Review

Song Review: BTS – Black Swan

In contrast to most K-pop releases, BTS’s upcoming album is following a months-long roll-out schedule reminiscent of American acts. My feelings about this aside, the approach is gradually offering hints as to what the album might sound like. And honestly, I’ve got no idea so far. Last week’s Suga solo was more intro than song, and pre-release Black Swan shifts things in an entirely different direction. However, both point to a similar trend. After their most populist, pop-informed release last year, Map Of The Soul: 7 seems to be moving in more obtuse directions.

At times, the reviews on this site have been called ‘pretentious’ by internet commenters, presumably because I write coherent thoughts in complete sentences. So, I’m familiar with this criticism I’m about to dole out: Black Swan, accompanied by its interpretive dance video, feels a tad bit on the indulgent – dare I say, pretentious – side.

Taken apart from the video, the actual song is slightly more approachable. This mix dials down the constant autotune, which mars the video version to the point where it barely even sounds like BTS. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything to improve the melody, which embodies the worst of today’s languid, apathetic approach to song structure.

I get that a song like Black Swan is meant to favor sentiment and emotion over big pop moments, but there used to be a time when music like this could deliver both. There just isn’t enough variation to the melody here. It feels like the same flow repeated for three minutes, varying ever so slightly for the underwhelming chorus. Compare this to a song like 2019’s Mikrokosmos, which was able to convey incredible emotion while still offering a fleshed out, compelling melody.

Thankfully, a dynamic instrumental helps to buoy Black Swan’s appeal. The trap beats are wholly unnecessary, but I love the Eastern influences. They give the track a calming, yet layered feel. This is undercut a bit by the heavy vocal processing. I actually think vocal effects have a place within a song of this style, but I wish they would have been used in a different way. A change of vocal textures could have given Black Swan a dreamlike aesthetic rather than the trap-autotune cliché we end up getting.

And that’s what makes this track so frustrating. It seems to promise so much. It screams: “This is important! This is deep.” But, the execution struggles to match that ambition. Here’s hoping that Map Of The Soul: 7‘s upcoming title track strikes a more satisfying balance.

 Hooks 6
 Production 8
 Longevity 7
 Bias 7
 RATING 7

Be sure to add your own rating by participating in the poll below!


32 thoughts on “Song Review: BTS – Black Swan

  1. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like the music, it is a good song which I find it compelling because of the lyrics… Yes it is different, and we are anticipating something expected… Why I have the feeling like hearing Shadow and Black Swan, will this go trap rock way… The album I mean, or it could be polarising too our opinion 😅

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  3. Complete sentences! Proper punctuation! The horror!

    I dream of the day when trap beats fade out of the K-Pop landscape. They’ve had their moments and it’s not as if I’ve never once enjoyed them, but I feel they’ve overstayed their welcome to an even greater extent than the tropical wave a couple years back. Even bar that, this track is… confusing to me, and I’ll try to articulate why.

    I do think I need to listen to the song a bit more, just to fully understand how it flows and such, but the overall sound just sort of baffles me. It’s something akin to this: When a song deserves at least an 8 on the 1-10 scale, I can just hear it. There’s some component to a song that, in my mind, makes it apparent (often just in the first few seconds) that the track is a good one. Even with low-budget production, I can just, sort of… tell? It’s difficult to explain and more than likely a little snobbish, but I get a vibe. This is the first semi-promoted BTS song, bar maybe some of their earlier work, that doesn’t have that sound to me. It’s just kind of a song. Not a bad song, but nothing to write home about. Even as someone who’s not too concerned with recent BTS, I’m really hoping it’s a one-off.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is probably going to sound over-dramatic, but I really think that trap is my least favorite musical trend in the history of pop music. I just don’t see the appeal, and the fact that it has permeated every single genre and held on for so long makes it inescapable. It’s almost single-handedly destroyed my interest in the western music industry, and its presence in K-pop has long since worn out its welcome.

      I would love to hear what fans of the genre find appealing, because I’m genuinely at a loss. Even with other trends I haven’t loved (tropical, future bass, etc), I get the appeal. With trap, I struggle to find a single redeeming quality.

      Liked by 2 people

    • When it comes to critiquing music, I’ve always felt there was misnomer in the value of.. ..a “10” (assuming 10 is the highest review rating). I visit other blogs where the creators drone on and on about a piece of music. They dissect it based on proper established construction and the mechanics and mathematics of musical theory.

      Despite all of their analytics, their reviews still boil down to the personal value they derived from the piece. Music is an extremely personal experience, so a top rating is going to be highly subjective. Even the best composition that adheres perfectly to established norms won’t necessarily be everyone’s fave.

      So, whenever I see a reviewer give a song a “10”, I can figure that everything I read in their review should take the song up to a 7 or 8, but what pushed it to a 10 was the reviewers personal impact with the piece. Those last two or three points are based on how the song made them feel on an emotional level. It’s those points that will vary greatly from one person to the next.

      In the end, a song can be meticulously crafted, or a hot piece of garbage, but if it gives you “the feels”, it’s wonderful.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Exactly! I didn’t really touch on this in my initial comment, but I was saying that as someone who’s not so fond of rating systems in the first place. Music is incredibly subjective, just as you explained (and very well!), and that’s half the fun of it to me. At the end of the day, where it stands relative to other music doesn’t matter, and that’s part of what makes music so crazy interesting to me. Kind of in accordance with that, there’s just some sort of sound, in ANY genre, that is so clearly an “8” or my personal equivalent. This isn’t quite as clear as I’d hoped it would be, but the gist is that I agree 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The song version of the song is better than the dance version of the song, because it doesn’t have the overwrought string quartet layered on top. Because you know something must be a deep song if there is a cello wafting dark low notes accompanied by tremulous violins. There was at time back when, when I listened to a lot of Kronos Quartet, because it seemed so cool, and also a lot of contemporary classical. If it had a lot of vowels and umlauts (or conversely a strange lack of vowels), I was On It. I don’t think I have cracked to cd cases open in over a decade.

    Looking at this video, I feel a flashback to some 20 or 30 years younger age in a fancy art gallery, fancy drinks, expensive shoes, proto-emo skinny guy on a synthesizer, and a group of dancers doing an site-specific extemporaneous performance around a huge abstract sculpture someone spent $5 million bucks on at Art Basel Miami.

    The song version of the song is just OK. They are not doing themselves any favors with the skeptics with this song. The melody doesn’t have any dynamic range, maybe an octave, so we don’t have the thrill of the highs and lows of “Blood Sweat Tears”. The vocal may be less processed than other BTS songs, but that metallic edge still pervades and obscures the delivery. (Maybe that was their point.) The song truly does cycle around over the 8 bar vamp, except for a few stuttering variations also 8 bars long. The lyrics are something deep about how hard life is enveloped by a vapid “Do your thing, do your thing with me now” line.

    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but with a whimper.

    Liked by 4 people

    • ..flashback to some 20 or 30 years younger age..

      Oh God.. ..I was there. The same overpriced misshaped waste of stone titled something nonsensical like “Odin” or “Mercy”. The same low drone of sheeple musing superfluously about ‘nothing’. And the CHEESE.. ..don’t get me started on the cheese. What is wrong with those people? Cheddar is a perfectly acceptable cheese for those functions, not the pasty inedible glob they offered up that was milked from an anemic Tibetan goat.

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  5. Thank you! So far all I’ve seen is bts worship, I actually saw someone on reddit say this album will be their Sgt Pepper or Quadrophenia. Yeah…no. I haven’t heard the non-mv version, but I just can’t understand how anyone thought drowning their voices in autotune was a good idea. Granted, the atonal sing-rapping and trap chanting wasn’t good to begin with, but autotune just takes it to a new level of grating. Bts /can/ sing, so I don’t know why they’d want to remove their voices of all character and emotion. It would have suited a Jeff Buckley-esque soaring melody. Not whatever that was.

    The instrumental had promise; the strings may have been bit overwrought but the layering of instruments was intriguing (did I hear mandolin? Someone was getting their John Paul Jones on). I’m always overjoyed to hear real instruments in a kpop song nowadays, so at least it had that going for it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I personally liked the auto tune because there is a reason behind it. Its not only to make BTS’s vocals tangled with each other but also to project chaos. In “black swan,” they are one united, combined voice–not a group of separate stars.The silent yet chaotic scream of the lyrics,its about their darkest shadow,the song is supposed to make you feel dizzy

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  6. i tried to listen to bts like a day to get what the hype about and tbh theyre really are a bunch of overhyped donkeys i mean bts are great dancers they should focus on dancing instead of making garbage cringe music lol their fans are all immature and must be not in it for music but to fetish asian boys which kinna creepy. oh and i rate this one around 1/10 or 2/10 and im being generous. pls dont attack me its not my fault that u have bad taste in music

    Like

    • I’ve read all of the comments on this page so far, and I have to say: none of them were as bad as yours. Not many of them actually liked the song, but none of them were as disrespectful as you. I am a big fan of BTS, and I totally agree that this isn’t one of their best tracks in terms of music. But the lyrics hold such a deep meaning. It’s meant to be the way it is. It isn’t even a title track. It simply will lead to the title track of the album. Even so, there are probably people who absolutely love this song. You have no right to tell other people that they have bad taste in music just because their taste in music doesn’t match yours. Based on what I have said so far, you can think that I’m being “immature and not in it for the music,” but I love most of their music. Still, it’s not all about the music. It’s also about the personalities of the boys. It’s about how unique they are. There are so many kpop boy groups out there. Many of them can dance well, some even better than BTS. But instead of sticking to basic music with some kind of challenging dance, BTS just came out with a track that is more than just good dancing. You also cannot say that anyone is “overhyped.” BTS just has a large fandom. You have to kind of accept that. This song has reached more than 90 #1s on itunes. It’s probably not because the general public liked the song, but because the fandom is just that big. And it’s not only regular people who acknowledge this group, but it’s also other artists and celebrities. Music isn’t always about the beat or the melody. It can also be about the lyrics and what they mean to each and every listener. You may think that I’m “attacking” you or something, but I’m just trying to say that you should be more open-minded and more respectful toward BTS and their fans. Not all of their fans are immature. There are just some immature fans who tend to be louder than the rest. And the same can be said for any artist’s fans. You can hate me or whatever, but my response stays the same. And once again, I’m not attacking you or anything.

      Like

    • I was going to reply more simply tbh that there are (sic) an underhyped bunch of donkeys called the Dongkiz who are kinna good and i mean u should pls chck them out lol

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dear I also don’t like their music but your comment is not making any sense. I also don’t like the song but just for this reason calling them overhyped donkeys? They have a vast discography and I have actually liked a lot of the songs and they can sing for sure. You sometimes like a song and sometimes you don’t. So I respect ur opinion but this comment is not what an educated person would write. Thank you God bless you.

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  7. The autotune kills it for me… and yeah the video was pretty pretentious. Modern dance that just screams “i’m meaningful and deep!!” and maybe this is slightly nitpicking but it’s hard to really find something meaningful to me if one of the main hooks is “What’s my thang.” I did like the beat in the back, it just… wasn’t my cup of tea.

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    • In retrospect, last night I heard it and I thought you might like it but listening to it now I’m not that sure. The chorus is fun I guess.

      Like

  8. I loved your review and I agree the song is okay to good but it isn’t great.
    Also just wanted to add that Mikrokosmos is one of their best songs in my opinion!

    Like

  9. Dear Bias List,

    I have never read your blog before, but it was quite refreshing to see someone actually respond to a BTS song on its own merits – or lack of them.

    As an elderly person (age 66) I have heard a lot of music in my time, and was blessed to come of age in a time of great originality and creativity (the 60s).

    I became aware of BTS only recently, but really respect their talent and individuality, they stand head and shoulders above other K-pop groups, and that is due to the superior music production. It’s clear the boys – very beautiful and good dancers (some great) are eye candy, but the melodies of the hooks are sometimes just captivating, and, if my research is accurate, that is due to the talents of the production team, which are first rate.

    My response (as an ex-professional choreographer) is that the dance video had its own merits (not the issue here) but the music seems to come under the heading of “what were they thinking.” (The autotune was a total turnoff – yes I get the idea of distortion, but there has to be other ways available, such as what Suga did by playing his rap on Shadow against increasing distortion.)

    I hope the sad day has not come where everyone at Big Hit Entertainment feels they can just start phoning it in. Although I am by no means a rap aficionado (not my generation) I felt Suga’s Shadow was much more appealing, and interesting. The video for Black Sawn was especially disappointing and a far cry from so many wonderful videos of the past. Disappointment, based on all the above commentary seems to be the bottom line. BTS’s “Black Swan” is just disappointing.

    I think ARMY and less intense fans need to dial down their expectations for this album, as this “single” (one would think) should have led with its strongest contender, and if this is the best the album has to offer . . . . BTS has touted itself on being in touch with its fans, but I don’t see how they calculate the mileage a pop group can get from a lot of whining about being unhappy once you have made it to the top, it is not a particularly relatable theme, and certainly a departure from BTS touted exploration into Jungian psychology.

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  10. Yea, i feel it is a little pretentious, now that the promotion around the song/album has hit social media – a whole lotta curated sadness – can you feel the feelings kinda deal

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  11. I don’t know if that’s just me but I find Black Swan sounds like BTS trying to go into Vixx’s territory (especially around the Scentist obviously for the trap instrumental, and Fantasy eras with a bit of Shangri-La for the strings in there) but kinda failing at it. I’m not sure if it’s because they were trying too hard to make something artsy-fartsy, but there’s just something so inorganic about it.

    Like

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