Watch BTS Lead Us to the Promised Land in Their Highly Symbolic Video for “ON”
The South Korean septet’s second video for the single highlights finding freedom from oppression and violence, exploring the role of the artist as a saviour
Exactly a week after dropping their magnum opus Map of the Soul: 7, South Korean super stars BTS have returned with a new music video for the album’s lead single “ON.” While the septet had dropped a dynamic choreography-led music video for the track titled “Kinetic Manifesto Film,” a press release from the group’s label Big Hit Entertainment states, “The second music video will deliver a symbolic representation of ‘ON’ to highlight a different charm of the multifaceted band.”
The best way to describe the new music video for “ON” is that it is the most symbolic representation of BTS as a group. The video starts with vocalist Jin surveying a battlefield littered with corpses of people and animals. He finds a white bird speared with an arrow and is horrified by what he sees, looking up at the sky in search of hope. The scene then switches to main vocalist Jung Kook running, with his hands bound, away from what seems giant walls of a city in the distance. The scenes cut to the various members of the group–Jimin, V and Jin (who has now placed the white bird in a cage he holds)–before finally stopping on RM who stands before an old shipwreck surrounded by pairs of animals: a clear reference to the Biblical tale of Noah’s Ark. As the video progresses it becomes clear that RM and the rest of BTS are saviours, figures of rebellion against oppression, guides to a brighter future away from evil.
Eventually, Jung Kook passes out while running and j-hope appears beside him like a mirage, possibly to wake and encourage him to keep going. The scene then cuts to SUGA standing in the middle of what seems to be a church. He is dressed in white and surrounded by a congregation who look blank and unaware of his presence. V is accompanied by a little girl who is blindfolded and follows her ‘gaze’ to a point on the giant wall that surrounds the city. As soon as he looks at it, the wall begins to open and he takes off the girl’s blindfold so that she may see that she is now free. He then takes her hand, and leads her to the open wall. In the meantime, Jung Kook has managed to escape to a nearby forest where he walks into a pond, immersing his bound hands into the water. He soon lifts them to reveal he has been set free and holds a conch instead. The rest of the members of BTS and the people they are leading arrive at the wall and as Jin sets free the (now living) white bird he had in the cage, Jung Kook blows on the conch, signalling all their freedom. “ON”‘s outstanding dance break soon follows, showing BTS and the people with them celebrating their freedom at night with fireworks; a symbolic burning of evil and oppression. By day, the entire group embark on a journey to a promised land with leader RM at the helm as he takes them up a mountain towards paradise.
Some of the many references in the video include imagery around Noah’s Ark, allusions to heaven and hell, arch angels (possibly SUGA in the Church,) callbacks to previous BTS releases (“Fake Love,” with the group dressed in hooded robes at one point, perhaps even “Spring Day”–or at least the concept from Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas), 1994 film The Lion King (the mountain BTS climb at the end resembles the iconic Pride Rock), 2014 film The Maze Runner and many, many more. It’s also possible that the little girl with V is a symbol for the group’s powerful fandom ARMY, and removing the blindfold is an action that signifies that BTS help their audience face struggles with reality head-on. The entire video is stylized as a period film, with the members of BTS and the rest of the cast wearing costumes that look like they’re from various points in European history, possible the late 1700s. Themes the video tackles include revolution, freedom, justice, religion and the role of the artist as a saviour. It’s all a massive metaphor to trust BTS to take you to a safe place, that they are artists who save lives and give people hope with their constant positivity and enduring fighting spirit.
Over the week BTS have made several appearances on major American talk shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (where they put on a groundbreaking performance for “ON” at the iconic Grand Central Terminal) and The Late Late Show with James Corden where they participated in an edition of ‘Carpool Karaoke.’
The new music video for “ON” is expected to match (possibly even surpass) the same records set by “Boy With Luv (Feat. Halsey)”, the lead single from their last 2019 release, Map of the Soul: Persona; the music video for “Boy With Luv” surpassed 10 million views in a span of 2 hours 52 minutes from the time of its release and amassed 74.6 million views in its first 24 hours. It has been less than an hour since the music video for “ON” has dropped (as of the publishing of this article) and it has already surpassed eight million views on YouTube.