BTS album

BTS' new album, "Be," features the No. 1 hit "Dynamite." 

February 2020 seems like an unfathomable lifetime ago. But it's only been nine months — nine months — since K-pop megastars BTS last released a new album in the U.S.

These were perhaps the most anxious, gargling-bad-news-hourly stretch of nine months in recent history. The world that greeted the release of BTS' fifth studio album "Be" on Friday is a smoldering wreck compared to what life felt like in February for the Army faithful, when the pandemic had barely crossed shores and "Map of the Soul: 7" debuted at No. 1 around the globe.

But for the most devoted fandom in all of pop music, this album — often slower, more reflective and refined than its last — is still a light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

"Be" marks the coronation of the South Korean group as not just a commercial juggernaut for the already-devoted (it's all but assured to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart), but as a driving force in the widest reaches of American pop culture. And one that still happily, purposefully refuses overt accommodation for Anglo tastes.

Not even the world's biggest band ("Map of the Soul: 7" trails only Taylor Swift's "Folklore" for the year's bestselling album, and its Rose Bowl stand was one of the biggest recent events in LA live music) has made it through the pandemic unscathed. The trim, eight-song "Be" is a product of a frantic pop world left with tours obliterated by COVID-19. But BTS, one of the biggest live draws on the planet, had much more time on its hands in the studio without a worldwide stadium tour. That meant more original songwriting, production work and visual concepts from the band members.


That independence and intimacy in their songwriting was always a point of pride for BTS in the hierarchical, micromanaged K-pop industry, but now with "Be" it's proof they can beat the U.S. at its own chart game.

"Dynamite," the breakout single on "Be," has already topped the Billboard Hot 100 with its fizzy, throwback disco vibes (and notably English-language lyrics). "Stay" and "Telepathy" are right in line with it, heavy on the post-EDM sizzle and funk bass driving hits like Dua Lipa's "Break My Heart."

But new songs like "Life Goes On" and "Dis-ease" — each driven by slow-rolling retro hip-hop beats — acknowledge the grind of the COVID-19 world while trying to keep fans resolved that better days are ahead (and in much of Asia, they're already here). "Blue & Grey" is beautifully harmonized bedroom emo, and like Swift's "Folklore," a document of this homebound, lonely era of music where we're making the most with the tools we have at hand.

We all should have listened to and emulated South Korea in the first place when it came to combating the pandemic. Now its biggest band has returned with meticulous new designs on ascending the pop charts as well. The success of "Be" is a foregone conclusion at this point. But for the Army, it still couldn't have come soon enough.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

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