“A dancer dies twice – once when they stop dancing and this first death is the most painful,” said choreographer and TIME’s greatest dancer of the 20th century Martha Graham. It’s an idea that can be adapted to other fields and passions – the concept of falling out of love with the thing that moves you, inspires you, drives you, and also heals you.
This is the quote that opens up the stunning art film for BTS’ new single ‘Black Swan’, not least because it finds the band scared that music no longer speaks to them as it once did. “The heart no longer races when hearing the music play,” Suga raps dejectedly in the first verse. “Tryna pull up, seems like time has stopped/Oh that would be my first death I’ve always been afraid of.”
It’s a worrying notion and one that seems to have been weighing heavily on BTS’ minds of late. During his guest appearance on Halsey’s ‘Manic’ (‘Suga’s Interlude’), Suga and the New Jersey singer shared their thoughts on falling out of love with the very core of their professions. “How you live and how you love might change,” he pointed out on that track, seemingly coming to terms with the possibility. Here, though, alarm at the prospect rings loudly, as if the Korean group really aren’t ready for that first death to arrive so soon.
Their voices – layered and processed – are murky and shadowed in doubt and anxiety, while a nervous melody weaves in and out of trap beats, trembling like it’s a vessel for their fears. At various points, Jimin, Jin, and V’s voices float into view like an inner monologue torn between pushing through and carrying on as normal (“Do your thang/Do your thang with me now”) or being riddled with uncertainty and hesitation (“What’s my thang/What’s my thang, tell me now”).
There are two versions of this uneasy trap ballet; the one on streaming services is haunting but less dissonant but the other, in MN Dance Company’s art film is jarring and claustrophobic, layering the original with classical strings. When they go on quivering runs through increasingly higher notes, they heighten the anxiety, bringing a panicked quality to some parts (“No song affects me anymore/Crying out a silent cry”) and a defiant strength to others (“Nothing can devour me/I shout out with ferocity”).
As singles go, ‘Black Swan’ is a curveball. Far from an immediate, radio-friendly choice, its hook is understated and swallowed by the distorted production. But that’s no bad thing – our second taste of BTS’ forthcoming album ‘Map Of The Soul: 7’ puts artistry ahead of mass appeal and comes out on top.