The best kind of art is often equated to that which comes from pain and uncertainty. As bleak as that may sound, these types of emotions give artists the ability to manifest a raw vulnerability into music that strikes people the most. Most of the music I grew up listening to talked about dreams, hope and, introspection in the midst of despair. When the pandemic began, that feeling of hope seemed too far out of reach and many artists utilised the abundance of time to instead offer companionship with melancholy understanding. We all struggled, and we can be grateful to the musicians that continued to release music and give us some form of cathartic release.
In November last year, the members of BTS were among the many artists who reached out a reassuring hand with their No.1 single “Life Goes On”. Although there seems to be “no end in sight”, they promised that “the day will come back around as if nothing happened”. Now in July, the promise was kept, and that day is in sight as RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook give us “Permission to Dance”.
Nevertheless, it can be easy to dismiss a feel-good pop song as a lightweight when all you can think of is the catchy summer tune. If you can’t get it out of your head, then that’s all there is too it, right? Not necessarily. Classic, uplifting pop songs are still important contributions to our musical spectrum and if we took away those bright, lighter moments of music, we’d be in an endless slog of darkness. While BTS have long-established their capacity to explore both dark and light concepts, the group more than adept in all kinds of lyricism and aesthetics, there’s something perfectly simple about their new release.
Over the last 11 months especially, they have made us feel euphoric and energetic with releases like “Dynamite”, “Telepathy” and “Butter”, but “Permission to Dance” truly cements their charisma and magnetism. While this one offers us another type of comfort in comparison to their previous pandemic releases, it’s still a record to remember. The English single dropped July 9th as a conclusion to the “Butter” EP and this is the hope that the future is promised in “Life Goes On”. The song delivers sunny advice on getting through the worse and is an ode to healing that was made in collaboration with Ed Sheeran. “This is the second project with him, but we never met him,” RM tells Jimmy Fallon on their recent appearance on the “The Late-Night Show”. Yet, despite being around five and a half thousand miles apart, the two artists managed to deliver the perfect pick-me-up.
The warm piano notes and string motifs come together in this dedication to everyone having a bad day and who are struggling with the face of reality. Coming out of a pandemic is something we could have never anticipated, and it’s done a number on a lot of us and as we begin to start up again and emerge as new versions of ourselves, everything seems a little more frightening than before. However, “When the nights get colder/ And the rhythms got you falling behind”, Jin offers to “Just dream about that moment” when you can finally dance again.
Though rather amusingly dressed as cowboys, BTS still managed to give us picture-perfect fashion picks, even in the sweltering desert. The boys showcased brands like Ralph Laurent, Val Kristopher and Gallery Depth X Lavin in a series of Western clothing and distressed denim. Though it seems V missed the black and white memo for the first half with the all-red shirt and pants look, I’ll give him credit where credit is due because there are only so many people who can pull off that look and he knocked it out of the park. BTS definitely doesn’t need permission to stun us all.
Furthermore, BTS are curators of symbolism, and the music video is full of subtle hints to the ARMY, including the array of purple balloons that signify the end of COVID-19. There are scenes of masked employees in offices being welcomed back; a waitress dancing alone in an empty diner; a small group of children dancing together on a tennis court; a mail carrier catching sight of the ever-present purple balloon as she goes on duty – it’s one big communal gathering. The final 60 seconds of the music video is even dedicated to the extraordinary crew that works with BTS behind the scenes. Their crowd of stylists, choreographers, makeup artists, everyone who supported and helped make this music happen join the stars in dancing along to the choreography. It was such an overwhelmingly warm celebration that my heart just melted.
Overall, the music video celebrates the community on a much wider scale as the video includes a diverse cast of characters from across the globe. In promising their message of hope, they have extended this to everyone with no exceptions and the inclusivity of the song is furtherly reflected in the choreography which integrates the international sign language for “dance”, “fun”, and “peace” into the bridge of the song. The whole video was an enriching production that celebrated the rejoice of people coming together for one of the most universal languages: music.
However, there has been a great imbalance of opinions and the reception online was different this time around. While mostly positive, responses were less jubilant as a lot of listeners criticised the simplicity and musical-esque ambiance. I will admit that by no means is “Permission to Dance” revolutionary and while it was an admirable goal, the song lacks in the intricate lyricism we are used to. Our rappers are singing, the choreography is easy, and it did feel like something out of “Footloose”. When you compare this to the same kids who brought out intense tracks like “Fire”, “Not Today” and “Mic Drop”, “Permission to Dance” feels a little formulaic and predictable in places.
Though, while I too was missing the intense bass and defiance of the system that usually accompanies a BTS track, I was still deturbed to see multiple “ARMY” online wishing for the “old BTS back”. This phrase has since multiplied after BigHit Entertainment became HYBE Labels as they merged with Scooter Braun’s label in America. It seems to be a common concern for fans that BTS are becoming too westernised, “Permission to Dance” only fuelling this argument. Given their amazing global success, people are wondering if the boys have somehow “transcended the industry”.
That being said, it is important to remember that Western validation is one hell of a tricky thing, and it carries a number of unpleasant undertones associated with racism, colonialism and assimilation. BTS’s South Korean heritage carries many expectations with it, but still, the boys bit back with tracks that gained them an ARMY. This is something that makes BTS all the more incredible as they went against the formula and still managed to permeate the upper echelon of artists. However, in a music industry often criticised for its lack of diversity, ran by older white men who are greatly averse to the very thought of difference and change, it can be difficult to gain recognition if you don’t follow a proven formula. Not that BTS necessarily needed any more recognition, but the whole idea of this song was to extend a hand to everybody – including those who aren’t ARMY. Do you really think, some everyday radio listener would have paid any attention to another BTS Cypher?
So, “Permission to Dance” was predictable, it was easy, and it was fun. As is a lot of the songs you hear on the radio that play three times over in just a one-hour slot. A lot of musicians still replicate the same chords, lyrics and rhythms just with more remixes to give people a catchy summer tune that everyone can dance to, and they soar across the charts for weeks. Just this one time did BTS go for this communal complacency and because they did it well, people are disappointed. Well, I believe that a lot of fans missed the whole point of this song and were too quick to criticise.
At the end of the day, BTS are heavy experimentalists, and they will continue to try new things as they grow as artists. Remember that the boys debuted at ages 15 – 21, therefore will also grow as people, and people are giving one song too much power. There are hundreds of other BTS songs that drive this one into the ground, but that’s beside the point. They weren’t trying to outdo “Dynamite” and “Butter”, these two songs in close competition for their ground-breaking records, nor were they trying to transcend the industry. “Permission to Dance” feels like that song you can enjoy for more than just the summer and is a great way forward. Given the number of styles and genres BTS has explored in their 8 years as idols, I can’t comprehend why people are so against this song when it’s just, yet another genre BTS has experimented with. Metaphorically and literally, this is nothing permanent, so why not just enjoy it?
Nonetheless, the song has just been announced the No.1 song in the world and debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart. The list takes both the sales and streaming data into consideration and it’s no surprise that BTS has yet another winner after “Butter” was No.1 for an entire 6 weeks. I still believe that a lot of people are still dragging along the hopelessness of the past year and viewing this song with the wrong lens. While it definitely requires the music video for full fulfillment, it’s done its purpose: to remind people that happiness is possible and there’s no shame in feeling it. Therefore, while some fans may be disappointed, ARMY should be excited about what is to come next. Maybe we can expect an album?
All image credits go to HYBE LABELS.