Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

BTS – Idol

A little less idolized by us…


Anna Suiter: “What a time to be alive.” This is a common sentiment these days, if you’ve been watching BTS take their strange meandering road from east to west and back around again. There’s never been a BTS title that’s felt quite as aware of itself as “Idol.” Sure, there was “Mic Drop,” but that felt more like posturing. “Idol” is a celebration of their current position in the music industry, both in Korea and elsewhere, and all the different sides they have as both people and idols. It addresses the haters, sure, but in the same breath also addresses the fans who prop them up as different from idols. And it’s all tied up into one, loud, boisterous package that’s almost memetically catchy. At this turning point in their careers, a song like this is the best choice anyone could’ve made for them.

Will Adams: Part saxobeat EDM, part sports stadium chant anthem, all garish neon signs pointing to the puffed-chest braggadocio implied by the title, which makes the central line “You can’t stop me loving myself,” register mainly as a “huh?”

Ryo Miyauchi: I’m personally more moved by the journey than the epiphany itself when it comes to pop stories searching for self-love. The pride gleaming from this brash rap is fairly won by BTS, on and off the record, but the group’s all-caps exclamation of “I LOVE MYSELF” paradoxically rings hollow in its loudness.

Anjy Ou: No black people were paid in the making of this song and video. The clothes they wear, styled like Congolese dandies? European and Asian designers, who aren’t even using African fabrics. The song? Written and produced in-house by Hitman Bang & co. The choreography? Done by a yet-unnamed person, but no black person would miss a chance to hype themselves up, so they’re definitely not black. Qgom was everyone’s favourite South African house genre last year (except here, where DJ Maphorisa’s “Midnight Starring” went criminally unnoticed), so it was ripe for the plucking. But with BTS’s current level of fame, previously unheard of for a K-pop group, surely they could have found an SA house producer to make them a beat? I probably would just be annoyed and not offended if they hadn’t then thrown in giraffes silhouetted against a desert sunset and had a fucking East India Company ship sitting on their table. I thought we left safari-chic back in 2009. Without any actual black people involved, “Idol” is just another example of a K-pop group carelessly borrowing from a culture they know nothing about to get a hit track — which makes the title unfortunately spot-on. Not only does their message come off as disingenuous, the song also undermines the widely spread propaganda about the group’s respect for black culture. When it’s hip-hop, they cite their Coolio boot camp as proof of their respect for the genre — as if a few weeks running around with rappers baptizes them into the sacred group of non-black people who are “down.” Even if that were true, why didn’t they do the same for South African culture or any of the African cultures they borrow from in this video? Why is it okay to simply consume and reproduce “African culture” via YouTube tutorials as opposed to actually connecting with and working with real, living contemporary African creatives? The answer is the same it’s always been: the myth of Africa is easier to swallow (and appropriate) than the reality of the Africas. At least the prevalence of hip-hop and R&B in K-pop has led to black people actually getting paid for their music. Not the case here. While qgom pulls back on all its other elements and lets the bass reign supreme, “Idol” cranks everything up to 11 and gives you your typical K-pop assault to the eardrums. With the blaring europop horns thrown in, the cognitive dissonance is just too much to handle. It’s a bombastic facsimile of the real thing meant for concert spectacle, for the uninformed or blindly adoring masses, and not for my dance floor.

Alex Clifton: There is a lot about “Idol” that I like in theory: a diss track where the focus is less on haters than how much the boys love themselves; the traditional Korean storytelling interjections, inserted as an answer to criticism they’ve become too Western; the garish video, which is among the most Extra things I have ever witnessed. But the song itself never comes together for me. That incessant whistle in the background drives me NUTS, for one, and it destroys the backing. The verses, bridges, and chorus feel like they’ve been cobbled together from other songs and smushed together for lack of other ideas. Also, BTS has had better tracks in the past about hustling and not giving up, notably “Dope.” BTS deserve to brag–they have made it worldwide on a massive scale that no one ever predicted, especially for a band from a small entertainment company. That might be why “Dope” felt better, since they were relatable underdogs rather than one of the biggest bands in the world. As someone who usually loves kitchen-sink songs where every single sound is thrown in there and overproduced to hell, it turns out I have to draw a line somewhere, and evidently it’s here. Will I still yell the chorus when I see BTS in a few weeks’ time? I will lose my shit, guaranteed. But it won’t be the highlight of the show.

Jessica Doyle: When she was 14, my mother went to Shea Stadium to see her faves. The experience was less majestic than it became in retrospect, she said: she and her friends sat so high up the Beatles looked like ants. I do not have a ticket to BTS at Citi Field, there being no good reason for the trouble and expense save a desire on my part to continue a tradition my mother wouldn’t have understood even if she were around now for me to explain it to her. My critical take on “Idol” is somewhere between “Well, I don’t remember asking for “DNA” and “Not Today” to have a baby” and “Maybe this will mean Jimin gets spared having to perform ‘Fire’ as often.” But this wasn’t made for my critical take (or RM’s, for that matter; I don’t believe that “I know who I am” for one second); it was made for thousands of people screaming “YOU CAN’T STOP ME LOVING MYSELF” while dancing together. I hope it thrills them, every last one of them.

Reader average: [5.3] (13 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

4 Responses to “BTS – Idol”

  1. To preempt overzealous defensive ARMYs (are there any other kind?) planning to get bitchy at Anjy: this went into our blurber before the Nicki Minaj version was announced, let alone released.

  2. i’ve never been much of a BTS fan but this is fantastic and easily my favourite BTS single ever. it’s great to hear them do something this sonically exciting at their career peak and properly justifies their status as ‘biggest band in the world’. it really effectively combines gqom rhythms with traditional korean rhythms and a more standard kpop chorus so it ends up sounding not quite like anything else in pop right now. i love it lol

    safari aesthetic in the video is definitely bad though

  3. turns out Ali Tamposi has a credit on this?

  4. It’s not a terrible song, and I do like the willingness to expand their sound and create a truly international mashup of rhythms. But, why did they have to repeat the whistle earworm SO many times? They even sing it during the post chorus!

    It’s a good message for this point in their careers (though how celebrities get away with pushing “self love” as a meaningful message for a UN campaign is beyond me), but I wish they’d brought in another writer, and given us something actually interesting where those OH OH OHs are now.