Does BTS ever slow down? Even for like a second? The momentum these guys have racked up this year is absolutely unbelievable. It’s to the point that if they were anyone else but BTS, I would be questioning if this breakneck pace is sustainable. But it is BTS, so I have only faith. The group seems to have renewed their insatiable hunger to take over the world after their fall stint in the United States, between their explosive, much-buzzed-about performance at the American Music Awards and their abundant interviews with US media outlets and talk show hosts. Even with this stacked schedule, BTS has delivered a pair of new songs in quick succession: the anticipated Japanese single “Crystal Snow,” and the completely unexpected “With Seoul” for tourist agency Visit Seoul.
I won’t pretend my expectations for either were as high as they are for official BTS comebacks. K-pop labels rarely put as much effort into holiday releases as they do into full-blown comebacks, especially not holiday releases in Japanese, and songs for advertising purposes are intrinsically a little cheesy. I tend to avoid reviewing Japanese releases and advertisement songs (purely because of personal time restraints), but I couldn’t help but comment on BTS’s recent activities. Since neither song goes all-out like Korean comebacks do, I’ve lumped them together in a joint review, but both new tracks are worth discussing at length.
We’ve known about “Crystal Snow” for a while, heard various leaks, and anticipated a pining ballad since well before it dropped. But I don’t know if anyone quite expected the beautiful concept laid out in the lyrics. “Crystal Snow” pivots on one of BTS’s biggest strengths, the narrative nuance of their lyrics, which turns a simple romantic concept into a resonating story: “The world moves faster than we expected. Are we going to change it? We don’t know yet, but surely, the love in our hearts slowly echoes.”
The composition of the verses elevates this concept by distinguishing between full and empty space, developing the dynamic with vocal melody and allowing the silence in between to support that development. I particularly love Jimin’s strikingly melodious part in the beginning of the first prechorus and the quiet that follows, giving the listener a moment to take in everything that has come before. The final bridge with RM’s gentle rap part and Jin’s a cappella high note is another example of this discerning use of space. Moments like these were the highlights of “Crystal Snow.”
Where the song left me dissatisfied was the chorus. “Crystal Snow” deserves a chorus like that of “Spring Day”—not quite upbeat, but forward-moving, something that advances the dynamic instead of decelerating it. The slow, simple beat in this hook is impactless compared to other choruses we’ve heard from BTS, and the way the melody resolves in the middle of the chord progression rather than at the beginning or end has a strange deflating effect. Towards the end of the song, though, the change in tempo of the final chorus picks up the slack a little bit.
One thing I loved about both “Crystal Snow” and “With Seoul” is that we finally got to hear Jin and V hit their vocal stride. It’s always been a touchy topic among fans that BTS’s music, on a stylistic level, often better suits the vocals of Jungkook and Jimin than those of Jin and V. While the former two vocalists shine on the quick, hard-hitting phrasing you usually hear in pop and hip-hop, the voices of Jin and V flourish in the longer and more measured phrasing of ballads. (Okay, well, Jungkook is weirdly versatile and can do both, but that’s beside the point.) Because of this, “Crystal Snow” and “With Seoul” were especially rewarding in terms of vocal performance. Especially on “With Seoul,” V blew me away. We so rarely get to hear this boy’s honey-smooth vibrato, but more than once on “With Seoul” it had me clutching at my heart.
Since “With Seoul” is a song aimed at raising tourism, of course it’s going to be a little cheesy, as I said. Still, the soundtrack-like song is surprisingly powerful (surprisingly? What am I talking about, it’s BTS), with a melody that is easy to get caught up in. For some reason, the prechoruses are the strongest parts of the song and the choruses the weakest, just as they were in “Crystal Snow,” but I’m less skeptical of the chorus this time around, because it keeps the song moving forward. It’s not Bangtan’s most gripping hook of all time, but it’s an advertising song, so it has to sound just a little bit like elevator music. It was a slight disappointment to find that the rappers barely had parts, but again—it’s an advertising song. As I’ve mentioned, the vocals throughout “With Seoul” were a treat, especially in the atmospheric verses. And truly, the elaborate melody of Jungkook’s part in the prechorus, surrounded by Jimin’s recurring “I love Seoul, Seoul,” is wonderful. That contrast between the intricacy of Jungkook’s part and the warm simplicity of Jimin’s is extremely pleasing to the ear.
I don’t know how BTS continues to turn out music at such an alarming rate, but on the heels of their comeback with full-length album “HER,” just after their record-breaking collaboration with Steve Aoki and Desiigner on the remix of “Mic Drop,” and in the midst of closing the WINGS tour, they have somehow put out two new songs. ARMY just may be the single most well-fed fandom in K-pop. It’s incredible to be a fan of such an active group, but I can’t help but worry if they’re getting enough rest. Even so, I do trust BigHit to keep the boys from burning out, because they’ve been consistent in watching out for Bangtan’s health up to now, and if anything I’d expect them to take even more care from here on out, now that BTS is moving slowly but surely into the global spotlight.
CRYSTAL SNOW AND WITH SEOUL: KAYBOPS OR KAYFLOPS? Bops the both of ’em, but especially “With Seoul.”
Take a look at BTS’s “With Seoul” MV below: