After operating out of South Korea and converting curious Internet kids and YouTube viewers into a full-fledged fandom army, BTS appear ready to embrace their status as global superstars.
Enlisting the likes of Steve Aoki, MNEK and Beyoncé's go-to engineer DJ Swivel to combine their songwriting and production talents, the K-pop boy band phenoms reveal their new album Love Yourself: Tear today with a rollout appropriate only for the world's biggest musicians. Tear is the band's first time releasing an album on a Friday (instead of the usual early weekday releases typically seen in their native Korea), aligning with the West's established global release day that maximizes performance on America's definitive Billboard charts. Instead of promoting at home before bringing the music to overseas fans, BTS' first performance of experimental new single "Fake Love" will be at this Sunday's Billboard Music Awards, sharing a stage with the likes of Christina Aguilera, Shawn Mendes and Ariana Grande. And while the lead-up to the album release saw BTS shifting expectations for Korean-pop acts, the music itself positions them away from any dismissive boy bands or pop star labels.
From the neo-soul–inspired "Intro: Singularity," sung solely by BTS' singer-actor member V, a moody atmosphere is established as the 22-year-old grapples with falling out of touch with himself in the name of what he thinks is love. That sets the stage for the full group to join him on "Fake Love," a shape-shifting electro-pop/hip-hop track that calls for listeners to bop their head and cry-sing over warm vocal melodies. From pointed rap verses from rappers RM, J-Hope and Suga to a goosebump-inducing pre-chorus from youngest member Jungkook and V, "Fake Love" turns an identity crisis in love into a fascinating blend of music moods and genres.
The album continues to dabble in the dark with the Aoki-featuring "The Truth Untold" venturing into an unexpected piano ballad moment with flecks of arena guitars as the boys croon, "I know I can't give you me...but I still want you." Meanwhile, "Airplane, Pt. 2" and "134340" (the name now given to Pluto when it was downgraded from planet to asteroid status), bring soothing jazz flute and salsa elements to the mix.
Yet despite the tough topics, things start to brighten, sonically at least, towards the end with the synth-y mega-punch of "Magic Shop" where the guys' voices blend into an uplifting, harmonizing chorus asking a lover for empathy. By "Anpanman" (the name of Japan's beloved cartoon superhero with a pastry for a head) this heartbreak sounds like a bachelor party with the warble-laden sing-rap style utilized by the likes of Post Malone, Ty Dolla $ign and Fetty Wap paired with their bombastic rap style, finished off by the smooth, future-bass ride of rave-ready "So What."
Final track "Outro: Tear" brings things full circle with a heart-pounding hip-hop cut As their passionately devoted fanbase known as Army—who look likely to score their boys a second win for Top Social Artist at this weekend's BBMAs after flooding Twitter with millions of votes—know all too well, every BTS release is a journey with every ending only hinting at more exciting things to come. With Tear flying straight to No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes albums and its tracks flooding the singles charts, BTS' sonically darker chapter is already looking pretty bright.