My descent into K-pop obsession was not an immediate one, and songs I now consider classics didn’t seem that way the first time through. There was a time when K-pop was decidedly weird, and I’d come away from a track genuinely confused about whether I loved it or hated it. This dizzying experience was what ultimately hooked me all those years ago, but it’s been less and less prominent of late. With so many acts trying on variations of the same sound, too many comebacks have become predictable.
And then you have a track like IDOL. As K-pop’s biggest export, BTS could have easily played it safe with their follow-up to May’s Fake Love. Instead, they’ve delivered a big, noisy collage of sound that feels destined to polarize listeners’ opinions.
IDOL draws heavily from the South African musical genre Kwaito, fusing that percussive drive to the group’s familiar hype song structure and adding a touch of traditional Korean instrumentation. It’s a dense blend, which gives the instrumental an overpowering, overstuffed feel. On the plus side, this sense of production bombast fuels an unending supply of energy. IDOL never lets up. It’s like they took the climactic, chant-heavy portions of their past hype tracks and strung them together one after another. Rather than employ a familiar EDM-style build the way we might expect, IDOL starts at 100 and maintains that intensity until its closing flourish.
So what makes the song so polarizing? For me, IDOL’s biggest misstep echoes an issue I’ve had with BTS’s music (and pop music in general) over the past few years. There are simply too many filters and too much autotune. I welcome the anything-goes sense of adventure supplied by IDOL’s instrumental, but its vocal arrangement could learn some restraint. BTS have an incredible vocal line, but they sound far less incredible when warped by computer trickery. The second verse is especially grating, as effects pile on top of effects and threaten to extract any sense of individuality from the performance. This arrangement also limits IDOL’s ability to deliver melody. Its hooks rely more on sing-song energy than potent pop magic.
With this said, I came away from IDOL with a sense of genuine confusion — the kind I really haven’t felt since first discovering K-pop’s charms. This alone makes the song a success. It bucks trends even as it embraces others, and unapologetically leans into pop music’s more-is-more mentality. Love it or hate it, there’s certainly no ignoring it.