Taking BTS’s success out of the equation, it’s fascinating to trace how much their music has changed since their 2013 debut. As happens with many world-conquering pop groups, their sound expanded beyond a niche market, becoming more palatable to a wider audience. This has its upsides and downsides, but in general I think BTS have done a decent job making it work. Still, I haven’t been overly thrilled by any of their Japanese singles, which often strip the group of its personality in favor of safe, ballad-friendly sounds.
With this in mind, I have to give the guys (and Big Hit) credit for enlisting the help of an actual J-pop legend for new single Film Out. The song is co-produced by back number’s Iyori Shimizu, alongside BTS’s own Jungkook. I’m not sure this collaboration bore any real musical fruit, but I appreciate the gesture when it comes to work targeted toward a Japanese audience. Film Out stems from the group’s upcoming greatest hits album – a format that’s still popular in Japan. Its sentimental style is well-suited to this milestone, though it doesn’t push the guys in a particularly interesting direction. They’ve released more resonant songs within this framework, making Film Out feel a bit redundant.
The song injects a few rock touches (courtesy of Shimizu, I’m sure) that help make it pop. I like the use of acoustic guitar – especially when coupled with Film Out’s more chant-like moments. And the lack of heavy-handed vocal processing is also appreciated. BTS sound great. However, the melody needs extra punch. J-pop ballads have a history of being melodically rich, but can sometimes come across as meandering. I fear that Film Out leans more in the latter direction, and never creates the sense of melodic storytelling I’d hope for when it comes to a knockout ballad.