Dynamite is BTS’s first English-language single, and I’m surprised it took them this long. Western pop markets – America, in particular – are notoriously hesitant toward music recorded in any other language, to their immense detriment. True market penetration requires a push past the industry’s gate-keepers, and that’s a struggle. Social media and streaming has made it more possible than ever, but it’s still an uphill climb – even for the world’s biggest pop act.
With this in mind, I can’t help but listen to Dynamite with the ear of the general public – those who might be aware of a popular group called BTS, but aren’t familiar with their music beyond the most surface of qualities. I wonder how this will sound to them? It’s a credible disco-pop pastiche, bright and inoffensive enough to soundtrack ad campaigns (as Katy Perry’s insipid Birthday is currently doing for Target), and feels like the kind of “big tent” pop song created to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that, though it comes at the expense of some level of musical character. Dynamite is a great avenue for BTS’s charm, but it says little about the group themselves. Does it even need to?
Upon watching the music video and its pastel palate, I was immediately reminded of last year’s Boy With Luv — another bright, funky track from the group. That song had major crossover appeal as well, yet felt more distinctly BTS. Dynamite grooves along a similar energy, bounding on rhythm guitar and joyful synth accents. It succumbs to Big Hit’s mealy-mouthed vocal processing, as too many of the agency’s output has done over the past year, but the guys sell the fun. It doesn’t feel particularly forced. Yet, it doesn’t feel particularly novel, either. The whole package has a very Justin Timberlake “Can’t Stop The Feeling” vibe – drawing upon classic influences without twisting them enough to wind up as anything more than an amiable crowd-pleaser.
But, everyone loves a crowd-pleaser, and Dynamite’s joy is infectious. It even makes room for a final-chorus key change. We don’t hear too many of those in mainstream pop anymore, and the climax lends the track a celebratory energy that sends it out on a high. I’m not quite sure that the rest of Dynamite earns this moment, but I can’t begrudge the guys for embracing brighter tones and the pure sugar rush that pop music can offer.