Friday, June 1st, 2018

BTS – Fake Love

Everyone’s favorite #1 worldwide Korean group…


Joshua Minsoo Kim: This past August, I eagerly assumed my role as the new sponsor for our high school’s Asian Pop Culture club. The name, as I had been informed, wasn’t entirely accurate: the group of students who met were primarily there because of a shared interest in K-pop. At the first meeting, I witnessed an ethnically diverse group of teenagers proficiently dancing to one of those “K-pop Dance Game” videos on YouTube. I was immensely moved; I had seen it many times before online, but to see it in person felt like a strong affirmation of my Korean-American identity, especially since I never felt much of that throughout my own teenage years. Several months later, I had an interesting conversation with one of my students about BTS. She had informed me that her younger sister was obsessed, but this proved concerning because her sibling had declared on more than one occasion that she “hated being Vietnamese” and “wished she were Korean.” It immediately brought to mind Thai singer Phi Sadoet’s “Sao Kaoli,” a contemporary luk thung song that finds a boy lamenting how his girlfriend’s interest in K-pop and Korean dramas had left him by the wayside. Considering luk thung played a crucial role in bridging the gap between urban and rural societies in Thailand, and historically featured lyrics about country folk being enamored by the city, “Sao Kaoli” posits a 21st century analogue: Thai people are losing pride in their heritage due to Korean cultural imperialism. During my conversation with the student, I realized how myopic I had been; in my celebration of K-pop’s continued successes, I had forgotten that its impact on my self-worth wasn’t necessarily transferrable to all other Asians. None of this is anyone’s fault per se, but it’s important to be mindful of how the hallyu can unintentionally arouse feelings of isolation amongst non-Korean Asians. Of course, one of the oft-cited reasons for BTS’s international stardom has been their politically conscious lyrics and how it’s consistently reflected in their extramusical affairs. And when I listen to “Fake Love,” I hear the same poignant message of self-acceptance that’s been touted throughout their career. They’ve affirmed many fans of who they are, but here, they’re forcing them to wrestle with any persisting struggles with identity, duplicity, and self-love. The numerous tortured vocal deliveries and antiseptic, self-contained atmosphere provide a space to do just that. Each time I put on “Fake Love,” I’m reminded of that conversation with my student. My only hope is that her younger sister–and ARMYs around the world–will use this song as a conduit through which they can love themselves just a little bit more, including their non-Korean cultural identities.

Kat Stevens: My sister rang me up at the weekend to ask why we hadn’t covered this song here at TSJ yet (for context: she also was furiously WhatsApping me during this year’s Olympic closing ceremony, complaining that EXO were a poor substitute for BTS). I thought it only polite to give this a listen, and it’s… inoffensive enough? A sanitised “Freek’N You”, with a modern rattlesnake beat instead of a 90s drop-squelch. But I can’t get over how miserable they all sound. Given recent events, it’s hard to listen to this without feeling an unpleasant combo of guilt and concern.

Jessica Doyle: “Look, Jungkook-ah,” Bang Sihyuk said patiently, “we’ve already been over this. This song does everything we need it to do — three hooks, for insurance’s sake, plus time for Yoongi to give a vocal shrug, plus Taehyung in his lower register. Hell, we even got some chorus lines for Mr. Worldwide-Not-Known-for-His-Singing over there.” (He paused while Seokjin took a mock bow and the other kids cheered.) “Meanwhile you guys get to sing about how alienated and isolated you feel when you’re required to play your Bangtan-selves nonstop, constantly, for a global audience that demands cute, profound, sexy, politically aware, dramatic, creative, sentimental, glamorous, charismatic, and humble, at the same time all the time, even — especially — when you’re not officially onstage. And it’s perfect, because listeners will either classify ‘Fake Love’ as Tragically Passionate Bangtan à la ‘Blood, Sweat, & Tears’ or ‘I Need U’, or assume you’re talking about all those other ARMYs. So you get to register the terror of the roller coaster with less risk of getting torn apart for daring to want the seat in the first place. Everybody gets what they want. Right? But in order for that to work, everybody must get what they want. So we’re going to do this again, and this time you’re going to lift the shirt. I don’t care how angry or ambivalent you look while you’re flashing the abs — anger and ambivalence fit the concept just fine, honestly — but the abs must be flashed.

Anna Suiter: Fake Love feels almost neurotic at points. This is the most true in J-Hope’s rap verse, which is delivered in a deliberately punctuated style that pushes the song forward in a way almost nothing else does. But it’s a vocal part that sticks out the most–the English in Jungkook’s part of the chorus. Even though I know it’s supposed to be “love you so bad”, it still sounds a bit like “lying’s so bad” when I’m not listening too closely. I can’t help but wonder if that choice in enunciation is intentional–the way “fake” is stretched out into two syllables in the chorus sometimes sounds like “sacred” to me. For a song that’s about questioning some aspect of yourself in the face of a relationship, or about the things about love that you want to be true but aren’t, maybe the English feeling a little bit ambiguous makes sense. At least it adds more texture, though it’s not like Fake Love needed much more of that in the first place.

Iain Mew: I still prefer my boyband angst explosively unleashed, but the whole beast in a velvet cage thing that the expansive sounds of “Fake Love” provide is a clever thematic fit for its awakening uncertainty. There’s hurt with a mask of happiness and strength, a sorry that might or might not be genuine, and the lack of a single hard edge feels like the part of a dream that lets you realise it’s a fake.

Alex Clifton: I’ve listened to this song fifty times in the past two weeks. I can’t remember the last time I did that with a new release. You’d think that by now I’d be sick of it, but I keep living in “Fake Love”; each time I hear it, it makes my body feel electric, like a jolt through my system. Part of why I love this song is because the emotions are anything but fake. The desperation in Jungkook’s voice as he sings “love you so bad, love you so bad” is urgent, and Taehyung’s follow-up line–“tried to erase myself and made me your doll”–aches with realness. For a song about falsehoods and lies and insecurity in identity, the production is solid: at this point, BTS are a band who know themselves, know their sound, and the confidence pays off. I don’t know if this is actually a perfect song–for me, “Blood Sweat & Tears” is the ultimate BTS track–but everything about this hits all my pop buttons all at once and sends me straight to heaven. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta play this another fifty times.

Thomas Inskeep: Just as BTS become truly global superstars, even hitting #1 on the U.S. album chart, they release a single that sounds oddly neutered — and dull. Usually BTS records sound like events, but this is missing that urgency, that pneumatic thrust, and replaces it with an arrangement that sucks the energy out of the song. Here’s hoping this is a rare misstep and not a sign of what’s to come.

Alfred Soto: If I’m going to endure a drop, let BTS do it, and if a track contains rote elements I’d rather BTS blast through them. The drillpress of a rhythm part remains tougher than the competition, though. If it’s written in the stars that BTS will cross over, then “Fake Love” betrays no hints of dilution.

Reader average: [6.33] (21 votes)

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6 Responses to “BTS – Fake Love”

  1. Wow, Jessica <3

    Also welcome to the Jukebox, Anna!

  2. A+ blurbs everyone!

  3. Thank you Iain!

  4. Jessica I’m dying over yours omg

  5. Angsty K-pop rap is my current favorite music so I love this.

  6. omg Jessica