Buckle up – BTS have released their new album ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’. For members of the BTS ARMY, it signals the start of a whole load of theorising and intensive research. The ideas around ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ are many and complex, and typically of the band – who love to cram symbolism into their music – it’s another record bursting with hidden meanings.
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What does the title mean?
Ever since the first track from ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ was released in March 2019, fans have been theorising that this era would be made up of a three-record series, completed by ‘Shadow’ and ‘Ego’. Why? Those were the two words that featured prominently besides ‘Persona’ in the music video for ‘Intro: Persona’, have cropped up several times in BTS’ awards show performances, been hinted at in the ‘Speak Yourself’ finale VCRs and, of course, are two other proponents of Carl Jung’s ‘map of the soul’ theory.
And yet! An announcement on January 7 made clowns of all who believed BTS and BigHit would leave their clues to future plans sitting there in plain sight. But the ARMY’s already come up with a number of theories about its potential message.
There’s still a Carl Jung connection
Just because ‘Shadow’ and ‘Ego’ are out, that doesn’t mean ‘7’ is moving away from Jungian psychology entirely (As it turned out, two comeback trailers were released before the album, titled ‘Shadow’ and ‘Ego’). As fans on Twitter have pointed out, there are seven principles of the ego according to Jung, while his journey to the soul also has seven steps.
journey to the soul has 7 steps ? pic.twitter.com/21ASoPhL3t
— ????⁷ (@jhsglitter) January 7, 2020
Beyond that, the concept of the hero is something that BTS have played with for a while now. During their performance at the Mnet Asian Music Awards back in 2018, a VCR showed the words “So now I’m a hero, so now I’m a boy with love”. Coincidentally (or not?), chapter seven of Jung’s The Red Book is titled ‘The Murder Of The Hero’. According to writers Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, the death of a person’s hero archetype “means that he has finally encountered his limitations. He has met the enemy, and the enemy is himself. He has met his own dark side, his very unheroic side.” Fans have theorised for a while that this could be a clue as to the subject matter on ‘Shadow’ or ‘Ego’ – with BTS tackling their “darker” side, the parts of themselves they hide beneath their personas.
There’s also another potential Jung connection in his book The Seven Sermons To The Dead, in which he mentions a figure called Abraxas. BTS have referred to Abraxas before in the ‘Wings’ era, that was influenced by Hermann Hesse’s Demian, which also mentions the god. To Jung, Abraxas produces good and evil “in the same word and the same act”. Could Abraxas and the dichotomy between good and bad appear in ‘7’?
Does it refer to another famous group of seven?
Could the ‘7’ refer to the seven deadly sins? Fans were previously theorising that the new album could feature solo tracks from each member and that these could relate to a different one of said sins – gluttony, greed, envy, pride, lust, sloth, and wrath. This concept did seem to feature in the video for 2016’s ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’, so BTS might feel like they’ve already covered it.
A day before the album came out, however, a press release proved fans right, kind of. “Solo tracks of various genres highlight the unique traits of each seven members,” it read. ‘Filter’ reveals a new side to Jimin, while ‘My Time’ traces Jung Kook’s journey from BigHit trainee to BTS superstar. ‘Inner Child’ meanwhile is addressed to a past version of V, while the ARMY get a shout-out from Jin on ‘Moon’.
It might be a reference to the big E on the horizon
BTS have always made it very, very clear they will be enlisting for Korea’s mandatory military service for men between 18-30 when the time comes, despite the outside voices who have suggested they could ask for exemption. While ARMYs know enlistment is coming, they don’t know exactly when or if the band will all go together, individually, or in groups. Writer Jae-ha Kim echoed the thoughts of many fans when she suggested on Twitter that this upcoming album could be called ‘7’ because it’s the group’s last full-length release with all seven of them involved.
I have a theory about "7." The first thing I thought of was that 2020 most likely will be the year that one or more of the members enlist for their mandatory military duty. It seems to be @BTS_twt's way of saying that no matter what happens, they are first & foremost a septet.
— Jae-Ha Kim 김재하 (@GoAwayWithJae) January 7, 2020
‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ subtly harks back to other BTS eras
‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ took things back to the start. On ‘Home’, Suga referenced their debut single ’No More Dream’ (“I want a big house, big cars, big rings” became “Even if we have what I wanted in my dreams / Big house, big cars, big rings”), while ‘Intro: Persona’ sampled ‘Intro: Skool Luv Affair’.
Noticeably, ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ includes five tracks which also featured on ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ – here they function like familiar places on a map, tying the two releases together.
‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ ties things back to the band’s past releases: at various points, members reflect on how far they have come. Plus, 2013 single ’N.O’ and the ‘HYYH’ era have both been nodded to directly in recent VCRs. The band’s MMA performance also featured songs from throughout their career and the album’s release came alongside new film “Kinetic Manifesto Film: Come Prima”. The latter two words mean “As before” in Italian.
— BigHit Entertainment (@BigHitEnt) January 8, 2020
In the visual, soundtracked by lead single ‘ON’, BTS are backed by the marching band Blue Devils, and dance troupe The Lab. Clad in black, these dancers surround the group like shadows, and lyrically, the song references similar ideas: “Is it the shadow that’s shaking,” asks RM, “or is it my feet that are trembling.”
The title could well be read as a flipped response to their 2013 track ‘N.O.’ – a track which reflected on the pressures of fame. In ‘ON’ BTS rise above these fears, and seem more powerful for it.
What’s with the Greek god theme they’ve been playing with?
The Greek theme first came into play with ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’’s ‘Dionysus’, which references the Greek god of theatre, wine, religious ecstasy, and more. At their recent Golden Disk Awards performance, they continued that idea when they showed a VCR titled City Dionysia Begins, featuring each member in different god-like scenarios. Fans have theorised the group are meant to represent individual Greek gods.
Anish Kapoor imagery also features
— BTS as Art⁷ (@btsasarthistory) February 9, 2020
Some fans have pointed out similarities between BTS’ latest visuals, and the work of the British Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor. The wax doorframes surrounding Yoongi in the group’s video for ‘Shadow’ bear an uncanny resemblance to Kapoor’s ‘Svayambh’ installation, while various concept photos posted by Big Hit Entertainment seem to nod to another piece, ‘Descent into Limbo’.
The latter artwork features an 8-ft deep pit, painted with ultra-black paint – it creates the illusion of being bottomless. Kapoor has long been interested in the idea of voids, and it also makes sense that BTS would choose to reference such a piece. Falling has previously featured as a theme in BTS’ music (in ‘On Stage: Prologue’ from 2015, for example) and descending features as Jung’s second step in his journey to the soul.
Plus, there’s a whole bunch of guest appearances
Troye Sivan is credited as a co-writer on ‘Louder than Bombs’, while once again Halsey guests on ‘Boy With Luv’ (she also sings in Korean on the track, which first appeared on ‘Map of the Soul: Persona’). Eagle-eyed fans should keep a look-out for a second version of ‘ON’ featuring pop belter Sia as a digital exclusive.
‘Make It Right’ was also co-written by none other than Ed Sheeran.