BTS Comeback Review: “DNA”

BTS is the group to beat right now.  After exploding in popularity last year, they’ve continued to achieve new heights both in their home country and the international K-Pop market.  There’s been so much buzz around them lately, from their Billboard award to their associations with popular Western artists like The Chainsmokers. The problem with massive popularity, however, is how quickly it can appear over-hyped.  This is especially true in K-Pop, where a fandom’s job is basically to support and promote the group in any way possible.

To be clear, I really like BTS. I even converted my boyfriend into an ARMY (though he’ll never admit it).  But I must confess that sometimes I catch myself wondering, “Are they really as amazing as everyone says they are? Are they really on such a different level from other groups?” When you’re constantly exposed to superficial things like memes and fangirl/fanboy posts on Tumblr, it’s easy to forget the skills and savvy that got BTS to where they are today.  Luckily, “DNA” is the perfect reminder.

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the music and/or seen the music video!

Song
Lyrics
Line Distribution
Choreography
Center/Formations
Music Video
Styling
Final Tally

MUSIC

SONG:

Music by: Pdogg, Bang Si-hyuk, Kass, Supreme Boi, Suga, Rap Monster

I know very little about music theory or composition, but I truly believe “DNA” is an excellent song.  From the first listen, I could tell it was the kind of music all sorts of people would enjoy – even those normally outside the K-Pop sphere. I think anyone could find a K-Pop song they liked if they really tried, but “DNA” in particular seems pretty accessible.  I’ve played it around several “K-Pop adjacent” friends (aka people that aren’t into it but tolerate it for my sake), and most of them said, “Ooh what’s this? It sounds cool!” Take my super scientific experiment at face value, but it proves “DNA” has appeal.

“DNA” is so good because it’s well balanced.  Pop music – especially K-pop – is by nature quite repetitive.  A catchy hook is essential, but the song often emphasizes it to the point of becoming one-note.  That’s not always a bad thing; it’s just means there’s not much of a change in energy.  “DNA,” on the other hand, has a lot of variety. At times it’s low-key, and at times it’s energetic. The melody is catchy but also pretty unique.  A lot of elements stand out, like the whistling or the guitar or – of course – the synth. But they don’t overpower the rest of the song, and there’s a nice harmony between the arrangement and the vocals.  If you listen to “DNA” closely, you’ll find lots of these little layers.

As we’ve seen from more recent comebacks, BTS songs usually come in two flavors.  There are the aggressive in-your-face hip hop jams that go back to the group’s early days, and there are the intense emotional numbers that made them famous. “DNA” is a blend of the two: it has the trendy dance track sound and the poignant haunting melody.  It fits into their discography easily enough, but at the same time it sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before.  In any case, it shows that they’re innovating and trying new things.

SCORE: 20/20

LYRICS:

Lyrics by: Music by: Pdogg, Bang Si-hyuk, Kass, Supreme Boi, Suga, Rap Monster

Say what you want about BTS, but their lyrics are undeniably one of their strengths. They’ve gained a massively huge fandom thanks to their ability to write both meaningful and relatable songs. Whether they’re falling in love, reeling from a breakup, or being honest about life’s problems, whatever subject it is will resonate with you. It’s not so much that their lyrics are poetic, though they often can be. But their words have a sharp clarity, a way of zeroing in on the crux of a situation with complete accuracy.  They’re not interested in sugarcoating things in flowery phrases; they put their feelings out there and let them speak for themselves.  It’s the kind of honesty that’s easy to connect with.

At first glance, “DNA” seems to go against the trend of being so relatable. It’s an intense number about being destined to be with someone, and how their connection to each other is embedded into their DNA – the very foundation of their being:

“Don’t worry love, all this is not a coincidence
We’re totally different baby, because we’re the two who found destiny
From the day of the universe’s creation and on,
Through the infinite centuries and on,
In the previous life and maybe the next too,
We’re forever together”

This is an incredibly romantic sentiment, depicting a fiery and all-consuming love not everyone has experienced.  If you have some experience with relationships, the idea of having a pre-destined soulmate can seem a bit much.  And it seems a little unrealistic compared to previous subjects BTS has tackled. But even if you’re not a full-on romantic like me, having an instant and undeniable connection to someone sounds nice. And if you’ve been in a relationship – even if it hasn’t lasted – there’s always that honeymoon period where you’re crazy about each other and you think it will be the two of you forever. So yes, the situation that they’re depicting won’t ring true for everyone.  But if you look at the sentiment the lyrics carry, I think BTS is pretty spot on.

SCORE: 10/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

Line distribution isn’t the most important thing to pay attention to, but it’s certainly BTS’s weakness.  It’s almost always uneven, which is strange for a group where each member has a passionate number of fans (it’s rarer than you think).  “DNA” focuses more on the vocalists, so it makes sense that the rappers don’t have much going on.  But the vocal line’s imbalance has been a problem for a while, and it only seems to be getting worse.

Now that V is improving in skills and becoming more popular, he naturally gets more lines.  But it doesn’t really even things out, because he just takes a bunch of Jimin’s. And Jungkook is somehow still way ahead of everyone else, while Jin winds up with a handful of lines once again.  This disparity might have to do with the fact that the former three are also in the dance line – one of BTS’s big selling points – while Jin is not.  But while I like the others, I’m a little tired of seeing Jin get the short end of the stick.

SCORE: 7/10

***

PERFORMANCE

CHOREOGRAPHY:

 

DNA-Dance-Opening.gifYou know when you’re killing it at Just Dance or Dance Dance Revolution, and the screen keeps flashing superlatives like “Perfect!” or “Amazing!” at you?  That’s kind of what watching “DNA” is like. It’s such a cohesive performance that it’s hard to single out one moment.  They grab you from the first move, and they don’t let go until the end. It’s so well-structured, and every section seamlessly blends into the one that came before.  It’s just one cool thing after another. I know you’re technically supposed to cheer while watching a K-Pop dance, but this is one of the few that actually makes me want to.

DNA-Dance-IsolationsI consider BTS to be one of the leading groups for dance in K-Pop, so I’m always baffled when I hear people say their choreographies aren’t hard. “DNA” in particular is filled with tricky footwork sequences and hard-hitting isolations, and it seems like they’re dancing double speed at times. I guess learning the steps themselves isn’t that difficult, if you’re dedicated and patient.  The progression of their movements is usually pretty logical. But you need an immense amount of speed and precision to pull it off, and that’s what makes BTS’s dancing so darn impressive.

SCORE: 20/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

DNA-Dance-Jungkook-and-V.gifTrue to its name, everything is “DNA” is interconnected.  The whole dance flows seamlessly from parts featuring one or two members to moments with the whole group.  The section with V and Jungkook feels like it’s taken straight out of a contemporary dance.  “DNA” is truly an artistic performance, appealing to your sense of aesthetics as well as entertaining you.

I also want to take a moment to recognize the dance’s highlight: when they link up and form a shape resembling a DNA double helix. I would have given this category a high score anyway, but it’s such a powerful image that I had to add an extra point.

DNA-Dance-Highlight

DNA-Dance-J-Hope-CenterThe “DNA” choreography favors the usual suspects, with Jungkook and Jimin largely sharing center duties.  It’s a predictable and safe choice, but it’s not without merit – they’re both vocal line and dance line, and they’re two of the most popular members. They do make some room for J-Hope, which I’m very happy to see. Despite being the main dancer, he’s hardly ever in the center.  He fits the dance well both in terms of technique and energy.

SCORE: 10/10

***

VISUAL ASPECTS

MUSIC VIDEO:

DNA-MV-Jungkook.gifIf you know BTS at all, you know their videos are filled with hidden messages and cryptic images.  Part of me is convinced their creative team is just trolling us at this point. I do enjoy actively scouring videos for clues, but there are times when putting all the pieces together is too much for my little brain.  Sometimes I just want to sit back and enjoy.  Luckily, “DNA” doesn’t require too much deep thought.  You don’t have to be familiar about BTS or their ongoing narrative to enjoy this video.  But if you want to put your discerning eye to the test, there are some goodies waiting to be found.

DNA-MV-Color-Background“DNA” has a very distinct aesthetic, and it relies heavily on color in a lot of intriguing ways.  It’s bright and eye-catching like a K-Pop video should be, but the color palette is particularly unique.  While there are plenty of different colors, we mostly see the three primary ones: red, yellow, and blue.  Sometimes, like in the image here, they’re arranged in a way that will make you think of DNA. It adds to the other scientific touches throughout: chemical formulas, views of the cosmos, and hints of virtual reality.

DNA-MV-CosmosIf you look really closely, there are little messages in the choice of color. Each image often contains at least three different ones, but what’s interesting is that they’re very separate from each other.  And if they’re not a primary color, they’re a light shade of a common compound like green or orange.  The shots of the cosmos have darker vivid colors all blended together, and the dominant shade is something more unique like pink or deep purple.  I think that the bright colors in the main sets represent simplicity and things at their most basic level.  Meanwhile, the vibrant swirls when we see the galaxy indicate the mysteries of the universe in its complexity.  It might be a stretch, but at the very least it provides a distinct and interesting visual contrast.

There are a lot of nice examples of this duality throughout the music video.  The setting slowly progresses from day to night, and the color scheme also changes accordingly. We move from the aforementioned bright colors to a black and white background with hints of dark red and blue in the members’ outfits.  There are also changes in space as the boys alternate between dancing in wide open areas and enclosed rooms.  The meaning isn’t quite clear.  It could mean that things are more complex than they seem, or it could mean that things are simpler than they seem.  Or something completely different!  In any case, it’s both intriguing and stunning.

DNA-MV-Living-RoomI said earlier that you don’t need to know about other BTS videos, but I appreciate the small nods that I found.  There’s a painting that looks a lot like the paint splatters in “Blood Sweat & Tears,” and the ending nighttime set reminds me a lot of that music video’s aesthetic.  Towards the middle of the song, they also end up in a room that looks a lot like locations in “Run” and “Spring Day.” I’m mostly focusing on the visual stuff here, because I’m not ready to dive into theory-land.  I think BTS was close to getting a wee bit out of control with all of the cryptic hints, so they arrive at a nice middle ground here. But since this will probably end up being part of a larger body of work, it will be interesting to see how “DNA” ties into what’s yet to come.

SCORE: 18/20

STYLING:

The members sport outfits with a retro feel for the majority of the video. These clothes are definitely not my aesthetic. The fit is a little baggier than I like, and the color combinations are too much for my tastes. Also, I’m still mystified that half of those clothes are from Gucci and cost thousands of dollars. J-Hope’s rainbow tiger sweater is $2,500 and Jimin’s glitter jacket is over $6,000!!! High fashion really astounds me. But their objective is to look chic yet casual and comfy, so it definitely does the trick.

The duality in the production design extends down to the wardrobe, and we see a significant style change towards the end of the video.  They appear in dark colors: mostly black, with hints of dark blue and red. I’m a much bigger fan of this look, because it’s more mature and sophisticated. (I especially like Jimin’s black shirt and red pants) But I appreciate what they’re going for with the contrast.

STYLING MVP: Jin.  I’m so used to him goofing off and cracking uncle jokes that I forget  he’s super handsome.

Jin-DNA

SCORE: 8/10

***

FINAL TALLY:

Song – 20
Lyrics – 10
Line Distribution – 7
Choreography – 20
Center and Formations – 10
Music Video – 18
Styling – 8

TOTAL: 93

CONCLUSION: I honestly didn’t know what to expect with “DNA.”  I enjoyed “Spring Day” and “Not Today,” but both of them were pretty close to BTS’s standard formula – one sentimental song plus one hard-hitting one. They’re at a certain level of popularity where fans will likely continue to consume whatever they put out, unless it’s terribly bad (and maybe not even then). When a group reaches the top of the market, they earn that rare safety net. They can change things up without worrying about whether it will be a hit or a flop.  But some companies don’t want to take that risk, and the group just ends up sticking with what works – like Twice.

Fortunately, “DNA” shows that BTS and Big Hit are ready and willing to experiment.  Like “Blood Sweat & Tears,” it’s a blend of the group’s two signature styles musically and aethsetically.  It fits into their discography and ongoing narrative, but at the same time it stands apart. It’s definitely a step in a new direction for the group.  Also, it’s extremely good. That’s mostly my opinion, but I can see it being objectively appealing.  We can see they put immense thought and care into many different elements, from the music and the performance down to the video and the styling.  They’re certainly not resting on their laurels; their attention to detail and willingness to go the extra mile is precisely what has shot them to the top.

At its very base, pop music is supposed to be something fun and light to enjoy.  Other K-Pop groups don’t necessarily have to go to these lengths to be successful; all they need is a catchy song and an appealing stage. But at the same time, pop music is widely seen as superficial and surface level.  In my experience, you can get written off or called “shallow” and “basic” if it’s your favorite genre or the majority of what you consume.  This is why it’s so important that BTS is gaining all of this recognition.  They’re proving that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying pop music, and that it can be deep and complex (though it doesn’t have to be). “DNA” proves to me that BTS is at the height of their game, and I wholeheartedly anticipate what comes next.

***

SOURCES: Big Hit Entertainment, Wikipedia, Youtube, Billboard, Vogue, Koreaboo

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