As BTS shatter records yet again, it is strangely comforting to realise that in this confusing world there’s still a place for a classic feel-good hit.
Full disclosure: I don’t ‘get’ BTS. Or, I didn’t think I did. I grew up on pop music, adoring Westlife, S Club 7 and Britney, and in more recent years Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen and Lorde. I even considered myself an ‘early adopter’ of One Direction (I watched their Judges’ Houses ‘Torn’ video, well, a lot) but over the last few years I’ve found it more and more difficult to keep up with what’s going in in the charts. I’ve assumed that’s down to getting older, music trends changing and, if I’m honest, losing an entire year to the Hamilton cast recording and never really getting back on the wagon. For the most part, I thought my boyband days were behind me, not because boybands and pop music have any kind of age limit, but because my tastes have changed and I’m happy listening to the same handful of songs – and endless podcasts.
Like anyone online in the current era though, I have been aware of Korean boyband BTS for quite a while. Their fans, known as the ARMY, have had a huge presence (in 2018 the NME wrote Why the BTS Army must be stopped, risking the ‘wrath’ of this vocal fanbase) and the band’s unprecedented global success has been unavoidable. Despite this, their music managed to pass me by. I’m sure I must have heard them at some point but I had no idea what they actually, you know, sound like. Until today.
I was scrolling through the headlines earlier and saw BTS blow up YouTube records with Dynamite on BBC News. Intrigued by their stated aims of “positive vibes, energy, hope, love, the purity, everything” (who doesn’t need a bit of that in 2020?) I clicked through to watch the video. I was met with a sugary disco-pop song sung by smiley boys in a pastel dream world. From the first listen, this song immediately makes you feel, just, better. It’s light and airy and shiny and fun. It’s also very familiar.
With a few production adjustments here and there, ‘Dynamite’ could have been released by almost any artist from almost any era I’ve lived in. It has heavy shades of ‘T.G.I.F‘. by Katy Perry, Kylie’s ‘Spinning Around‘ and even ‘Bring It Back‘ by Moloko, as well as, obviously, actual disco and funk music, created and recorded by Black artists and immediately taken and replicated the world over. ‘Dynamite’ is undeniable: fun, uplifting pop music. Just like all the other fun, uplifting pop music I grew up on.
Calling ‘Dynamite’ familiar and less-than-revolutionary is not a criticism – far from it. Contemporary pop music can feel – to this millennial – a little faceless and hard to wrap your head around. Wondering what ‘the kids’ are into is one of my favourite ways to feel old: I have to admit that I’ve never used TikTok and Snapchat, and if I ever catch a snippet of the chart show on Radio 1 I’m often left slightly baffled. When I clicked to listen to ‘Dynamite’, I expected to think, “okay, this is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s not for me…” and move on. Instead, I found out that this world-beating band inspiring an impassioned global fanbase are making – on this song at least – gentle, fun, pop music that Westlife could have made twenty years ago. As I leaned back and let the tune wash over me I was filled with a strange sense of calm.
We are in a global pandemic – life is confusing and terrifying a lot of the time. In a world where the question of whether to go to the pub – or visit your gran, or leave the house at all – is fraught with life-threatening possibilities, and the future looks even more uncertain than we could have imagined 12 months ago, it is surprisingly soothing to realise you still ‘get’ popular music after all. To quote noughties icon Corinne Bailey Rae (and, I guess, whoever she was probably quoting) “the more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.”
Upon the release of ‘Dynamite’, BTS said “due to COVID-19, people around the world have been going through tough times and we wanted to share some positive energy with our fans.” As far as I’m concerned, for this trailblazing group and their ARMY, it’s mission accomplished.