Korean superstars BTS released their hotly anticipated seventh studio album, Map of the Soul: 7, and the record number of fans who preordered it won’t be disappointed.
While billed as a sequel to their 2019, EP Map of the Soul: Persona, it’s structured more as an extension and continuation. Five of the seven songs from the EP kick off the album in the same order. But while most bands reuse songs to pad the length, the 14 new songs on 7 would be a substantial album on their own, so the reissues are just a bonus.
The new songs kick off with “Interlude : Shadow,” and rather than the brief spoken interludes by American artists, “Shadow” is a nearly four-and-a-half-minute-long song unto itself. Mostly rapped, it begins with a piano and transitions to a harder cypher beat.
A couple tracks later, “Filter” takes a different direction, opening with a rustic guitar intro and continuing that Latin-inspired vibe throughout. It’s not a Latin song by any means, but it takes strong inspiration from the sound and overlays it on BTS’ own style.
The high point of the album comes with “My Time,” an R&B-influenced song with a trap beat, blending to give it a solid groove. Jungkook’s solo vocals raise the bar and convey the personal nature of the Korean-language lyrics, even if you don’t understand what they mean.
“On,” the album’s second single, is an uplifting, upbeat track, with the trap beat supplemented by blaring brass and what sounds like a church organ. Those listening on streaming platforms also get a second version as a bonus track featuring Sia, but unless you listen to them back to back and pay close attention the difference isn’t immediately obvious.
Once the album passes its halfway point it falls much closer to the traditional K-pop boy band sound casual fans of the genre would expect. “Inner Child,” for example, has sweet guitar instrumentals and uplifting, carefree vocals. “Friends” uses group harmonies over pop synths akin to the formula boy bands have been following for decades.
English-language track “Respect” is an ’80s hip-hop throwback complete with mono sound and record scratches. Within the flow of the album, it’s jarring in a good way, with the unexpected divergence in genre acting as an attention-catching break from the pattern.
“We are Bulletproof: The Eternal” calls back to one of BTS’ first singles, 2013’s “We are Bulletproof Pt. 2.” Despite the title similarity, it has a totally different sound than the original, acting more as a continuation of the song’s theme than a remake or sequel.
The final track, “Outro : Ego,” like the intro and interlude, is a song unto itself more than the standard expected filler. The pounding bass and trumpets make it one of the most dancable songs of the album, and the record’s scratches and samples set it apart from everything that came before.
Overall, the diversity of sounds and styles on the album makes it a worthy addition to the BTS canon, with something for just about everyone’s tastes across its 19 songs in all. While we find the first half’s creativity in dabbling in and mixing up styles from around the world to be the most musically interesting, your mileage may vary.