Are you new to BTS? Have you just discovered their music through Fake Love and the new album Love Yourself: Tear? Do you love what you hear and want to know more? Welcome to the fandom we call ARMY.
In their acceptance speech at the Billboard Music Awards on May 20, RM said that many fans have said that their music has changed their lives. Indeed, many ARMY will say that their music is what moves and inspires them. But if you are new to BTS, you may not know that their discography goes back to 2013. There are so many songs that ARMY will say define the various eras of their career up to now.
Now that you are in the fandom, you will want to know not only about the members, but all about the music that got them here. To give you a jump-start, here is a guide to the 12 essential BTS songs that will accurately paint a picture of where they started and how far they have come musically. Are there more than 12 songs that are considered classic BTS? Yes, there are. But start with this list, and you are ahead of the game.
These are sorted by era, oldest to newest.
Skool and Dark & Wild Era
The debut period for BTS spans from June 2013 through August 2014, and consists of five EPs/albums:
- 2 Cool 4 Skool (6/12/2013)
- O!RUL8,2? (9/11/2013)
- Skool Luv Affair (2/12/2013)
- Skool Luv Affair Special Addition 5/14/2014)
- Dark & Wild (8/19/2014)
During this time, BTS focused on the excitement of their debut, along with the pressures of society and the joy of discovering girls. These themes seemed to model the phase of life all the boys were in at the time. Keep in mind, Jin – the oldest – was just 20 years old at the time of debut, and Jungkook – the youngest – was 15. They enjoyed growing popularity during these years, but not the massive success they were working toward. The key songs that represent this era best are:
- No More Dream
As their debut single, the boys felt like they had a lot to prove, and came out with a tough boy, hip hop image. The song talks about how young people did not have nor work towards their goals in life. Conceptually, you will see a lot of Jimin in sleeveless shirts, and RM with severe hair. For a legendary dance break, look up No More Dream Dance Break on YouTube and you will see why it’s a favorite among ARMY.
- Boy in Luv
As a perfect “boy has crush on girl” song, Boy in Luv is characterized by distinctive beats and even more distinctive choreography. The music video is set in a school environment, perfectly meshing with the Skool Luv Affair album. The sound and moves were distinctive enough to get used in popular K-dramas, such as BTS on Goblin Episode 9, which is quite entertaining as well.
- War of Hormone
Off the Dark & Wild album, almost a year after debut, BTS capped off the school boy luv/discovery of girls with War of Hormone. Filmed in a sepia-toned, slightly colorized black and white, and dressed as “good” bad boys, they proclaim their wonder at the female species. This one is guaranteed to have you humming “hello, hello, tell me what you want right now” for days.
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life
From April 2015 to May 2016, BTS blessed ARMY with an abundant collection of music that comprises “TMBMIL” era.
- The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1 (4/29/2015)
- The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2 (11/20/2015)
- The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever (5/2/2016)
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Era, demonstrated a significant maturing of music for BTS as they said goodbye to the school boy imagery. It also saw the first real recognition and acceptance of them as artists. The Chinese characters 花樣年華 translate to “Hwa Yang Yeon Hwa” – or the happiest time of one’s life, like when a flower blooms, or the time of youth. The songs depict the rebelliousness of youth, the challenges, the disillusions and the joys. It was a marked step up in sophistication and moved BTS to new heights of popularity.
- I Need U
With this single, BTS achieved their first certifiable hit. They garnered their first music show wins including on The Show, M Countdown, Music Bank, and others. Written by PDogg, Hitman Bang, RM, Suga, J-Hope, and Brother Su, this single was their highest charting to date. The music video was also their first non-performance video, and began a series of story-telling videos that showcased their acting. Additionally, the video introduced possible theories and concepts that ARMY continue to analyze.
Fire was the lead single of TMBMIL: Young Forever. It reached number one on the Billboard World Digital Songs, as well as swept first place at M! Countdown, Music Bank and Inkigayo in May 2016. At the time, the music video was the fastest BTS video to reach one million views, achieving the feat in just six hours (seems quaint by today’s standards).
- Save Me
BTS really demonstrated their skills and tightness as a group with the song and music video for Save Me. Shot all in one take on location in less than ideal weather conditions, the boys shine through and make it one of their all-time best video performances. See the behind-the-scene video of this remarkable feat.
Wings/You Never Walk Alone
The Wings era took place from October 2016 to the release of the re-issue/compilation album You Never Walk alone in February 2017. The work here is noteworthy in that each of the seven members performed a solo song and later performed these songs in concert. The solos are ARMY favorites and truly demonstrated the confidence BigHit showed in the groups’ musical development.
- Wings (10/10/2016
- You Never Walk Alone (2/13/2017)
- Blood, Sweat & Tears
Considered a BTS classic, this single became the first domestic (South Korean) hit on the Gaon Digital Chart. The song charted around the world, and again swept awards on all the music shows of October 2016. The highly stylized video – which features artistic and romantic concepts analogous to Herman Hesse’s Demian – tossed ARMY into the swirling eddy of theories and concepts. The fan favorite dance sequences were designed by Keone Madrid, a longtime and current choreographer who has also worked on Fire, Not Today, DNA and the latest Intro: Singularity.
- BTS: Cypher Pt. 4
One of only two songs on this list that was not a released single, BTS: Cypher Pt. 4, is the apex of a series of “Cypher” songs written largely toward their critics and haters. At the start of their career, BTS had to repeatedly prove their hip hop and rapping credibility. By the time Pt. 4 was written and composed, BTS was feeling confident that they were on a strong career trajectory, and with more swag than ever proclaimed: “I Love Myself! Yah, player-hater, you should Love Yourself!” This sets the stage for the Love Yourself era we are enjoying now.
- Spring Day
The slower, melodic songs of BTS – of which there are many – and that showcase the vocal line, had limited popularity until Spring Day. A beautiful song of love and longing, it won Song of the Year at the 2017 Melon Music Awards. The conceptual music video, told a rich story with analogies to the 1973 short story called “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” More theories and analyses set ARMY spinning, with many claiming that Spring Day is a tribute to the victims of the Sewol Ferry tragedy of 2014. Indeed it was a significant event in South Korea that affected BTS deeply.
- 2! 3!
Also known as “Still Wishing for Better Days”, this song is known as the first song BTS wrote for ARMY, and was featured on You Never Walk Alone. Also, not a released single, the lyrics speak to escaping from troubles through music, and looking forward to better days, walking only on flowered paths. The 2! 3! comes from the greeting they use when introducing themselves. ARMYs are known to shine purple light sticks (known as ARMY Bombs) during this song. Purple is considered the color of “love” between BTS and ARMY (and that is another whole story in itself.)
Love Yourself Era
This is the current era of Bangtan’s music, and it is as exciting and as rich as ever. In the span of eight months, we have one EP and a full album that is telling the story of Love Yourself. It is believed that Love Yourself will take us through a series that tells the story of love through an introduction (possibly Euphoria ), a development (Her), a twist (Tear) and a conclusion (TBD).
- Love Yourself: Her (9/18/2017)
- Love Yourself: Tear (5/18/2018)
While the full scope of this era is yet to be determined (we have so much to look forward to), the foundation of this era thus far comes down to two songs.
If “Her” is indeed about the development of love, then DNA celebrates how “fate” brought the lovers together. The song was performed at the American Music Awards in November 2017, and was the first TV appearance by a k-pop artist on an American award show.
- FAKE LOVE
This song has hit the music scene like a juggernaut. With the success of DNA and other singles from LY:Her, there was much anticipation for the current comeback. While the records are still being broken and history is still being written, we do know that FAKE LOVE is a massive success. The song also neatly fits the theme of “a twist” in the possible Love Yourself theory. While “Her” was about fate bringing love together, “Tear” is about the heartache and discovering not everything is rosy.
Now that you have this primer, go back to the eras one-by-one and dive deep into the songs, music videos and concepts they represent. You will realize – like all ARMY – that the music has grown richer, is more diverse and has matured wonderfully along with these talented, young artists.
If you had to choose only 12 BTS songs to represent their discography to this point, what would YOU pick? Let us know on Twitter using @ForeverBTScom.