Creating a successful, long-lasting, seven-member boy band is no easy task. More than three years after their debut on the K-pop scene, BTS is ascending a major peak in their careers with their second full-length album Wings looking poised to break records in America.
While it's great to be riding high off the current success, it's equally important to set groundwork to ensure future success for the band and all of its members. This is where Wings shines in not only creating an impressive, full body of work for the group, but also in giving each member his own chance to shine.
In their three years, BTS has shied away from full-fledged solo or unit releases (common with K-pop acts), instead allowing leader Rap Monster and rapper Suga to drop mixtapes for an unhinged way to express themselves (the James Brown sample in Suga's "Agust D" song was probably way too expensive to officially clear for an album, but is a blazing mixtape cut). Importantly, these tapes didn't allow for the larger musical spotlight to be taken away from the main BTS group and only enhanced the overall thirst to see the seven guys back in action together.
But Wings does something different. This time, there are seven solo songs for each respective member, each one aligning individually with his own personal taste and outlook on life.
Six of the seven BTS members contribute writing and/or production credits to their solo songs. Rap Monster's melancholic "Reflection" sees the MC showing off a more vocally oriented delivery and Suga's "First Love" plays out more like a monologue than a rap song—both spotlighting new sides of the members past their mixtapes. Meanwhile, J-Hope's quirky hip-hop cut, "Mama," perfectly captures his animated delivery and onstage style.
Elsewhere, we see V trying out a neo-soul-jazz sound on the smoky "Stigma," and the underrated Jin serves up an unexpected ballad in "Awake." It's one that could've been reserved for the group's powerhouse belters, but instead, main vocalist Jimin delivers "Lie," which has seemingly become a fan favorite as it raced up the iTunes chart upon release. Jimin lets his vocal prowess explode over the dramatic production that moves from cinematic violins to booming pop beats.
Jungkook's "Begin" starts the record, and it's the only song that doesn't have either co-writing or co-producing credits from the member performing. But that doesn't mean the 19-year-old doesn't personally connect with the Justin Bieber-esque dance track. As he revealed during a live pre-show on Korea's V application, the song reflects his journey from his hometown of Busan to Seoul, as well as meeting the BTS members.
For those keeping track, that's melancholy rap, monologue-style spitting, quirky hip-hop, neo-soul, ballads, powerhouse pop and electro-dance, all explored in seven different tracks by seven different artists who nearly all had a hand in the song compositions.
“By giving each member a solo track, the focus is simultaneously on the group and the members.”
Furthermore, fans are getting to learn more and get a deeper sense of each BTS individual too. I didn't expect Jin to slay a ballad like "Awake," but now I view him in a completely different light. Moments like these help in establishing and carving out larger identities for the different members without letting certain individuals outshine others, which happens all too often in groups. (We don't need to name names, but many K-pop fans can easily name several groups who had the attention shift to one or two members to the overall detriment of the act.) By giving each member a solo track, the focus is simultaneously on the group and the members.
But what's perhaps most important here is the artistic balance BTS is giving its members. Yes, they'll be promoting lead single "Blood Sweat & Tears" together, but likely, the cut doesn't reflect the exact personal taste of each member. Instead, by letting each dude shine on a song completely separate from the others, the guys have the chance to explore their own personal creativity while still going strong with the group brand identity. That is arguably the most important part for all of their careers to ensure they're all in the industry for a long time to come.
Listen to Fuse's K-pop podcast K-Stop analyze BTS' Wings comeback and much more in the latest episode below: