BTS is known for being one of the rare K-pop groups that tackle social issues in an industry where political disengagement is the norm for idols. Their subject matter has changed as they’ve matured as a group, but they’ve been addressing problems in society since their first mini album, O!RUL8,2?, in 2013.
Suga addressed the socially conscious lyrics in “Go Go” on their recently released album, Love Yourself: Her, at a press conference Monday (Sept. 18), as Soompi reports. “The current generation uses phrases like YOLO and having fun squandering money, but I don’t think people think about why they use such terms so much even while using the terms,” said the famously ascetic member, who once gifted his fans transportation cards along with handwritten letters on his birthday. “It isn’t a BTS album if there isn’t a track criticizing society.”
(In an exception in their discography, none of the members wrote the lyrics on “Go Go” — in fact, Big Hit Entertainment CEO, Bang Si-Hyuk, was one of the three songwriters.)
The song approaches criticism of the materialism rife in society through parody. The trick lies in the dissonance between the vibe and the lyrics — it sounds like a tropical party anthem that belongs in an Instagram-worthy island getaway. But the words tear off the facade of extravagance when J-Hope raps, “I don’t have the money but I want to leave, far away.” They express the emptiness of terms like “YOLO” through repetition so extensive that words lose their mean. The lyrics are thoughtful in their deliberate thoughtlessness.
To celebrate their return, here are 11 of BTS’s previous most socially conscious songs:
1. “No More Dream”
BTS’s very first single, released in 2013, touched on how kids are forced to give up their dreams in order to appease their parents.
During BTS’s schoolboy era, schooling became the de facto subject of criticism — in particular, this song touched on how the education system turned kids into “studying machines.”
3. Rap Monster & Wale – “Change”
During a Teen Vogue interview, Rap Monster said, Americans have “got their situations and we’ve got ours in Seoul, the problems are everywhere and the song is like a prayer for change.” Wale raps about how he’s “Hated by alt-rights and racist police,” while the BTS leader addresses keyboard warriors.
4. Agust D – “The Last”
Suga embraces vulnerability on his solo mixtape, under the name Agust D, with lyrics like, “Depression, OCD/ They keep coming back again from time to time.” In South Korea, a stigma around mental illness persists, which keeps many people from seeking treatment. So, it’s revelatory to see such a famous Korean figure be so open about his struggles with depression and anxiety, which could help normalize treatment. In fact, Soompi reported that Suran said he helped her through her depression.
5. “Whalien 52”
BTS’s rap-line — Rap Monster, J-Hope and Suga — helped write and compose this song exploring their own loneliness through the metaphor of a whale. “Some say, ‘Bastard, you’ve become a celebrity,'” Suga raps. “Oh fuck that, yeah, well, so what, nobody remains by my side.” This level of emotional honesty is uncommon among idols, who are expected to remain proper and innocent.
6. “Spine Breaker”
This song addresses the rampant consumerism parodied by “Go Go,” however it sounds much more aggressive — what you hear is what you get.
This song addresses the generational gap regarding wealth and opportunities. “Our generation has had it hard,” Rap Monster spits. “Thanks to those that came before us I’m spread too thin.” These are lines that Western millennials can relate to as they’re scapegoated for “killing industries,” while burdened with hefty student loan debt.
8. “Cypher Pt. 4”
BTS’s rap-line are on the attack with a fierce devotion to self-love. The lyrics in the chorus — “I love I love I love myself” — serve as a precursor to their latest album title, Love Yourself: Her.
9. “Am I Wrong”
Rap Monster’s lines, written by Kevin Moore, criticize political apathy: “If what you see on the news is nothing to you … You’re not normal, you’re abnormal.”
10. “21st Century Girl”
Rap Monster helped write the lyrics and compose this song about encouraging women to be strong. Arguably one of the most feminist songs in K-pop, Jimin sings, “Tell them that you’re strong/ Tell them you’re enough.”
11. “Not Today”
This song serves as an empowerment anthem “for all of the underdogs of the world.” Obviously, BTS is included in that group as they came from a small company like Big Hit, then carved a place for themselves at the top of the Korean music charts.