sounds to come: EDM and rap of course make this track what it is, but of course, the instrumental elements make you feel like you’re in a dark, seedy, urban alleyway and achieve that sense of ‘evil’ that BTS are hoping to preface their album with.
2. Blood, Sweat & Tears
If any track wins you over, it will be ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears’: with or without the MV (the review for which you can see on the website as well), it’s a fantastic track. What makes it so unique is its genre, which we should definitely note – given its lack of use in Hallyu thus far – as moombahton trap, a fusion of house, reggaeton, and trap music that captures that slightly Latin, house, and EDM feel that just makes you want to dance to the addictive beat. The vocal lines in this track – from Jimin and Jungkook to V – are all so unique in their usage in this track and stand prominently. In particular, Jimin’s sensual vocals just add to the pure passion that this track is trying to market. Meanwhile, the rap lines definitely work in this track especially J-Hope’s ‘wonhae manhi manhi manhi’! In particular, Suga’s interventions, given his recent solo debut, really stand out: on the one hand, they are uniquely Suga’s style, and on the other, his verses don’t detract from the overall track which only adds to the uniqueness of ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’. Overall, this track is an absolute winner, and deserves a standing ovation!
3. Begin (Jungkook Solo)
Things slow down with the first solo track, Jungkook’s ‘Begin’. Whilst beginning as a ballad track, it grows and flourishes into a soft EDM track that uses synths and drums to support Jungkook’s fantastic vocals. Along with this, the lyrics are brilliant and the iconic ‘you make me begin’ just sends shivers down your spine. The track is beautifully presented and is a stark contrast to ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’ but still keeps us in the right mood to tackle the rest of the album.
4. Lie (Jimin Solo)
‘Lie’ opens with classical violins and strings that grows into a dark, more organic-sounding track that uses a pseudo-organ refrain before completely opening out into a very different genre that seems difficult to define: it’s part ballad, part crossover with classical music. Either way, it draws out the best of Jimin’s vocals which you wouldn’t expect to fit with an underlying choral-sounding track. Despite its chaotic and creepy nature, this track is definitely an interesting listen.
5. Stigma (V Solo)
Things completely slow down with V’s solo, ‘Stigma’. It’s a sexy ballad, that really accentuates V’s vocals which are occasionally subsumed by Jimin and Jungkook’s vocals in other tracks. However, here, V’s husky, raspy vocals really come to the forefront and suit this style. It’s a track that really shows how vocally in control V actually is without losing any of the underlying brass and light jazz sound that is keeping the track afloat. A pleasure to the ears!
6. First Love (Suga Solo)
Whilst Suga’s solo mixtape really characterises him as an aggressive and impudent rapper, ‘First Love’ completely overturns this expectation. Supported solely with the piano, strings, and metronome, ‘First Love’ really brings something special to this album: it really showcases Suga’s skill as a rapper to maintain the right tone for whatever particular track he is producing. This track, rather than making you feel attacked and on edge, completely lifts you out of the more chaotic elements previously presented in the album, and obliges you to contemplate something beyond the track and the album: it’s a beautiful track and has completely changed my opinion of Suga’s skills and talent as a rapper.
7. Reflection (Rap Monster Solo)
Meanwhile, switching into ‘Reflection’ serves as an interesting contrast to Suga’s rap solo. It has the similar ease and uplifting peace of ‘First Love’ but really brings out Rap Monster’s individual voice. This track is proof that Rap Monster is no amateur to this genre and through this track, only validates that you don’t need to be aggressive or tense to make a great rap track. Lyrically, like Suga’s solo, it’s beautiful and sincere and really brings the best out of Rap Monster’s creative voice.
8. Mama (J-Hope Solo)
Of course, J-Hope stands as a testament to how rap can enter and claim different genres as its own: ‘Mama’ opens with the sound of a movie reel and a quirky and wild clarinet refrain that underlies the entire track. The track is aurally so different to the previous rap tracks and this is precisely what makes it so appealing. It also really draws out J-Hope’s own playful and mischievous character, whilst also bringing in sounds that you’d probably hear in tracks with a more jazz influence. Again, this track is a winner and is definitely worth the listen.
9. Awake (Jin Solo)
Of course, this is a first for Jin. Whilst even in ‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’, Jin’s vocals only feature in one line, this solo track really gives us a taste of what Jin is capable of. ‘Awake’ is a sweet, tranquil ballad that is supported by smooth drums and strings, and gives us a chance to hear Jin’s unadulterated vocals. The track is a great conclusion to the ‘story elements’ of the album and with lyrics that mirror the sweetness of the previous tracks, this track should win you over from the first listen.
Things speed up with ‘Lost’ which is a pseudo-electropop track but can’t be easily classified into any particular genre. Either way, this track is very BTS and serves as a stark contrast to the heavier solo tracks preceding it. It’s a great track and really brings out the four vocalists’ voices, lacking all rap lines which, at first, is quite hard to digest but you can understand why and how the track fits together.
11. BTS Cypher PT4
I know that people love the ‘Cypher’ series, but they are tracks that I just can’t seem to get my head around. Featuring J-Hope, Suga, and Rap Monster, ‘Cypher Pt4’ builds a slightly darker, weird and more eclectic rap mix that initially sounds like it should belong to the early 80’s with its underlying synth line. Whilst I can definitely see the appeal for those who have thus far loved the ‘Cypher’ series, I’ll have to put this track aside for other tracks in the album.
12. Am I Wrong?
From the first few seconds of this track, I felt like I was in the deep South: funky, sassy, and full of attitude from both the rap and vocal lines, ‘Am I Wrong?’ is a rather addictive track which displays a very side to BTS and one that we haven’t heard from the boys so far, which makes it all the more interesting. It’s not a track that I could listen to on repeat but it definitely won me over from the first listen!
13. 21st Century girls
This track goes back to a sound that we expect from BTS. More heavily hip-hop influenced, and definitely more K-Pop than all the other tracks on “Wings”, it’s a track that I might expect from JJCC or ToppDogg as a new release. However, where it is in the album, it’s definitely a welcome transition.
14. Two! Three! (Still, there will be better days)
Things slow down with ‘Two! Three!’, which fits with the overall tone of the album: it’s calm, peaceful, and sweet to the ears, beginning with an electric guitar strum to a peaceful synth and soft drumbeat that underlies the rest of the track. It brings all the members back into a sense of harmony again, without losing their individual voices, which makes this track so appealing. It’s a natural epilogue to the album and really secures our feelings about “Wings” as an album.
15. Interlude: WINGS
Of course, as ever Big Hit continue to confuse us with a closing ‘interlude’, the eponymous ‘Wings’. It’s an upbeat, fun, dance track that features heavy rap lines that contrast with the vocal choruses. It’s both uplifting in a different sense from ‘First Love’ and ‘Reflection’ and sounds like a sort of sister to GOT7’s ‘Fly’ which is equally uplifting. Of course, with a title like ‘Interlude’, it makes us question whether this is just the beginning of a whole new series…what a way to end an album!
Audiences have been waiting for this kind of release from BTS. It draws out a more mature, more artistically developed, and musically more sophisticated side of BTS that we haven’t yet seen.
What also brings this album to the forefront than any other recent release is that it is well-considered, and craft, drawing on literature and fantastic storytelling and song-writing to convey varying emotions and draw out the individual members’ personal styles.
However, we should appreciate that the solo tracks allow us to appreciate how each member fits in the group; and on the other, the group tracks bring all the best elements of each member to the fore, supporting and cooperating with each other rather than conflicting and contrasting. This makes the album so aurally beautiful and stunning and makes us question: how will the musical narrative attack on the senses continue? Are we expecting more from BTS…?!
Overall, this album is an absolute winner and if you haven’t yet invested some time and energy into this album, all I can say is: you’re missing out!
Review written by Tariq