To be honest, BTS’ explosive international fame has coincided with my growing ambivalence towards their music. Though I enjoyed last year’s Love Yourself: Her album, I can’t say that either DNA or Mic Drop held a candle to their peak run of 2015-2016 singles. This has resulted in an awkward mix of feelings surrounding the group. As BTS comebacks have become more and more momentous in the world’s eyes, I find myself retreating back to their older material. Call it the underdog syndrome, I guess. It’s always rewarding to root for struggling up-and-comers. Once they’ve conquered the world, expectations start soaring to unreachable levels.
As international collaborations become more prevalent within BTS’ discography, I was relieved to see that comeback single Fake Love was co-composed by the tried-and-true team of Pdogg and “Hitman” Bang. These in-house producers (and in Bang’s case, Big Hit agency head) have helped craft BTS’ westernized k-pop sound since their 2013 debut. And rather than continue DNA‘s flirtation with EDM, Fake Love hearkens back to the lushly-produced hip-hop hybrids of the group’s past.
The song opens with a stunner of a hook. Its breathy, distorted delivery and serpentine melody provide a gorgeous texture that compels with the same energy as 2016’s lethal Blood, Sweat and Tears. Love‘s titular chorus immediately follows, bringing a grittier soundscape as guitar enters the fray. These two segments are the sharpest weapons in the track’s arsenal, blending genres in a way that feels forward thinking even as it embraces current trends. I can’t overstate how much I love the grungy guitar that drives each chorus. It lends necessary fullness to the instrumental’s more skeletal trap influences.
Speaking of trap, I’m not a huge fan of Fake Love‘s rap verses. I know that this “triplet flow” style is popular at the moment, but the song would have benefited from stronger variation in its delivery. As it stands, the verses veer towards monotonous, breaking the energy of Love‘s melodic sucker punches. Luckily, the arrangement does a solid job setting up each chorus as its own mini-climax, beefed up with layers of vocals and instrumentation. I only wish that this momentum built to one killer moment during the song’s second half, rather than simply shuffle between the same collection of elements. In this way, Fake Love has a remarkably straightforward structure — especially when it comes to k-pop. Instead of relying on musical diversions and tricks, it’s a song driven by emotion. This has always been the hallmark of BTS’ strongest material. And even though Fake Love doesn’t quite match those heights, it’s an undeniable return-to-form.