K-Pop Superstars BTS Offer the Whole Pop Package on ‘Love Yourself: Tear’ (REVIEW)
Superstar South Korean group BTS’ Love Yourself: Tear, released May 18, is the second installment in the Love Yourself series, following 2017’s Love Yourself: Her and its record-smashing single “DNA.” The group’s first installment was impressive, breaking down the doors between K-pop and the Western music industry, but the album had a noticeable sonic divide: half of the tracks belonged to the group’s vocal line and the other half, the rap line. Where its predecessor may have felt somewhat disjointed, Love Yourself: Tear merges both of BTS’ skillsets into a smooth, unforgettable blend of R&B, EDM, pop and hip hop.
With Love Yourself: Tear, BTS delves into heavy topics that some mainstream K-pop groups tend to stray away from. Thematically, the album explores the feelings of heartbreak, depression, fear and anxiety in an honest, poignant way. This certainly isn’t the group’s first time dealing with darker, controversial topics in their songs, but it is part of what has made BTS so relatable to fans since making their debut in 2013—they level with the listener, openly express their struggles and provide a guiding light to fans who are in similar situations.
When speaking about the overall message of the album to Billboard, group leader RM said, “In love, when you’re not true to yourself, the love won’t last. Love is complex and it will always have the dark sides or the sad sides, right? Sometimes we can’t be honest or real for that, but if we keep [acting] like that, we’ll lose it.”
The album’s comeback single, “Fake Love,” is a future bass track about being so in love with someone that you change to become the kind of person they like at the risk of losing your own identity. In the end, a relationship based on conforming to another cannot last; it’s not real. Emotionally, members Jimin, Jin, V, Jungkook, RM, J-Hope and Suga come to the same conclusion as they sing, “I wish love was as perfect as love itself / I wish that all my weaknesses could be hidden / I grew a flower that can’t be bloomed in a dream that can’t come true.” A bittersweet track, “Fake Love” represents a solid blend of BTS’ classic heartbreaking lyrics and the addicting, synth-heavy sound of pop today. It represents all that BTS is: past, present and future.
The music video for “Fake Love” features the members trapped in eerily gorgeous rooms that contain their greatest fears. Jungkook is the only one who can see beyond the illusion and is seen fighting against his demons to save both himself and his bandmates. BTS performs the song’s striking choreography wearing colorful outfits in a dilapidated building that is very reminiscent of the “DNA” music video, as if to prove what was once beautiful is now ruined. Within 24 hours of its release, the music video had over 32 million views and was trending on YouTube in the U.S.
BTS loves their ARMY just as much as the fans love the group, which can be felt in the celestial, atmospheric “Magic Shop.” The track’s title is taken from the same psychodramatic technique seen in the teaser trailer for “Fake Love,” which takes fears and turns them into positivity. Produced by Jungkook, “Magic Shop” is a love letter to ARMYs about creating a place where they can share their insecurities and receive comfort from each other. Members Suga, RM, and J-Hope rap delicately on top of a buoyant beat and share that ARMYs are the group’s reason for living. They also reference “Best of Me” from Love Yourself: Her, but this time to show that fans have given BTS strength to go on—meaning fans have the strength inside of themselves to carry on, too. It’s a loving track about the inspiration that fans and artists can receive from each other set to a dreamy, coastal melody.
Later in the track list, “So What” is a big track destined to be played at stadiums. It begins with Jungkook on his own as a wave of synthesizers wash over the listener, before it explodes into a high energy chorus that’s impossible not to sing and dance along to. Featuring lyrics about letting go of worries and just taking time to enjoy life being young, wild and free, “So What” is undoubtedly a song that can’t be missed during BTS’ stadium tour.
Relaxed, slow grooving tracks make up the majority of Love Yourself: Tear, so it’s refreshing to hear the rap line get a moment to express themselves in the album’s final track, “Outro: Tear.” A blistering track, the song takes inspiration from the different meanings of the word “tear”—as in crying and to tear something apart—in the context of a brutal breakup. RM leads the way for Suga and J-Hope with his passionate rapping; listeners can almost feel the hurt and betrayal in his voice during the chorus. Given that all three of the group’s rappers contributed to the lyrics, the song feels even more powerful.
The rest of the tracks on Love Yourself: Tear do not disappoint: “134340” is a reference to the designation number of Pluto, and its lyrics deal with feeling isolated from loved ones juxtaposed with a jazzy backbeat and playful use of flute. The group’s continuation of J-Hope’s single “Airplane” (taken from his mixtape, Hope World), “Airplane — Pt. 2” is a sizzling Latin-inspired banger that highlights the unpredictability of being a celebrity, as well as the group’s dedication to their craft as they travel around the world promoting their music.
Meanwhile, the vocal line’s “The Truth Untold” featuring famed American DJ and producer Steve Aoki is a heart-wrenching, tear-inducing ballad. Jimin, Jin, Jungkook and V’s vocals are next level as they mourn over a lost love and plead for their return. The song’s melancholy sound is a surprise twist given that the collaboration BTS had with Aoki last year was the upbeat “Mic Drop” remix, but it is hauntingly beautiful nonetheless.
Overall, BTS’ Love Yourself: Tear is a triumphant album that continues to blossom with new sounds, influences and quirks upon each listen. Each track is unique and complements the rest of the album well—no one song feels like an afterthought. With an album as impressive as Love Yourself: Tear, BTS have proven they have the vision and determination to become worldwide representatives of the South Korean music industry: They are passionate, dedicated and full of endless potential. They’re the whole package.