Of all current k-pop acts, none feels more closely tied to America than BTS. This is kind of ironic, since many groups nowadays count American members among their ranks. In contrast, all seven members of BTS hail from Korea, and only their leader Rap Monster speaks fluent English. Nonetheless, their music speaks to international audiences in ways that seem unique to them. Perhaps it can be traced back to 2014, when their U.S. connection was kick-started by their variety show American Hustle Life.
Hustle Life was one of the most entertaining, endearing series of the past few years, and saw the group exploring elements of American hip-hop in ways most k-pop acts don’t attempt. Since then, BTS has seemed to cultivate a partnership with several notable U.S. stars, which culminates in Change — their biggest intercontinental collaboration yet. I almost didn’t write about it at all, since the song exists relatively far outside the k-pop wheelhouse. Delivered entirely in English, Change feels more like a Wale track featuring Rap Monster than the other way around. And as an introduction to U.S. audiences, this is probably a smart move.
As someone living in America, this also means that the track’s social change lyrics and straightforward hook feel instantly familiar. Though Rap Monster pulls off his verses despite some difficult enunciation challenges, I would have loved if he had incorporated a bit of Korean to give the track a more cross-cultural vibe. An emphasis on the melding of cultures doesn’t seem to be the goal of Change, and that’s okay. But regardless, I can’t help imagining how cool that would have been. With that said, the song is beautifully produced — its old-school piano riffs blending seamlessly with the powerful, stomping beat. And that last minute — when the atmosphere clouds into a psychedelic, dreamlike departure — is absolutely inspired. I don’t listen to much American music these days, but Change‘s biggest asset is that it feels much more authentic than most international k-pop collaborations.