Review

Debut Re-Evaluation: BTS – No More Dream

BTS - No More DreamK-Pop debuts can be tricky things. At times, they’re the best song a group delivers. Sometimes, they’re the only song a group delivers!

But, debuts can also be huge wtf moments in an artist’s career. In this feature, I’ll be looking back at debut songs through the prism of time, re-evaluating how well they hold up and how representative they are of an artist’s eventual singles run.


Debut Date: June 12, 2013

Review:

BTS’s credibility wasn’t immediate. Back in 2013, idol groups were idol groups, and didn’t often cross over into genres like hip-hop. Within the context of that year’s musical trends, BTS were like fish swimming upstream – needing to convince audiences of their authenticity while proving that a rap-heavy idol group could be successful. I recall opinion on their debut being quite mixed, and No More Dream wasn’t helped by its music video’s overly-swaggy styling. It threatened to come across as pastiche rather than earnest homage.

It wasn’t until the group’s excellent 2014 variety series American Hustle Life that their genuine charms were on full display, causing many fans to reassess their early work through a new lens. And while I don’t think No More Dream is one of their better singles, it has a scruffy charm befitting a rookie upstart.

The track opens with rubbery bass, not too far removed from the legendary intro to H.O.T’s 1996 first-gen hit Warrior’s Descendent. This provides a nice historic through-line, even if — like H.O.T — BTS would go on to explore a much wider variety of sounds. Musically, the song trades between hip-hop verses and a chanted hook. It doesn’t put nearly enough focus on the group’s vocalists, but it’s amazing how assured BTS’s content and delivery was right from the start. They set out to speak to the nation’s youth, and No More Dream’s honest observations instantly cast them as an idol group with an unusual focus on social issues. Of course, you had to get past that awful spiky mask on J-Hope first! Thankfully, most of these kinks would get worked out in the next year or two.


Does the song hold up?
Definitely

Is the song stronger or weaker than most of the artist’s title tracks?
For me, it’s in the lower rung of their title tracks. But, I appreciate its message.

Does the song represent the artist’s music going forward?
For the next year or so, yes. But, BTS would later move away from 90’s rap and into more pop-influenced territory.

 Hooks 8
 Production 9
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.5


~

45 thoughts on “Debut Re-Evaluation: BTS – No More Dream

  1. You have built a pretty peaceful comment section here so I will keep my mouth shut about this band’s future direction but there is a reason why I am not a fan of their later work

    Like

  2. Recently, I think the meaning of this song has been misunderstood. Some fans think this is a criticism of students forced to dream big instead of living life, and while that is a good message, I always felt that it was a criticism of how many adults force students to pick ‘successful’ paths over passion, making them do stuff they don’t care for, instead of what will make them happy. It also preaches one to dream. I don’t even think the lyrics are too open-to-interpretation, but I guess since different people have got different interpretations, I may be wrong on the last point. Either way, both interpretations are great.

    The song is a lot better than the MV, which still makes me cringe. I’d give the song a 9.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Lmaoo don’t speak on BTS. You stan flop groups like ONF and SHINee so I can see why you’re pressed. Threatened by our boys’ success while you’re the haters they sing about.

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    • BTS music is fine for the most part, lots of their songs are great. but people like you are the reason why BTS gets so much hate. The real toxic fandom. How bout going back and keep streaming dynamite?

      Liked by 2 people

    • Maybe you can’t read or something but he was actually praising them in this post. And he has repeatedly said that he loves them. So maybe you’re the one that’s pressed sweetie, sit down

      Like

    • This is a troll, everybody. And this generally somewhat peaceful comment section has the vibe of an old-school internet forum, so I’ll use that old school parlance and say “don’t feed the trolls.” If we all just scrolled by, everybody would be a lot better off for it…

      As much as there are plenty of annoying ARMYs out there, I would say there’s almost as many people using sockpuppet accounts to impersonate them. Nobody in their right mind would call Shinee flops, sooo….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Can we just talk about how incredible BTS are?
    Sometimes I feel like they don’t get enough credibility because of their stupid fandom and the difference between their 2014-17 work than the rest. But they are one of K-pop’s most consistent groups, and their growth was absolutely satisfying to see.

    and No More Dream man, It was such a good debut. The guys were immensely charming here and they offered such a great flow. Of course they would move onto more adventurous material, but this was a good start. Come to think of it, Can someone please tell me when BTS made any misstep during 2013 – 2017? Because I really can’t name any.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I can think of a few only, ‘War of the Hormone’ lyrically, and ‘DNA’ musically. But really, they were extremely consistent throughout. Even their new stuff, while pretty generic compared to a lot of underrated artists, is A-Tier level stuff when it comes to everything on the Billboard charts really.

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        • I have plenty of BTS songs I do like currently but the last one which I really LOVED was Blood, Sweat and Tears. It sounds like nothing in their discography but has some connection to their 2015-16 single run…how?

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          • See, the last ones I really enjoyed were Not Today and Spring Day. I liked Blood, Sweat and Tears, but those two are the newest ones I come back to and probably the ones I play most frequently (at least out of their 2016-present stuff).

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        • Not really a fan of DNA, the drop chorus is somewhat lame, and the heavy autotune is hard to deal with.

          But then, there is the 2018 remix with Pedal 2 LA from I think the last Love Yourself album (Answer if I remember right), and it is glorious. Goes great with Stan Bush’s Touch.

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          • The fact that you mention Stan Bush’s Touch makes me downright giddy. That 1986 Transformers soundtrack is like the backbone of my childhood.

            Speaking of BTS remixes, I hardly ever listen to Idol, but its Stadium remix is a staple on my workout playlist. It transforms the song into pure euphoria.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Even though I probably am a different generation than you, same here! Really, Transformers was an essential part of some of my early years, and Stan Bush’s Touch an essential part of that. It is one of those songs that sounds like cheese on paper, but the singer performs it with his full heart, and it feels personal to a large extent. Other songs that do that (Off the top of my head) are Eye Of The Tiger and (famously) Bohemian Rhapsody. I love all three. I guess I just love something so large and epic, to feel so close, personal, and even emotional.

              Had not heard that Idol remix till now. I think I still prefer the chaos of the original, and this version is too EDM for me, but it works surprisingly great, I think I need to get it, it is even a bit anthemic, thanks for interesting it to me!

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        • You know what bugs me about DNA, to the point where I rarely listen to it anymore?

          It’s that little offbeat snare during the verses (starts around 52 seconds in). I know it’s intentional, but it just sounds like they forgot to remove remnants of another track from the mix. It bothers me more than it probably should, and takes me out of the song every time.

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          • I’ve never noticed that snare at all, but I do have a similar issue with Taemin’s Move! Love the song to death, but one of the sounds it uses as percussion (the one that just precedes the vocals in the second verse and then persists) is the button-clicking sound from Minecraft, of all things. Same pitch and everything! It drives me nuts.

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          • Weird, the snare drums are one of my favorite parts of the verses. I felt it creates more of an eclectic build, compared to the trendiness so far. I would actually prefer it appeared more. Funny how that works!

            I think what throws me out is the overall genericness and the lack of a strong chorus.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think it’s because the specific sound reminds me of that clipped distortion that can sometimes happen with bad mp3 encodes. Plus, I think it comes across as totally off beat — like they’re trying to inject a counter rhythm that doesn’t work.

              And though it’s not pertinent to DNA, if the entire trap genre has taught me anything it’s that my ears are especially sensitive to sounds in higher frequencies. I think that’s why the overuse of hi-hats in modern pop music tends to bother me. My attention directly fixates on that higher frequency and it pulls me away from everything else happening in the song. It may just be a quirk of my ears.

              Like

          • Your timestamp threw me off, because it is 0:52 of the _video_ not of the recording, where it comes in earlier. On the recording at about that timestamp is the spaceship rising sound.
            ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBdVXkSdhwU

            Yeah, I just blithely ignore that off beat snare. To be honest, I hadn’t paid it any mind before you pointed it out. It sounds off kilter because it is – It comes in on the and of the two and four beat, and then _on_ the beat on the eight. (It helps not to count the ands on the second measure to recrceate it.)

            one and two AND three and four AND five … six … seven …. EIGHT

            It sounds like something Brain Wilson of the Beach Boys would throw into his compositions, except he would have spent three days in the studio trying to get just that part exactly right, like something out of Good Vibrations. Some poor soul recording a single line on a snare drum for three days straight to hit what Brian had in his head just before Brian’s poor soul has another breakdown.

            … They didn’t spend three days on just that part to get the snare right here, more like a half hour on “Snare #1” setting and thought it sounded cool, plus another five minutes to switch it up to “Deep Snare with Echo #3” setting here and there. They may have spent three days on all the subtle space ship rising and falling sounds, and also the slow mo pieeew pieew space laser sound on the drop. Space Laser # 9 slowed down to take an eighth note duration instead of a quick 32nd note duration, that is what the drop sounds like to me.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Not really my style. I don’t know how unique or “swimming upstream” the sound was back then for kpop – it reminds me of a few the b-sides on the Block B “Nilili Mambo” album from October 2012 like No Joke and Halo, which I also skip when they come around as not my style.

    Like

  6. Off Topic: Nick, one question! I think the SNS drama “Imitation” groups will be coming out with music. Will you make reviews of them and possibly count them for end-of-year-list?

    Like

    • It depends on:

      1. if they’re promoted with any kind of mv
      2. if they’re any good (the Tea Party track didn’t really impress me on last week’s Music Bank)

      I’m definitely planning on checking out the drama, though.

      Like

  7. Ah! The MV is a too funny for me considering how young they are here and their “swaggy” attempts don’t really fit in with their age and are too OTT (I mean Jungkook is 15 here!!). Anyways, it not’s one of my top fav. BTS single but I have always enjoyed it. It’s on my gym playlist still!

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  8. One of the debut stages. This is a pretty self-assured and confident performance (even if I still don’t like the song.) The costuming is, um, interesting. Gold chains, sports jerseys, hightops and Vans, Rm with Kid’n’play style hair https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kid_%27n_Play
    Jungkook does not seem to be 15 at all here – he seems much older, maybe because is surrounded by older guys. It struck me because yesterday or day before when we were reviewing Enhypen, they all seemed so young.

    Liked by 1 person

      • OMG. They are such kids here. And I can’t with the costumes. Cannot take the kiddos in gold chains seriously! And RM with that hair. I’m sure I had questionable style in my teens but imagine if you are this famous and your old style always has an audience. They are so confident here though, which I love. But you are right, Jungkook doesn’t seem that young here. V looks quite like a baby though.

        I think I’ll go and check the debut stages of all my fav. groups now. I’m sure it’ll be hilarious!

        Liked by 2 people

      • YEESSS the legendary Jungkook lifting Jimin and he runs across their backs move! You know that had to have taken them ages (and some injuries) to perfect.

        It was nice to watch this stage and read your comments!! I am having a rough day today for many reasons and looking at this old performance was somehow healing for me. It was like meditation, lol. I think the boys did have an impressive demeanor at the time. Suga/Yoongi is my ult and sometimes I miss the real anger and fire I used to see behind his raps, you know? Re: their outfits, he also mentioned that there was some sunbae who asked him at the time who made his outfit, and he didn’t know how to respond because they were all knockoffs… 😭

        Respectfully agree to disagree re: Jungkook looking older than his young age lol, but it is a nice compliment and I’m sure 15 year old Jungkook would have been thrilled to hear it!

        I hope this video works but I remember seeing it with the caption “15 year old jeon had no idea what he was doing”

        Liked by 2 people

    • Wow, amazing, I think it is live. At least, for the most part, the mikes are certainly on, even if there is a strong backing track. I don’t think they have the vocal prowess they have recently, nor the confidence. But the live vocals really make it a whole lot more enjoyable. As far as K-Pop vocalists go, BTS has some great ones, so I am a little disappointed Big Hit (HYBE now) puts so much vocal processing and not-live ‘live’ vocals.

      Another great debut stage is EXO’s Mama. The guys are raw, and goof a good bit, and are clearly afraid, but they give their all, and most of the song is live. I actually prefer this messy EXO style over their more recent, sophisticated, and trendy sound, which I also love.

      ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w09ZCW9PmqU

      Liked by 1 person

      • YES EXACTLY! (sorry for shouting)
        Those mikes are ON, and almost everything is sung or rapped live over a backing track of varying intensity, everything but the high ad libs towards the end which are canned.

        The live vocal gives the performer even more passion. They aren’t just hitting marks, they are performing with their body and soul. And the BTS and the EXO example show that the vocal does not need to be sacrificed in favor of the dance. It adds and builds, even if there are bum notes here and there. Even handheld mics don’t interfere with the effectiveness of the BTS performance.

        Also, it is because they have had to do these live stages back when that they have improved their vocal prowess. Practice practice practice for realz; this education does not happen in a safe studio environment.

        Also note how well BTS use the handheld microphones during their debut stage, versus Enhypen in their first win encore had no idea how to use a handheld microphone even while standing still because it hasn’t been required of them yet. Recopying that encore link here, singing starts at about 2:45 ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmhusdOwrBw

        Liked by 2 people

        • Exactly so much! I mean, I love actually hearing those voices, that passion in the song. Mama, for example, is supposed to be desperate, pleading, and frustrated. Their passionate and imperfect performance fits perfectly for that, especially compared to a studio version where the vocals are simply stable. Sometimes that rookie energy actually can help a lot.

          Drunk-Dazed is supposed to sound insecure and afraid, things that I am sure Enhypen will feel as rookie idols from the biggest music company in the world. Had they been trained with the mikes a bit more, the live version would sound a lot better. In other words, I would prefer an imperfect vocal performance to a clearly pre-recorded one.

          I wondered why this happened, and I soon hit upon it. As time went on, the K-Pop scene has slowly split from the K-Indie scene.

          Nan Arayo is the founding song of both scenes, and they were somewhat interdependent for most of the time. That means while they were idols, early K-Pop stars were intended to be musicians, not vessels for musicians to release their songs.

          While I cannot tell if it is fully live, this performance of Nan Arayo shows what I mean. It appears more as a b-boy rebellion performance than an idol track.

          ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKK0UEu4Q5g

          When HOT came back for a reunion performance, despite being pretty old for idol standards, they were fully live, and performed really strongly, hitting nearly everything perfectly. It was simply expected from that era.

          ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GqIxImIF7E’

          Flash forward to the second generation. When Girls’ Generation debuted, the vocals are live. The choreography is by no means easy, and it was simply expected for the vocals to be live.

          ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdjhDjKbcUg

          Now, flash forward to 2017, Produce Season 2. The vocals are clearly not live, and no one cries fowl. That is because the Produce franchise turned Idols more from singers who can dance and rap, to performers who can do a bit of all 3. The concept of all-rounders becomes all the more prevalent. I am not saying there were not all-rounders before, but suddenly nearly all idols are expected to sing, rap, and dance. The ‘idol’ image at the same time chases away many ‘serious’ K-Music fans, who check out the more ‘credible’ indie world. The big companies have no issue with this, as there are enough teen fans for them to continue to mint money.

          ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIld_iEc67s

          At the same time, the indie world thrives on ‘authenticity, and actually, good music becomes slightly rare. But of course, there are some highlights, and most are sung live. For a lot of fans who moved to check out the indie world, they would rather wait for one of those than constantly deal with the ‘inauthentic’ idol world. The idol world realizes this, and companies train rookies more on dance than on singing. The indie world basically abandons dancing for the most part.

          An example of current indie world music, from pretty mainstream indie artists:

          ‘https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ECn8GFQrEs

          Okay, so I realized that this is really long. But I am not gonna shorten it, because there are probably other people like me who would enjoy reading this.

          Liked by 2 people

  9. I don’t think they truly grabbed me until ‘No’ but the message here is what charmed me enough to even give ‘No’ a shot and follow them. I had sworn off boy groups for YEARS after DB5K split but figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on this group. And now here I am, so many years later LOL

    I do miss them being more experimental in general. The fun pop is great but I also miss their mix of grittier songs, cyphers and vocal songs they used to comprise their minis and full albums of (Dark and Wild is still SUCH a good album).

    Even so, never could’ve foreseen them reaching these heights and I’m glad to have been there from (mostly) day one.

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  10. Sorry for the spamming and mentioning something unrelated! Since a few comments were talking about BTS’s live vocals (which we don’t get to hear often these days lol), I really enjoyed their cover of Coldplay’s Fix You that they performed for MTV Unplugged! In case anyone wants to check it out, the link is below:-

    Liked by 1 person

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