“Man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können”: “You must have Chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star”, said Freidrich Nietzsche in his Thus Spake Zarathrustra; and such holds true for this MV.
As a student of philosophy, theology, and art, ‘Blood, Sweat, & Tears’ exemplifies everything I’d want in a Hallyu MV: popular culture, timeless themes, and esoteric meaning, and if I had to pick three words to describe ‘Blood, Sweat, & Tears’, it would be beautiful, stunning, and tantalising.
The MV has been beautifully produced, fantastically choreographed, and so carefully structured, it can so easily be defined as high art, not least for its influences, allusions, and stylistic elements. This intrigue with the MV has been no less proven by its subsequent success: released as the title track for BTS’ second studio album “Wings” (released on 10th October 2016, the review for which you can check out on our website as well), ‘Blood, Sweat, & Tears’ acquired almost twenty-three million views within the first six days; 10 million within the first two days; and 6.3 million views within the first twenty-four hours, subsequently making it the one of the fastest watched Hallyu MVs in K-Pop history. In keeping with my previous reviews of BTS’ series, this review will do the very same: make sense of what is one of the most beautiful Hallyu MVs I’ve encountered.
The entire MV deals with the themes of temptation, moral evil, and how human beings deal with them. Framing the MV with the snippets of narrative from “Demian”, the coming-of-age novel written in 1919 by German author Herman Hesse, has helped to make the definitive link between this and the story canon presented in the “Hwayang-Yeonhwa花様年華” series. This MV is dealing with the process of growing up in a world where temptation is widespread and common. The responses of the boys, however, are the most interesting.
The teasers gave us a better sense of whose Hwayang-Yeonhwa stories crossed over: Jimin and Suga’s, Jungkook and Rap Monster’s, and then J-Hope and V’s. Subsequently, the various struggles of the other members are also alluded to in this MV, except in more mature forms: Rap Monster and his absinthe; Suga and his organ; Jungkook and his swing; J-Hope’s pills and bow and arrow; and Jimin’s apple, slingshot, and eventually blindfold tied by Suga to the door of the room. All of these scenes of temptation, or obsession, show them giving in to the animal nature within all of us and could probably be elaborated on. But they’re not enough to get full stories yet, so we can only hope that these stories are finally resolved. I can only hope to elaborate on these stories later on!
However, for ‘Blood, Sweat, & Tears’, Jin remains at the centre of this story, featuring as a figure like ‘Emil Sinclair’, the protagonist of “Demian”, the young boy tempted by his inclinations to disobey his fundamental good nature. It is Jin who is trying to make sense of the story and it is him who we need to follow into the abyss.
On the opening of the MV, the members enter a beautiful Renaissance-style museum where Jin is transfixed to a famous painting: the ‘Fall of the Angels’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (d.1569). The scene, showing the angelic host expelling the fallen angels from heaven, as narrated in the final book of the Bible, Revelation (12:2-9). This image gives us the setting we need to proceed further.
It is only when another of Bruegel’s paintings are revealed that we can get a better sense of the story: when V eventually jumps off the balcony, it happens with Bruegel’s ‘Lament for Icarus’ as the backdrop. However, whilst netizens have claimed that V is an Icarean figure with whom we should sympathise, I would offer quite the opposite: V is a fallen angel figure, a satanic figure, one that has been pushed out of heaven for his pride (undeniably like Icarus who believed he could fly as high as the sun!) and tempted Jin away from seeking the truth. Whilst many would disagree with this, we should look at the context of V’s reveal that might give us a better sense: Jin’s first encounter with the ‘Fall of the Angels’; Jin heads the table at a Last Supper-esque scene; V’s reveal happens in an interlude after Rap Monster narrates from “Demian”: ‘He too was a tempter; he too was a link to a second; the evil with which I didn’t want anything to do.’
Whatever the allusion, we know that V’s story is intimately linked to Jin’s: after all this build-up, Suga plays the organ, completely setting the tone for the reveal and eventually we see the image of V on his knees, with his wings clipped. However, the moment that Jin kisses the statue that we see V’s face with an arcane smirk that haunts us. Whatever V is, this is the precisely ‘evil that the boy has met’, but his relevance is something we have yet to fully understand.
What we do see – which I think is fundamental to this story – is the smashing of the statue featured in J-Hope’s scenes: Michaelangelo’s Pieta, the scene of Mary holding the crucified Christ in her arms after being pulled down from the cross (though if you look closely, Christ has been reformed to not show his face or torso…). What we might posit from this potential story is Jin’s role as a redeemer figure: maybe he’ll be the one to bring sense to this story.
Whilst I’ve focused a lot on the story presented in this MV, it is indeed the various allusions to art, literature, and mythology that really make this MV so beautiful and special. However, the MV in itself is also beautifully shot and really gives us a better sense of Jin’s perspective that has been somewhat ignored in the Hwayang-Yeonhwa MVs thus far, but is given the role to frame the MV whilst the other members sit in their suffering.
Of course, a BTS MV wouldn’t be a BTS MV without a killer choreography that completely fits the moombahton trap the track is offering: it’s as graceful as ‘Save Me’, but with the attitude of ‘Fire’ and ‘I Need U’, and yet has a very unique feel to it that makes you want to move!
The costumes are amazing and belong to the Renaissance setting in which the MV is taking place, without needing to be very historical. It has the feeling of something like Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Brideshead Revisited’, a reengagement with the classical and renaissance whilst being fundamentally fixed to its contemporary setting. Ultimately, the sheer detail and careful structure of the MV wins us over from the get-go making this understandably one of the most popular K-Pop tracks of 2016.
Whilst I have focused on Jin and V’s story, it doesn’t mean that the other members’ stories aren’t important: just that they may be given more screen time later on! The ending of the MV leaves us with an incomplete feel that, knowing the way BigHit have marketed this whole series, was probably intentional.
Ultimately, this MV is a winner for everyone, and knowing that I could forever about this means that this is the point that I should stop. If you haven’t already bought the album or watched the MV, I would seriously recommend it! You won’t be disappointed! BTS, never stop surprising us!
Review written by Tariq