Agust D – aka BTS’ Suga – opens his first studio album under the moniker in a mood that isn’t commonly associated with the rapper’s solo work. “D-Day is coming, it’s a fucking good day,” he tells us after a refrain that declares: “Future’s gonna be OK / OK, OK, look at the mirror and I see no pain.” Here, he sounds almost joyous, as if this feeling of contentedness is a revelation.
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It makes sense – since he released his debut mixtape under the alias in 2016, Suga’s work outside of BTS has been typically linked to anger, even if – particularly on 2020’s ‘D-2’ – there’s always been more to it than that. But the backbone of ‘D-DAY’ is the idea of liberation, and this record finds him largely moving on from those old, barbed emotions, setting himself free and stepping fully into the role of a wise social commentator and – at times – protector.
Although Agust D’s old anger might have reached boiling point and evaporated away, that doesn’t mean ‘D-DAY’ is all rainbows and sunshine as it shares his perspective on the world. On the soft strut of ‘Polar Night’, he takes on the divisiveness that is tearing society apart and points out the flaws in the righteous attitudes we take against our fellow citizens. “If you’re not on the same side, we’re enemies,” he observes. “An extreme choice / Political correctness whenever it suits me / But keep my mouth shut when it’s too bothersome for me / Selectively hypocritical, an uncomfortable attitude.” As the verse progresses, so too the disdain in his voice grows.
On ‘Haegeum’ – the title of which refers to both the traditional string instrument that weaves throughout and the Korean word for liberation – he makes a case for doing away “with the nonsense” that clutters online and IRL, and finds a new freedom. “Freedom of expression / Could be the reason for somebody’s death,” he says pointedly. “Could you still consider that freedom?”
Some of that old Agust D anger starts to simmer again on ‘HUH?!’, which features his BTS bandmate J-hope and is centred around a shadowy drill foundation. “What the shit do you know about me?” Suga demands. “Fuck that shit you think you know ‘bout me.” It’s not rage just for rage’s sake, though, his standing up to misconceptions linked into his observations later in the song: “Millions of news coverage and gossip, the villain in this age of information.”
If ‘D-DAY’ presents a liberation from feeling a certain way, then even more so it represents a liberation from letting the past and future – eras and the things that have happened or will happen – control us. “The past is gone, the future is far away,” Suga tells us. “What are you afraid of?” It’s a subject he returns to less explicitly on the closing ‘Life Goes On’ as he details feelings of fear brought up by old reminiscences. Instead of letting them have power over him, though, he acknowledges what they are – harmless ghosts and residue of past lives.
Liberating ourselves from the past and becoming ignorant to the things we’ve experienced and gone through are two very different things and the album’s standout song ‘Amygdala’ delves back into some of Suga’s most painful moments – his mother’s heart surgery, his shoulder injury, his father’s liver cancer. “Is all this suffering for my own good?” he questions over murky rock riffs and clipping beats, before suggesting that trauma led him to a more resilient rebirth. “What didn’t kill me only made me stronger / I’m blooming like a lotus flower now.”
‘Amygdala’, as you might expect given its subject matter, is utterly heart-wrenching. In the chorus, the musician makes a moving plea to the titular part of his brain that processes trauma: “My amygdala / Please rescue me, please rescue me / My amygdala / Please pull me up, please pull me up.” As he does so, his voice becomes raw and raspy, layers of autotune only adding to the cracks of emotion.
As a whole, and despite the changes he’s gone through over the years, ‘D-DAY’ feels inimitably Suga – or Agust D. The wave of collaborators that appear on the record don’t distract from that, but instead complement him. On ‘HUH?!’, J-hope drops his voice into a menacing near-whisper, bringing new dynamics to his bandmate’s urgent delivery. Penultimate track ‘Snooze’, meanwhile, features two new creative associates – The Rose’s Woosung and the legendary late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Over Sakamoto’s steady, poignant piano, Woosung’s velvet voice brings out the gentle, comforting message in Suga’s lyrics, which offer acceptance and support to aspiring artists aiming to follow in his footsteps.
A rich and varied album that courses from atmospheric instrumentals (‘Interlude : Dawn’) to the smooth groove of ‘SDL’, on ‘D-DAY’ Agust D is an unstoppable, thought-provoking force, wrapping up his trilogy in peak form. These are songs we can use to help guide us through the trials of modernity, whether as teachers or as allies through the dark. As he puts it on ‘Polar Night’, “The world’s bullshit, but you don’t have to be / So open your eyes and see the real world.”
- Release date: April 21, 2023
- Record label: HYBE, Big Hit Music