BTS Image Credit: Twitter

When the track list for the first of BTS’ three-CD 48-song anthology album ‘Proof’ was released on May 8, there was a collective gasp in the fandom.

‘Born Singer’, an adapted cover of J Cole’s song ‘Born Sinner’, was the opening track on CD 1 — an unexpected but deeply significant move for the South Korean super group.

The septet — made up of RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook — first released the hard-hitting song back in July 2013, a month after they made their official debut as a band. ‘Born Singer’ features lyrics written by the rap trio of RM, Suga and J-Hope, expressing their fears about entering the music industry after a long struggle and their determination to make it big.

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BTS members V, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Jimin and J-Hope at the Grammy Awards on April 3 in Las Vegas. Image Credit: AFP

“A mirage that used to be ever so far away is in front of my eyes (It’s here),” reads a line from the song.

Nine years into their journey in the incredibly challenging K-pop and global music industry, it’s safe to say that BTS has made it. 

According to the Hanteo chart, which calculates real-time album sales in Korea, ‘Proof’ sold 2.15 million copies on the first of its release on June 10. The lead single ‘Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment)’ also rose up the charts on streaming services, debuting at No 3 on Spotify’s Global Top 200 chart with over 7.1 million streams on the first day — earning them the biggest single debut for a Korean song in Spotify history.

‘Proof’ is their first ever anthology album, comprising lead singles, demos and three new songs — ‘Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment)’, ‘Run BTS’ and ‘For Youth’ — and is a love letter of sorts to their history and their millions of fans around the world.

While older music makes up the bulk of the three CDs, the new tracks are like a gift to ARMY (the official name of the fandom) that are always hungry for new music, and offer further proof of their unique musicality and voice that has propelled them to a level of fame and influence that few other music groups have seen. Nine years in, ‘Proof’ seems to be a message to the world that there's a lot more to come - even if it's not together.

In a new video released on June 14, the members spoke about taking a hiatus from being a group, working on new solo music and more. An official statement is awaited about what the future holds for the septet as a whole and as individuals.

The past is the key

Despite their immense fame, BTS has been praised by many in the industry for being as grounded as they come. Part of this humility might stem from their reverence for their humble beginnings; and no one loves to bring up their tumultuous journey, such as when all seven of them lived together in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Seoul, as much as BTS does.

From their lyrics to their music videos, there are several subtle and not-so-subtle throwbacks that honour their early work.

In the video for ‘Yet To Come’, imagery from past songs and eras constantly pop up as a reminder of their rich discography. The song title itself harks back to their 2015 EPs ‘The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1 and Part 2’.

On June 13, their ninth anniversary, they released a 25-minute showcase of ‘Born Singer’, ‘Yet To Come’ (with Anderson .Paak as a special guest!) and ‘For Youth’, and also spoke of the best moments in their career.

“I’ve had many great moments, but you know how we used to say we shouldn’t retire before performing at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena? We used to say that a lot,” RM said. “I think it was ‘The Most Beautiful Moment in Live ON STAGE: EPILOGUE’, when we first had a concert at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena. That day was one of my best moments.”

Suga said his favourite memory was their first showcase on June 12, 2013. “I still remember the basement floor at the King Kong building, Ilchi Art Hall,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about that day a lot lately.”

Case in point — BTS’ current state of being is irrevocably tied to who they used to be.

The present is bright

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Image Credit: Twitter

So what does ‘Proof’ mean for the BTS of today?

“Yeah the past was honestly the best/But my best is what comes next,” they sing on ‘Yet To Come’. “We’re just running forward/Promise that we’ll keep on coming back for more.”

It’s an album that celebrates their past, while also serving as a signal to fans and the world that they’re not slowing down just yet — even if they keep us all in delicious suspense about what exactly comes next.

What we do know is that BTS has been on a ‘Proof’ promotions spree in Korea. They’ve roared back to music shows such as ‘M Countdown’ and ‘Inkigayo’, which are considered a key part of the K-Pop industry, for the first time in over two years.

(Fans have commented that the group decided to promote at these shows again because audiences have now been allowed to attend after the peak of the pandemic.)

They’ve also been the fiery spark at the centre of their music label HYBE. Time magazine called the South Korean entertainment company “the house that BTS built”, thanks to the group being a “global economic force, bringing in $5 billion a year, or 0.5 per cent of the national GDP, to the South Korean economy.”

The future is brighter

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BTS at their Las Vegas concert in April. Image Credit: Twitter

New music and content notwithstanding, the word on every fan’s lips was ‘tour’.

There was a strong expectation that the group will embark on a ‘Proof’ world tour soon, following the scrapping of their ‘Map of the Soul’ tour that was set to start in April 2020 and after three successful sets of ‘Permission to Dance on Stage’ live concerts — in Seoul, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. However, with the new Festa video, it seems fans will have to wait longer to see the band on stage together again.

We also know that J-Hope will be performing his first solo gig at Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago on July 31, seemingly as part of the launch of his solo album. ARMY has been snapping up tickets to see the consummate performer and dancer stun crowds, most of whom might be getting their first glimpse of anything BTS related.

Amid this, Korean media has speculated about the oldest member Jin possibly having to enlist for the country’s mandatory military service when he turns 30 in December. The group had already been given a two-year extension, and has been vocal about doing their duty when they are called.

It’s been two years of ups and downs in terms of live performances, their personal admissions of feeling frustrated by the pandemic, their second official vacation followed by back-to-back COVID-19 diagnoses and medical issues, a Grammy performance that almost didn’t happen because of COVID-19, and more.

BTS has pushed through all of it with a single-mindedness that comes from having a genuine love for their craft and from smashing through so many ceilings that the possibilities of what they can achieve are now endless.

The joy of being a BTS fan
Whenever I tell someone the lengths I’ve gone to for BTS, or how much merchandise I’ve meticulously collected over three years like a music-loving magpie, I’ve been hit with an incredulous ‘WHY?’
To a non-fan, it all sounds a bit ridiculous. Just a few years ago, however, I thought the exact same thing.
I couldn’t fathom why anyone needed to see any band perform more than once, or collect magazines and official goods, or listen to their music with an almost spiritual fervour.
Ever since I was introduced to BTS in the summer of 2019, all the pieces clicked into place and I understood why millions of fangirls and fanboys before me did what they did in honour of the musicians they loved so much.
BTS inspires pure joy and wonder, and their music has helped so many people stitch themselves together and weave a sense of togetherness with fans all over the world. Their lyrics talk about social issues, friendship, having fun and — most importantly — self-love. It also helps that the members are natural comedians, and offer up lots of hearty laughs whenever they’re on screen together. It’s hard not to be instantly endeared by them!