Released Oct. 10, 2016, “WINGS” was BTS‘s second full-length album, with “You Never Walk Alone” (“YNWA”) being re-released with two bonus tracks.
Immediately, one notices that each member has the opportunity to flex their own musical and lyrical muscle with their own solo track, something unheard of from this generation of K-pop idols.
The introduction for this album, “Boy Meets Evil,” is driven by J-Hope. There is an interesting combination of production and delivery here that melds track and vocal together in a singular manner. The beginning of the track is kept simple, while J-Hope creates the melodic and tempo variances using his own vocals, particularly the seven changes in cadence during the rapping. He also uses his tone to create the build-up before the drop. After the drop, there is a role reversal. Now, instead of creating variances with vocals, the vocals create the illusion of pacing, applying a consistent tempo to match that of the first half, while the track creates the variances by means of numerous synths.
The title track of this album, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears,” was also a major change in genre from previous releases. For the first time, BTS tackled a reggaeton-style track. The beginning contains a three-note baseline and a bell synth. This bell synth matches the short vocal runs of the beginning hook, which Jimin and Jungkook sing.
The structure of the song follows a tried and true formula that dates back to the 1940s — starting with the hook first, creating a mind-catching loop that draws you into the rest of the song. A more recent example of this is “Crazy In Love” by Beyoncé.
The first verse is another point of interest, as some production aspects create moments of ear candy. For example, the beginning of the first verse uses Suga’s naturally deep voice as the baseline. Half of the baseline is added during RM‘s part and it returns in full during J-Hope’s portion. They repeat this in the second verse with J-Hope starting with his lower register and ending with Suga using a higher tone.
The next seven tracks show the growth of each member of BTS.
“Begin” is Jungkook’s solo. In this track, his vocal dexterity is emphasised by the sparseness of the track. This openness borders on a cappella, which is a very clever way to show just how far he has come from debut.
Jimin’s “Lie” is next. This track sounds completely different from any other track in the BTS catalogue, as it pulls from Scottish stanza in the lyrics and Tango and rock in the melody. Jimin also shows his vocal control, constraining his runs to five downward notes instead of the popular 7-10 upwards or in random order.
“Stigma” by V is one of the big shockers of the album. He is well known for the gravelly texture of his vocals from songs like “Boy In Luv,” “Danger” and “No More Dream.” His voice can also be very smooth, like in “Just One Day.” This is the first time we hear a smokey quality to his vocals.
The range of notes used in this song starts at G2 and ends at G5. Along with this, from the second verse, he almost always stays in the fifth octave, peaking during the bridge at a G5. While this is not the highest note he has sung (the highest is actually a C6 during a vocal battle between the members), it is very difficult, especially for men to hit. There is also the fact that in contrast to the other members of the vocal line, who are all tenors, V is a baritone, which makes this note just that much more special.
The next three tracks, Suga’s “First Love,” RM’s “Reflection” and J-Hope’s “MAMA,” all create emotional moments in their respective deliveries. Using the piano, Suga creates the feeling of longing for your first love. RM puts you in a moment of self-reflection and has a very raw and almost tortured admission of not loving one’s self and wishing that the opposite was true. J-Hope emboldens a celebratory and appreciative atmosphere, giving thanks to the person, or people, who has empowered him to do all that he has done and supported him on his journey.
The last solo track is “Alive,” sung by Jin. The song begins with strings and a piano, with no discernible pacing until the 1:02 mark, when percussion finally kicks in. The verses maintain strings and piano instrumentation, allowing for Jin to glide effortlessly through his lower register while the percussion in the chorus provides enough support for him to reach the upper notes of his range. The track in itself is an excellent conclusion to the solo section of the album.
The next track is the vocal line’s “Lost.” The lyrics create the feeling of losing and finding one’s path to adulthood. The point of interest in this song is the line dispersal. The older members of the vocal line, Jin and Jimin, seem to have a firmer grasp on struggle and almost seem to be advising the younger members, V and Jungkook, on how to proceed on the confusing path to adulthood.
The following track is “BTS Cypher 4.” This highly anticipated track is very different in tone any lyrical content. There is a confidence and a heavy dose of sarcasm in the lyrics and delivery. The lyrics convey the sentiment of not having to prove anything to anyone anymore.
“Am I Wrong,” the next track on the album, is a moment in production. There is a mix of hip-hop and bluegrass, complete with banjos and a filtered bass.
The next track, “21st Century Girl,” is a song of female empowerment. The lyrics encourage and support female confidence. This one of the few times a male K-pop group has openly tackled this subject.
Track 14, “Two! Three! Hoping for Better Days,” is a very open and airy track with a simple melody. The vocal line provides the variations in melody, with rich harmonies and backing vocals. It is also of interest to note that some of the ad-libs occur solely in the right or left ear, creating the feeling of walking through a singing crowd.
“Spring Day,” the lead single of the re-release, uses the production to convey the effect of emotions. The track sounds full, with siren-like sounds and crashes, heavy bells and thick drum rolls. This exemplifies the swirl of emotions involved when missing or losing a loved one. There is also a unique harmony between Jin, who takes the high part, and J-Hope, who contrasts with him, taking the lower notes.
The second single, “Not Today,” is the conclusion to the “Dope!” tetralogy. The sentiment here is never giving up, no matter what happens. The structure and style of the track almost lends itself to becoming a group-wide cypher. But the gem in this track is the harmonies, not of the vocal line, but of the rap line. In the first verse, during Suga’s section, he harmonizes with both RM and J-Hope to create an interesting dynamic in the last line of his bars.
The full version of “Wings,” found on “YNWA,” is a House-inspired track. The lyrics talk about not being afraid of growing wings and flying, which, in this sense, means growing up into adulthood. Its placement in both “WINGS” and “YNWA” is significant. In “WINGS,” it creates the feel of credits rolling after a movie. The fact that it was named an interlude, not an outro, meant that there was more to the arc.
The narrative concludes in the final track of the re-release. Aptly titled “You Never Walk Alone,” the lyrics contain the realization that growing up is not an isolated process. Rather, it is influenced by those around you. While “Wings” and “YNWA” have completely different melodies, one must listen to them consecutively for the story to be complete.
With the closing of this era, time would only tell what the next chapter would have in store for ARMY and music connoisseurs alike.