As popular as BTS are around the world, I’m surprised that their Japanese-language material hasn’t felt more essential. For me, the best thing to come out of their J-pop discography isn’t Japanese at all. Instead, it’s the galvanizing ‘Stadium Remix’ of Korean single “IDOL“ (ie: my now-definitive version of the track). Barring a couple of standout songs, their original Japanese work has come across as an afterthought. New single “Lights” is no different.
After last week’s “Heartbeat“, BTS have delivered their second downbeat track in a row. But while “Heartbeat” got by on a gorgeous synth line and dramatic guitar distortion, “Lights” feels much more generic. The Japanese market is well known for their love of ballads, and it’s not unusual for J-pop singles to stretch past the five-minute mark. Unlike K-pop’s tight song structures, J-pop often feels more leisurely in pace. That’s the case for “Lights”, which is overlong by at least a minute. As a result, the song never builds to any satisfying moment, spinning its wheels with a naval-gazing melody that’s drained of dynamics.
BTS have more than a few stellar ballads under their belts. Obviously, there’s “Spring Day,” but songs like “The Truth Untold,” “Butterfly,” and “Epiphany” all would have made more interesting templates for the emotive aspiration of “Lights”. Instead of capitalizing on the members’ unique blend of vocal tones, “Lights” buries their individuality in an uninspired arrangement. Unsurprisingly, the track was crafted by composers outside of the usual BTS bubble. A song like this could have been performed by any K-pop group to similar effect, which is not something I could usually say about BTS releases. From its plodding instrumental to its monotonous chorus, “Lights” is shockingly faceless.