Knee Jerk Reaction: “Permission to Dance” by BTS

BTS sure knows how to strike while the iron is hot: “Butter” is still going strong with no signs of slowing down, but now they’ve added “Permission to Dance” to the mix. Their third English single is a happy tune specifically meant to spread hope and cheer in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it looks like it’s working. We’ve all been needing something to lift our spirits – especially in South Korea where cases have risen significantly – so “Permission to Dance” is proving to be a timely mood booster that definitely fits the bill. It’s no surprise that it’s been another smashing success for BTS these past couple of weeks.

Though I’m still trying to stick to my first impressions as much as possible, this post actually isn’t as much of a “knee jerk reaction” as it normally would be. I saw and heard “Permission to Dance” a while ago, and I’ve been thinking about what exactly I want to write about it for some time. And I have to be honest: I’m of two minds here. There’s my objective view as an aspiring entertainment writer, and then there’s my subjective opinion as someone who isn’t an ARMY but is a longtime listener of BTS. (Yes, we do exist.) Writing about just one perspective doesn’t accurately convey everything that I feel about this comeback, so I’m going to cover both – starting from the less personal side.

“Permission to Dance” is all about good vibes only. Everything about the arrangement is bright and cheerful: the pleasant piano, the heart-stirring strings, the upbeat percussion, and the joyful melody (particularly the chorus). It seems like BTS’s goal with their English singles is to release light-hearted and enjoyable music that puts people at ease during the pandemic, and “Permission to Dance” certainly accomplishes that. And since it comes from Ed Sheeran, who has written some VERY iconic hits over the years, it sounds like pure pop with a very timeless and classic feel.

Another strong point about “Permission to Dance” is that there’s positivity and inclusiveness all around. The cast of the music video is diverse and features actors of many different races and ages, which indicates that BTS is aware of their popularity and their audience. Plus it suggests they want to continue connecting to a wide range of people. Also, they chose a choreography anyone can follow along to, which they demonstrate at the end of the video by gathering their entire crew to dance together. They even incorporated sign language into some of the movements. And of course, they show their love for ARMY with all the purple balloons. Personally, I value artists’ personalities and attitude as much as talent – perhaps more so – so I was really impressed by all these examples of BTS’s thoughtfulness.

Objectively, I think “Permission to Dance” is excellent. The only real minus I’d give it as a music critic is the excessive use of autotune, and that’s because I think it really does them a disservice. (Seriously, just let them sing with their natural voices!) But though I would rate this comeback quite highly in a review, the truth is that my subjective opinion is somewhat different. It’s not that I dislike it; I just feel pretty ambivalent about it as a whole. I barely had any reaction to the music video or the song – my main thought was basically, “Oh, this is really nice. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy it.” But while I could see what BTS was doing with “Permission to Dance,” none of it had any major effect on me personally.

The major reason for my neutrality is probably because “Permission to Dance” is different from what made me interested in BTS in the first place. I got into them in the middle of their HYYH trilogy, my favorite song of theirs is “Blood Sweat & Tears,” and the time I was most invested in them was the Love Yourself era. Most of their songs I like from these years are hard-hitting and/or attention-grabbing, with crazy cool high-energy choreography and powerful rap sections. I’m not saying that “Permission to Dance” is bad because it doesn’t have any of those qualities – you can’t even really compare them. But at the end of the day, it’s just not the kind of music that matches my tastes and preferences.

Also, I personally feel that “Permission to Dance” just doesn’t show everything that BTS has to offer creatively. While it certainly highlights their amazing talents and their winning personalities, I don’t think it reflects all that they are as musicians and artists. BTS songs often come with many unique qualities that are hard for others to replicate, but that’s not the case here – I can think of several singers and groups in both K-pop and Western pop who could fit “Permission to Dance” into their discography. I understand BTS wants to release fun and entertaining music to lift people’s spirits right now, and I agree they don’t always have to put out deep and profound stuff. However, they still deserve a song that’s just as distinctive as they are.

MY OVERALL INTEREST LEVEL

(NOTE: My options for each category are “Love,” “Like,” “Neutral,” “Not My Style,” or “Dislike.” But I rarely dislike anything, so I’ll mostly be using the other four.)

CategoryMy Opinion
SongNeutral
DanceLike
Music VideoNeutral

Back when I reacted to “Butter,” I said it made me cautiously optimistic about enjoying BTS like I did back from 2016-2018. Unfortunately, “Permission to Dance” gets a mostly neutral response from me because I’m overly not that interested. (Aside from the choreography, which is always my weakness.) That doesn’t mean that it’s bad or that it’s the wrong sound or image for BTS. Personal feelings aside, I really do believe it’s a great song that has a lot going for it. Plus I know from interviews that BTS loves “Permission to Dance.” It’s exactly the kind of music they want to be doing right now, and I totally respect that. It’s just that this song isn’t a match for me. To be honest, most of this era hasn’t been either. But one thing I know and admire about BTS is that their music is constantly changing as they grow – so I look forward to seeing what their sound evolves into next.


(“Knee Jerk Reaction” is a column I created to talk about comebacks or debuts when I don’t have a lot of time to write in-depth reviews. A knee jerk reaction is like an automatic response, so it’s a post about my initial thoughts on the song, the music video, and the performance if it’s available. Compared to my reviews, everything is more stream of consciousness and less analytical. And everything is 100% my own opinion!)

SOURCES: Featured image and music video belong to Big Hit Music. Music video distributed by HYBE Labels.

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