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Proof Verónica A. Bastardo , June 29th, 2022 08:55

As k-pop's biggest hitters announce time off to focus on solo and side projects, a three-CD comp marks the end of an era, finds Verónica A. Bastardo

You know you’ve made it big if, after less than a decade in the game, you have enough of a discography to release an anthology album with more than forty-five songs and still leave out a few masterpieces (where is ‘Paradise’?). But if you are one of the biggest artists of the 2010s, you can afford to give yourself the pleasure. BTS’ Proof serves as a nostalgia trip for long-time fans of the septet and a summary introduction for the curious. With thirty old songs, three completely new tracks, and eleven new versions of well-loved classics, this album marks a satisfying closure to their first nine years as a group.

A bit of context. Proof isn’t just a celebration of their vast discography, years in the business or significant achievements. It’s a detailed, curated tracklist made in three acts where the group take a simpler picture of the sound evolution of BTS and a reminder for an industry that didn’t want to believe in them.

The BTS story is your classic underdog tale, with the Korean entertainment industry as the antagonist. Beginning the whole album with ‘Born Singer’ —sampling J Cole’s classic ‘Born Sinner’— is a statement itself, the same promise the group made with that song on Soundcloud all those years ago when debuting. Manifesting their commitment to music, creation and storytelling.

Korea’s pop music industry is known for being hermetic. Through the years, since the birth of modern k-pop back in the 90s, three major entertainment companies have cemented themselves as the success-making idol machines: JYP, SM and YG. If you know a thing or two about k-pop you probably have heard about Wonder Girls (JYP), SNSD (SM) and 2EN1 (YG) — A generation of groups that cemented these companies’ power. Enter Big Hit entertainment at the beginning of the 2010s with two underground rappers.

The first songs of their career acted as an irreverent youth manifesto directed to a conservative society. ‘No More Dream’ and ‘N.O.’, both 90s style hip-hop tracks mixed with 00s EDM, are a challenge to Korean society and the pressure it places on the younger generation. A commentary about Korea’s exhausting school system from the voices of angry teens put them on the map – although perhaps not in the best light.

Unlike many pop groups, BTS have embraced their individualism to feed their art. Whether in the form of mixtapes, independent collaborations or solo tracks on their main albums, a key factor in their concept as a music group has been to let the members express their voices from their own perspective. It formally began with leader RM’s first mixtape back in 2015, took a new form on their 2016 album Wings with seven solo songs from each member, and now evolves into this “rest time” they just announced to focus on solo proposals (without stopping work as BTS).

Moving onto the second CD here, you’ll find songs like sad heartbreak hip-hop pop slow track ‘Trivia 轉: Seesaw’ from member Suga, or the soft electronic declaration of love from Jungkook in ‘Euphoria’. The thing here is that, through these solo and subunits proposal between the members, we get a sense of the complexity of having seven different minds with something to say all in the same group.

The narrative evolves but stays true to their history and to their motivation in music. The Most Beautiful Moment in Life-era of BTS (c. 2015) is all about catharsis and pure emotional expression. Hearing dreamy string synths, heavy panting sound effects and raw text-pain cut through soaring high notes and aggressive raps (yes, I’m talking about ‘I Need You’) makes you feel less lonely in your emotions, especially when you find others like you hearing and resounding with the same music. ‘Yet to come (The Most Beautiful Moment)’ marks a nod and a goodbye to that era.

On the opposite side, ‘Run BTS (달려라 방탄)’, recalls what we heard from BTS back in the days of Danger and Skool Luv Affair. A more daring group, eager to be heard and perhaps a little angry with the world. They take the distorted electric guitars of hard rock, the heavy bass from house and the pounding beat of hip-hop to scream, shout and sing about pride. Yes, with a bit of your typical rapper ego, but in a reflective tone relating their past.

Through the voices of hundreds of cheering fans, the echoes of a live performance sound and the roughness of an archive recording you suddenly hear on the very last song of the album: “Forever, we are young. In the fluttering flower petal rain, I wander and run in this maze”. ‘Forever Young’ is perhaps one of the most meaningful songs for both BTS and their fans. iI’s a soft electronic ballad made into acts: intricate frustrated rap, and peaceful mid-note voices melodies. Sampling this song to give a new anthem for their fanbase and closing the three CD anthology, feels like a declaration of love. A huge thank you to the fans. ‘For Youth’ is a soulful hug, a thank-you letter and a pure love confession made through a trap beat, a low-tempo rag piano and the smooth sounds of a soul band. It only made sense to end the release with a dedication to their fan-base – perhaps one of the main reasons behind BTS’s success and impact.

Being honest, I was one of those who thought “just three new songs isn’t enough after such a long hiatus from the last full album”, but I get it now. Reminiscing about the past with a smile on your face to enter a new chapter in your life is a healthy way to keep going for better things to come. Far from being just a compilation album, Proof is a historical document. Not one for the music industry or any pretentious figure in the world though, it feels like a gift and a closure to an era for both themselves and their fans.