“Simple” and “complex” are concepts that might vary in different contexts.
For example, what might be super simple for the standards of a group like BTS, can be incredibly complex for another artist, brand or person.
The group has gotten so far, against so many odds, and they work so hard, that they might make some things look easy.
Do not let yourself be fooled, though: pretty much nothing about BTS is simple or easy — and that’s why they can have the luxury of doing “simple” things, eventually.
“Boy With Luv” is an interesting moment of BTS’ discography in which they play with the concept of simplicity.
Start by thinking of the lyrics.
“Oh my, my, my, oh, my, my, my, I’ve waited all my life, I want to be with you through everything,” what could be so special about that?
(I could say that the parallels with the simplicity of The Beatles’ “I wanna hold your hand” are nothing but coincidence, but the fact that BTS even performed “Boy With Luv” in the same stage that the British band performed that song, 55 years ago, might undermine my point.)
Indeed, for one who’s not familiar with BTS’ story and all the peculiar things that made them achieve global stardom when many things weren’t supposed to work in their favour (not even in their own country,) “Boy With Luv” might sound like a cheesy, ordinary love song.
Add some context, though, and it gets interesting.
“Boy With Luv” is the lead track of “Map of the Soul: Persona,” the first of an album series that explores concepts of Jungian psychology to tell the story of their journey towards self-discovery and self-love.
BTS’ storytelling has actually been going on since their debut album.
“Boy With Luv,” by the way, is the upgraded sister of their 2014 song “Boy In Luv”, lyric-wise.
The boy that was once “in love” is now “with love;” love is making him company, it’s a part of him but it’s not possessing him.
American singer Halsey lends her pleasing vocals to sing no more than few, simple lines such as “I’ve waited all my life” and “I want something stronger than a moment, love.”
It doesn’t sound so simple, though, once you come across the interpretation of Halsey representing ARMY (the name of BTS’ fanbase).
BTS’ ARMY have really been waiting for a long time to see BTS standing where they are right now — not only wanting, actually: the fandom puts the work to make BTS’ success impact the industry and the world in a way that’s “stronger than a moment,” making sure that the group isn’t, and won’t be, an ephemeral sensation.
And like these, “Boy with Luv” contains many more hidden meanings about BTS’ trajectory and their relationship with Army, and references to the group’s previous songs and albums.
Now, the music.
Songwriting and production-wise, “Boy With Luv” was not exactly a safe bet, exactly because… it was too safe.
It’s unapologetic pop, it’s upbeat, it’s positive, it’s sticky and sweet — 100% the opposite of what’s been dominating the United States’ charts for a while.
In short, it embodies many of the stereotypes that US general public nurtures in regards to teenage artists (which BTS are not, although that’s what some chose to believe) or to disposable hit songs (which would generate a whole other discussion about why feel-good songs are taken less seriously than sad or “serious” ones.)
BTS is from South Korea, and they sing in Korean — but given the amount of promotion they did in the US for “Persona,” it might be interesting to analyse the choice of the track from a US commercial perspective as well.
And in such background, betting on the simpler approach can be a great risk, especially when you already have several odds against you (language barrier, xenophobia and other types of prejudice.)
“Boy With Luv” was a bold move; one you can only make when you’re exactly the opposite of what people might mistake you for.
Last, but not least, we shall analyse performance, which is one of BTS’ greatest assets.
I’m sure you will agree that “Boy With Luv” is by far one of their easiest choreographs, if the not the easiest, once you get to know what the seven members are capable of doing (suggestion: watch their dance practice of “Dionysus,” having in mind that this is the first song on the set list of their current tour; and after this song, they still go hard, singing and dancing for more 2 hours).
However, simplicity might not be the first impression one gets from “Boy With Luv” if it’s their first time seeing BTS.
If you scroll down the Youtube comments section, in videos of “Boy With Luv” performances in TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, you will see many people amazed by how the boys can sing and rap at the same time as performing “such a hard choreography.”
Going simple might be a strong statement, if you play your cards right and if you have more to bring to the table.
That’s the magic of huge brands, sophisticated artists or fascinating people going for the simple route — they can do it, because essentially they’re not it.
The lack of elements in their art or strategy is not a signal of lack of substance — it’s quite the opposite.
By carefully curating the elements in your narrative, in order to make it look simple, you can make a statement of how you’re so much more than that — so rich in substance that you don’t even need to display all you got, all at once.
For BTS, “Boy With Luv” made complex points with its apparent simplicity — exactly because BTS is far from a simple act; they got a bigger story to tell.
Such story is sometimes told in showstopping, overwhelmingly impressive ways; sometimes in simple ways, which will still be far more complex than the average— “Boy With Luv” was definitely one of those moments.