Less than a week after their historic performance on the American Music Awards, BTS have returned with a remixed version of their album track MIC Drop, courtesy of U.S. DJ/producer Steve Aoki. For the past year or so, I feel like I’ve been in the minority when it comes to the group’s incredible worldwide success. BTS has worked so hard and come so far, and they certainly deserve to be as massive as they’ve become. But as someone who has all but abandoned the U.S. music scene for a variety of reasons, I can’t help but feel that the very western elements I’ve come to loathe are threatening to alter k-pop’s unique identity. This push and pull has been steadily increasing ever since PSY‘s big international breakthrough in 2012, but it feels like we’re entering a new stage. And as a very early and enthusiastic supporter of BTS, I fear that the quality of their music is starting to suffer even as their star power explodes.
A western influence in k-pop is nothing new. It’s been persistent since the early 90’s, and forms a vital component of the sound that forged most modern idol groups. But now that America’s charts are in sight, BTS’s management has scrambled to have the group collaborate with the type of U.S. musicians who might lend them credibility with casual listeners. This tactic extends to MIC Drop‘s newly English-language chorus, which feels as unnecessary as it did when groups like Girls’ Generation and Spica attempted English breakthroughs years ago. BTS have made it this far by staying true to their Korean roots. There’s no reason to change that now.
On the plus side, MIC Drop‘s newly aggressive production heightens the energy of the original, transforming the track into the kind of hype anthem the group excels at. Nothing about it is nearly as strong or exciting as Dope, Fire or Not Today, but the song is within the same wheelhouse. The guys could definitely do with a little less autotune, which has begun to creep into their music more and more over the past year. As “hard” as their sound can be, BTS is home to a ridiculously solid vocal line. I wish MIC Drop gave those voices more to do. Its best moment actually comes during the last thirty seconds, as the production starts to build toward a climax that never pays off. That sense of immensity matches the bombast of the high-budget music video, but the rest of the song never quite gets there.