BTS is not simply a musical group. It is a complete experience.
On the one hand, that reality makes for an enormous advantage. It allows the group to connect poignantly with fans, evidenced by its group of passionate supporters that unquestionably warrants the title “army.”
It also allows the group to deliver jaw-dropping, engaging live sets that rise far behind the conventional notion of a “performance.”
It explains why BTS has conquered charts around the globe — and already resonated with American fans in a way no K-pop group ever has.
On the other hand, it also risks creating the perception that BTS needs to be about the complete experience. It has led some critics and observers to suggest that BTS’ music requires context (and spectacle) to truly resonate.
That perspective is somewhat unfair. While critics are not wrong to suggest that many great, hit records stand on their own, they are wrong to ignore the idea that all hits should require context. Music is supposed to be a personal art form; it should always reflect the identity and emotion of the artist.
The perspective is also somewhat inaccurate. While one may not be able to point to a past BTS release that screamed “multi-week Hot 100 #1,” the group has released several catchy, engaging, immensely appealing songs. It is certainly not purely about the spectacle.
The doubt nonetheless persists.
New single “Fake Love” should, however, help bring that skepticism to an end.
From start-to-finish, “Fake Love” sounds like a legitimate hit. The chorus is catchy, the vocals are lush, and the energy, while subdued in comparison to some past efforts, is still absolutely intoxicating. It reflects recent pop music trends without sounding exactly like anything else. With credible pop-rap, engaging hooks and a lyrical concept accessible even to those who cannot follow the Korean portion, it relentlessly (and consistently) presents itself as an appealing, commercially viable record.
But while it unquestionably stands on its own, it still feels specific. It still captures the essence of BTS. The progression of the composition and soaring production still offer the theatrical, experiential feel BTS fans have come to appreciate. The vocal delivery may be more broadly accessible than that found on past singles, but it never suggests this song is being performed by a markedly changed or neutered band.
One certainly cannot guarantee “Fake Love” will be a legitimate, lasting hit in the United States. The non-English lyrics will (unfortunately) inhibit some support, while the concept of a K-pop group — and all that goes with it — remains too unfamiliar to connect with some American fans. Plus, it is not as if high-quality songs from any artists are sure to achieve success on the charts.
One can, however, argue that “Fake Love” warrants a legitimate chance from American music fans and gatekeepers. It has real hit potential.
BTS will be performing the song on the May 20 Billboard Music Awards and May 25 “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”