K-pop superstars BTS’ latest album, their fourth studio album Map of the Soul :7 , released on February 21st, is meant to be a look inwards that scratches the shiny surface of the group’s appeal to take a look at the struggles of a septet’s rags-to-riches story.
With talks of shadows, vulnerabilities and fears, the 20-track production definitely – and unsurprisingly- remains a hit within the fandom but at the core of it where in previous outings raw authenticity shined, now an all-consuming commercial sound takes over.
Toeing the line between Easter eggs- most notably J-Hope’s solo cut “Outro : Ego” which merges a sample from their first-ever intro ‘2 Cool 4 Skool’ with an impressive new groove – for the experienced listeners and a brand new sound for first-timers, the band manage to keep their allure intact.
A majority of the album while great is nothing new; Persona is repurposed as a five-song preface, before the production actually zeros its focus in on 7 with Suga’s interlude ‘Shadow’. The track which was the first glimpse at their latest offering is a valiant effort at introspection on the rapper’s part, but it comes across uneven and drawn-out.
The group’s rap is undoubtedly their strongest point – the combined knowledge, experience and passion of the rap trio RM, Suga and J-Hope making for an organic sound that few other groups are able to replicate. It’s therefore a huge let down that BTS seems to be shifting away from their strong rap-laden origins.
It is telling that the album’s best piece is the kind of music it could have done more of with – J-Hope’s ‘Ego’ which not only encompasses the sound we crave for but also represents the biographical tone of MOTS 7.
But fortunately, not all of the album is lacking the punch BTS is famous for. There are some moments where the trio (and by extension the septet) proves themselves to be among Korea’s best rappers; the track ‘UGH’ being the perfect example. The trap-infused single ‘Black Swan’ is another win that reminds us of the septet that stole hearts with their prolific talents and depth of personalities.
As expected of an album with a reference-heavy title – 7 stands for both the number of members and the number of years the group have been together – there are solos on offer. But unlike 2016’s Wings, which was undoubtedly their crowning glory, this time a sore lack of personality is evident. Whether it be Jimin’s Latin-tinged ‘Filter’ or Jungkook’s R&B influenced ‘My Time’, the heavenly vocals cannot be faulted yet something is amiss.
Then comes the Western features, such as Sia on lead single ‘ON’ and Troye Sivan’s magical hand in writing the synth-pop feeler ‘Louder Than Bombs’ all of which point to a sound that’s become less reliant on what made BTS the artists they are, moving away to more generic, albeit well-made, much appreciated, soundscape.
Map of the Soul 7 could have been the perfect introspective seven-way dialogue from a super group who’ve proven their lyrical prowess, musical acumen and self-awareness time and time again- but it misses the mark as it reaches too much outwards to the world and not enough nearly inwards towards themselves.