BTS is a K-Pop sensation that has been taking the world by storm. Here are the basics: BTS, a seven-members, Korean boy group, is short for Bangtan Sonyeondan, Korean for Bulletproof Boy Scouts. As explained by rapper and lead dancer J-Hope, “it has a profound meaning […] ‘Bangtan’ means to be resistant to bullets, so it means to block out stereotypes, criticisms, and expectations that aim on adolescents like bullets, to preserve the values and ideal of today’s adolescents.”
The group had its debut back in 2013, taking home MelOn Music Awards’ New Artist of the Year award, Mnet Asian Music Awards’ UnionPay Artist of the Year and Best New Male Artist nominations the same year. Ranking among international super stars within Billboard’s Top 200, getting an exclusive article at Cosmopolitan in praise of their dancing skills, being named as those changing K-Pop for the better, and crowned as the EMA’s Korean Act, #BTS is more than deserving of their special emoji hashtag, but not for their accomplishments alone.
While BTS was awarded their Twitter emoji for their global popularity on the social media, their recent era has been teaching their young fans important life lessons. 화양연화 (Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa, HYYH for the more intimate) translates to “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life.” Divided into three parts, 화양연화 PT.1 (Two versions, Pink and White.), 화양연화 PT.2 (Two versions, Blue and Peach.), and 화양연화 Young Forever (Two versions, Day and Night.), the era began April 2015, ending recently in May 2016.
“Everyone says that we’re all in our most beautiful moments. We really are, but I wanted to look at the real meaning behind that. What’s the meaning of Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa? […] So I looked at the Chinese letters. The letters literally mean flower, shape, year, and shining. […] But the first two letters together mean ‘like a flower.’ And the next two letters mean a period of time. So, a blooming period of time. It means the most beautiful period of time in your life. […]
It can be your youth. Maybe a period of time where something big happens. […] If you know and feel this moment truthfully with the heart, and that you’re ready to accept the moment, then from the time when you’re born, the entire life can be beautiful. If someone doesn’t know, then their life is never beautiful no matter how rich, how famous, or how successful their life is. So when we talk about the most beautiful moment in life, maybe you can think about your own beautiful moment again. […]
So many young people are suffering. Trying to get a job, […] we’re giving up lots of things. But even in that transition period, you can think that happiness is not something that you have to achieve. You can still feel happy during the process of achieving something.”
The K-Pop and Hip-Hop fusion group is acknowledging their fans struggles and showing the light at the end of the tunnel. The most important part of BTS’ latest era are the music videos. With beyond incredible cinematographies, fans follow a complex story of growing up as the members grow past their struggles.
화양연화 PT.1: The Beginning
While ARMYs, BTS’ fandom, became immersed in theories, reflections and conclusions about common teenage struggles became a trend. The era was introduced with a heartfelt comeback trailer featuring a school-yard animation.
The trailer sets the starting point of the era in school, for many of us teens, the trigger of all of our biggest worries and fears, culminating our anxieties. The lyrics detail the anxiety of a teenage boy, afraid of reality, playing basketball to forget his worries. Throwing his concerns and worries, he pretends to understand the world he lives in while still just a teen. His poor performance in school is forgotten once he’s shooting hoops, screaming as he attempts to believe everything will be fixed. However, his thoughts creep on his, reminding him of all that is wrong and all he can’t fix. An allusion to the era’s name, flowers are a recurring symbol to the trailer. Sound familiar, doesn’t it? Trying to thrive in school while keeping yourself collected, assuring yourself everything will be fine.
(TW: drowning, blood, stabbing, violence, medication, fire)
The trailer was followed by the era’s first music video, I NEED U. I NEED U has two versions, and edited version fit for all ages and the original, censored version. Released before the original version, popularly known as a director’s cut edition, the censored version saw the beginning of fan theories. A lot was left hanging, driving fans to insanity while trying to find meaning behind every piece of symbolism and member. One question was undeniable for every version: did anyone of them really die?
I NEED U’s lyrics has fans wondering about a broken heart and the damage of being lonely. The original MV shows powerful scenes of depression, attempted suicide, and loneliness. The introduction to the music video, prior to the song, showcases each member within their personal storyline, disconnected from each other. The lyrics began with the phrase, “Fall, everything,” setting the beginning mood of the era: struggles. In between each member single shots, we see the group together, having fun, living their most beautiful moment. As a teenager struggling to survive my personal demons and thoughts that haunt me, the moment fans see their idols portraying the same struggle, we felt understood. BTS does not take difficult times for granted.
Why does it not bother fans to see such intimate thoughts broadcasted for the masses? For once, it’s not sensationalized. BTS does a great job portraying happiness and sadness to its core. Second, the group shows complete maturity while dealing with the matter. Once asked about I NEED U, Rap Monster explained, “Honestly, if you ask why this song became the title, it’s because we thought that although they say that youth is beautiful, it’s simultaneously very short, so you can end up wandering and encountering many shadow-like hazards. Rather than the endless beauty of youth, we wanted to illuminate the darker and heavier sides of youth. It’s a love story that could be told by a youth, but it’s also full of lyrics that can be dangerous.”
BTS distances their concept from what K-Pop is known to represent. With a background of debuting their idols at a ridiculously young age, abusive contracts and excessive training, the group shows maturity while dealing with real, teenage struggles. While aware of the seriousness of the topic, BTS deals with the confused teenager mind brilliantly.
By definition, 화양연화’s prologue was supposed to be the answer to all of our questions while it showed all that happened prior to to I NEED U. Turns out we were all lied to. The prologue was an introduction to the group’s upcoming tour, 화양연화 On Stage, and left us with even more questions. Once again, their acting is on point, this time highlighting member V (Kim Taehyung) and Jin (Kim Seokjin).
While many claim Jin is the main character through the era, fans were left confused, looking for links between I NEED U and Prologue. While carrying such title, the short movie seems to happen right after I NEED U. V is seen shocked and desperate, asking to see his friend. The video then transitions to to all of the seven boys meeting V, Jin showing up later, seen with a video camera. The viewers follows Jin’s perspective and the boys friendly field trip. Fans theorize that the boys are escaping while Jin records every moment they spend together. The prologue seems to be a cheerful message of friendship, that is until V jumps into the water. The boy is never seen hitting the water, but the short movie ends with Jin, sitting inside their car, alone in the water, as he looks into a polaroid he took with member SUGA, except SUGA can no longer be seen in the picture.
Following the era’s concept, the boys value their friendship above anything else. A desperate V is seen in need of his friends while the group of seven boys follow each other around. In moments of maturing, many of us feel like only our friends are the only ones that understand us. Considering each individual character exposed in I NEED U, only V seems to have any strong family connection and that does not end very well for him. As a group that has shown to value teamwork, BTS highlights the importance in friendships during one’s youth, a companion to live your most beautiful moment in life with.
화양연화 PT.2: Comeback
By November 2015, BTS was already announcing the second part to their era, introducing the upcoming music video through the comeback trailer entitled “Never mind.” The new trailer has a completely different vibe from the very first concept trailer. It begins with the figure of a butterfly, first introduced on the prologue. While a crowd cheers, the butterfly lights up as the center focus of glowing lights. Never mind is a reflection on puberty and successes. The lyrics are far more aggressive than the previous songs of the era, reflecting on the group’s road to success. Through SUGA’s voice, the song seems to be rather personal. However, it carries an important message.
While the first half of the era explored the struggles of adolescence, the comeback trailer preaches self acceptance. The lyrics express the feeling of not minding what others say, do, or pain that that might bring you. While keeping our head high, your dreams become achievable. Failure and frustration become mere obstacles to overcome instead of stopping points. As BTS previously acknowledged difficult times, they now showcase their personal victory stories as motivation. The trailer shows that being young comes with it advantages. Youth is a blank page we fill with our own stories, struggles, and end in successes. While we are still young, we can put all worries aside and focus on our finishing line. “Never mind, no matter how many thorns are on the road, just run over them […] We’re too young to give up.”
As advised in Never mind, the boys are now running, running from their problems, running together. RUN’s music video starts with V falling into the water, shots of him drowning being spread throughout, intersecting scenes of the boys partying. The new music video seems to have even more out of place scenes that are somehow connected. Fans claim that moments in which all of the group members are together are flashbacks to their lives with member Jin, theorised to have died. Moments in which members Rap Monster and V are seen caught by the police; SUGA and JungKook fist fighting; and J-Hope and Jimin pillow fighting in what seems to be a hospital room represent different coping mechanisms. Jin is seen looking directly into the camera, seemingly terrified, before the music video cuts into V’s drowning scene.
Much like I NEED U, RUN’s lyrics express a love story. This time, there’s a need for running, no matter what, no matter how hurt, running cannot be stopped. The lyrics also express the naturalness in being hurt, falling down. BTS ties up the lyrics and concepts to the concept trailer, I NEED U, and Never mind through RUN, recognizing the struggle, the reality of the fall, and possibility of success.
화양연화 Young Forever: Closure
BTS’ final album did not have a trailer like the two previous ones. However, it was introduced with an epilogue. Young Forever has a minimalistic music video, showing the boys escaping a fenced maze and running together once free. The lyrics, however, never fail to bring its listeners chills. Their own careers are now the focus of their worries, how they doing, their maturing as artists, and the response of the fans. “Wandering through the maze of life,” BTS wishes to remain young forever, to continue living their most beautiful moment. Once again, the group chants on the importance of carrying on, hoping, and dreaming.
SAVE ME, the era’s closing MV is once again minimalistic, a one-shot video following the members as they dance on a beautiful grass hill. SAVE ME is all about the lyrics, it’s the final cry for help. At a moment in which fighting is no longer possible, asking for help becomes the last resource for being save. While seemingly disconnected, if it important for BTS to end a self-accepting era with such concept. Many of us feel the need to succeed on our own, as if success was a lonely process.
SAVE ME, however, begs to differ. An era that explores the teenage mind and maturity ends with the calling of the heart. As we fight our own emotional battles, we often forget that emotions are not to be ignored. BTS’ closing of an era leaves us with many questions regarding plot lines, but it assures us that while possible to succeed, one shall not give up on love and the heart’s calling.
화양연화: Greatest Hits and Global Success
BTS’ greatest successes happened during their 화양연화 era. DOPE and FIRE are songs that are often not associated with the era’s concept and left out of fan theories. However, the brought the group many global accomplishments, leading to their Twitter emoji and trend.
DOPE first hit its global recognition once played during a Steelers’ game. It was also one of the K-Pop songs showed to Youtubers during the Fine Brothers’ Youtubers React to K-Pop #4, praised by all of those reacting for their production and choreography. In less than a year, DOPE has a total of 68,741,794 views, totalling 1theK’s views with Big Hit Entertainment’s.
FIRE guaranteed BTS’ first non-certified AllKill, topping all of Korea’s major music charts upon its release. In less than 24 hours, the music video had over 1,000,000 views on their main channel, topped iTunes’ K-Pop charts, scored a #29 on iTunes’ Top 200, FIRE became #58 on iTunes’ Singles charts, BTS spent a striking fourteen weeks on Billboard’s International Albums charts, and, for a second time, joined Billboard’ Top 200 charts. BTS took home every trophy they performed for during K-Pop music shows with FIRE and, in light of their global recognition, got their own Twitter emoji, already totalling over 11 million tweets. As BTS is changing K-Pop for the better, this Asian boy group can no longer be ignored.