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Before BTS rocketed to international fame and transformed into a hit generator, cranking out one synth-heavy track after another with Billboard Hot 100’s flavor of the week as a featured artist (see “Boy with Luv” feat. Halsey, “Dream Glow” feat. Charli XCX, “A Brand New Day” feat. Zara Larsson, “Make it Right” feat. Lauv), they enjoyed a truly golden era. BTS’ sophomore studio album, “Wings,” is particularly noteworthy for its simultaneously ethereal and haunting soundscape as well as its iconic title song, “Blood Sweat & Tears.” Released Oct. 10, 2016 and directed by YongSeok Choi and Edie YooJeong Ko, the music video for “Blood Sweat & Tears” is a visual cacophony of whimsical grandeur, filled with shots of spacious rooms bedecked with glittering chandeliers and Renaissance paintings. Shockingly enough, BTS manages not to skimp on the complex, energetic choreography that they’re so beloved for while still fitting a storyline laced with religious imagery into six minutes’ worth of video. At first glance, the music video seems thematically incongruous with the lyrics, which speak of a desire to give in to the temptation of a potentially toxic love. Upon a second viewing, however, the visual elements seem to twist and redirect the longing sentiments of the lyrics towards general sin rather than a romantic partner, transforming BTS’ colorful music video into a surprisingly serious rumination on human nature.
The video starts with the members of BTS – RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, Jungkook – frolicking in what looks like a museum exhibit or the lobby of a glamorous manor. Even surrounded by gleaming marble pillars and artfully posed statues, the boys don’t look the slightest bit out of place in their trappings of velvet brocade topped with sequin embellishments. No doubt, the set and costumes reeking of material excess are a gesture towards the level of desperation tingeing the song, in that if all this luxury still cannot satisfy BTS, they must be craving something that necessitates the sacrifice of possessions much more intimate and precious than money. From their “blood, sweat, and tears” to their “body, mind, and soul,” BTS seems to invite either their lover or a higher power to “take them all away.”
By the time the first breathy verse falls away into an addictive, synth-heavy breakdown, BTS is already arranged in perfect formation, standing like a tableau at the center of the tiled floor. In sync with the beat drop, all the members simultaneously tip their heads back to the ceiling and flutter the fingers of one hand over their eyes as a makeshift blindfold. Given the plentiful religious imagery littered throughout the music video — like “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, depicting angels driving their fallen brethren from Heaven; “Pietà” by Michelangelo, a sculpture of the crucified body of Jesus Christ laying across Mary’s lap; or the shot of BTS standing around a long dinner table laden with silverware, mimicking da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” – this choreography signals the intrinsic ignorance of humanity and their willful defiance of God.
In the second repetition of the chorus, a few more dance moves are revealed: Hip thrusts paired with Michael Jackson-esque crotch grabs and body rolls against the pristine floors are executed with more lower body movement than strictly necessary. Clearly, these motions cannot possibly be just an appeal to the raging hormones of thirsty teens, but rather another cue towards the greater moral about mankind’s corruption and their urge to sin.
Immediately after the third chorus finishes on a sharp, crying note, all music suddenly cuts away for a cinematic interlude. In a high-contrast shot colored only in black and red, a dark silhouette stands, slowly letting go of the string of a balloon. A narration by RM plays over the shot, his voice slowly enunciating the words of a quote taken from Hermann Hesse’s novel, “Demian,” that references a spiritual struggle between the evil world of illusion and the good world of internal truth: “He too, was a tempter; he, too, was a link to the second, the evil world with which I no longer wanted to have anything to do.” Amidst the eerie organ music that suddenly starts playing, Jin approaches a huge, humanoid statue with a pair of black wings sprouting from its back that resembles Lucifer. The fact that Lucifer seems to be the centerpiece of a museum exhibit signifies how humans unwittingly idolize him and place him on a pedestal (both literally and metaphorically), while also noting that humans underestimate his power by perceiving him as merely a figure for their entertainment. The angle of the shot cleverly captures Jin just as his figure blocks the statue so that the dark wings seem to be attached to Jin’s shoulders instead, foreshadowing his fall from grace. Cementing his submission to the temptation of sin is the act of Jin kissing Lucifer’s statue.
All in a rush, “Blood Sweat & Tears” suddenly resumes at full volume. The blaring synths are accompanied by brief, alternating cuts of chaotic imagery — jets of colorful paint bursting from the ground to frame Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” Lucifer’s statue weeping green tears, frantic choreography. Near the end of the video, Jimin rips off his blindfold to reveal green tear tracks staining his face that match the ones marking Lucifer’s statue, and Jin turns to the camera to show off the thin cracks splintering down his face as if he were a broken porcelain doll. The imagery is oddly reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Like Dorian, who sold his soul so that his portrait will age, rot, and bear the consequences of all his indulgences while he remains youthfully pristine forever, Jimin and Jin have also struck deals with the devil to conflate reality with artistic likenesses of reality. However, unlike Dorian, BTS are portraying an interdependent relationship between art and the human in that not only does art reflect the emotions of man, but man also imitates art. Perhaps the real moral of BTS’ “Blood Sweat & Tears” is that although people may hope that there’s a way to keep sin from visibly tainting them, the reality is that humans can never dodge the consequences of their actions or hide the evidence of their immorality from others.
— Staff writer Miranda Eng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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