Showing their multilingual approach on songwriting, and their appeal in different parts of the world, Korean group BTS released a compilation of Japanese songs, BTS, The Best (2021), on 16 June. The album features Japanese versions of their Korean hits (such as “Blood, Sweat and Tears” and “Boy With Luv“), songs that were originally released in Japanese (“Lights“, “Your Eyes Tell“), and one original track, “Film Out“, which was released in advance in April.
The truth is, BTS’ original Japanese tracks could fill a compilation album by themselves, even if the tracklist curation of BTS, The Best is a good representation of the Korean group as a successful crossover act. Still, it’s worth taking a deeper look at their Japanese discography too. The songs from it reinforce BTS’s musical signature traits that are heard in the Korean discography from the early days, as well as bring new colors, more romantic and melodic.
If you like what you hear in BTS, the Best and want more, you should listen to the songs on this list too.
The Stars (2014)
From BTS’s first Japanese studio album, Wake Up (2014), “The Stars” is an optimistic hip-hop track with lyrics about chasing dreams and not giving up. The message is very fitting for the younger BTS who were then in their second year in the music industry.
In true hip-hop mixtape culture, the members are introduced by the producer of the track, Japanese artist KM-MARKIT. He also has a writing credit together with Pdogg and BTS’s three rappers. That SUGA, RM, and j-hope, were writing and rapping in Japanese at only 21, 20, and 20 years old respectively, is admirable. Their strengths as rappers were there from the beginning: SUGA’s firm diction and imagery-infused lyrics; j-hope’s call and response, and flow switches; RM’s delivery that is typical of a leader.
Jungkook’s ad-libs add R&B credibility to the track, boosted by vocalists Jin, Jimin, and V in the chorus too.
In the lyrics, BTS sing, “Just like that shining star / Light up as if you’re going to disappear” (translation by MusicxMatch). It’s a theme they would readdress from another perspective, years later, in “소우주 (Mikrokosmos)” (2019), where they sing, “Don’t disappear / Because you are one great existence / Let us shine” (translation by Doolset).
Wake Up (2014)
Wake Up‘s homonym track starts with a melodic hook that will automatically transport hip-hop fans to the Isley Brothers’ samples of rap songs like Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” (1992) and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” (1994). After all, hip-hop and rap are a culture and sound that inform BTS’s entire musicality.
“Wake Up” is a mellower track than “The Stars”, benefitting from its production, and a smooth, laid-back chorus and post-chorus. The texture of BTS’s vocals shine, as they show their extensive vocal range. Such a trait would become a mark of their Japanese discography, as heard in songs like “Crystal Snow” (2018), where Jin sustains triple high notes.
For You (2015)
Released as a single in 2015, and later in the Japanese album Youth (2016), “For You” is a heartwarming pop track that shows BTS’s romantic side. It laid the ground for the songwriting mold that many of their Japanese songs (“Let Go“, “Stay Gold” etc) would follow: emotional melodies with long notes in the chorus. Yet, BTS’s hip-hop tradition is there too, in the post-chorus’ interactive shouting.
Introduction: Youth (2016)
Unlike the Korean albums, the intro tracks of BTS’s Japanese albums album are usually original instrumentals that remix samples of the other tracks of the album, with some voiceovers. Youth‘s introduction (2016) is like that, but it is worth highlighting as a standalone track too.
With lyrics in English, the track is an epitome of BTS’s trilogy The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, not only in how it samples their hits “I Need U” (2015), “Run” (2015), “For You” (2015), and “Fire” (2016) but also in how its lyrics work as a brand statement. Name-dropping all the BTS members, RM proclaims their ethos, “We’re one of them who is chasing our stars / So you can call us young and we’ll never get old”.
Good Day (2016)
The dynamics between the BTS members are the foundation that explains why their hybrid songwriting method (which meshes pop and hip-hop) sounds so natural. “Good Day”, from Youth (2016), features some of these encounters. The contrast of Jin and V’s timbres in the second chorus (V’ baritone voice is one of BTS’s biggest vocal assets), RM’s melodic verse organically intertwining with j-hope’s rap, Jungkook and V harmonizing in the bridge, and more.
Wishing on a Star (2016)
At this point, R&B/hip-hop with encouraging lyrics had become a part of BTS’s core message and repertoire, either from their Korean or Japanese discography. Still from the Japanese album Youth, “Wishing on a Star” is like that too.
j-hope’s rap in “Wishing on a Star” is as cool as it is adorable, with his characteristic voice inflections, and “My baby!” shout-outs, while RM’s bilingual rap (in English and Japanese) delivers words of comfort in a deep voice. Jimin’s voice is like a sweet, addictive edible. Because of that, he turns the bridge into a lullaby, together with the other BTS vocalists. SUGA closes the track with a lot of energy, and the words “Like a star” echo as the track fades out.
FAKE LOVE (Japanese Version / Remix) (2018)
There are three versions of BTS’s “Fake Love“: the original, released in Love Yourself: Tear (2018); the Rocking Vibe Mix, released in Love Yourself: Answer (2018), and the Japanese Version / Remix, released in the single Fake Love / Airplane Pt.2 (2018). There’s a reason why the first was the one to make Tear the first BTS album to top the Billboard 200 chat: it is a perfect blend of hip hop, pop, and rock, and it is mixed in a way that hits you right away in the ear.
Yet, the other versions are just as true to BTS’s sonic identity while exploring different sounds for the same composition. That is concrete proof of how solid the songwriting is in “Fake Love”. The Japanese version/remix leans more towards emo hip-hop and sounds closer to the song’s demo, which was produced by member RM and revealed by him on a live stream.
In the place of the serenading guitars of the original version, there is a repetitive synthesized sound circling the Japanese Version / Remix, like a ghost haunting it. The chord progression is also darker than the one heard in the other versions, and it matches the feeling of disillusionment from the lyrics.