Only ten months had elapsed since MAP OF THE SOUL : PERSONA established the already massive K-pop group as a mainstream worldwide phenomenon. So how much magic could BTS summon in such a short time, which included a month-long vacation? As the follow-up MAP OF THE SOUL : 7 shows: plenty. 7 examines the scars and wisdom they’ve collected since they debuted in 2013. The album begins with five songs from PERSONA, including the 2019 hit “Boy With Luv”, setting the stage for a candid unpacking of fears and doubts. On “Interlude : Shadow”, Suga’s distorted voice rages against internal and external pressures and calls into question his own motivation. “Black Swan” is similarly steeped in self-reflection as the walls close in and the group wonder whether music will offer the same salvation it did when they were kids.
Fears eventually turn to gratitude during the album’s second act—the project’s emotional core. They use both hindsight (“Inner Child”, “Friends”) and depth perception (“00:00 [Zero O’Clock]”) to continue a dialogue that they’ve had with their ARMY fanbase since basic training. “We are not seven with you” is worded breathlessly and repeatedly at the end of “We are Bulletproof : the Eternal”, sealing the bond. Along with this rollercoaster of moods, 7 takes surprising turns. “UGH!” is a trap banger that verbally slaps the phones out of anonymous haters’ hands. On the Slow Rabbit collaboration “Moon”, Jin struts the boardwalk to a grip of groovy woo-oohs that invoke another famous boy band, The Beach Boys. The UCLA marching band adds a drumline to “ON”, while Sia appears on an alternate version of the song, playing a supporting role similar to Halsey’s on “Boy With Luv”. RM compares “ON” to a diary of the past seven years, telling Apple Music it’s a shrunken version of BTS’s identity. “It's kind of about how we could stumble from time to time but we get back up,” RM tells Apple Music. “It's like a declaration that we have admitted to our destiny, all the pains and shadows.”
MAP OF THE SOUL : 7 shows BTS at their commercial and communicative peak, fulfilling a role as the most intuitive musical and emotional cartographers of their generation. BTS have laid out an intimate, reflective road map that charts where they’ve been over the past seven years and where they want to go. It’s a reassuring confirmation of ARMY's continued significance and servitude inside and outside of the BTS universe.