As a stand-alone song, “I Need U” is an expressive dance track that soars with BTS’ emotive vocals as whistling synths, reverberating hi-hats, and R&B-inspired riffs build upon one another to create a sense of melodic despondency. It signaled a shift towards more of an ambient electronic-pop sound than anything they had previously explored on singles, after spending their first few years since their debut in 2013 focusing on more classically hip-hop-oriented singles.
“What impressed me personally was when Bang [Si-hyuk, Big Hit Entertainment CEO and producer] told me about what emotion he expected for overall songs. He presented me various artworks including movies and said, ‘We want the emotions that penetrate all these arts,”’ songwriter Brother Su tells Billboard. “It really served a big part in creating unique and distinctive atmosphere of ‘I Need U.’”
Brother Su added that he felt that the creative process that was split between BTS and their collaborators helped create such an impactful song. “Also, the whole process of the melodies that Mr. Bang, [the] BTS members, and I created were evenly and creatively combined or placed in different parts, which eventually created another melody that was a very unique and fresh experience.”
But “I Need U,” when viewed in the larger context of BTS’ career, is even more important than just as a milestone of sonic development: the song was a tonal shift for the act’s musicality, and also brought their long-standing creative narrative, typically known as the “BU” or “BTS Universe,” to the forefront through its music video.
“As an audio-visual experience, ‘I Need U’ inaugurated the Bangtan Universe -- the coming-of-age storyline that brilliantly integrates the Most Beautiful Moment in Life [album] trilogy and continues in music videos, “concept videos” (mini-films), and the multiform, open-ended narrative that’s been serialized in album liner notes and Twitter and Instagram posts,” says Michelle Cho, an assistant professor of East Asian Popular Cultures at the University of Toronto. “Although many K-pop groups now create concept albums, album series, and story worlds, none have done so as effectively and organically as BTS. And, while other North American and European artists have built similarly massive followings on social media platforms, none can match BTS's level of fan engagement.”
According to Cho, BTS’ way of weaving a story into their musical releases helps to strengthen the bond between audience and artists in a way nobody else is doing, either in the K-pop world or beyond. “This level of engagement with a musical act, both as celebrities and a trans-media franchise, is totally unprecedented.”