If you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past few months, you might not have heard that the record-breaking musical group BTS has a highly anticipated new album, Map of the Soul: 7, dropping Friday. This album is bound to be the septet’s biggest hit yet, as it’s already the most pre-ordered album from South Korea ever.
But what makes Map of the Soul: 7 an even bigger deal is what it’s bound to mean within BTS’s greater context. Seven is an important number in the BTS musical universe — there are seven members in the group and this year will mark seven years since the group’s debut back in 2013. With all of these things considered, it’s clear that the group’s latest drop will be a nostalgic, self-reflective look at everything the band members have experienced and put out until now.
Whether you’re a seasoned member of the BTS Army or just heard the group’s radio darling “Boy With Luv” yesterday, here are seven essential BTS songs to listen to before checking out Map of the Soul: 7.
It’s probably illegal to start any sort of song list with anything but BTS’s debut single, “No More Dream,” off of the group’s debut album, 2 Cool 4 Skool. An energetic and heavy hip-hop record perfectly in line with BTS’s original sound, “No More Dream” is the perfect setup for the motivational messages that would soon fill BTS’s catalog for years to come. Although the group’s sound has certainly evolved over the years since the “No More Dream” era, the new album is bound to have a significant number of callbacks to earlier hits.
Perhaps one of the more bygone singles of an even more bygone BTS era, “N.O” is the high-energy, growl-filled lead single off of the band’s second EP, O!RUL8,2?. In fact, “N.O” might be the most important song to listen to before even glancing at the new album, as its lead single, “ON,” reads as a perfect mirror. BTS’s label, Big Hit Entertainment, even stated in a press release that “ON” “reflects on their calling and mindset as artists during the seven years.”
One of BTS’s most beloved B-sides, “Tomorrow” caps off the group’s previously school-oriented themes of not giving up on your dreams on an ideal note. It’s a staunch departure from BTS’s original image as a more rough-around-the-edges hip-hop group, yet it’s also one of the best showcases of the vocal and rapping capabilities of each member.
For many BTS fans, nothing beats the Wings album era. “Blood, Sweat & Tears,” the album’s lead single, represents even more of a departure from the group’s earlier youthful, aggressive hip-hop style — a transformation toward a more mature, pop-EDM sound. The track’s music video, a masterful six-minute representation of the song’s themes of sacrifice and temptation in the name of love, features a lengthy series of blindfolds, baroque-era statues and plenty of wings, perhaps a foreshadowing of Map of the Soul: 7’s first single, “Black Swan.”
One of BTS’s most breathtaking, beautifully crafted songs, “Spring Day” is an exceptional example of one of the group’s deeper cuts. The song is a masterclass examining the boy band’s ability to touch on more personal topics, such as mental health. The track explores the feelings of sadness and grief that accompany losing someone you love, as well as the wish to put an end to a seemingly never-ending wave of sorrow. The song ends with a sudden “spring” of hope, proving BTS’s exemplary ability to use metaphors to evoke strong feelings in listeners.
“I Need U” was one of the biggest turning points in BTS’s musical career. The song, a single from 2015’s The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 1, is about a relationship on the verge of being torn apart — back-and-forth feelings, as made evident by lyrics like “I’m sorry (I hate you)/ I love you (I hate you)” accompany this grief. Passionate cries of “I need you, girl,” followed by rapper RM’s echoing of the same lines throughout the chorus, are more than enough to keep listeners hooked until the very end. The song’s layering of emotional lyrics over a trap beat is a quintessential illustration of the group’s command of crafting catchy hits.
Nothing gets more iconic than “IDOL,” the lead single off of BTS’s 2018 repackaged album, Love Yourself: Answer. Both the record and the video include a strong showcase of traditional Korean elements, including traditional instruments and dress, which are typically underused in prominent K-pop hits. The song dispels common critiques of Korean idols while preaching the defining Love Yourself album trilogy’s defining message, which is, expectedly, to love yourself, no matter what the haters say.
Whether you’re just getting into BTS or are hoping to take a trip down memory lane before the band’s latest release, we hope you enjoy these BTS essentials to get a better sense of the pop sensation’s musical history.