There are many reasons why BTS have become the world-conquering marvels they are today, but perhaps the most important one is the most basic of all – their music. The Korean group have packed in a lot of work since they debuted in 2013, experimenting a whole heap along the way. The Bangtan Boys have done it all – from lovesick serenades to dissecting society’s ills, from hip-hop hard-hitters (or ‘cyphers’) to ballads that tug on your heartstrings (not to mention the positive messages that they weave into each song).
Having released 129 official Korean tracks (we’re not counting Japanese releases or songs put up for free on their Soundcloud here), you might expect there to be some duds along the way. No one is perfect and that goes for the Korean idols too. Yet this journey through each track makes it very clear that they’ve not only been incredibly consistent over their first seven years, but have also constantly levelled up in a way that most bands can only dream of.
129‘Interlude: What Are You Doing Now’ (2014)
A lightly funky snippet, ‘What Are You Doing Now’ has a nice groove but, clocking in at just 41 seconds, doesn’t leave much of an impression.
128‘Intro: 2 Cool 4 Skool’ (2013)
BTS’ first intro track, this one-minute-and-four-seconds track features record scratches and minimal vocals setting the tone for the ‘2 Cool 4 Skool’ album: “Teenagers in their 10s and 20s / Let’s talk about it easily.”
127‘Where You From’ (2014)
Suga’s delivery in the opening verse sounds weirdly like he’s about to burst into the Fresh Prince theme tune but, that aside, this song sails past without making much of a mark.
“I thought I was alone but I’ve learned we are seven,” says Suga on this hidden track from ‘2 Cool 4 Skool’, an early hint of the gang mentality and fierce bond that would help keep BTS going and a smooth exorcism on their post-debut thoughts.
125‘Intro: O!RUL8,2?’ (2013)
This snippet of a song might convey a powerful message – make sure you live your life with no regrets – but there’s something about RM’s delivery that comes off a little cheesy.
124‘Outro: Luv In Skool’ (2013)
Soft falsettos soaring as the band close out their first ‘O!RUL8,2?’ album with an ode to a romance that just out of reach.
There’s a hint of trip-hop to this dark and woozy cut, which keeps BTS’ energy subdued as they depict a lethargic, listless existence of plodding around in the rain and absent-mindedly drifting around their house.
122‘Let Me Know’ (2014)
“You take away the stars of my night, take away the sun of my day/And the only thing that eventually remained is the darkness of a cold cloud,” J-hope raps, tussling with a break-up. Like the cold, cloudy sky he describes, ‘Let Me Know’ is overcast and gloomy, a pathetic fallacy to match the emotions it contains.
121‘Outro: Do You Think It Makes Sense?’ (2014)
“Does it make sense? Do you think it makes sense / That our love would change so easily like this,” the members sigh on the closing track to 2014 debut album ‘Dark&Wild’. Accompanied by melancholy R&B trappings, they sound desolate as they grieve for a relationship gone sour.
120‘Second Grade’ (2014)
‘Second Grade’ might boast a lot of gunshots woven into its layers but it’s far from the explosive track that this might suggest. Instead BTS reflect on entering their second year in the music industry over a snapping, bright beat.
119‘Intro: Skool Luv Affair’ (2014)
‘Intro: Skool Luv Affair’ sees Bangtan’s rappers good-naturedly duke it out to decide how they should portray love. Hopefully? Through hip-hop? RM concludes on the latter as he mourns: “I made you smile and then you went to some jerk who makes you cry.”
118‘Cypher Pt. 1’ (2013)
The group’s first rap line-only cypher puts takes on those who say BTS’ MCs can’t be true hip-hop artists. “I’m usually generous but Imma murder your rappers / I’m going to cut you one by one then Imma murder you haters,” RM glowers over an understated beat.
117‘Outro: Propose’ (2014)
“I’ll become a rhythm, I’ll become a song / And I’ll sing myself for you,” Jin promises on this soothing piece of pop. As the title hints, it’s a track full of love, telling its recipient that “you’re the only one for me”.
116‘War Of Hormone’ (2014)
Ah to be young and fuelled by lust. ‘War Of Hormone’ finds the BTS of 2014 with eyes wide and tongues lolling, drooling over a woman’s “hair, body, waist, legs, even other unspeakable parts”. Lyrics like that caught the band some heat for objectifying women (for which they apologised and promised to learn from), but it’s still worth a listen, if just to hear a tiny Jungkook proudly proclaiming: “Yes I’m a bad boy so I like bad girl.”
115‘Intro: The Most Beautiful Moment In Life’ (2015)
Suga leads this intro track, describing a scene on a basketball court as a place for him to exorcise his anxieties. “What I’m shooting at the rim/Are my countless thoughts and worries about life,” he pants over a beat designed to replicate a bouncing ball.
114‘Love Is Not Over’ (2015)
Like ‘Hold Me Tight’ from the same album, ‘Love Is Not Over’ sees BTS’ singers refusing to let go of a lover, begging them to come back to them by declaring: “Without you, I don’t think I can be.”
113‘Could You Turn Off Your Cellphone’ (2014)
“Give me a mention face to face / I don’t need a like,” plead BTS on this assessment of technology and the rise of social media’s effect on society. “Sometimes I miss the time when we used to look at each other’s face and talk.”
112‘Look Here’ (2014)
‘Look Here’ finds young BTS showing off their soft, sultry falsettos with alluring ease, and it’s all set to a gently trotting guitar twang. “Look here, don’t run away,” they command, voices dropped to a hush.
BTS pay tribute to the dialects of their hometowns on this vibrant hip-hop track, building a song that sparkles with playfulness. Yet they also have a unifying message to share: “Look up, we are all/Looking at the same sky.”
110‘Moving On’ (2015)
Written about moving from the dorm they shared as young artists to a new house after their debut, ‘Moving On’ is wistful and sweet, full of memories and past worries. “Goodbye to this place that we grew attached to,” they sing. “Let’s move now to a higher place.”
109‘Intro: What Am I To You’ (2014)
Strings fly on this bright opener to ‘Dark&Wild’, making it seem as though the record will be full of lovestruck tunes. It might start off that way, but by the intro’s end that’s certainly not the case, a frustrated RM spitting: “Blowing hot and cold, stop confusing a person’s feelings.”
108‘Hold Me Tight’ (2015)
Lost love crops up a lot in Bangtan’s back catalogue and it makes its presence known here, the band clinging onto a relationship that’s on its last legs. “Your cold face tells me everything rather than words / I can see a break up rising over me like a high tide,” Suga says through effects that amplify the distance between him and his partner, his voice coming in and out of focus.
Early BTS might have been characterised by big hip-hop sounds but ‘Like’ is an exception to that. It’s full of caramel melodies and a softly lilting vocal hook, cushioning a tale of heartache in the social media age.
106‘Outro: Circle Room Cypher’ (2013)
BTS’ first-ever cypher is a delight – it feels like a moment that wasn’t meant to be included on their debut album, like you’re eavesdropping on a bunch of young friends embroiled in a friendly rap battle. J-hope, Suga and RM already prove they’ve got the power of smart wordplay, but most iconic of all is Jin’s verse.
105‘21st Century Girls’ (2016)
Snapping beats clatter together on this plea to a generation of women to accept who they are and not succumb to the pressures of Korea’s image-focused society. “You’re beautiful enough / Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Suga sings.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to make your dreams reality and to feel like you’re stuck in a rut when it doesn’t seem like you’re progressing fast enough. “I have a long way to go but why am I running in place?” BTS ask on ‘Tomorrow’, the song driven by a stuttering, looped sample that emphasises that feeling of being stuck and unable to move forward.
103‘Miss Right’ (2014)
This smooth 2014 song finds BTS serenading their dream girls. It’s cute, if a little cheesy, but you have to admit the line “You’re someone who only exists in the movies” is pretty swoon-worthy.
102‘Hip Hop Phile’ (2014)
BTS pay homage to raps greats, from fellow Koreans Epik High to New York legends such as Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G. “If loving this culture was a sin / I would have died a hundred times,” Suga notes.
101‘A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone’ (2017)
The atmospheric closer to the ‘You Never Walk Alone’ repackage slowly and softly transforms from a rumination on the struggles BTS face into an offer of a companion through hard times. “This road may be long and rough but / Will you stay with me?” they ask. “We may fall and sometimes get hurt but / Will you stay with me?”
100‘Am I Wrong’ (2016)
Class divisions rear their heads on this track, which samples Keb Mo’s 1994 single of the same name. “We’re all dogs and pigs/We become dogs because we’re angry,” they spit at one point, referencing a comment once made by Korean government figures about the less privileged classes.
99‘Make It Right’ (2019)
This Ed Sheeran co-write stands as a testament to BTS’ global stature by 2019: they’d come so far that that one of the world’s biggest musicians penned a track for them. There’s just a little too much Sheeran in this mix, though, his signature sound distracting from the group’s usual dominance.
98‘Cypher Pt. 2: Triptych’ (2014)
BTS’ cyphers improved over time. The best bit here comes when Suga offers their critics some career advice: “You think you can do music? Just go look for a part-time job.” Burn.
97‘Ma City’ (2015)
On ‘Ma City’, the seven members share their memories of their hometowns, fondly remembering the places they were raised. That is until you get to Suga’s verse, when he declares of Daegu: “There’s nothing much to boast about.” Ouch.
A tale of perseverance set to lightly glittering synth-pop, ‘Lost’ sees BTS vow: “No matter how much I wander / I want to believe in my path.” The glittering instrumentation around them acts like guiding lights to the road they need to be on.
95‘We On’ (2013)
BTS began taking on their haters pretty early in their career. “Whatever they say / I’m here for my music,” RM purrs on this 2013 track, having easily located the determination to carry on.
94‘Converse High’ (2015)
“If I had only one day / I will go see the person who created Converse Highs / Then I’ll tell that person you saved the world,” gushes RM, a fan of the baseball shoes worn by the object of his affections. Suga, meanwhile, has an entirely different message, claiming to “really hate Converse” because of how difficult they are to get off when he’s getting frisky.
93‘First Love’ (2016)
Suga addresses his love of piano, taking listeners into his childhood home and documenting his relationship with the instrument over the years. As the song builds, his approach becomes more urgent, heaving out his words until he’s back calmly in “the corner of my memory”, reunited with “a brown piano settled on one side”.
92‘Autumn Leaves’ (2015)
BTS are nothing if not creative when it comes to analogies for the demise of a coupling. This time, they take the autumnal image of brown, crisping leaves and relate it to a romantic flame fluttering and burning out.
91‘Jamais Vu’ (2019)
Jin, J-hope and Jungkook unite on this ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’ cut on which they utilise video game metaphors to deal with their mistakes and flaws (“If this was a game, I could just load it again / I guess I gotta deal with this, deal with this / Real world”). A tender piano ballad, ‘Jamais Vu’ isn’t the most dynamic BTS song, but it’s still stirring and elegant.
V’s snarled ‘Skool Luv Affair’ vocal has become iconic over the last six years, not least due to his bandmates’ insistence on singing it at him at any opportunity. Who can blame them?Its sentiment and delivery add up to make something bold and empowering, his rasped vocals assuring: “Even if I live only one day / There can never be any regret.”
89‘Dream Glow’ (2019)
Charli XCX, one of pop’s most prolific collaborators, jumps on this track taken from the BTS World game soundtrack. Alongside the British pop star, Jungkook, Jin and Jimin weave an ode to following your dreams over a pleasant EDM bed that gently drives things to a twinkling conclusion.
This hidden track on ‘Love Yourself: Her’ reflects on BTS’ journey and how they overcame their hardships to achieve unprecedented success. “In the end, we reached the mirage and it became our reality,” Suga points out, but there’s a catch: “Why is there this fear in between the happiness?”
This 2013 slow jam is as rich and velvet-smooth as the different types of java that the group list, cleverly comparing stages of a relationship to said drinks. The first date? “Sweet like a caramel macchiato.” The eventual decline? “Like dripping down espresso.” The inevitable split? “Bitter Americano”, of course.
86‘A Brand New Day’ (2019)
BTS might be collaborating with stars from all over the globe these days, but don’t think they’ve forgotten the sounds of their home. This Zara Larsson collab brings together Mura Masa’s modern production with the sounds of traditional Korean instruments such as the haegeum, notes trembling between clinking beats. Meanwhile J-hope and V team up with the Swedish singer to narrate their feelings on overcoming obstacles to reach their goals (“Voice getting louder, the sound of breathing from happiness / I suddenly realised I would make my dream come true”).
85‘All Night’ (2019)
RM and Suga call in the late Juice WRLD for the highlight of the BTS World collaborations, swapping verses about success and love over a chill hip-hop groove. “Who’s the one-shot singer?” Suga asks at one point. “Grammys are right in front of our noses.” Where is the lie?
84‘Boyz With Fun’ (2015)
“We’re here, the fun boys,” chant BTS at the start of this riot of a retro rap song that does what it says on the tin. “It’s been a while since such things like pretensions went home,” hollers Suga before his bandmates prove there’s definitely no posturing present here, chanting “fun, fun” like a revving engine.
Over neo-soul stylings, V wrestles with guilt, begging to be punished for his sins. “Deeper, I feel like dying every day,” he cries. “Please let me punished / Please forgive me for my sins.”
“Don’t get me twisted!” BTS warn on this ode to one-sided love, tired of being toyed with. It’s angsty and bruised, much like the band’s hearts and egos, the chorus’ guitar chugs conveying their frustrations.
Over piano flourishes and jazz-leaning beats, Bangtan recognise the complexities of love. Here, they might have met the love of their lives, but they’re painfully aware things aren’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows – especially if they hide their true selves.
RM and Suga team up here for an old school hip-hop dissection of the word “respect” and its overuse in modern society. BTS’ ability to get profound might be talked about a lot, but this song proves they’re just as capable of cutting loose and having a bit of fun.
79‘Intro: Never Mind’ (2015)
“I don’t give a shit I don’t give a fuck,” barks Suga on the opening track of ‘The Most Beautiful Moment In Life Pt. 2’ and – oh boy – do we believe him. Not that that affords us any safety from his sharp tongue – minutes later he’s doling out blunt advice, jeering: “If you think you’re gonna crash, accelerate even harder, you idiot.” Message received!
78‘Cypher 4’ (2016)
“I love, I love, I love myself / Ya playa haters, you should love yourself,” BTS’ rap line taunt on their fifth cypher recording, in which RM adds insult to injury by pointing out people may hate him, but at least they know him. “I like hate comments more than no comments / I don’t know you but you know my name,” he mocks.
77‘If I Ruled The World’ (2013)
BTS might be pop kings now, but back in 2013 they only dreamt of ruling the roost. Those fantasies, according to the smooth, old-school vibe of ‘If I Ruled The World’, include using their riches to buy houses and cars, and entertain the women of their dreams. The band themselves, though, acknowledge that they’re being “ridiculous”, shrugging, “but I’m singing this childish song.”
A classic slice of loved-up R&B, ‘Dark&Wild’’s ’24/7=Heaven’ is pure romantic bliss. It glides through bright guitar licks as Bangtan happily lose sleep over their new partner. “You make my days like a movie,” they swoon at one point, completely lost to love.
You don’t stop comparing yourself to your peers just because you’re a big-name musician, according to Jin. Over dipping and diving strings, he sighs here: “I can’t fly like the flower petals over there”, insinuating that he’s not as good or talented as his bandmates. Despite that, he’ll keep trying to grow and improve – something he’s more than come good on in the four years since this song’s release.
74‘House Of Cards’ (2015)
If BTS were ever asked to write a Bond theme, ‘House Of Cards’ could serve as a strong framework. Its stately instrumentation slowly weaves mystery through the track, which compares a relationship to a house of cards – precarious, unable to withstand any true hardships.
J-hope’s ‘Wings’ solo pays tribute to his mum; he thanks her for supporting him when he was just an aspiring performer. “Now you can believe in your son, you can smile,” he tells her over record scratches and brass tootles.
This RM solo track features an early call to the ‘Love Yourself’ series that would follow it, closing with a repeated refrain of “I wish I could love myself”. That line concludes a track that sees the BTS leader depicting a scene at Seoul’s Han River, where he’d visit “when I really hate myself”. It’s introspective and delicate, its melodies floating and shifting like the tide.
Jimin’s ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ solo is the perfect embodiment of him as a performer, its Latin-pop sway sounding ready made for the fluid movements he makes as one of BTS’ best dancers. ‘Filter’ is playful too, with Jimin offering to be “your Genie / How ‘bout Aladdin?”
70‘Trivia: Just Dance’ (2018)
It’s only fitting that Bangtan’s dance leader J-hope should compare falling in love with pulling some shapes. “Hey dance with me, dance with me / Any kind of dance is fine with me ” he invites over pumping beats that back up his call and propel you to move.
69‘Just One Day’ (2014)
Based around the idea of what each member would do if they could have one day with the one they love, this 2014 track is full of longing and melancholy. After they describe their perfect days, it comes to an end with a simple, whispered wish: “Can you please stay with me?”
68‘Black Swan’ (2020)
“A dancer dies twice – once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful,” acclaimed dancer Martha Graham once said. The dark, lowkey ‘Black Swan’ uses that idea to explore the impact of falling out of love with your passions, RM wondering if he’s already reached that point. “Nothing can devour me / I shout out with ferocity,” Jin and Jungkook declare later as the band resolve not to let their truest love – music – slip away from them.
67‘We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal’ (2020)
The sentiment of this ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ cut is emotional and moving – a testimony to the close bond between BTS and their fans, the ARMY, the aural equivalent of a pair of Best Friends Forever necklaces that will always tessellate.
References to the solar system crop up a lot in BTS’ work, and on this ‘Love Yourself: Tear’ track they reference Pluto’s less sexy alternate name, 134340, assigned when it was downgraded to a minor planet in 1992. “There’s no name allowed for me,” RM murmurs over jazzy flute, comparing his fate as an ex-lover to that of Pluto. “I too used to be your star.”
65‘I’m Fine’ (2018)
This is a response to the 2016 track ‘Save ME’, a declaration – set to skittering EDM beats – that the band no longer need rescuing. As they put it on the chorus: “I’m feeling just fine… I’ll let go of your hand now/ I know I’m all mine.”
This song is beautifully coloured by the friendship between Bangtan’s resident soulmates V and Jimin. They’ll make you long for your BFF as they weave cryptic lines about “the dumpling incident” and vow to stay just as linked “when this cheer dies down”.
63‘Best Of Me’ (2017)
BTS teamed up with The Chainsmokers on this 2017 song, a lightly bubbling piece of EDM-pop in which they’re taken by surprise by love and swear to give their partner only “the best of me”. Lyrically speaking, the depictions of romance are some of their most ecstatic, from the opening of “When you say that you love me / I walk above the clouds” to RM’s “I speak with your language / And I breathe in your air”.
62‘Intro: Boy Meets Evil’ (2016)
The opening track of 2016’s ‘Wings’ pulls from trip-hop, all dark and languid, before transforming into an equally ominous slab of dubstep. Between the shuddering beats J-hope examines the concepts of greed and good versus bad, before he’s overpowered by the lure of his sins: “I didn’t want to let go of the devil’s hand / Too bad but it’s too sweet.”
Jungkook uses his ‘Wings’ solo to show his gratitude for his bandmates, who’ve been by his side since his early teens. Written by RM, the track paints Jungkook as an empathetic soul who feels his fellow members’ sadness and struggles more than his own pain. That his voice swoops and soars with a velvety grace makes it all the greater.
Here BTS imagine a life without their fans and ponder how different things might have been. “If I didn’t know you / Maybe I’d have given up,” suggests Jimin on the soaring synth-pop gem. Ultimately the band conclude that their fandom has been brought one about by destiny.
59‘Spine Breaker’ (2014)
On this jerky hip-hop track, BTS take on their generation’s habit of demanding expensive clothes that their families can’t afford. While Suga and J-hope chide their peers for being “immature” and “coldhearted”, RM argues keeping up with trends stops young people from becoming outcasts.
58‘Answer: Love Myself’ (2018)
The conclusion of BTS’ quest to love themselves, ‘Answer’ credits the ARMY with helping them see the light. “You’ve shown me I have reasons / I should love myself,” sing Jin and Jungkook on the impassioned chorus. It’s reminiscent of RM’s comments on stage at New York’s Citi Field in 2018. “I didn’t know anything about loving myself,” the group’s leader said at BTS’ first US stadium show. “But you guys taught me through your eyes, through your love, through your tweets, through your letters.”
57‘Love Maze’ (2018)
A warped synth sound cuts through the song, dragging across slapping beats and RM’s measured delivery. It’s disorientating and dizzying, as if the track has wandered into its very own set of wrong turns, reflecting the lyrics that compare affairs to a labyrinth.
56‘So What’ (2018)
“I don’t wanna die right now./ I don’t wanna fight right now,” RM professes on this piece of sparkling EDM-pop. “I wanna live right now.” It’s a gleeful reminder to not let your worries overtake you.
55‘Inner Child’ (2020)
On this Coldplay-style surging pop jewel, V looks back on his younger self and offers him some moving encouragement. “I’ll give you my world,” he promises his younger self. “You’re my boy.” Beautiful.
BTS might not be superheroes like Japanese cartoon character Anpanman, but they’ll still do their best to come to the rescue of their fans when they’re needed. That’s the message of this exuberant piece of pop that barely sits still (and won’t let you do so either).
53‘Cypher Pt. 3: Killer’ (2014)
If anyone is still doubting Bangtan’s rap credentials, get stuck into ‘Cypher Pt. 3’, in which they show off their elastic flows and rapid-fire execution. Suga foreshadows his exemplary ‘Agust D’ mixtape with a cheeky boast. “Whether it be men or women / My flexible tongue movements will send them to Hong Kong with my raps,” he assures us, deploying a Korean euphemism for getting someone off. Saucy!
This is the closest BTS have come to making a grime track, its creeping hip-hop beat perforated by notes that sound like drawn-out sirens. The group’s trio of rappers deliver a powerful account of a break-up, comparing the split to an “incurable disease”. It’s like taking a blazing blowtorch and scorching it across your heart.
51‘Pied Piper’ (2017)
There aren’t many bands who would write a song comparing themselves to the Pied Piper and their fans to children he lured away, but this slinky 2017 track saw BTS do just that. “Your parents and boss hate me,” RM mischievously notes, telling their listeners to focus their attention on all things BTS.
50‘The Truth Untold’ (2018)
You’d never guess this emotive vocal line song was produced by frequent collaborator Steve Aoki – there’s not a ‘womp’ in sight. Based on L. Frank Baum’s sixth Wizard of Oz book, 1920’s The Emerald City of Oz, it tells the story of an “ugly” man who locks himself away from the world out of shame, but comes to regret letting his insecurities control his life.
49‘Interlude: Shadow’ (2020)
Suga’s emo-rap solo on ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ completes that album’s triptych of rap line lookbacks by sampling ‘Intro: O!RUL8,2?’. He delves into psychologist Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow, or our internal dark side that we hide from the world. As the rapper gets more successful, so his shadow grows “as dark as the light’s intense”. ‘Shadow’ is an intricate musing on the pitfalls of success.
48‘My Time’ (2020)
Jungkook shines on this glistening R&B song that charts his journey from 13-year-old trainee to the globally recognised star of today, reflecting on the sacrifices he’s had to make to live this life. “My life has been a movie all the time,” he acknowledges, but wonders if he’s missed out on key experiences other people his age go through.
47‘2! 3! (Still Wishing Of Better Days)’ (2016)
BTS rarely sugarcoat life and, on ‘2! 3!’, they continue that approach, noting that they can’t say “there will only be good things from now on”. But this song for their fans does promise one thing – as long as they’re together, they can hope “for more good days”.
46‘Whalien 52’ (2015)
According to marine biology experts, the 52-hertz whale is ‘the loneliest animal in the world’ as its song is at a much higher frequency than that of other whales. That’s the jump-off point for BTS on this 2015 track, which sees them comparing the creature to an alien and using it as an analogy for their own loneliness.
“A good house, a good car / Will these things bring happiness?” RM questions on this track from 2013’s ‘O!RUL8,2?’. Over an urgent hip-hop beat, BTS take on Korea’s attitude to education, encouraging their peers to not be forced into living their parents’ dreams and avoid a life as “study machines”.
44‘Attack On Bangtan’ (2013)
There’s something quaint about this 2013 track, which opens with Suga asking: “But what will happen if BTS rises?” We know the answer now, but back then the seven-piece were very much still climbing their way up to the top, buoyed by youthful confidence. “We got fire,” they snarl on the chorus. “Get higher!” Seven years on and those words still ring true.
43‘Trivia: Love’ (2018)
On RM’s ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ solo, he lets his playful lyricism run wild, sliding effortlessly from poetic lines about the gradual growth of love (“I just feel it / Like the moon rises after the sun rises / Like how fingernails grow”) to utilising the alphabet to express his devotion (“It’s a long way from I to U / Fuck JKLMNOPQRST / I crossed all the letters and I reached you”). Like the love he sings about, the track grows from simple and subtle, coloured by jazzy flourishes, into something gently euphoric.
42‘Airplane Pt. 2’ (2018)
Following on from J-hope’s ‘Hope World’ mixtape track ‘Airplane’, this ‘Love Yourself: Tear’ track adopts a Latin-pop swing to lay out their success, cheekily addressing those who said they wouldn’t make it. “I got fed up by you cutely bragging about your money on TV / My passport is about to die from overworking,” Suga asserts.
If there’s one song to express BTS’ mindsets as artists it’s ‘ON’ – no matter what gets thrown at them, be that the near-universal praise they’ve received recently or the criticism they faced in their early days, they’ll keep going. “Find me and I’m gonna bleed with ya,” they rally over marching band drums.
They say home is where the heart is and, it seems that for BTS that means wherever their loyal fanbase ARMY is. Suga emphasises the importance of that safe space in his verse, noting: “Even if we have what I wanted in my dreams / Big house, big cars, big rings”, material items can’t replace having somewhere (and someone) to call home.
39‘Not Today’ (2017)
RM’s opening manifesto (“A day may come when we lose / But it is not today”) sets the combative tone perfectly for a fiery, fierce track on which they encourage their fans to live their best lives. “Break the glass ceiling that cages you,” they cheer.
38‘Blanket Kick’ (2014)
This sweet, smooth cut from 2014’s ‘Dark&Wild’ spins a universal story about your behaviour becoming uncontrollably weirder in front of someone you’re interested in. “Why did I do that the other day?” J-hope regrets. “It’s a sleepless night again…”
37‘00:00 (Zero O’Clock)’ (2020)
Had a shitty day? Don’t let it roll over to tomorrrow, BTS say here. With this track they implore us to take midnight as a reset, to shake off our worries look ahead to the new day with positivity. They’re not so naïve to think beating life’s dark side is quite as simple as that, but they offer a persuasive mantra: “And you’re gonna be happy”.
Fate is hard at work in Jimin’s ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ solo, in which pretty finger-picked guitar melodies float and glide around his romantic tale. “You’re my penicillin, saving me,” he romantically declares, before declaring himself a rare creature: “I’m your Calico cat, here to see you.”
Shot-through with traditional Korean instrumentation, this bold hip-hop track shows off BTS’ inventiveness and musical dexterity. It’s fitting, then, that the song finds the band embracing their roles as idols, noting that the position doesn’t negate their artistry, a claim levelled at them in the past.
Jin’s solo track, from ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’, is filled with love – specifically for the ARMY. On the indie-pop tune ‘Moon’, he gives himself the role of the Moon to the ARMY’s Earth, the band’s eldest member pledging to “orbit around you” and “be your light”.
On the surface, the title track of ‘The Most Beautiful Moment In Life Pt. 2’ seems to be a pacy paean to lost love, J-hope rapping: “Everyone says it’s over, but I can’t stop / Is this sweat or tears? I can’t really tell.” But hidden at its core is another message entirely – that it’s OK to make mistakes, and you’ve just got to pick yourself up and keep running.
V absolutely smoulders in his delivery of the racy seeming ‘Love Yourself: Tear’ solo, though his husky, low vocals actually address the idea of changing who you are to suit others. “I buried my voice for you,” he sings, his voice breaking in the process.
31‘Go Go’ (2017)
‘Go Go’ is classic BTS in its coupling of a catchy refrain with cutting observations of society. The repetition of the words “YOLO YOLO YOLO YO” hints at a carpe diem philosophy that borders on excessive but, in reality, the song dives into young people’s low expectations of life. “Woo, there’s no tomorrow / My future has already been put in a pledge,” Jin cries, accepting a millennial life of little money, low job opportunities and unrealistic chances of owning a house. If that’s the case, BTS suggest “rather than worrying – go”.
30‘Outro: Ego’ (2020)
Here the group’s ray of sunshine, J-Hope, putts a typically positive spin on the idea of the ego, which usually has negative connotations. Instead he follows Carl Jung’s theories to unlock his ego and, subsequently, his own identity, tracing his journey from aspiring dancer Jung Hoseok to the idol and icon he is now. Fittingly for someone of J-hope’s nature, it’s a luminescent, skipping track that finds its creator accepting his past struggles as experiences he had to go through to become who is today.
‘Dionysus’, the rocky closer to 2019’s ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ could easily double as a drinking game as well as a meditation on the obsessive, intoxicating nature of artistry. If you keep up with the group’s instructions to down “one shot, two shots” and “drink, drink, drink, drink up my glass”, though, you’ll have a sore head in the morning.
Opening with elegant strings, Jimin’s solo immediately draws you in like the web of lies he sings about. It swoons and soars, a dark edge hinting at the punishment he’s being served for telling untruths (“Caught in a lie / Please take me out of this hell / I can’t be free from this pain”). For the listener, though, ‘Lie’ is nothing short of heaven, as Jimin’s voice flies from seductive depths to heart-stopping highs.
27‘Louder Than Bombs’ (2020)
Co-written with Troye Sivan, this dark, rumbling ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ track centres on the downside of being empathetic when you’re presented with other people’s stories of pain. Despite that, though, they promise to keep fighting the darkness together. “Whatever wave may sweep over us / We will endlessly sing to you,” Jungkook, Jimin and Jin vow. This is one of BTS’ most emotionally defiant songs.
26‘Boy In Luv’ (2014)
“Why are you shaking up my heart?” V asks persistently in the growl that reminds you of a baby bear’s – fierce but underpinned by a youthful vulnerability. Hip-hop track ‘Boy In Luv’ veers from brave braggadocio (“If you lose a guy like me you’ll regret it”) to their emotional whirlwind (“You’re making a big boy act like a little kid”). It’s an adrenaline-fuelled ride as wild as falling in love for the first time.
Like ‘No More Dream’ before it, ‘Paradise’ returns to the idea that your life isn’t lacking if you don’t have a big dream to guide it. “It’s all right to not have a dream / If you have moments where you feel happiness for a while,” the vocal line insist on the chorus, before RM adds his own words of wisdom: “Who says a dream must be something grand? / You can just become anybody / We deserve a life / Whatever big or small, you are you after all.” Preach!
Bangtan might have plenty of slow stunners in their back pockets, but few are as tender as ‘Butterfly’. It’s sparse and subdued as the members poetically use the imagery of a butterfly to express their fear of losing someone. “If I let go of your hand, you’ll fly away and break / I’m scared” sighs Jungkook.
No one can doubt BTS’ work ethic and ‘Dope’ sees them address their own indefatigable spirit. “We’re drenched, drenched, drenched/In sweat in our practice room,” J-hope puffs. But they also take the time to criticise the stick their generation gets, with RM noting: “The media and adults say we don’t have the willpower, condemning us like stocks / Why are they killing us before we can even try?”
Following your own path can be a terrifying risk to take but here BTS make it sound like a jubilant party, four-to-the-floor beats and synths driving this infectious, celebratory track. “I believe in you and now though it seems humble / In the end you’ll leap into a prosperous future,” Suga encourages at one point. “It’s the path you chose, kid / Don’t be scared.”
21‘We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2’ (2013)
This heavy hip-hop banger, perforated by a shrill, insistent melody, is something of an origin story for BTS, as they share some of their pre-debut journey and boast about their path filled with hard work. Most notably of all, then-15-year-old Jungkook kicks things off with a swaggering statement: “The name is Jungkook / My scale is nationwide”.
20‘Magic Shop’ (2018)
‘Magic Shop’ revolves around the concept that there’s a door in fans’ hearts, which will lead them to the love and comfort of the boyband. The seven-piece offer to “take away your sadness and pain” and promise to “believe your galaxy”. Interestingly Jungkook acknowledges that advice to simply ‘find strength’ often isn’t helpful when you’re struggling in life. Instead – typical BTS – they offer to help you locate that strength by sharing their own stories, proving that you’re not alone.
BTS have never shied away from showing all sides of youth, encompassing all kinds of hardships and highlights that young people experience – from economic limits, mental health issues and the highs and lows of love. On ‘DNA’ they depict two lovers “who found our destiny” and are bound to be “forever together”, soundtracking the relationship’s intensity with synths and wobbling beats that spike and dip like a heart monitor being put through its paces.
‘Dimple’ is as smooth as they come. Musically it’s one of BTS’ sultriest, sexiest jams. “Your existence alone is a crime / Was it a mistake made by an angel?” the band purr. Those charmers.
17‘Burning Up (Fire)’ (2016)
Four years on from its release, ‘Fire’ is still one of the standout tracks of any BTS live show – an energetic burst of house production and party-starting dynamics. It serves as a calling card to the scared and suffering, urging them to join BTS and and “jump and go crazy”. It’s almost impossible to resist.
In Ancient Greek philosophy, ‘mikros kosmos’ refers to the idea that individuals form their own little world. Here, BTS take that notion and apply it to Earth, imagining every resident on the planet as their own micro cosmos coming together to build a whole galaxy. “One history in one person / One star in one person,” raps RM at one point. “Seven billion different worlds / Shining with seven billion lights.” It’s a gorgeous, glittering piece of emotional pop that subtly continues the band’s ‘Love Yourself’ message.
15‘Intro: Persona’ (2019)
The first taste of the ‘Map Of The Soul’ series, RM’s solo track introduces us to Carl Jung’s theories of persona – the masks we present to the world. The rap-rock track finds the BTS leader asking “Who the hell am I?” over chugging guitar riffs. It’s fun, feisty and sounds a little like Beastie Boys , while also going full circle on BTS’ own catalogue.
This Jin solo track sees the group’s oldest member on his own voyage to self-acceptance, as he realises that adapting yourself to suit someone else is never the answer – no matter how much you love them. “Why did I want to hide my precious self?” he asks over soft piano, his epiphany dawning on him. “What made me so afraid that I hid my true self?”
13‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’ (2016)
‘Blood, Sweat & Tears’ takes its lead from Hermann Hesse’s 1919 novel Demian, which follows the character Emil Sinclair as he shakes off the innocence of youth and enters adulthood, traversing temptation and sin along the way. There’s nothing innocent about this 2016 track, with BTS ready to risk it all for love (or lust). “Kiss me, it’s OK if it hurts,” raps J-hope urgently. “Just tighten me quick / So I won’t feel the pain anymore.”
12‘Epilogue: Young Forever’ (2016)
Like youth, fame isn’t permanent – and BTS seem acutely aware of this. “Even if the attention isn’t forever, I’ll keep singing,” J-hope promises before the atmospheric production lifts becomes anthemic, emotional and grand.
11‘Save ME’ (2016)
Bringing together elements of tropical house and bubbling electro-pop, ‘Save ME’ is deceptively bright and bouncy – an aural carnival that masks the pleas for help in the lyrics. “I’m trapped in myself and I’m dead,” Jimin sings in its opening lines. “Don’t wanna be lonely / Just wanna be yours.” It’s unclear if he’s referring to a lover or the ARMY, though we get a potential hint later on. “Thank you for letting me be me / For helping me fly / For giving someone like me wings,” RM raps.
10‘Boy With Luv’ (2019)
BTS have collaborated with several Western artists over the years, but this song, recorded with Halsey, is their best yet. It’s a jubilant mood-maker and Halsey’s input never threatens to overshadow BTS, her voice instead complementing the vocal lines as if she’s an extension of the band.
9‘No More Dream’ (2013)
“It’s OK if you don’t have a dream,” Suga said in the band’s New Year’s messages in 2018. “You don’t need a dream to be happy.” That sentiment recalled the theme of their debut single ‘No More Dream’, in which they reject society’s constant push on young people to dream big – a concept they revisited on 2018’s ‘Paradise’. Instead they tell their fans to “go your own way”.
When BTS decide to go hard, they go earth-shatteringly hard. ‘Ugh!’, the rap line’s team-up on ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’, is just that – J Hope, Suga, and RM take on internet trolls over gunshots and beats that land like expertly delivered upper-cuts. The track also sees them make a catchy calling card out of the word “ahem”, loading the humble syllables with huge power.
This light and breezy seeming song, which sees rapper Suga showing off his soft singing voice, is deceptively dark. Its lyrics depict a relationship trapped in a repetitive cycle (a “repeated seesaw game”), with two people hesitating to be the one to jump off first. We’ve all been there!
6‘Mic Drop’ (2017)
BTS have had their fair share of haters from day one, but as they’ve grown more successful, those ranks have also become bigger. ‘Mic Drop’ is their two fingers up at those who try to bring them down. It’s a swag-filled rap-led track full of their very own mic drop moments, not least RM’s sneered “good luck”.
5‘I Need U’ (2015)
One of BTS’ greatest strengths is the emotion they pour into everything – be that sadness, anger or pure joy. On ‘I Need U’, you can hear their desperation and ambivalence as they try to cling onto a relationship that has already died, their voices ripe with vulnerability as they call out: “I need you, girl / Why do I love alone and say goodbye alone?”
It might have become synonymous with Jungkook flying around stadiums on a zip-wire on last year’s ‘Speak Yourself’ stadium tour, but ‘Euphoria’ has always felt like the soundtrack to gliding 100 feet in the sky, propelled only by a rush of love. It’s utterly magical whether you’re on your first listen or 1000th, JK cooing, “When I’m with you I’m in utopia” as though his pupils have been replaced by big emoji hearts.
One of BTS’ most powerful tracks, ‘Baepsae’ takes on the old Korean idiom that if a crow-tit tries to follow a stork, it will split its legs. In other words: stay in your lane instead of trying to move into social classes above you. BTS don’t accept that sentiment, though, and try to inspire an uprising against the “storks [who] want to maintain”. It’s an urgent, needling slice of hip-hop whose relevance spans far beyond Korea’s borders.
2‘Fake Love’ (2018)
If you’re not true to yourself, love (for yourself or another) is ultimately doomed. That’s the message behind ‘Fake Love’, which grapples with the impulse to “craft a beautiful lie” about your lover and lose sight of who they really are. Set to dark guitar melodies and big trap beats, it’s a beautifully gloomy early instance of BTS tackling the idea of one’s persona.
1‘Spring Day’ (2017)
Sure, The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’ has charted in the UK Singles Chart over 200 times since its release in 2004, but ‘Spring Day’ has even bested even that huge commercial performance. The 2017 single has charted every single week since its release – reaching 156 weeks on its three-year anniversary in February – and thus become the longest-charting song on the Korean MelOn charts.
How has it been able to stay so relevant? By being absolutely gorgeous, a stirring piece of alt-pop that sees the narrators move from despondence at missing a loved one to being hopeful of a reunion. The song uses the seasons as metaphors for the transient, ever-changing nature of life. It is, in short, a classic – a glistening jewel in a canonical crown bedazzled with them.