[Review] BTS’s “Black Swan” and its dynamic instrumental undercut by vocal processing

In contrast to most K-pop releases, BTS’s upcoming album is following a months-long roll-out schedule reminiscent of American acts. My feelings about this aside, the approach is gradually offering hints as to what the album might sound like. And honestly, I’ve got no idea so far. Last week’s Suga solo was more intro than song, and pre-release “Black Swan” shifts things in an entirely different direction. However, both point to a similar trend. After their most populist, pop-informed release last year, Map Of The Soul: 7 seems to be moving in more obtuse directions.

At times, the reviews on this site have been called ‘pretentious’ by internet commenters, presumably because I write coherent thoughts in complete sentences. So, I’m familiar with this criticism I’m about to dole out: “Black Swan,” accompanied by its interpretive dance video, feels a tad bit on the indulgent — dare I say, pretentious — side.

Taken apart from the video, the actual song is slightly more approachable. This mix dials down the constant autotune, which mars the video version to the point where it barely even sounds like BTS. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything to improve the melody, which embodies the worst of today’s languid, apathetic approach to song structure.

I get that a song like “Black Swan” is meant to favor sentiment and emotion over big pop moments, but there used to be a time when music like this could deliver both. There just isn’t enough variation to the melody here. It feels like the same flow repeated for three minutes, varying ever so slightly for the underwhelming chorus. Compare this to a song like 2019’s “Mikrokosmos,” which was able to convey incredible emotion while still offering a fleshed out, compelling melody.

Thankfully, a dynamic instrumental helps to buoy the appeal of “Black Swan.” The trap beats are wholly unnecessary, but I love the Eastern influences. They give the track a calming, yet layered feel. This is undercut a bit by the heavy vocal processing. I actually think vocal effects have a place within a song of this style, but I wish they would have been used in a different way. A change of vocal textures could have given “Black Swan” a dreamlike aesthetic rather than the trap-autotune cliché we end up getting.

And that’s what makes this track so frustrating. It seems to promise so much. It screams: “This is important! This is deep.” But, the execution struggles to match that ambition. Here’s hoping that Map Of The Soul: 7‘s upcoming title track strikes a more satisfying balance.


IATFB says: The instrumental is immensely promising and the themes they’re exploring are impactful. That said, the vocal processing is just miserable and if it were by some random Korean hip-hop artist instead of BTS I’d end up just clicking next and never addressing it. Still, I do feel like the choices made here bodes well for the album as long as the effects are a one-off, specifically because of the aforementioned “obtuse” direction instead of trying to go cynically “populist.”

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