BTS Comeback Review: “Spring Day” and “Not Today”

Last year saw BTS’s meteoric rise to the top, and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere.  They smashed all kinds of records with Wings and “Blood Sweat and Tears,” and they continue to do so with their repackage You Never Walk Alone. Their latest comeback is very typical BTS: good music, meaningful lyrics, intricate choreography, intriguing music videos, and plenty to talk about!

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*WARNING!* This review assumes the reader has listened to the songs and/or seen the music video!

Concept: BTS entered the scene as more of a hip hop group, but in recent years they’ve started to become more mainstream.  Right now they’re primarily known for two things. The first is music with thought-provoking lyrics that many young people can relate to, which is something they have always done. The more recent trend is to release “story” music videos with many different layers and clues that fans love picking apart.  So instead of a visual concept like “cute” or “sexy” or “badass,” I would say that BTS has become more known for their approach to their artistry and image rather than the image itself.

SONG:

BTS has developed two distinct signature sounds over the years.  Originally, they tended to promote aggressive rap-driven hip hop tracks – loud head-bangers with the key points being the rhythm and percussion.  Although they’ve since branched out, they still release songs with this kind of sound like “Dope,” “Fire,” and now “Not Today.”

Their newer sound favors what I would call a pop-rock vibe.  They’re definitely not full-on rock songs, but there’s decidedly less of a hip hop element.Though they’re still often fast paced, they have a softer tone to them – they sound more emotional and often speak about things that are very personal.  Songs that fall into this category are “I Need U,” “Run,” “Save Me,” and “Spring Day.” “Blood Sweat and Tears” could also apply, but in my opinion it’s a bit different stylistically.

BTS often likes to promote two tracks from one album, one with their original sound and one with their newer sound:”I Need U” and “Dope,” “Fire” and “Save Me,” and now “Spring Day” and “Not Today.”  While they’re very different, they always end up complementing each other and showing off BTS’s various talents.

Spring Day

Produced by: Pdogg

Percussion usually takes the lead in a BTS song, but here it plays a supporting role.  It gives some energy when needed, but it also knows when to disappear and let the vocals take over.  It even fades away in certain parts like the pre-chorus and bridge, where it’s replaced by what sounds like a magnified version of water dropping.  It acts as a guide through the song’s different moods, and it dictates how we feel when we listen to it.

“Spring Day” has a heavy emphasis on vocals.  This is smart because because it’s so in tune with both the singer and listener’s feelings.  Since the structure and instrumental elements of “Spring Day” are pretty toned down and simplistic, the vocals really bring out the emotion and add an extra layer.  It’s the kind of song where you should feel something when you listen to it, and pushing the group’s smooth vocals helps.

Although feeling the emotion is a key point here, I don’t think it’s too over the top.  Like I said before, it’s pretty repetitive.  When I first listened to the song, I wasn’t really that into it because I didn’t think it was enough to hold my attention.  The lyrics are what truly holds the emotion (more on that later), and they really add on another level for me. Because the lyrics are pretty deep and complex, the simple structure actually helps keep the song from being too dramatic.  It makes the mood of the song more reflective and internal, and serves as a foundation for the lyrics to build on.

Not Today

Produced by: Pdogg

“Not Today” is definitely the younger brother of songs like “Dope” and “Fire.” They share similar structures and heavily instrumental choruses. It’s true to BTS’s original style – a hard-hitting hip hop anthem with rap line front and center.  It’s definitely a song that makes you want to go hard and dance like crazy. I personally really like the synth pop influence and the beat drop.

I enjoy BTS’s rapping in general because I think that they have interesting rhythm and flow, and “Not Today” is no exception.  I tend to naturally favor Suga’s style, but I think that Rap Monster’s verses are great too.  His deep and powerful voice really suits the song.  Rapping in this kind of BTS track is generally high-energy and aggressive, so it’s interesting that it’s relatively low-key in “Not Today.”  The rap verses actually start off each section of the song as kind of a slow burn, which builds up through the pre-chorus and then explodes into the foot-stomping chorus. (Shout out to J-Hope acting like a hype man with his verse)

BTS gets a lot of criticism for having a weaker vocal line.  While this is somewhat true, I don’t think that they actually need strong vocals for songs like this. Unlike “Spring Day” where we’re getting in touch with our feelings, the primary purpose of “Not Today” is to get you up and moving.  And it accomplishes just that.  I personally prefer energetic dance numbers over introspective ballads, so I am really here for this song.  I’ve been jumping up and down every time it comes on for a week now.

SCORE: Spring Day, 17/20 ||| Not Today, 18/20

LYRICS:

Spring Day

Written by: Pdogg, Rap Monster, ADORA, Bang Sihyuk, Arlissa Ruppert, Peter Ibsen, Suga

BTS is missing someone, and they use the seasons as a metaphor to describe their feelings about it. Because they miss this person terribly, it feels like a cold winter. They waver between hating him or her for whatever happened and wanting to see them again.  But this song isn’t a complete downer – despite everything, they know that they’re going to be okay. They’re waiting for spring to come, no matter how long it takes.  Spring represents when they’ll have gotten over it and moved on, and they do so at the end of the song.  There’s still some wistfulness and longing and there might always be, but there comes a time when it’s possible to move forward.  Billboard points out that unlike their previous songs, “Spring Day” isn’t just about a situation. It’s more about the journey and the process, and that’s what makes the song so compelling and relatable.

At first I thought that “Spring Day” was a love and/or break-up song, because that’s what most K-pop songs are about.  However, reading the Seoul Beats review made me realize there are actually several different interpretations.  The lyrics are intentionally open-ended and have multiple meanings.  This way, the listener can infer what they want and find their own way to empathize with the the song.  It could be about love, or it could be about a friend – expressing sadness and remorse at the way things ended.  It could even be about someone who has recently passed away, making it about grief.  After watching the performances and music video more closely, I’m inclined to say that it learns more towards the friendship interpretation.  But any fraught relationship could apply, and that’s part of the beauty of it.

As expected for a song about the seasons, there is some really poetic language here.  There are all sorts of metaphors and similes.  I find it really interesting that a lot of these more literary lyrics are combined with ones that explicitly state the singer’s feelings. For example, in one of the pre-choruses Jin sings: “I try to blow you away because you’re freezing / Like a smoke, like white smoke.” Jimin follows with “I say that I will forget you / But really I can’t let you go yet.” This is a perfect summary of the sentiments evoked by that picture that Jin painted. Even if you blow smoke away, it doesn’t just disappear.  The best that it does is move a little farther away.  Like Jimin is saying, stating that you’re over something doesn’t mean you actually are.  I think that this makes the song more relatable. I do enjoy poetic language, but I really love it when lyrics seem to put my personal feelings into words.  “Spring Day” has the best of both worlds.

Not Today

Written by: Pdogg, Bang Sihyuk, Rap Monster, Supreme Boi, June

“Not Today” has quickly become known as an underdog anthem.  Although that is the overarching meaning, it too has several different levels.  On one hand, it talks about BTS themselves and how they’ve come so far in a short time.  They recognize that they’ve achieved a lot, but they attribute it to each other.  J-Hope raps that “We couldn’t fail because we believed in each other,” and Jimin sings “We believe in the word ‘together’ / We believe that we are Bangtan.”  It might not seem like they were ever underdogs if you don’t know their history, but they had humble beginnings.  They were a small group from a small company, and they debuted in a year where debuts were difficult because all of the 2nd generation groups were peaking.  BTS is by far the most successful group that debuted in 2013, and possibly the only one you ever hear anyone talking about.  If there was ever a time for them to make a song like this, it’s now.

At the same time, it has a larger message of standing for yourself and fighting for what you believe in.  They urge you to stand up for yourself and what you think is right – and most importantly, to find strength in others that share your cause.  The pre-chorus emphasizes that mobility and being active is the key: “If you can’t fly, run (Together we’ll survive) / If you can’t run, walk (Together we’ll survive) / If you can’t walk, crawl / Even if you have to crawl, gear up.” They’re encouraging us to take charge in whatever difficulties we find ourselves in, and it’s hard not to get inspired.

There are definite political undertones to this song.  In the bridge, Jungkook has the line “Break the glass ceiling that traps you.”  Some people find that ironic because BTS is a successful idol group, but Rap Monster explained that it means that they’re not going to keep quiet about “social and unreasonable matters.”  I’m inclined to believe that this is more about current political situation in South Korea than anything else, but I find it applicable to myself (a non-Korean) as well.  Everyone knows what’s happening in the US right now, and I personally think it’s a hot mess.  I’ve never experienced anything like this, and I honestly don’t know how to deal with it sometimes.  This song perfectly feeds my impulse to rage against the machine that is the Trump Administration.  But it can also stand for smaller things, like facing bullies or having different viewpoints than others.  A powerful message, indeed.

SCORE: Spring Day, 10/10 ||| Not Today, 9/10

LINE DISTRIBUTION:

If you follow BTS at all, you’ll probably know that fans have been complaining about the line distribution.  BTS is good at many things, but generally that’s not one of them.  Jin is usually the one who suffers the most, but this time J-Hope didn’t get any solo lines in the recording of “Spring Day.” I was all prepared to write a rant about it, but luckily their performance line distribution is much better.

It turns out that Jin did have some lines in the chorus, and according to the video he ends up with the most (or at least as many as Jungkook).  They’re don’t necessarily let him show off his vocals, but at least he’s getting more exposure than usual.  It’s true that J-Hope doesn’t have any solo lines in the recorded version, but in the performance he opens the song and has one post-chorus.

The other rappers generally get a verse per song.  Rap Monster has a lot of lines in “Not Today,” which is nice because he hasn’t had that many recently. Jungkook is still the main vocal, and gets the most lines in both songs. Lead vocal Jimin takes a backseat to V, who’s been improving in his vocals and steadily gaining more lines each comeback. While Jin does get a lot of lines in “Spring Day,” he barely gets any in “Not Today.” Overall, the line distribution is pretty standard for a BTS song: okay, but could be better.

SCORE: Spring Love, 7/10 ||| Not Today, 7/10

CHOREOGRAPHY:

Spring Day

I’ve chosen two videos to best show “Spring Day.”  The first is from M! Countdown, which has a lot of intricate camera work and makes the performance look more theatrical.  The second is from Music Core and is more of a one-shot, so you can see all of the movement and choreography more clearly. As you can see, the dance for “Spring Day” is quite special. It’s very different from most K-pop routines, and it’s hard for me to critique the way that I normally do in these reviews.  It feels a little bit like its own music video, because there are a lot of artistic shots.  There are times where the camera focuses on just one member, and there’s a particularly poignant moment with Suga and Jimin sitting back to back on the floor. It feels less like a performance at a music show, and more like telling a story.

jimin-and-suga-spring-day

It’s clear that this choreography is heavily influenced by modern dance.It’s very different from BTS’s normal style, are there’s very little hip hop involved.  They’re known for very sharp distinctive moves, and here everything is fluid and effortless.  The lines seem endless, like they could keep going on and on.

Jimin-Spring-Day-Solo.gif

The moves can sometimes almost look messy, given how clean and precise BTS’s choreography is normally.  But the style is actually perfect for this song.  All forms of dance are about looking visually appealing to some extent, but I personally feel like modern is less concerned about that. (That’s why it was always my favorite style to learn) In hip hop, you’re supposed to look cool.  In ballet, you’re supposed to look pretty and elegant. Modern is much more raw.  It’s about using your body to express your emotions, and emotions are messy. So I appreciate that the performance is not as polished as usual, and that it’s more about an internal conflict.

Jungkook-Spring-Day.gif

I’ve watched their performance videos maybe ten times, and I can’t pick out anything more than the key points.  But at the same time, it feels like the movements themselves are not what’s important.   Unlike most performances in K-pop, “Spring Day” is telling a story and the movements are designed to paint a picture.  There’s a clear arc in the performance, and we can see all of the elements that are painted in the lyrics. It almost looks like they’re going through the five stages of loss and grief.   An obvious theme in this piece is friendship and the bond between the members. There are a lot of times when one member will break away, and the group will bring him back.  It’s quite touching, and the ending with Jin and Jimin is quite beautiful. Though not as technically strong as most K-pop routines, the emotional impact makes it a strong piece.

Ending-Spring-Day.gif

Not Today

“Not Today” is everything that you’d expect out of a BTS number.  It’s detailed, it’s precise, and it’s hard.  There are lots of fun eye-catching moves that I guarantee ARMYs around the world are practicing as I write this.  The penguin move is my personal favorite.   It looks cool, and I like how it matches Jungkook’s lyrics.

not-today-penguin

I find it interesting that the choreography isn’t all that dynamic or hard-hitting, given the music.  In fact, the movements are very controlled, even in the dance break.  It provides an interesting visual contrast to the music.  While their moves are not large or bold, the members do them with precision and confidence.  In a way, it shows off a different type of power dance.  It’s very easy to do big and powerful moves because you just need a lot of energy.  It takes a lot more technique to isolate it and make it look more controlled.

This is a dance that really appeals to my personal style. I don’t have as many things to say about it as I do for “Spring Day,” but I think that it fits the music perfectly and it’s very impressive and cool to look at.  It’s classic Bangtan at their best, and in my opinion it deserves full marks.

SCORE: Spring Day, 18/20 ||| Not Today, 20/20

CENTER AND FORMATIONS:

“Spring Day” is pretty unique.  Like I said before, the precise choreography isn’t what’s important – it’s the overall mood and feel of the piece.  There’s a lot of moving around and running back in forth (they might actually run more than they do in “Run”). While there is a lot of focus on individual members, there’s also a lot of parts that emphasize the members as a whole.  The story is about the members, and you can often see them in poses that show the strength of their bond.

Bridge-Formation-Spring-Day.gif

The formations for “Not Today” are awesome.  I wasn’t expecting them to use the 20+ background dancers from the music video in the actual performance, and it has an amazing effect.  Not only do they actually help act out parts of the song – like when J-Hope breaks through their wall – they fill out the space and make everything look more intense and powerful.  Normally I’m not into background dancers because their presence isn’t usually justified, but they really help make the dance here.

Not-Today-Dance-Break.gif

The center distribution for both routines is pretty standard.  With “Spring Day,” the center is really whoever’s singing.  This must be V’s era, because he’s getting more lines and he leads the chorus. Jungkook is probably the definitive center of the song, since he leads the key points of the choreography.  Lead dancer Jimin gets to center the dance break, as he has done for other songs like “Fire” and “Blood Sweat and Tears.” I never really saw him as a power dancer given his modern background, but these dance breaks are really allowing him to show off his stage presence and charisma.  Most of the other members get some center time as well, except for poor sweet dance hole Jin.

SCORE: Spring Day, 8/10 ||| Not Today, 9/10

MUSIC VIDEO:

Spring Day

BTS said that the music video for “Spring Day” is open ended, much like the lyrics. The fans can see their own meanings in it and take away whatever they want, which might be why some think that it refers to the Sewol Ferry tragedy.  Stylistically, it looks a lot like the videos from their youth trilogy era. I would say that it’s a continuation of that, but it doesn’t seem like they’re acting as much or really playing characters.  Honestly the whole BTS music video universe is a little frustrating for me, so I’m going to try and treat it as its own separate story for now.  If you want to know about how it connects to the others, Dream Teller has a pretty interesting and credible theory.  I agree with some but not all of it, but nonetheless it’s pretty convincing.

I personally think that “Spring Day” is about transitioning into adulthood, represented by being on the train.  Various members are on it alone, others try to get onto it but fail, and some don’t even try.  This is a visual metaphor for not being ready, willing, or able to mature and be an adult.  There are visual references to Omelas, a fictional utopia where everyone is happy – but the price of happiness is one child’s misery.  In this case, Omelas represents the false happiness of trying to stay young and never growing up (the Peter Pan effect).  The price isn’t a specific member of BTS, but rather their inner conflict and the unavoidable reality that nothing lasts forever.  They’re giving up their actual happiness for this false idyllic state of mind, but they don’t realize it.

The subject of friendship has clearly been a big part of “Spring Day,” and the music video is no different. Growing up is an individual journey, but it’s a path that we all must take.  We think that those around us won’t necessarily relate to us, but they actually might.  Each of the members is struggling in his own world and his own situation, and most of them look unhappy about it. It’s only when Jungkook returns to “Omelas” that they are all able to get on the train together and mature.  So for me, the story is about finding the strength to weather the storm while leaning on those closest to you for support.

Visually, I think it’s a beautiful music video.  Each member has their own setting and color palate, but it all blends together nicely. And of course, it’s very well shot and edited. My one problem is that I’m starting to get tired of this kind of music video, especially from them.  I really liked the story that they told in “I Need You” and “Run.” It was a little cryptic, but I understood the main themes.  You could believe that Jin was dead, you could believe that everyone else was dead, or you could believe something entirely different – but you’d still get the general meaning.  Now I have to watch the music video at least five times to understand anything at all (but maybe that’s the obsessive film school student in me).

I feel like the overall narrative of this universe is getting more and more difficult to flesh out.  It’s supposed to be a different story, but it pulls from their previous work. It’s slowly becoming less of an actual plot and more of an abstract concept.  I often think that whoever’s making these videos is just messing with us now. I’m all for those little visual clues and references that you go back and find to enrich your overall comprehension. But I do want to understand what’s happening the first time I watch it!  There’s a balance between being subtle and just plain frustrating.

Not Today

“Not Today” falls on the other end of the spectrum.  Visually, it’s almost the complete opposite of “Spring Day.” The setting is completely bare and dystopian, with a very minimal color palette.  All of the focus goes on the boys staring us down with their intense glares and their amazing dancing.  It’s powerful, it’s full of tension, and it looks cool.

There are some visual metaphors, specifically the platform that they’re dancing on. From the front it looks like glass (a glass ceiling, perhaps?), but overhead it looks like the limitless sky.

Not-Today-Overhead.gif

There is some trace of a narrative: we see the boys running endlessly up a mountain with their army of masked men, but we don’t know why. In the bridge, all of the members get shot down except for Jungkook.  There’s a shot of someone reflected in his eye, but it’s hard to tell who it is.  It’s intriguing, but luckily this time we don’t really need to know the answer to these questions to enjoy the music video.  In general, it lets the music take center stage and embellishes its strong message.  We can just jam along and let their words inspire us.

SCORE: Spring Day, 16/20 ||| Not Today, 17/20

STYLING:

For the most part, BTS hasn’t really changed their style for the last couple of years. They look stylish and cool, except they’re probably all wearing things that none of us can actually afford.  The style for both music videos is pretty similar – T-shirts or sweatshirts, leather jackets, ripped jeans, etc. They’re the kind of clothes that guys want to wear and girls want their boyfriends to wear.  I’m not really into the oversized white/pastel shirts that they’re wearing in some of their “Spring Day” promotions, but they do fit the overall feel of the piece.

STYLING MVP: V, because that headband and puffy coat are giving me life

BTS-V-Not-Today.gif

Runner up: Jimin with that bubblegum pink hair and that charming smile (bias wrecker material)

Not-Today-Jimin.gif

SCORE: Spring Day, 8/10 ||| Not Today, 9/10

FINAL TALLY:

  Spring Day Not Today
SONG 17 18
LYRICS 10 9
LINE DISTRIBUTION 7 7
CHOREOGRAPHY 18 20
CENTER /FORMATIONS 8 9
MUSIC VIDEO 17 17
STYLING 8 9
TOTAL 85 89

CONCLUSION: BTS is in a really good place right now. They put a lot of effort into making meaningful music and thought-provoking music videos, and it’s really paid off.  Though nothing in K-pop is truly new, their complex story concept was not the norm when they started it. Now, they’re at the forefront of this whole trend. They’re a lucky group in many ways, but they’re especially lucky because build a great foundation for themselves.  They’ve found their signature sound and style, and it happens to have a lot of variety within it.  So they can comfortably release work that fits their brand without getting too repetitive or stale.

There’s nothing about either “Spring Day” or “Not Today” that’s particularly innovative or ground-breaking.  They’re not “I Need U” or “Blood Sweat and Tears,” but that’s totally okay.  BTS is just doing what they do best.  Neither of these songs will probably surpass my fave BTS classics, but they’re solid additions to their overall discography.  There are always technical things that I wish they would change (better line distribution and less cryptic MVs perhaps), but I still remain content to buy anything and everything that they release.

Sources: Youtube, Big Hit Entertainment, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Billboard, Seoul Beats, Omona They Didn’t (Livejournal), M2/M! Countdown (MNET), Music Core (MBC)

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