The first rule of a successful cover version is to do no harm. Most songs worth covering are loved for a reason, and a certain respect for the original should be given when looking to make it a part of your own discography. Beyond that, an artist should make their interpretation count. There’s no sense re-recording a track if you’re unwilling to put your own spin on it. BTS’ cover of Seo Taiji & Boys‘ 90’s mega-hit Come Back Home neatly ticks off both of these criteria, which warrants its existence at a base level. But though it modernizes the classic track for 2017 audiences, it can’t quite improve on the effortless charm of the original.
Though Seo Taiji’s version sampled and “borrowed” more than a little from Western acts of the time (as 90’s k-pop often did), it possessed a certain fluidity and single-minded dedication to its groove. Pulling the track into current times brings with it a sense of fitfulness — muddying the beat with a constant flux of tonal changes. BTS’ rappers get a commanding spotlight here, which gives the track a more character-driven vibe. But being the purist I am, I kind of wish they would scale back on the ambition and just let the beat speak for itself. This version’s instrumental buries the original bassline in layers of trap-influenced production that adds unnecessary complexity when all I really want to do is nod my head. On the plus side, this gives the song a sprawling atmosphere that makes room for the group’s vocals. The original wasn’t exactly driven by melody, but BTS’ vocal line still has something to do here.
Of course, the success of BTS’ Come Back Home doesn’t rest solely on whether or not it’s “better than the original.” Playing that sort of competitive game feels a bit pointless and unfair to both recordings. Each will have its supporters and detractors depending on personal tastes, with many younger fans discovering the song for the first time through BTS. The fact that they were able to take such an iconic piece of k-pop and offer something new is enough to count Come Back Home as a win for everyone involved.
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