Korean superstars BTS released their third entirely English song earlier this morning – “Permission to Dance”- hot on the heels of their second English song “Butter” back in May. The song is much like their other two English hits- “Dynamite” from August 2020 and the aforementioned “Butter”- in that it is a cheerful, summer pop bop that is best suited to be blared through a stereo or turned up to eleven through headphones. This is the kind of positive music that can really help with the world still in the grips of a global pandemic; even if there have been many improvements to the situation (such as vaccines and frequent testing). All that being said, as much as I enjoyed this song it definitely feels a bit like a generic pop record- albeit an excellently happy one- created for the western market but aimed firmly at US audiences.
All Images Courtesy of Big Hit/ HYBE
I want to stress that I absolutely love this song and am currently listening to it on repeat. “Permission to Dance” is bubbling with positive energy and it truly is the kind of music we desperately need right now. I am someone who suffers with depression and music is one of my comforts that I will go to when my mood spirals. This is the kind of song that could instantly lift my spirits- much like “Butter” and “Dynamite” do too- thanks to the energetic tune and lyrics infused with positivity and themes of the idea that everything is going to be okay eventually. I was reminded of “Dynamite” more than “Butter” with “Permission to Dance” as there is a definite inspiration from retro 60’s and 70’s pop dance tracks. I think there is a hint of “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 in there (one of my favourite songs of all times) with a similar kind of funky bass driven beat. This style combines excellently with the contemporary pop genre, a running theme across all three of their English tracks. “Permission to Dance” reminds me of two songs from the British/Irish boy band One Direction: “What Makes You Beautiful” from 2011 and “Live While We’re Young” released in 2012. To me, this similarity affirms the cute boy band angle that BTS’s marketing team are going with for western audiences. That is completely fine of course as there is nothing wrong with this image, but I feel like there is so much more to these seven men than merely bubble-gum pop boys. These are producers, writers and performers who are extremely talented. RM, SUGA and j-hope have had a particular impact in terms of their producing and song writing skills but all of the members have had an input in some way with a lot of their other music. I feel that on an absolute base level, this image does them a little bit of a disservice. Audiences who don’t know anything about them might see this video and think of them as a bunch of hot guys in a boy band who can sing and dance. There is obviously truth to that (they are indeed rather attractive guys who are excellent performers) but their other talents remain hidden. I wish their English songs could portray their other skills in terms of music and music production more so.
“Permission to Dance” was co-written by Ed Sheeran alongside Jenna Andrews, Steve Mac and Stephen Kirk (Kirk and Andrews also co-wrote “Butter” and Andrews tweaked the lyrics of “Dynamite” to make them more “PG”). Sheeran is one of the biggest musicians in the world at the moment and has written songs for the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Major Lazer and Liam Payne-as well writing most of his own music- and I can definitely hear his influence in the bouncy bop that is “Permission to Dance”. I feel that the lyrics are far more coherent and flow a lot better than the lyrics of both “Butter” and “Dynamite” which is fantastic. One of the best lines of the song is “We don’t have to worry, cause when we fall we know how to land”. This is obviously a relatable line in general to all of us and the nature of picking yourself up after failure but it feels all the more poignant for BTS, who struggled to gain any kind of recognition when they first debuted back in 2013. They have had ups and downs over their eight year career, so this is a great example of how Sheeran and the other writers of “Permission to Dance” have been able to create a song that is both personal to BTS’s experiences whilst still being relatable to the listener. All in all, “Permission to Dance” is a simple, cheery pop track with an addictive beat and the best lyrics of any of BTS’s English songs so far. It isn’t deep or introspective- neither are “Butter” and “Dynamite”- but it doesn’t need to be. BTS’s English songs have all been released post Covid-19 and they are all brimming with joy to reinforce the ideal that one day, this pandemic will finally end and we will be okay. That brings me onto the music video.
I was a little bothered by the music video at first as I thought it was encouraging the idea that Covid is over completely as of now but when I re-watched the teaser for the “Permission to Dance” MV, I noticed in the image below that the year is marked as 2022.
I’m assuming then that the music video is an optimistic vision of the future where Covid is finally vanquished and we can be free of our masks. A huge element of the MV is the idea of purple balloons signalling the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are purple balloons scattered throughout, with people from all over the world celebrating when they see purple balloons in the sky. When they spot the balloons, everyone breaks into dance and it’s all very sweet and light-hearted fun. Speaking of dancing, I really love the very simple, happy dance that goes with this song but it is actually so much more than just a dance. There are three moves involved and they incorporate international sign language, which is such an awesome decision from the choreography team. The first move means “fun/excitement”- a little shimmy and a hand movement similar to scratching the body with the thumb raised-, the second means “dancing”- with two fingers brushing against your extended open palm- and the third is the well-known two fingers sign meaning “peace”. They didn’t have to do this but they went the extra mile with this sweet, inclusive dance which is not only easy to do but also really fun and educational in terms of teaching us about what these signs mean. An official TikTok dance challenge is already happening so you’re probably going to be seeing it a lot. The move in the image below is the second move mentioned above, meaning “dancing” in sign language.
It is great to see people from all walks of life represented in the MV, from cute little kids to office workers, school uniformed teenagers and more. It very much reminds me of the video for “Happy” from Pharrell, where we see lots of different kinds of people boogying down together and enjoying themselves. We even see a couple kissing which is something that Big Hit Entertainment has never shown in their videos before, perhaps indicating a broader and more open minded, mature vision for the company. I feel this diversity represents the idea of all of us working together in the fight against Covid-19 so that we can actually get to this point one day. Admittedly, I did feel a little anxious at the end of the music video where everyone started taking off their masks, but again I’m assuming that this is meant to be an optimistic future scenario rather than intended as being today. My only issue with this is that I worry that some may consider the music video to be encouraging us to be free of our masks right now, perhaps viewing this as a signal from BTS and their team that Covid is definitely over. The band have a huge following and are incredibly influential figures, so people are likely to follow their lead and this imagery could portray the wrong conclusion that Covid has already been beaten. We’ve made some amazing progress in our fight but the battle is far from over. I think that is my paranoia speaking as I work in a hospital and I see so many patients whose lives have been irreparably damaged and forever changed from Covid in ways you can’t even imagine. It has affected me to the point where I genuinely get nervous when I see people shedding their masks as freely as they do in the MV. I think I’m probably insulting the common sense and intelligence of the general populace with that thought process but like I said, paranoia sets in when you work in healthcare during a pandemic!
The image of tons of purple balloons being released at the end of the music video is a great way to sum up the ideal that one day, we may be able to live in a Covid free world. Much like the song itself, the themes of the music video are an optimistic and positive world view that is highly necessary at the moment. It symbolises our collective journey in regards to the war on Covid and envisions a brighter future. But if we want this idealistic vision to become a reality, maybe don’t go throwing your masks off just yet. . Even if you are from the UK- like me- and the government is telling you that it’s okay to take them off.
As I mentioned, I feel that the lyrics for “Permission to Dance” are far more lucid than their other two English language songs (though “Dynamite” is more out there lyrically than “Butter” is) but I think that an issue also arises from this increase in articulation within the words of the song. The band has more to do in terms of their use of the English language and they seem to be struggling a little bit here in comparison to their other two English tracks. It must be so difficult for them as English isn’t their native language and they do amazingly well but I can also tell that some parts are edited and sound a little bit synthetic in an attempt to make certain words clearer. I find this incredibly frustrating. They really don’t need their voices to be edited as all seven members have natural vocal talent. This becomes more apparent in their first live performance of the song- posted today– where there isn’t as much clarity in their vocals in comparison to the studio version (except with RM as he is the only fluent member). Keep in mind that they have to sing and dance at the same time here which is difficult enough on its own, let alone if you are singing in a different language.
Another issue I had in terms of the vocal line distribution is that the rap line are painfully underutilised once again in “Permission to Dance”, just like in “Butter” and “Dynamite”. They do get a chance to show off their singing skills though as, even though they don’t get much to do, what lines they do have are sung rather than rapped. Apparently BTS have got seven members in their vocal line now as all three rappers absolutely kill it with their vocals, even with the slight and understandable difficulties they seem to have navigating the English lyrics (again, not including RM because of his fluency). Despite their great singing, I still wish that RM, SUGA and j-hope had more of a chance to shine in their English songs. I have to call out Jin once again for stealing the show with his vocals like he did in “Butter”. Like I mentioned in that review of “Butter”, Jin is often considered the “underdog” of the group who is overlooked and underrated and so it is wonderful that he is getting more of a chance to show what he can do with these new songs. Jungkook also nails the adlibs in “Permission to Dance”, giving off major Michael Jackson vibes once again with his natural charisma and vocal versatility. Jimin and V are also on top form and so vocally- despite the English lyrics seeming to be a bit more difficult for the group- every single member rocks it and brings their own individual charm with their voice.
I want to say now that there is absolutely nothing wrong with BTS’s English songs. Who knows, maybe the band themselves want to be putting out more English music? However, I am starting to miss tracks such as the ones found on their BE album from back in November. Songs such as “Fly to My Room”, “Dis-ease”, “Telepathy” and “Blue and Grey” all had some English lyrics and words scattered throughout but they were mostly in BTS’s native Korean and the band themselves had a much more significant role in their production. These are amazing records that tend to get pushed aside in favour of these big English bops, with “Fly to My Room” and “Dis-ease” only recently being performed live for the first time. They also had their Japanese song “Film Out” -released in April- which was excellent but not publicised much in the west until recently with the release of their album of Japanese versions of their Korean songs BTS, The Best. These are songs with brilliant, in-depth lyrics but it seems that because they are in Korean (or Japanese), they do not get the appreciation in western media that they well and truly deserve. That is why as much as I really do like “Permission to Dance”- and their other English tunes- I find myself more excited for more of their Korean work, particularly as they themselves tend to have more involvement with the writing and production processes. It all feels severely westernised and tailored to cater to a generic, western audience (particularly the US) but their Korean work does not feel anything like that. Their Korean music has a more natural feel- not just because they are Korean themselves but instead because there isn’t as much of a manufactured atmosphere to it. Their previous work has had some many fantastically complex lyrics and messages , talking about issues such as mental health (SUGA’s solo music- such as “The Last” and “So Far Away”– is particularly powerful when it comes to this theme), the struggles that the Korean youth have to live up to the burdens and expectations placed on them by their elders ( “Silver Spoon”/”Baepsae”) and even their fear of growing up, leaving school and embarking on their mandatory military service (that comes from before they even debuted in a song called “Adult Child”). Their English songs do not have anything like that kind of depth, but that’s okay. This is probably intentional anyway, as their only English tracks have all been released following the Covid outbreak. We need a bit of light, heart-warming music to contrast the darkness of the pandemic and that’s what they are giving us. Both kinds of music are great in their own ways but I just hope that we get more of their more introspective material soon as well.
I know this isn’t actually anything to do with the music but I couldn’t finish this review without mentioning BTS’s looks in the music video for “Permission to Dance”. These guys are able to change their styles so often and they always look amazing. You have to respect them- and also somewhat envy them- for that. This time around, there is a lot of denim and leather -with some tasselled shirts thrown in for good measure- to play on the whole “all American cowboy” aesthetic. Again, this feels a little bit pandering in nature in an attempt to appeal to the western market. By that, I mean the literal west. They are clearly going for the Wild West market here as BTS are undoubtedly cowboys now. I think I am okay with that. To be serious, I do feel like they were going for the stereotypical American look -with the copious amounts of denim and the cowboy hats- but BTS still manage to keep what makes them unique with their individual looks, such as j-hope’s platinum locks, Jungkook’s piercings and tattoos, V’s suave sophistication and RM’s hair colour which is such a bright shade of yellow that it literally looks like someone coloured it in with a highlighter. It sounds ridiculous and on anyone else it would look awful but he makes it work. I have two particular shout outs that I would like to give when it comes to the looks served in this video. The first goes to j-hope for actually pulling off leather chaps and denim leg warmers. That is an achievement in itself. The second goes to Jungkook who- whilst the rest of the group go for colourful cowboy attire- rocks the emo/goth cowboy look with all black and lots of leather with a sprinkling of attitude. This was something I didn’t know I needed in my life until now.
My final verdict on the song is that whilst it is not BTS’s best in terms of composition and lyrics, it is certainly one of their best feel good songs. Not every song from every artist has to be a lyrical masterpiece or an in-depth, soul searching tune and this is all the more apparent in a world ravaged by a pandemic. BTS have provided us with three, upbeat English pop songs that have certainly injected some joy into the world during a difficult time and for that, we should be thankful. However, I don’t see why their English music needs to be the main focus. They have so many amazing Korean songs and so it would be nice to hear something different for their next release-in the same vein as BE- than another somewhat one dimensional English pop song. That being said, the message of positivity in the lyrics, the captivating pop beat, the music video which envisions a bright, Covid-19 free future and even the dance moves -which cleverly incorporates sign language- more than makes up for any criticism to be aimed at the song. “Permission to Dance” is sure to be another hit for BTS and here’s hoping that they continue to give us more great music, hopefully with a more personal involvement from the band themselves next time.