Review

Song Review: BTS – On

BTS’s new album Map Of The Soul: 7 arrives with the kind of multi-week media roll-out that’s more commonly attached to artists outside the K-pop industry. It’s billed as a momentous release – possibly the last full group work we’ll hear before members start enlisting. Yet, none of its pre-release material has felt all that exciting to me. Black Swan’s downbeat trap felt needlessly indulgent, while Shadow and Ego were essentially bookends to the real meat of the album. Now, BTS have unveiled 7’s title track On, complete with a “Kinetic Manifesto” (ie: performance video) that showcases their dance skills. With all the sound and fury surrounding it, you’d expect this single to be equally as grandiose. And it is – in spurts.

It seems almost fitting that a group as immensely popular as BTS should offer an equally immense crystallization of my current issues with K-pop. 2020 has seen a major disconnect between verses and choruses, with the former feeling throwaway and – at worst – obnoxious. On’s verses are particularly problematic, shellacked in vocal effects that render BTS second fiddle to the noisy production. Their computer-assisted tones are an unpleasant, grating listen, but even without these filters the verses feel like they’re going nowhere. Rather than support or build upon On’s chorus, they might as well have been ripped from any other autotuned hip-hop song. This gives On a herky-jerky energy that never forges the necessary momentum to see the track flourish. True to modern K-pop form, its second verse is total sabotage, offering a barrage of heavily processed rap that borders on unlistenable.

This is a shame, because On has moments that hint at a much more galvanizing whole. While its chorus is not among BTS’s standouts, it’s given a nice heft courtesy of a buoyant backing choir. This goes a long way towards elevating its ho-hum melody into something anthemic. The pre-chorus is nearly as rousing, though its structure feels in need of some tightening. Its organ-like synths suggest pomp and circumstance, but that sentiment is undercut by the constant effects that mar BTS’s otherwise pleasant tones. It’s frustrating when you can recognize a song’s potential just as clearly as its shortcomings. On doesn’t lack ambition, but its execution gets in the way.

I’ve watched BTS closely since debut, and seen them grow from K-pop’s scruffy underdogs to the world-conquering idols they are now. Over the years, my interest in their music has waxed and waned, largely dependent on which trend or style they were embracing at the time. From 2013-2017, their ascent felt steady, both in terms of popularity and musical quality. Since then, the trajectory has become more unstable, and their current direction – highlighted by amorphous songs like Black Swan, On and Shadow – is much harder for me to wholeheartedly embrace. But, being at the top of the pack gives the guys some leeway. They don’t have to please everyone, and I can’t begrudge them for experimenting with new sounds. Still, as music to mark this important moment in BTS history, On has a heavy weight to bear. You can feel that burden as the track twists and bends in awkward, uncomfortable directions when it would be better off just embracing its strengths.

 Hooks 8
 Production 7
 Longevity 8
 Bias 7
 RATING 7.5

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

35 thoughts on “Song Review: BTS – On

  1. Is this it? The Actual Release? Not some pre-pre-pre-release?

    To be honest, the song sounds to me like BTS has truly evolved (or devolved) to being N’Sync does kpop. It’s a westernization of the sound, perhaps to appeal to the growing Army in the West.

    Its not a bad song, it just isn’t outstanding. It is almost “basic kpop”. Somehow, in my mind, I am comparing this to TVXQ “Rising Sun”, although “On” doesn’t resemble it much sonically except for perhaps the drums. But it does in this respect: “Rising Sun” is a song released by a insanely popular by band at the height of popularity. “Rising Sun” has what “On” lacks. Cojones.

    “On” also sounds like the vocal processing button is stuck on ON with the dial turned up to 11. Jungkook in particular sounds like he is recording in a modern “Wall of Sound” resonating chamber now outfitted with Extra Echo. The Sia version processes Sia so much she sounds like a guy and a full 180 degrees from her soaring blistering soprano “Chandelier” performance.

    OK now is where I get snarky. I listened to all of the lyric videos of the whole album. The lyrics are getting more and more schmaltzy, as if that is possible. The lyrics seem to be sourced from the Joel Osteen school of self-help: “Listen to me! Life is challenging, but you are truly chosen for greatness! Buy my $80 sweatshirt!” “You have to come to your closed doors before you get to your open doors” “Happy that we met each, now until the end!” “You may make some mistakes, but that doesn’t make you a sinner” “Is it the shadow that’s shaking, Or is it my feet that are trembling” “Start believing that no matter what you have or haven’t done, your best days are out in front of you” “Even if winter comes again, even if I’m blocked off, I will still walk” “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”

    If I were King David, I would sue Big Hit for copyright infringement.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Taking away the tracks from Persona, the first half is severely underwhelming. There are a few highlights later in the tracklist, but most of the the album feels half-formed and lacking in strong melody. The more heavily processed hip-hop tracks are my least favorite songs they’ve ever recorded, with segments so grating that I can barely stand to listen to them.

      I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts when I manage to scrape a buried treasure from this mess, but for now I’m just selfishly glad that this album is finally out so that Big Hit can get back to TXT.

      Liked by 1 person

      • God a TXT album would be amazing, waiting for them or ONF to break the moody boy spell over kpop rn. I found my highlights later in the tracklist as well, really liked Inner Child

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  2. ON sounds like 2 steps back from Boy With Luv, but ok: the expectations were probably too high after such a great title track like Boy With Luv.
    The whole album itself it’s not that bad indeed. It has at least 2-3 hidden treasures which I tend to prefer to ON and which show how good BTS are when it comes to synthpop. Unfortunately they never officially embraced it, and maybe they never will.
    So the story went.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chorus is okay, the rest is pretty meh. THE ALBUM THOUGH… Is not that good either. It feels super westernized which isn’t bad per say but it seems like they just took different trends in western pop and lightly sprinkled it with basic kpop. Also, the lyrics. I don’t know if it’s just something that doesn’t translate well into english but they were pretty corny and pseudo-smart (borderline cringy) on pretty much everything.
    Standouts for me, even if they weren’t particularly good either, were Jin’s “Moon”, “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal” and “Black Swan”. When this last one came out I thought it was just a more melodic trap/pop track and that’s what it is, but at least it’s slightly catchy and bouncy I guess.
    I don’t know if I was expecting too much but this was easily my biggest disappointment when it comes to BTS albums. I didn’t even love MOTS: Persona and thought that was one of my least favorites and this managed to top that in disappointment so…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmm… so the thing is, the verses are really bad. All this trap mush, machine processed vocals are just too jarring and makes me want to skip to the chorus. This is not a good sign for me because it is likely I will stop listening to the song after today. I just don’t understand the idea of warping and manipulating one’s vocals to the point where I can’t tell what they’re singing about.

    I really REALLY like the church choir clapping gospel music they had going on towards the end. The icing on the cake would’ve been either Jimin or Jungkook belting out a high note. There’s nothing like a high note that really ascend the song to higher levels. That was something different and made me wish the verses were as equally compelling

    As for the album, it sounds very westernized which is kind of a weird silly comment cos what even is westernized? But the album has sounds in which I’m not used to hearing in Kpop albums and that’s probably due to the fact that there were more foreigners and western producers involved. I gave the whole album a pass as it wasn’t for me.

    Overall, disappointed with the music.

    Now on to the good stuff. The performance was great. I have never seen someone shake their hair so aggressively with all the popping and punching and kicking that was going on. The center girl at the start of the video, she caught my eye with her expression. I like her.

    Like

  5. Someone said this sounds like a World Cup song and I actually kind of see it.
    I’m excited to see this live! I’m like a broken record about the vocal processing in their latest stuff, but I always know their live stages will be great performances.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m hoping it’ll grow on me but for the moment I found the song and album to be a disappointment. There’s a lack of memorable melodies, and the vocal processing has gotten downright obnoxious. Ah well, at least the performance is great.

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  7. On the song:
    1) “Kinetic Manifesto Film” sounds pretty pretentious
    2) I miss when we could hear their voices without so much processing on them. I think the diversity of unique voices in BTS sets them apart from other K-pop groups. All this autotune just crunches out a lot of individual flair and makes them sound more homogenous.

    On the comeback so far:
    When you hit the peak, where do you go from there? I sense Big Hit and BTS are feeling the weight of expectations more than ever now.

    Before BTS was busy trying to prove their worth and say things they needed to say. Now they’ve proven themselves a hundred times over, but have a whole new market they’re trying to seek popularity in. It’s like BTS was defying expectations before (they don’t look like idols, idol rappers aren’t real rappers, etc.), but now they’re burdened trying to meet expectations they perceive in the American market.

    It’s weird for me, the closer they try to get to the U.S. market, the farther away they feel.

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  8. I love the song.. I didn’t like some previous releases but this is so good… I am addicted and have already danced so many times to this. The choreography is so good and specially the dance break.
    I loved the album too. Louder than bombs , ugh, bulletproof eternal and the solo songs… Man I am fully satisfied and love love love this album

    (Seeing your review I feel that u have come to a stage where u will not like any of their releases I think..bcoz they’re not going to fit your standards..I have seen you songs of these types and worse a much higher score, but it feels that u can’t seperate bts music with their popularity..u r like they should produce some godly material to match their status and I don’t like it tbh but this is your opinion so I totally respect it)

    And I am saying this not only for review but from the mid of 2019 I feel like your reviews have become a lot harsh and negative..u are so full of critiques, it is once in a blue moon ie like
    “oh he actually likes this” and that is a surprise when that shouldn’t be the case. Its music and while I know you do have to find things to say I hope u enjoy the music too sometimes rather than being so Judgemental)
    I Don’t know why I am saying this.. but as a anonymous visitor of your blog for a long long time, and maybe because I have greatly differed from your opinions bcoz of the negativity.. I think my journey with u ends here.

    God bless u and hope u are and the people who regularly comment here are always happy bcoz whenever a song came out I used to refresh this page to see if u have added your review or not lol.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your honest feedback. You’re not the first to bring this up, but I appreciate that you chose to share your thoughts in a constructive, empathetic way.

      Rest assured, I love K-pop. I spend an unhealthy amount of time devoted to it, and most of the songs I review end up growing on me one way or another. When I’m not actively writing about these tracks, I can turn my inner critic off (mostly!). But you’re right, my general sense of excitement surrounding the industry has definitely waned in the past few months.

      If you don’t mind me asking, do you remember when you first started reading this blog? Prior to the past year, the overriding criticism I’d get from readers is that I was too nice. I don’t think my style’s changed all that much since then, but I could be wrong.

      On negativity/critique: I get you. My reviews these past few weeks have been extra gloomy, and it doesn’t make me happy either. Despite what some might think, I come into each and every K-pop song hoping against hope to fall in love. I don’t enjoy disliking music, nor do I get off on ripping it apart. Sometimes I’ll visit the K-pop page on reddit and 90% of the comments are gushing about whatever new song came out that day. I would love to share in that excitement all of the time. There’s no better feeling.

      But, the K-pop industry has changed a lot — even in the years since I started this blog. Consistent with global trends, there are certain stylistic choices that just don’t appeal to me, regardless of how popular they may be. Unfortunately, those trends are in control at the moment. This has made diamonds in the rough harder to find. And, since I’m the only one who reviews music on this site, and I do it every single day, I’m listening to everything that’s released — not only casually listening to it, but listening with a critical ear. When so many songs start taking the same approach, it’s hard not to let the monotony get to you. In my opinion, that’s where K-pop is right now. It’ll work itself out of the rut eventually, but I can’t say these past couple of months have been very inspiring.

      However, you only need to go back as far as October 2019 to read a string of rave reviews, with song after song that connected with me in a big way. Last summer was similarly grumpy to how I feel at this moment, but things rebounded for a bit. I guess I’m saying, I hope you don’t give up on the site completely and will check back every once and awhile. Even when it seems like I’m hating on everything, there are always standouts. Just this week I raved about Dreamcatcher. ATEEZ scored a super positive review last month.

      On BTS: While it’s true that I probably hold them to a higher standard because of their success, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that their music will never please me. Just last December, they had a presence in my top ten (or five!) lists for the following categories: best song, best album, best artist, best b-side. They impressed me big time in 2019. Just because I don’t connect with this song or album doesn’t mean they’ve lost me. And just because you don’t connect with my current state of mind on K-pop, I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve lost you, either.

      Liked by 4 people

      • I don’t remember accurately but I guess I came across this site in 2017 or 2018.
        And seeing your reply I feel very bad for saying what I said because I didn’t try to understand from your perspective and I deeply apologize for that.
        And what I think was the reason for my comment was that even if u give a high score to a song sometimes it feels u weren’t happy with it but it’s still passable so u gave a good score.

        We all have various emotions when we listen to a song and as for you who write reviews, you have to amplify those emotions on gazillions of songs and express it here. You listen to majority of the songs released and as u said its definitely understandable how it can make the current trends or any trends monotonous for u.
        And I shouldn’t have said that u will never reconnect with bts because I do remember u praising them many times…I think it was my selfishness and negativity more than yours that prompted me to right this bcoz I was expecting the review to be different.
        And I am happy to know that while doing such a tiring work for a long time u are still enjoying and loving it.

        And even if I said it so dramatically like what was I thinking(someone was in a bad mood) …I don’t think I can completely stop coming here. I am going to visit once in a few weeks to check up on you and your love for kpop till I grow old so u better enjoy it.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Yeah, the reception on Twitter was enormous, so I was expecting something great and life-changing.

    This song sounds like a bunch of great ideas snatched from popular Western works that are better executed separately than layered on top of each other like a dip. There’s an underlying, almost unnoticeable riff that would have perfectly complemented Sia’s work from 2016, but is quickly buried under all the loud marching band percussion. Not to mention that wall of autotune that makes their vocals sound muffled and unintelligible for almost the entire song.

    It’s a giant wall of sound that comes off as feeling like having stuck your head under a mattress at a frat party.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This song and the album in general feel soulless. I think they already took this road with the last few releases but the title tracks were always good despite disappointing albums.

    I count 61 different persons in the credits of the 12 new songs, 19 who worked just on one song. I don’t know if it means anything but I can’t do anything but associate this to the lack of personality this album suffers of.

    Otherwise I agree with most of the things that have been already said. The autotune makes so many parts too hard to listen to. ON never feels like a title track. The choreo looks great.
    I can’t go further because of my English but people here already explained very well why I’m so low on this album. At least TXT is next.

    Like

  11. I was excited, I really was. Shadow and Ego were great additions and left me hyped up for the album. Before the album though I would like to talk about something more positive

    For me the title track is perfect. It’s similar to Idol in its energy but a little more toned down and I love it, its energy reminds me of 2016 BTS. It also reminds me of Answer by Ateez quite a bit. Both have minor problems (Needed stronger conclusions or a high note) but make great pieces overall. 9.25/10

    With a great title track my next step was to listen to the album. Ten months of waiting and waiting for a phenomenally boring package. Not to say it didn’t have its highs, it did, but many of the new tracks were just SO forgettable. I fell in love with BTS during the release of Love Yourself: Tear. Now that I compare the two, this album (aside from Persona and On), feels like an identity crisis. Where’s the personality? Where’s the flair? This flair was found in 2019s Persona and is surely found in their title track, but their B-sides can’t keep up. Where’s the instantly catchy Pied Piper, the beautiful Truth Untold, or the energetic So What. The bulletproof track and Jimins solo provide a glimpse into that kind of BTS but can’t be found anywhere else.

    Album Score: 5/10
    A hot mess with highs and lows

    Standout tracks: On, Dyonysus, Home, BWL, Jamais Vu, Intro: Shadow, Outro: Ego, Ugh, Mikrokosmos

    Favourite Track: ON

    Side Note: By the way Nick, even though I disagree with your review I don’t think you should give more positive reviews if people say you’re giving out too many negative reviews. Just write as you heart desires!

    Like

    • Someone said the comeback felt soulless. While I disagree in relation to the title track because for me it felt like something BTS would naturally put out, the album I can agree on. Soulless is a perfect word to describe the album. And the fact that its getting better reviews than Persona and Tear baffles me.

      Listening to that album and coming to the realization that it wasn’t “good,” truly broke my heart, especially since it truly felt like an event. BTS is enlisting! But before they go, they’ll release an album that represents them as a whole. That seemed like the theme of the album when I saw the Music Video for J-Hope’s Ego. Its a shame, normally my favorite groups let me down all the time, but it feels more personal this time around. 😦

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      • Its jarring, and it sure is a grower. 18/20 tracks on this album would get a higher than a seven rating. Most of them are in the eights and I enjoyed this album as a whole. I think it could have truly been an amazing album if they took out four tracks but its enjoyable outro with some pizazz. I’m feeling a strong seven on this one, it might grow to an eight or annoy me down to a six. But I think a seven out of ten is the right score overall.

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  12. I knew it, but I guess someone who prefer songs like Mic Drop, or any other songs may definitely like the song, I totally liked it, I don’t know from music point of view, but it is definitely gonna work well with the performance and it is still enjoyable. The album is really good though like
    Louder than Bombs and 00.00 are my favourites❤️
    Filter is really trippy and fun
    My Time is beautiful
    Inner Child is my fav, I really love V here so much
    Moon is calming
    Ugh is hard, but the dissing is real here,

    I guess the lyrics really connect the song and album well, so I know it will work, anyway I wanted them to do something like this, sexy kinda hard concept 😂😅

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh has elementary level dissing… “you’re poop”. If someone started “dissing” me with that I’d laugh in their face and completely ignore them

      Like

        • I have watched it and I have no problems admitting that my comment was heavily influenced by the trash translations going around at the time. I do like the song but at the time the lyrics were really really badly translated, they were incohesive and badly formulated. Since it is rare that the lyrics are that badly translated, that actually made me dislike the song because I’d be remembered of the bad translations all the time. I gave it a second chance once I saw the correct ones and it is a nice song (if you are into the genre, which nick isn’t). That said, that know it all and bts can do no wrong atittude is pretty annoying.

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  13. What is going on in Bighit right now?

    The only thing that stopped me from loving TXT “Runaway” was the extreme vocal arrangement and this will also keep me from loving this one.
    Sometimes I can’t even distinguish their voices…

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  14. I was so excited for this album, I actually cried after listening to it. And not happy tears. I’ve loved BTS for so long. Solos are good and all, but I wanted more whole group songs. Especially if this will be it before enlisting. No track really made me go WOW!! either. I’m glad your site is here! Looking at all the SUPER positive reviews online made me feel more bitter. I’m glad I’m not the only one that wasn’t all that happy with it.

    Like

    • That was my initial thought. I was not sure whether I actually liked it or not. After a week of its release (I can’t even judge/rate/listen to Black Swan, that song sounds ‘disastrous’ to my ears), I do like the song, despite the vocal effects. 7.5 rating seems right.

      Like

  15. Collaboration with Sia makes sense because the song production (esp the song’s opening synths) reminds me a lot of her. Yes, I like this song, both with and without Sia.

    Liked by 1 person

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