Proof of BTS: 9 Years of a Breathtaking Journey

BTS returned on June 10, 2022, after an almost year-long hiatus, with the release of their first anthology album, Proof, just in time for their 9th debut anniversary. Proof of BTS contains 48 tracks spread across three CDs and chronicles BTS’s nine-year career to date. The album, in addition to various solo tracks, unit tracks, special tracks, and more, includes three brand new tracks: “Yet To Come,” “Run BTS,” and “For Youth.” They started their first chapter in 2013 with “No More Dream”, and after 9 long years, they are heading towards a new chapter.

proof of bts
Source: BIGHIT MUSIC

In the two years since their last Korean release, BE, the group has risen to unparalleled levels of stardom. They are the first K-pop act to be nominated for a GRAMMY, broke numerous chart and streaming records, and sold out stadiums worldwide. They kept running and never gave up, and Proof shows how far they’ve come musically and grown from idols to artists. The anthology album reestablishes their identity as musicians who worked their way up and will continue to do so. Proof is their 9 years of history in one album.

Even though I had listened to and loved a few of their earlier songs, such as “Dope,” “Run,” “Fire,” and “Mic Drop,” as well as BTS’s rapper Suga’s solo mixtape “Agust D,” I started my journey as an ARMY in 2018 when I randomly stumbled across “Fake Love.” I knew very little about the seven-member South Korean pop group—the fact that they had millions of fans worldwide, as well as haters who liked to spread controversy. 

I started doing my own research through various YouTube videos—not only music videos and performances but also meme compilations, dance practices, interviews, and explanations of the complicated fictional universe running through BTS’s work, and before I knew it, I found out about RM’s thoughtfulness, Suga’s self-awareness, J-Hope’s high-spiritedness, Jin’s warmth, Jimin’s delicacy, V’s musing, and Jungkook’s coolness, all of whom do some mix of singing, dancing, rapping, producing, and songwriting. I learned their real names, birthdays, and personality quirks. I binge-watched their weekly variety show as well as random live streams. I picked up some Hangul, so I could sing along to much of their discography, which is in Korean. I also became close friends with strangers over BTS.

I transformed from a novice to a stan, and my love for them was cemented when “Boy with Love” came out in 2019, and I saw them swaying from side to side and spinning around in perfect synchronicity.

Whether it is their synchronicity, their good looks, the fact that they dance hard while singing and rapping, or maybe even the fact that they have performed at the United Nations General Assembly as well as visited the White House to speak out against anti-Asian racism, BTS intrigues you. BTS, dubbed as the “biggest boy band on the planet,” is undoubtedly at the pinnacle of their success, securing their status as pop culture icons; here’s a glimpse of their breathtaking journey, the proof of BTS, from the perspective of my own journey as an ARMY.

The Beginning

Bang Si Hyuk, the founder of Big Hit Entertainment, which was then a small, newly established struggling agency, was looking to create a fresh group of artists different from the regimented K-pop industry when the group was formed in 2010. He scouted RM (Kim Namjoon) from Seoul’s underground rap scene and immediately signed him. The lineup for its brand-new group Bangtan Sonyeondan (meaning Bulletproof Boy Scout in Korean), or simply BTS, was completed with the addition of Jin (Kim Seokjin), Suga (Min Yoongi), J-hope (Jung Hoseok), Jimin (Park Jimin), V (Kim Taehyung), and Jungkook (Jeon Jungkook). Point to be noted, their new album, Proof, is also implied in their Korean name.

Debut

BTS made their debut on June 13, 2013, with the hip-hop-oriented single “No More Dream,” which criticised the social pressures faced by Korean teenagers. They were met with half-hearted reactions, and many questioned whether they would last as a band.

Breakthrough

It wasn’t until 2015 that they made a significant breakthrough with the single “I Need You” from their album Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt 1, which earned them their first Music Show triumph. This was followed by a string of victories for the group, including their first Daesang Album of the Year at the 2016 Melon Music Awards for Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever. The album marked their transition from punk bad boys to a more youthful and mature aesthetic. 

Their popularity soared in 2016 with the release of the LP Wings, which included the immensely popular “Blood, Sweat, and Tears.” The group was recognised at the international level and has been unstoppable since then.

Wings preorders totalled over 700,000 copies worldwide. The lead single “Spring Day” topped eight of the major South Korean online music charts and entered the US Billboard’s Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart at number 15. The video for “Spring Day,” with its poetic cinematography and references to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Bong Joon ho’s film Snowpiercer, captivated me. When I discovered that the video is often interpreted as a tribute to the school-age victims of the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014, I replayed it and broke down in tears.

With their fifth EP, Love Yourself: Her, they finally achieved the holy grail of Korean music: a million album sales. They also began to attract the attention of foreign artists after the EP featured American artist The Chainsmokers, which sparked interest in the K-POP and American music industries.

Billboard Music Awards

In 2015, BTS made their debut on the Billboard 200, at No. 171 from The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 2. Afterwards, the group made their way back to the 200 list and ended up appearing at the Billboard Music Awards in 2017, where they received the top social artist award, which they’ve won for four consecutive years. 

Guinness World Record

After winning the Billboard award in 2017, the K-Pop group gave their first live television performance for US audiences during the show in Los Angeles on their hit “DNA.” The band’s epic performance was so popular that the following day they earned a spot in the Guinness World Record for most Twitter engagements for a music group.

#1 on Billboard 200

BTS made history as their Love Yourself: Tear was #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album’s lead single, “Fake Love,” became the group’s first Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. The song then went on to top many charts around the world.

Boy With Luv

“Boy With Luv” marked a new era for BTS. The lead single from their album Map of the Soul: Persona catapulted the group even further into the global spotlight. The sunshine-drenched music video in collaboration with Halsey helped transform this accessible escapism into something comforting, pleasant, and enjoyable. However, “accessible” doesn’t mean the music video is simple. The English title refers to their 2014 song “Boy in Luv,” and while both songs explore various types of love, the key distinction is in BTS now having love as opposed to wanting it.

With “Boy With Luv,” BTS was the first K-pop act to perform live on SNL, and it is by far the most popular musical appearance SNL has uploaded to date. 

BTS at the UN

“We have learned to love ourselves, so now I urge you to ‘speak yourself,’” remarks Kim Namjoon during his speech at the United Nations on September 24, 2018, after releasing the “Love Yourself” albums and launching the “Love Myself” campaign in partnership with UNICEF, on efforts to end violence against children.

In 2020 too, BTS addressed the UN again virtually in 2020, with all the members speaking almost entirely in Korean. They were invited by the Group of Friends of Solidarity for Global Health Security, which South Korea established in 2020, to speak about the challenges that future generations would face due to COVID-19.

Again, in 2021, BTS addressed the United Nations General Assembly before the summit started and had a powerful message to share with the world. They addressed the assembly in person, in Korean and via a translator. The difference this time was that they were introduced in a different way. South Korean President Moon Jae-in introduced them himself, having recently appointed BTS as the Special Presidential Envoy for Future Generations and Culture. 

BTS’s speech discussed the pandemic and today’s youth struggles and why we need to think of a sustainable future to combat climate change, emphasising that “the future is unexplored territory, and we will spend our time in it more than anyone.” J-Hope also emphasised the importance of vaccines, stating that all seven members had been vaccinated against Covid-19 and urging their fanbase, ARMY, to do the same.

Map of the Soul: 7

One of the most personal, cohesive, and honest albums that look into the group, the tracks on Map Of The Soul: 7 serve as pockets where the members retrospectively analyse the people they have become over the “seven winters and springs,” as the song “We Are Bulletproof: The Eternal” suggests. Both 7 and its predecessor, Persona, are thematically based on Carl Jung’s philosophical theories and his research into mapping a human being’s psyche — or “map of the soul.”

Although the concepts of persona and shadow appear throughout Map Of The Soul: 7, it is most directly referenced in Suga’s “Interlude: Shadow,” the album’s first single. Suga asserts in the first verse, “I run but the shadow follows, as dark as the light is intense.” Moreover, near the end of the song, he switches positions: “I’m you, you are me, now do you know… You’ll be at ease if you admit it too.” Although in the beginning, he wanted to flee his inner conflict, in the end, he embraces it.

Dynamite

BTS created history by becoming the first Korean group to have a No. 1 debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with breezy disco hit “Dynamite,” their first all-English language single, and also marked the group’s first GRAMMY nomination as well as the first for any K-pop group for the “Best Duo/Group Performance” category. Even though the group did not win their category, they certainly brought their Billboard Hot 100 topper “Dynamite,” as well as high kicks, fancy footwork, alluring smiles, and brilliantly executed choreography to Music’s Biggest Night, albeit virtually due to the pandemic.

Life Goes On

I must include “Life Goes On” from their album BE, which is a song written by RM, Suga, and J-Hope and is intended to provide healing and comfort to all those affected by the pandemic. J-Hope stated during their initial press conference, “We wanted to show not people onstage, but just people in their 20’s going about their daily lives, goofing off, hanging out. The process was very fun and very natural for us.” Jungkook, who directed many scenes in the music video, added, “What I wanted to illustrate was that since our tours were canceled because of covid-19 and we couldn’t meet our ARMY, I tried to express my longing and sadness.”

Butter

“Butter” took BTS to the next level. The all-English language single “Butter” delivered another impressive feat, breaking BTS’s own records. It also got nominated at the 2022 GRAMMYs. Sadly, the group did not win the award for “Best Duo/Group Performance,” but they did win plenty of admiration and bragging rights with their first-ever solo performance on the GRAMMYs stage. “Butter” had the audience up and dancing along, and when it ended, BTS received a standing ovation.

BTS in White House

The world’s biggest band was in the United States to meet with President Joe Biden about anti-Asian hate crimes and Asian representation on May 31, 2022. RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook all took turns speaking in the briefing room, despite the fact that their appearance lasted less than 10 minutes. They spoke about how they had been devastated by the recent surge in violence against Asian people in the United States, and how art has the ability to transcend language and culture. “We believe music is always an amazing and wonderful unifier of all things,” added Jungkook.

According to RM, BTS feels a “great responsibility” to use the platform to help people. Speaking with Biden in the Oval Office alongside the other members, RM recalls how the group reacted when they received their invitation to the White House—“This is it. Why not? We have to go—we have to go to DC.” It was as if their sense of duty kicked in. No, this is not their country, and Vice President Joe Biden is not their president. But anything less would have gone against their nature.

Variety Shows (Run BTS, Bon Voyage and more)

Since the beginning of their careers, the group has sought to bring their most authentic selves to everything they do, including variety shows in South Korea and abroad. The group ensures that ARMYs stay connected to them throughout their periods of inactivity, providing fresh content through their range of variety shows such as Run BTS and Bon Voyage, behind-the-scenes, and personal images on Twitter and now Instagram. Fans, including yours truly, frequently rewatch these shows when they miss the group or when the seven members are on hiatus.

I have spent hours watching Run BTS, and I realise how connected I feel to them due to that. Watching it is one of the keys to getting to know the members on a personal level. The show appears to be a place where the group can be silly, play games, and compete for trivial rewards without having to worry about anyone else. Run BTS would make you laugh at the group’s shenanigans, smile at their betrayals, and cry at their heartfelt messages. The show is currently on hiatus; previous episodes are available to watch on VLive and Weverse.

BTS Festa

Festa is a celebration of the group’s debut anniversary with ARMY. Many gifts are included in the annual celebration, such as new pictures, funny profiles, video content, special songs, radio programmes, and more. This celebration lasts 10-14 days, beginning on June 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th. 

During the 2020 Festa, the group unveiled the official music video for “We Are Bulletproof: the Eternal,” which is perhaps Map of the Soul: 7‘s most emotional song, and it’s a full circle look back on the group’s previous eras. Though the septet does not appear in the video in the flesh, seven chibi-like figures do to take us on a journey through the Bangtan universe filled with easter eggs that ARMYs would recognise at first glance.

This year, at midnight KST of June 13, 2022, the golden maknae, Jungkook, shared “My You,” this year’s FESTA Song for ARMY. The lyrics dedicate the ARMY,

“All the reasons why I can laugh out

All the reasons why I sing this song

Thankful to be by your side now

I’ll try to shine brighter than now.”

Proof of BTS—The End of an Era

BTS was not destined for such success, having debuted in 2013 with a small company in an industry dominated by three major record labels, but BTS never stopped running. In Proof, BTS not only chronicles their steadfast, ultra-successful journey thus far but also gives listeners an intimate look behind the scenes. The first part of Proof is a chronological experience through highlights from each of BTS’s albums, beginning with their debut in 2013 and ending with “Butter” in 2021. All these songs are bookended with “Born Singer,” which was released unofficially shortly after BTS’s debut, and the new single “Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment)” at the end.

In “Yet To Come,” the members reflect on their journey thus far, saying they could leave “crowns and flowers, countless trophies” behind and are more concerned with “dreams and hope going forward.” “We just liked music,” they clarify. Ironically, it is that same genuine enthusiasm for music that has resulted in crowns, flowers, and countless trophies they never asked for in the first place.

The second disc is filled with specially chosen solo and sub-unit B sides, and it provides an even deeper insight into each member’s different textures and aesthetics. The standout here, however, is a new track called “Run BTS” that demonstrates the group’s power when all of their distinct qualities are combined — and, notably, some of Suga’s most rapid-fire bars to date.

Much of Proof is dedicated to fans, but “For Youth” takes the cake (I was sobbing, as a matter of fact). A packed crowd in a stadium sings “Epilogue: Young Forever” to the boys at the start of the song. The track emphasises that special moment, giving BTS a poignant opportunity to respond. Lyrics such as “I open my eyes and it’s 10 years ago/ Hanging around Nonhyeon-dong” and “That flower cared for, thanks to you I could be me” paint a vivid picture of the shared experiences between ARMY and BTS.

Over the course of over nine studio albums, six compilation albums, and six EPs, BTS has redefined what a pop act out of South Korea can be. When delving into and analysing something so vast, it can be difficult to know where to begin. However, listening to Proof, which was purposefully divided into three sections, BTS’s story almost tells itself. It is indeed the proof of BTS.

I have a lot to thank BTS for, but most importantly, I can’t thank BTS enough for providing me with more than just entertainment; listening to their music and learning more about the members’ personal struggles helped me tremendously with a recurring anxiety disorder and motivated me to take better care of myself. 

BTS has come a long way, from selling free concert tickets to selling out stadium concerts. Their journey and music not only influenced and paved the way for their K-pop successors but also revolutionised the mainstream music industry. Breaking language barriers, overcoming xenophobia, and having endured criticism, the group has accomplished a feat that will motivate and encourage artists and people for years to come. With Proof of BTS, they are finally closing this chapter to step into a new one, where “the best moment is yet to come.”


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Contributor

  • Faeeja Humaira Meem

    Faeeja Humaira Meem, co-founder and editor-in-chief at The Interlude, is an aspiring author and a pro at procrastinating, often blogging about books, life, and everything in between. She is inspired by Samuel Johnson and likes to think she can juggle everything at once, but instead, she is constantly second-guessing her life decisions and avoiding phone calls like a plague.

Faeeja Humaira Meem

Faeeja Humaira Meem

Faeeja Humaira Meem, co-founder and editor-in-chief at The Interlude, is an aspiring author and a pro at procrastinating, often blogging about books, life, and everything in between. She is inspired by Samuel Johnson and likes to think she can juggle everything at once, but instead, she is constantly second-guessing her life decisions and avoiding phone calls like a plague.

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