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Representation of Mental Health in BTS Music

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Author: Kavya Suresh Writer: Jasmeen Kaur, Arnab Ghosh

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all”- Bill Clinton Expressing oneself with the desire to pass on an empowering message can take place in a variety of ways and music is just one of them. But music is a creative art form in which a singer uses lyrics to manifest a message that has a strong social impact. Music not only entertains but also teaches us about certain convictions which makes it inextricably linked to human existence. Because every song can be played only for a short duration, music is thought to be the easiest delivery medium for conveying emotional content. Over the years, many artists have made references to mental illnesses in their songs. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Bangtan Sonyeondan also known as BTS, a world famous 7-member south korean boy band puts a lot of thought into their albums which include the concept, nomenclature, lyrics, art, choreography, music videos, and much more! Saying they put “thought” into their albums, on the other hand, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Behind the deep lyrics of BTS's music, there is a lot of psychology at work.

Mental Health in Music
Mental Health in Music

Honesty is an absolute necessity when it comes to mental wellness and for a massively influential group like BTS, harnessing the power of transparency has only strengthened them. They have done so by asking being authentic to themselves, through their actions outside of music such as addressing the UN, their various philanthropic endeavours etc. Having said that, this boy band has always made it a point to use their music to inspire, influence, and break down the stigma surrounding mental health. Someone suffering from a mental illness may feel an emotional weight that takes their life over but having a voice advocate for ways to break the stigma that stops many from seeking help is undoubtedly a wonderful feeling. To better grasp this, let's look at how mental health is represented in some of their songs and the underlying meaning of the lyrics.

To begin, if we look at some of the recurring themes in BTS songs, one of the most prominent is “Youth” and the hardships that the young generation faces. This theme is represented in not one, but multiple songs like 'N.O.’, ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Whalien 52' among others in which BTS made it a point to discuss the pressures faced by the young generation to be perfect and listen to their parents while letting go of their dream, the alienation they face, their fear of tomorrow being the same as it has always been with no improvement and the fear of being left behind when everyone else pursues their ambition. When something doesn't go our way, we tend to blame ourselves. Self-blaming creates a vicious circle of loathing and self-hatred. It will only exacerbate our feelings; but, changing our perspective may assist us in developing strategies to get out of this stifling circumstance. In light of the recent pandemic that hit us, a lot of discussion surrounding this topic is on the rise and to be able to connect to a song that gives hope and motivation is a good feeling to experience.

Another important theme that has been adequately addressed in several of their songs is the value of self-love and self-acceptance. But before we talk about the lyrics, do we all really know why self-love and self-acceptance are important? I personally think loving ourself and accepting the way we are is the best way to break all the barriers imposed on our happiness. Feeling these emotions to the brim will help us focus on the positives rather than the negatives of everything and enjoy living to the fullest. In 2018, we witnessed the release of “Magic Shop,” a song inspired by a psychodramatic technique called ‘Magic Shop’ first given by J.L. Moreno in 1948, which involves trading one's worries and negative feelings for a happy attitude. This song advocated the theme of how melancholy fades away when you seek love within yourself. The artist compares it to building a 'Magic Shop' inside your heart, where you can find consolation during difficult moments, such as episodes of sadness. One of the band members Jin also released a solo named ‘Epiphany’ in the Love Yourself album the same year. This song also focussed on the same theme about how loving oneself is all that matters in this world. “I'm fine” was another track in the same album that talks about the realisation that one is more than capable of pulling themselves out of any situation and being the hero in their own life. The above-mentioned songs were able to emphasise the significance of resilience and being able to rely on oneself rather than others.

The last song ‘Answer: Love Myself” from the BTSs album Love Yourself: Answer also had a similar hue to it. It was the best song to conclude both the album and the Love Yourself trilogy series that included two other albums: Love yourself: Her and Love Yourself: Tear. The song upheld the notion of finally having the strength to realise that the only solution to stop all suffering has always been to love oneself. Excessive criticism and hate towards the self can lead to problems in maintaining a good self-esteem. BTS through this album encourages people to shift their perspective on being lenient towards others while being extremely harsh and critical of themselves. Self-love empowers us to make decisions for our benefit, be vocal of our views and establish healthy boundaries in life and when we refuse to love ourselves, we disconnect from the energy that sustains life. All the songs in the album express that, regardless of the mistakes one has made in their life, their past, present, and future all contribute to who they are. Accept all aspects of oneself and learn to grow from them.

The year 2019 saw the release of BTS's record-breaking album Map of the Soul: 7 (MOTS:7), a celebration of self-awareness, love, and authenticity that blew the globe off its feet. When BTS announced that one of their latest albums would be titled MOTS: 7, no one expected it to be based on Carl Jung's long-standing psychoanalytical theory that states: "we all have four different archetypes that make up our personality: the persona, the shadow, the anima and animus, and the self or ego." The album is based on Dr Murray Stein's book ‘Jung's Map of the Soul: An Introduction’, which summarises all of Carl Jung's beliefs. The album's prologue had three songs - Persona, Shadow and Ego which were an illustration of the various masks we wear in our daily lives. Humans are social beings and so we put on masks and act in a certain manner in specific settings to fit in. Being a sociable animal includes the want to get along with others, to form a large network of support, and belong to a community that fosters your needs. The way a person displays themselves to the world is critical to their function and social standing as a social being and this is more prevalent in some societies than others. But isn’t it difficult to be in a situation where we are forced to alter our persona just to receive the acceptance of others? It's painful that the norms of the society that we are pressed to abide by focus only on socially desirable aspects of personality thereby compelling us to put on a facade.

One of the other songs from MOT:7 was ‘Zero O'clock’, a song about the transient aspect of life. This song conveys the message that neither happiness nor grief will last forever. Everyone experiences difficult periods when there is no light at the end of the tunnel. These times, however, will not persist forever. Every day, as the clock strikes 12, a new day begins, and all the sorrows and pains of the previous day are forgotten and a new day always provides new hope, a fresh start, and the opportunity to strive for happiness. BTS's lyrics suggest that nothing lasts forever and that after this song stops, another will begin to play. One can hope for a better future while accepting that bad days are a part of life's cycle, however, one should not give in to sadness.

Following the 2020 pandemic, BTS released another album BE in the midst of the uncertain times. "Blue and Grey," a song from the album, expresses their grief during the Covid-19 pandemic. The album as a whole takes the listener on a journey from despair and sadness to acceptance and hope. BTS addresses the blues of isolation and abandonment and how all of the colours in their lives have faded to Blue and Grey. The song discusses people's depression and how it has the power to turn a once joyful person into someone unrecognisable. Through the song we also understand that feeling different sensations in our mind is completely fine and being aware of them is a good start to feeling better. However to overcome these feelings, one must have courage and the realisation that some days will be sunny and others will be rainy and both are part of growing in life.

Anyone can be plagued by an illness that could be mentally challenging. Yet a person who is experiencing a range of complex emotions for the first time can particularly find it difficult to comprehend what is happening to them. Mental disorders can severely affect a person's self-esteem, potentially leading to self-blame and self-hatred. Those suffering from this want to improve and feel better and though the path to it might seem difficult to start, it definitely won’t be disappointing in the end. A trending topic like mental health has a lot of discussion going around it worldwide and this isn't the first time BTS members have addressed mental health issues in their music. They've previously discussed their depression, loneliness, the influence of toxic masculinity, etc and the songs mentioned above are proof of their efforts. But, outside of the group, mental health is an important concern among K-pop singers, albeit one that is frequently ignored.

Through a range of mood regulators, BTS's music promotes fans' (also known as army) mental health and well-being thereby helping them cope, reflect and grow. Despite their enormous popularity, BTS don't hesitate to show us their human side. This demonstrates that they are undoubtedly more than their fancy outfits, synchronised dancing, and larger-than-life concerts. Their unfettered candour in their songs, their stark authenticity when it comes to their mental battles, and their never-ending quest to rediscover themselves push them from a mere "boy band" into a global phenomenon to be reckoned with. Thus as people who are inspired by them and wish to lead a happy life, let’s all keep in mind what Jimin who is one of the members from the band rightly said: “Stop hating yourself for everything you aren’t and start loving yourself for everything you are.”


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