All too frequently, a major group releases their newest single and you can't help but feel like they dialed it in–the sound is simple, the lyrics are color-by-number, and the song, while destined for Top 40, is ultimately meaningless. BTS' "Black Swan" is the exact opposite.
Even from a group like BTS, whose exceptional talent has been proven time and time again, "Black Swan" feels like a revelation. It's one of those rare songs that seems to exist on an almost entirely emotional level. From the somber opening string notes to the vocal performances tinged with melancholy, and the distant, layered sound design, "Black Swan"hits you straight in the soul. You don't need to translate the lyrics to fully grasp the message––BTS is struggling with the pressures of fame and burnout, and this song is a means of wrestling with their own identities as artists.
But while the standard release of the song is exceptional, "Black Swan" shines especially bright (or perhaps darkly) in its orchestral variant. Here, BTS has partnered with MN Dance Company to create a haunting art film that expresses their struggle through interpretive dance.
The video opens with a quote by American dance legend Martha Graham: "A dancer dies twice –– once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful." This quote fuels the core of BTS' fears: If their art no longer fulfills them, what do they have left? Is there meaning in creating art that they feel ambivalent towards, or are they better off letting themselves, proverbially, die? Orchestral music sweeps through an abandoned mall locale. BTS' voices sound dissonant in the empty space, as the shirtless lead wrestles with six other black-clad dancers––the manifestations of his fears, or perhaps his shadows? The full experience is, in a word, breathtaking. Make no mistake, "Black Swan," both the song and the art film, are genuine masterpieces.
Beyond their new album, Map of the Soul: 7, releasing on February 21, it's hard to say what lies on the horizon for BTS. If greater meaning in art is left up to the audience who consumes it, then BTS has more than proven their value as true artists. "Black Swan" stands as a crowning example of musical artistry at the highest level. But BTS knows that their audience loves them; the real question is how the members of BTS feel about themselves as artists.
BTS' struggle with their own artistic identities makes sense in the context of their upcoming global art project, Connect, BTS, which will feature the unique art installments of 22 artists across five different cities and "aims to redefine the relationships between art and music, the material and immaterial, artists and their audiences, artists and artists, theory and practice." One can only hope that through this endeavor, BTS can rediscover the internal spark that fuels their incredible artistry.