BTS—the biggest K-pop group on the planet, known for their ceaseless, chambré hopefulness and ambitious, expansive eclecticism—has a message for their insatiable listenership at the top of their fifth Korean-language studio album, BE: “Life Goes On.” Beloved maknae (the youngest member of a group) Jungkook opens the slow-tempo single with the line “One day the world stopped without any warning,” no doubt a reference to the COVID-19 global health pandemic. And yet, he and fellow Bangtan Boys Suga, V, RM, J-Hope, Jin, and Jimin refuse to let the cessation of industry slow them down. BE is their third release this year, after all—a triumphant experiment for a group overly familiar with chart-topping successes.
“Fly to My Room” flirts with neo-soul and echoes of Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” pre-chorus. “Telepathy” scratches the retro ’80s synth-pop itch of “Dynamite,” the group’s first fully English song, released earlier this year and positioned as BE’s coda. “Dis-ease” is old-school hip-hop—that is to say, vintage BTS—ornamented with record scratching, with rapper Suga out in full force, questioning the very nature of illness: “Yo, is it the world or me that’s sick?/Is it just a difference in interpretation?” Is BE a concept album about COVID-19? The argument could be made. However, it is undoubtedly the result of a group of innovators limited by lockdown, finding inspiration in isolation. And it’s clear that they hope their fans tune in to do the same.