When BTS dropped the music video for their new song “Fake Love” on May 18th, it was met with overwhelming enthusiasm around the world. Domestic charts were swept; international records were smashed. Setting records is nothing new for the supergroup, but their success hit new heights as “Fake Love” debuted at #10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and the new album, “Love Yourself: Tear,” became the first K-pop album to take #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Numbers aside, though, everyone—fans and critics alike—seemed to just genuinely love the song, hailing it as a return to the group’s gritty 2015-2016 sound from which last year’s “DNA” was seen as a departure.
There’s no doubt that “Fake Love,” with its glossy production, multifaceted hook structure and terrifically emotional performances, is worthy of the hype. Still, comparing it to “HYYH” era? To “WINGS” era? “Dark & Wild,” even? I couldn’t get on board. I didn’t feel the same sucker-punch impact from “Fake Love” as I did from songs like “I Need U” and “Blood Sweat & Tears.” I chalked it up to artistic evolution—all groups’ styles change, and it would be unfair of me to expect BTS to stay the same forever—until this morning, when BigHit Entertainment dropped an “extended version” of the “Fake Love” music video. Featured in the new MV is a brand-new mix of “Fake Love,” where acoustic and electric guitars transform the dark pop track into something completely…different.
Upon hearing the first few seconds, I felt chills running down my spine, and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant sensation. The feeling, somewhere between thrill and alarm, ballooned as I listened through the song. It was the feeling that this new version of “Fake Love,” this unofficial alternate mix, was everything I had wanted from the original. It was this version that delivered the impact reminiscent of “HYYH” and “WINGS.” This felt like a return to form. It felt like the Bangtan I knew.
I’ll admit, I’d been feeling my own lukewarmth towards “Fake Love” all too acutely over the past two weeks, as popular opinion towards the song has proven to be enormously enthusiastic. Still, I don’t think I was fully aware of what I was missing from “Fake Love” until I heard the new audio and, by contrast, the original seemed to pale and fade away.
True, the official “Fake Love” audio is absurdly clean. The trap-pop production is streamlined and sparkling; not a sound is out of place. On the flipside of that smoothness, however, is a sense of underwhelming homogeneity, a kind of blending-together. It’s so seamless that it feels a bit—dare I say it?—bland. The melodies are largely repetitive, and for me, the instrumental is too lacking in texture to make up any momentum. However, the new mix takes a less electronic approach, driving texture up to the max while injecting new melodic color and dynamic dimension.
Fans have guessed that this new arrangement may be played at concerts, as BTS used a live band throughout their most recent tour and performed what felt like the rock versions of many of their tracks. This seems likely, because it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call this the “rock version” of “Fake Love.” It’s the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and dogged percussion that make the new audio feel so transformed. Take the acoustic strumming added into the opening, for example. That gorgeous vocal melody, with its twisting rhythm and low, suspenseful delivery (it was the most impactful moment in “Fake Love” even in the original), is now supported by new harmonies and dissonances in the instrumental. Or consider the brief but aggressive electric guitar note introducing J-Hope’s rap part, which adds a jolt of depth and energy that pushes the song forward. And it’s not just the details of the song, but the overall dynamic structure of ups and downs, which builds suspense in the stillness of acoustic moments and then plunges the listener into angsty, gritty electric guitar riffs. The reinvented beats and moods feel more natural, more believable than before. That believability not only recalls older title tracks like “Danger” and “Run,” but more recent rock-leaning songs such as “LY: Her” hidden track “Sea.”
Is the new version as clean as the official audio? No—alternate mixes never are. I don’t know that this mix is catchier than the original or even that it’s better. But I do know that it feels more real. Real has always been what Bangtan does best, but I can’t help but feel the loss of that as they experiment with more Western sounds and genres. Of course, artistic exploration is almost always a good thing, and we also know that it’s essential for BigHit CEO and producer Hitman Bang to consider factors such as radio-friendliness as BTS’ potential to take over the Western market becomes more and more apparent. Even so, there’s something so irresistibly Bangtan about the brash, unapologetic rock influences in “Fake Love (Extended Ver.”). I’m curious whether the alternate audio will be dropped in a repack (PLEASE!) and what this means for the group’s sound going forward. I’ll hang onto the hope that this style makes a reappearance in BTS’ music in the future, because it feels right for them.
So let me know in the comments: where do you land on the “original version vs. extended version” question? Do you feel the same way I did? Do you prefer the original version of “Fake Love?” Why? Tell me!
Take a look at BTS’ “Fake Love (Extended Ver.)” MV below: