Hot 100 Review: Dynamite by BTS

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BTS’s continual existence as a popular band both confounds and impresses me. They are a fully international sensation despite most of their songs being in native Korean and using only American flavor words. Despite that they deliver on some of the popiest of pop songs with a group of leads that people somehow can read personality into. Almost makes sense that teens love them considering boy bands are always popular and right now the English charts don’t have anyone as technicolor or energetic to match. To think that the days of One Direction and The Wanted would be missed and longed for again, so people turn to other nations. Very cool.

The last time I covered BTS I said that I’d probably like them more if they had a song in English (how American), but I engage with songs through lyrics and how those lyrics inform the rest of the piece. Seems BTS made good by releasing Dynamite… the most 2010s song in every way.

Calling it the most 2010s song isn’t meant to be derogatory of it’s nature. It is an honest descriptor of its inherent qualities as a piece. To give a sonic picture it is a highlight reel of early Katy Perry mixed with the pomp and circumstances of Bruno Mars and Cake by the Ocean. All of that means I should honestly love it, unfortunately last week I said it was fine and I stand by that, but I also think it’s achievement shouldn’t be understated.

As a perfect combination between BTS’s usual flare, Bruno Mars’s Uptown Funk and 24k, along with some Cake by the Ocean it is utterly successful. It feels truly like a summer song even as summer is closing. Heck the focus on brightening up nighttime is a prime example of that tone. It’s all about having a good time and that’s easy to jam too. It succeeds, but comes at a cost. The biggest of which is just how bland the imagery and ideas are. Take, for example, Fireworks by Katy Perry since that’s clearly an influence. It is one of her weaker songs of the era (until Roar came out and totally dunked her forever) because of how bland the point is. Fireworks as a metaphor for individuality is strange but kinda obvious. Same with dynamite as an object. It’s too cliché. Hence why Cake by the Ocean works. That’s such a strange image and metaphor that, even as obvious as the point is, the mangled conflagration to reach it makes it so fascinating. Dynamite the song doesn’t have that.

I’m sure a major part of that comes from how this is BTS’s first ever fully English song (as far as I know). It’s playing to simple words and phrases, some of which get mumbled due to English not being their first language. It makes what are supposed to be strong lines harder to process and clarify. That’s not to say making it as a mostly Korean language song would make it better, but it might have had a better impact (except when it comes to success. Clearly it being in English helped it stay number one for so long).

I doubt changing the lyrics would have made it a better song because my issues don’t come from them. Sure, I connect more with them, but it’s the beat and music that lose me. But lose me in the way an ocean can lose you. It sounds all the same and goes on forever that it’s hard to gauge how long the song is and get boring quickly. It’s only three minutes but doesn’t have enough musical or lyrical ideas to make it to the finish line while it shoots all its confetti dynamite everywhere in celebration.

The video is a fairly standard lip-sync and dance to the song in fun locations that has enough color and energy to sell the upbeat tone the song had. It’s workman but effective. The main standout is the pastel color pallet often associated with BTS. The pinks and blues are bright but muted in interesting ways. It is not like the 2010s music videos the above songs often accompanied because it’s sole focus is the band instead of the singer and a large group, but it all works to sell the fun. Not great, but enjoyable, just like the song.

This linguistic pivot the band has done here could be momentous. BTS is undoubtably popular but was held back from the mainstream English speaker world by that language barrier (some Psy was able to crack just once through sheer perceived weirdness). If that barrier remains broken then they could really expand into a presence I would quantify as Beatles-esqu (my processor autocorrected to sequel and I think that is fascinating too). A boy band from across the world comes to America, takes it by storm, and changes the course of music forever. Sure, this song isn’t much more than a pastiche of formerly popular styles, but so was the Beatles in context, they moved passed that into a new horizon. BTS could do the same.

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