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BTS Channel Bollywood Vibes on ‘Idol’?

The septet’s new single and psychedelic video draw (coincidental) parallels between South Korea and India’s cultures with traditional instrumentals and symbolic imagery

Riddhi Chakraborty Aug 24, 2018

RM had revealed exclusively to Rolling Stone India last year that he wanted to try and include more Korean instrumentals in BTS' music--a vision he has brought to fruition first with "Ddaeng" and now with "Idol."

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It’s possible that at this very moment, Bollywood is shaking. South Korean superstars BTS returned today with ‘Idol,’ the lead single off their mammoth 25-track repackage album Love Yourself  結 ‘Answer’, and took a desi turn in the most delightful way. Filled with what seem like shehnais, dhols and a cheeky “tak dina dhin,” “Idol” veers into Bollywood’s pop-meets-tradition territory and could very well push the group into mainstream visibility in India.

To be clear, the track isn’t an attempt to sound like Bollywood; it’s the result of several happy cultural coincidences. According to the group’s label BigHit Entertainment, “Idol” was inspired by gqom, a style of house music that originated in Durban, South Africa. Gqom combines powerful traditional thumping drum with bass and house synths in a balance between tradition and trend. The track’s blend of Korean instruments like the gakgung (the Korean horn-bow which explains the shehnai-like sounds) with African rhythms, trap rap and electronica contribute to expanding it’s culturally rich, diverse, global sound. With Bollywood’s similar knack for fusing hip-hop, trap and traditional instrumentals to create party anthems, the parallels are undeniable.

The lyrics are a confident declaration of self-love and love for their fans while telling haters to back off: “What you keep babbling about/I do what I do, so mind your own business/You can’t stop me lovin’ myself.”  BTS’ use of Korean traditional expressions in the lyrics like “Ursoo” (Oh Yeah) and “Jee-hwah-jah” (Hooray) add another level of homage to their home country while visual imagery includes Korea’s national animal the Siberian tiger (India’s national animal is also a tiger!) and scenes with the members dressed in variations of traditional Korean outfits. The group’s leader and rapper RM had revealed exclusively to Rolling Stone India last year that he wanted to try and include more Korean instrumentals in BTS’ music–a vision he has brought to fruition first with the rap line’s Soundcloud diss track “Ddaeng” and now with “Idol.”

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The hyper-vivid video showcases the group performing powerful choreography amidst kaleidoscopic backdrops that feature Euro-Asian architectural art, the African savannah and the traditional Korean lion dance. Parts of the choreography include mixtures of the South African dance Gwara Gwara (made viral by popstar Rihanna and more recently, by Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video) and traditional Korean moves. A massive posse of background dancers join BTS for the Bollywood-reminiscent group dancing at the climax of the video and to the band’s Indian fans, it’s an unexpected but welcome sense of familiarity. Fans on Twitter even pointed out the track’s similarity to Indian rapper Badshah’s “Abhi Toh Party Shuru Hui Hai” from the 2014 Hindi film Khoobsurat– a party anthem beloved by most of the country–which might help BTS appeal to more local audiences.

“Idol” garnered over ten million views on YouTube just four hours and Love Yourself  結 ‘Answer’ has so far hit number one on the iTunes over albums charts of over 40 countries (including India.) “Idol” also achieved an ‘all-kill’ in South Korea by hitting number one on all major real time charts in the country. BTS, their album and lead single have been trending worldwide on social media the entire day. A digital version of “Idol” also features American rapper Nicki Minaj, setting an example for global collaborations between POC.

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Love Yourself  結 ‘Answer’ follows the comeback trailer “Epiphany” and includes tracks from the groups award-winning May LP Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’, completing  the group’s two-year ‘Love Yourself’ narrative. The group will kick off their 2018 Love Yourself World Tour on August 25th and 26th in Seoul followed by 33 dates in 16 major cities across North America, Europe and Japan. The seven-member group also most recently sold out their first U.S. stadium date at Citi Field in New York, which also made them the first Korean artists to do so.

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