With the release of Map of the Soul: Persona fast approaching, now seems like a good time to remind the general public that BTS have more to offer than their colorful visuals, sharp performances, and charming personalities. In fact, ask any fan of the Korean septet and they’ll probably tell you how they’ve spent the weeks leading up to Persona‘s release on April 12 brushing up on the psychological theories of Carl Jung, Greek mythology, French, Singin’ in the Rain, and art history, all while combing through the dozens of cryptic clues and callbacks sprinkled throughout the Bangtan Universe. (Yes, they even have their own fictional narrative.)
If you’re wondering what all of this has to do with BTS, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to what really draws people from all over the world — of all different ages, genders, and ethnicities — to their diverse discography. More specifically, the deeper themes, subjects, and messages within their music. Because when you become an ARMY, you practically enroll in higher education. And you don’t need to understand Korean to see how RM invokes the spirit of American actor Gene Kelly in the latest “Boy With Luv” teaser, or the parallel between their fruitful concept photos and the Greek god Dionysus.
Still, there’s a lot to unpack with this comeback (or, new release). Whether you’re a new ARMY looking for a crash course in Bangtan or a longtime fan who simply needs help wrapping your brain around the difference between persona and shadow, this primer is for you.
What does Map of the Soul: Persona even mean?
As artists, BTS are extremely calculated and detail-oriented. (Leader RM and vocalist Jungkook are both Virgos, so there’s a lot of Type A energy in this group.) So it should come as no surprise that they’ve been constructing a meticulously-plotted visual narrative since 2015 — the threads of which are sewn throughout their music videos. The story follows seven young men whose devastating fates are intertwined, and the one who’s given a chance to save his friends by going back in time.
Now, what does this have to do with Map of the Soul: Persona? We’ll get to that in a bit, but for now it’s important to know just how far ahead BTS plan their releases. Because Persona was actually teased on a shirt during a live performance of “DNA” back in 2017. BTS dropped even more clues in the music video for vocalist Jin’s 2018 solo number “Epiphany” — “in the end,” the ending script reads in Korean, “what I have to find is that which is the beginning of all things, the milestone: the map of the soul” — and during the group’s performance at the Mnet Asian Music Awards last December with a brief vignette that read: “You gave me power. You gave me love. So now I’m a hero, so now I’m a boy with love. I’ll show you the map of the soul. I’ll show you the dream.”
So, what is this map of the soul referring to? Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. (Again, BTS are more than seven handsome faces!) It’s specifically referring to a book by Murray Stein, titled Jung’s Map Of The Soul, which is even being sold in their Korean management company’s online store. In the video for “Intro: Persona,” RM is confronted with many different versions of himself, while words like “persona,” “shadow,” and “ego” are seen scribbled on a classroom chalkboard behind him. This is a direct reference to Jung’s theories.
According to Jung, persona is how we present ourselves to the world; it’s our public image, or the mask we wear to conceal our true nature. “The persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is,” Jung wrote. Masks have played a crucial part in BTS’ artistic vision, from the “Fake Love” music video to vocalist V’s solo single “Singularity” to their 2019 Golden Disc Awards performance, in which they all removed physical masks in dramatic fashion.
Ultimately, Persona will find BTS, now all in their early and mid-20s, grappling with questions of identity and self. As RM boldly asks in his scorching intro track, “Who the hell am I?” Of course, it’s only the first part in a larger journey of self-discovery, as BTS could explore Shadow and Ego in future releases — the “shadow” representing the dark side of your personality and “ego” representing the center of your consciousness. These parts of the psyche make up your identity, or Self.
But before BTS can move forward, they have to look back.
“Boy With Luv”
For fans, the group’s forthcoming single with singer Halsey, titled “Boy With Luv,” is nostalgic. Not only does the title nod to their 2014 single “Boy In Luv” but the point choreography seen in the teasers is also similar.
Then there’s the fact that “Intro: Persona” samples the group’s 2014 song, “Intro: Skool Luv Affair.” When BTS debuted as a group of teens in 2013, they made music that spoke to their generation; their “School Trilogy” examined the societal pressures and anxieties young people endure at the hands of an apathetic government and their own confusing emotions. Now, nearly six years later, BTS are still asking Big Questions — but they have the advantage of hindsight.
Back then, they were boys in love who acted out, sometimes aggressively, when their feelings were not reciprocated; now, they’re boys with love, whose love comes from within.
By revisiting this very distinct place in their past, BTS are reflecting on an uncertain time others in their position would probably want to forget, or at least ignore. In doing so, they’re acknowledging that they can’t change the past — but they can learn from it.
At the end of the Love Yourself highlight reel (released in 2017), Jin seems to hint at this: “If we could turn back the clock, where should we go back to? Once we reach that place, can all our mistakes and errors be undone? Will happiness be ours to stay? Though many seasons pass, there are places that cannot be reached. Yet another storm to be faced and to be weathered head-on. Living without fear, hesitating and parting. Merely living as the person I am.” Interestingly enough, RM refers to his shadow as “hesitation” in “Intro: Persona.”
The Persona track list also features a few clues, including one track that was seemingly inspired by Greek mythology. The god Dionysus is often associated with wine and theater. (Depending on who you ask, he’s also responsible for bringing wine to Asia.) As a potential nod to the god of wine, some of the album’s concept photos feature certain members posing with grapes. While the grapes are obvious, there’s also a connection between Dionysus and Jung.
Given his interests, Dionysus was known to free people from their inhibitions, and in Greek theater this earned him the reputation of being called the “masked god.” Essentially, you’re not yourself when you drink, so the “mask” in this case symbolizes another (more inebriated) extension of yourself. Because of Dionysus’s passion for drink and art — and his unconventional upbringing — it made him a bit of an outsider among the gods. Do BTS view themselves as outsiders? We’ll have to wait and see.
In addition to a Korean-language song named after a Greek god, one of the cuts on the album is titled after a French saying: “Jamais Vu.” (BTS truly transcend all cultures.) It translates to “never seen” and the phrase describes the eerie phenomenon in which you react to something as though you’ve never experienced it before, despite the fact that you have. For example: There will be times when I type the word “lent” and thoroughly convince myself that it is not a real word, when, in fact, it is.
What does this have to do with BTS? Honestly, I have no idea. Of course astute ARMYs already have theories, and once again it all goes back to the group’s Skool Luv Affair era. If “Intro: Persona” and “Boy With Luv” are directly linked to songs on their 2014 album, then it’s possible “Jamais Vu” is, too.
Singin’ in the Rain
Hidden in plain sight in the first teaser for “Boy With Luv” is a movie poster for the 1952 movie musical Singin’ in the Rain. The second teaser reveals even more nods to the classic film, including an entire set piece, dance sequence, and RM’s homage to Gene Kelly.
Maybe BTS are just big fans of Singin’ in the Rain. That’s certainly possible. But remember the time travel narrative I promised we’d revisit? Well, here we are. Without going too much into detail — in addition to the music videos, there’s an entire BTS webtoon you can read to catch up — we know that Jin is the one who’s been given a chance to save his friends with the ability to travel back in time, but he mysteriously keeps going back to one day in particular: April 11.
And for those of you without encyclopedic knowledge of movie musicals from the 1950s, Singin’ in the Rain was originally released on April 11, 1952. Pure coincidence or masterfully designed? That’s for you to decide, or for BTS to reveal.
Then again, part of the fun is how little the group does reveal about their own fictional universe. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure novel of sorts, open to interpretation — not unlike the group’s music. BTS never tell the listener what to think or how they should go about thinking it; instead, they share their own coming-of-age stories with those who need to hear it most. You don’t need a psych degree to understand that.