In 1603, when Shakespeare put his quill to paper and penned the first line of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech, he never would’ve imagined a group of seven South Korean men, BTS, creating an album around the same sentiment. BTS’ album BE, released on November 20, 2020, embodies the emotions, wonder, and introspection of living in a time where being, existing with yourself in your own spaces, is all you can really do.
For most of 2020, we were stuck inside our homes, left to pick up new hobbies. BTS took that time to turn BE from idea to creation, from visual directing, project managing, music video directing, and, of course, writing, composing and producing the music. BE is about the journey. It’s the soundtrack for imagining yourself on a canoe in the middle of a calm, vast lake where the birds chirp, and the breeze caresses your skin.
BE shoots us directly into the embodiment of BTS’ style, where we experience the introspective journey with an eight-song track list. It’s their musical essence; it isn’t all one genre, but an amalgam of BTS’ favourite styles of music. If you close your eyes, you’ll float through the album’s musical and narrative themes: the uncertainty of life, the places you can’t go, the people you can’t see, and the things you can’t do. But soon enough, you notice the Earth keeps spinning.
The album opens with “Life Goes On,” which introduces us to despair and yearning through a contrastingly comforting synth-pop style. The track pulls us in with a gentle guitar, one you’d hear during spring: simple, airy, and harmonious. Paired with soft vocals, the harmonies remind us of the smaller pleasures in life, like how an echo sounds in a forest or how the lake shimmers under a blue sky. Its lyrics tell us to run towards our future, where we can reflect on how time raced by us in solitude and smile, knowing we made it this far. Then, we’re left with an unresolved chord—a motif throughout the album—over the static from a cassette tape, wondering where to go and what to feel next.
With 90s R&B styling, “Fly to My Room” turns BTS’ iconic synth-pop style up a notch. The airy vocals and softened raps are back, but over a funky beat to guide us through rediscovering our spaces, hoping to find something new. Meanwhile, “Blue & Grey” leaves us in the rain for a while, blanketing us in a mellow acoustic guitar riff and tender rap vocals and rap swelling with the yearn of a violin. The sections blend like silk, and end with yet another open chord, letting us drench in a pathetic fallacy.
“Skit” is an unscripted recording about hitting #1 on Billboard’s Hot100 chart, while “Telepathy” whisks us away from melancholy and pits us into an 80s disco pop daydream. “Dis-ease” takes us back with old-school hip hop and hints of jazz, detailing the uneasiness of the pandemic, alongside a motivating bridge. The tension lifts even further in the funky EDM track, “Stay,” before we hit the epitome of disco-pop with the Grammy-nominated “Dynamite,” a dance track to brush away the rain and cover us in a hopeful sunlight.
BE lifts us higher and higher with each track, shifting genres from melancholic slower tracks to upbeat songs, documenting the process of denial to acceptance. Four out of the seven tracks, excluding the skit, are unresolved. Whether it’s leaving the ending open for our interpretation or to instill tension, it likewise reflects our uncertainty of not knowing where we’re going.
The music and lyrics work together to document what it means to the members of BTS to exist in 2020, what it means to be. It’s hard. We feel ourselves drift further into the lake where loneliness awaits and submit to what seems like an inescapable void. Though, in the corner of our vision, we find a sliver of sunlight, of hope, and tread back to the shore.