“BTS Black Swan Art Film and Song Review” is part of my neverending love letter to K-pop boyband BTS. You can catch my ongoing series about BTS here or just sign up for my newsletter. This post also uses affiliate links.
“Black Swan” by worldwide K-pop sensation BTS is a solid emotional track that effectively uses autotune to emphasize feelings of drowning, disconnect, and fear. Like all great art, “Black Swan” and its accompanying art film changes you.
It opens on a title card with words by Martha Graham. “A dancer dies twice – once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.” From there, “Black Swan’s” shocking strings, staggering choreography, stark background, and submerged vocals work together, beguiling the audience into conversation.
It is completely overwhelming. You will not be the same.
A global conversation immediately followed the release of “Black Swan.” Twitter and reddit threads abounded. They discussed all sorts of esoteric topics: the term “black swan” and its various meanings including The Black Swan Theory; how it relates to Swan Lake, the famous Tchaikovsky ballet and Oscar-nominated psychological horror film Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky; the Martha Graham quote; and of course, how the themes connected to their entire discography and music videos.
It is no wonder that the lead single was released in conjunction with CONNECT BTS, BTS’s new global art project aiming to redefine the relationships between art and music, artists and audience, and even artists and artists. It’s so much more than that, but BTS’s philosophy of openness – of the willingness to be transformed by art in all its forms and using their platform to spotlight other artists – it permeates with the desire to connect with their fans, other group members, other artists, and themselves.
BTS transcends what is expected of a pop music group; they are artists in every incarnation of the word.
Watch the BTS (방탄소년단) ‘Black Swan’ Art Film performed by MN Dance Company below. Click the CC if you want to read the official English translation of the lyrics.
About Black Swan by bts & Dance Performance Video by MN Dance company
Picking up on the same themes in “Interlude: Shadow,” “Black Swan” is the contemplative lead single off of BTS’s upcoming album, Map of the Soul: 7 (slated for global release on February 21, 2020 KST). About BTS’s fears of dying that first death Graham referenced, the lyrics are despondent and distraught. They wonder if their exhaustion at creating music, writing lyrics, and pushing through to perform is a harbinger of a future death of their love of what they do – and wonder if maybe that death is now.
[KOR/ENG LYRICS] Black Swan by BTS@bts_twt #BTS #방탄소년단 #MAP_OF_THE_SOUL_7 #BlackSwan #BlackSwanArtFilm #BlackSwanOutNow https://t.co/oGj4ZXBteu pic.twitter.com/VqhTc6AuhD
— Bangtan Translations (@BTS_Trans) January 17, 2020
Heavily distorted by autotune to mimic the sound of drowning and disappearing, the individual voices of BTS members are almost indistinguishable from one another – an effect Big Hit and their production teams rarely utilize. The frenzied strings in the MV version aptly draw out our anxiety and angst at their fears and pain. The rhythm of the singing raps are reminiscent of their song “Dionysus” and seem to be a companion piece due to some of the same themes of creating art.
“Art is alcohol too, if you can drink it, you’ll get drunk fool.” – “Dionysus” by BTS
The dance performance video featured MN Dance Company and WOW. (FYI: Their website crashed thanks to BTS fandom so try their Instagram.) I’m truly not qualified to discuss dancing in any shape or form, but suffice to say, the choreography is stunning. With movements suggestive of swans or some other alien creature with wings, MN Dance Company interpret “Black Swan” with amazing efficacy.
The story shows the main dancer being chased and examined by shadows who are pulling him and pushing him down. He keeps trying to escape from a cage of light – and yet each time, is wrenched back into the smothering arms of his shadows. In the end, he seems to break through and now, the shadows follow his movements instead of overshadowing him. (Pardon the pun. It’s what I do.)
What I loved
Ah, where to start.
I wasn’t kidding when I said the entire art film was overwhelming. Add in trying to process the meaning of Korean lyrics at the same time and I was mostly in a state of shock. As you can see in my reaction video, I was buried by all my thoughts and feelings so that the most I could do was stutter out some banal comments.
Pretty much everything I wrote up to this sentence is what I loved. There. That was easy.
Please click and watch my reaction video. (Then like and subscribe to my channel!) I appreciate you!
What I wish were different
In the reaction video, I discuss some of my concerns: that mainly of how there are no people of color in MN Dance Company. A friend brought to my attention that it’s a Slovenian dance company – and Slovenia, apparently, is almost entirely white. My bad.
I also mentioned how I found the heavy distortion and autotune to be distracting. After listening to “Black Swan” on repeat for hours, reading the lyrics, as well as many discussions about the usage of autotune and its effects (I highly recommend this Twitter thread on the subject), I have changed my mind.
That’s the beauty of art that is interactive, deep, and clever. You can appreciate it (or not) on multiple levels.
The video and dancing are beautiful and exactly what contemporary dance is supposed to do – move us. I will say that I found it easier to focus on the dancing when I turned off the closed captions. I initially preferred listening to “Black Swan” on Spotify or my copy off iTunes and listening with headphones. It’s far more aesthetically pleasing because there is a lot less autotune.
HOWEVER. The MV version has the strings!! Those lush, frantic strings! Especially since I discovered you can loop YouTube videos, I now can listen to the MV version on repeat easily. So now, it’s a toss up.
I LOVE ALL.
Ultimately, “Black Swan” is a single that rewards repeated listening. The lyrics are poignant and the video is a lovely interpretation.
If you like this and want to read more about my BTS Obsession, then you’ll love these posts:
- BTS (방탄소년단) MAP OF THE SOUL: 7 ‘Interlude: Shadow’ Comeback Trailer Review
- My 10 Best BTS Songs
- Why I Love BTS
- Your Guide to Being a Middle-Aged BTS Fan
- Why Is BTS So Successful and How Can We Replicate It?
- The Grammys Snub BTS: ARMY’s Reaction Smacks of White Privilege
- 100+ Signs You May Be a BTS Stan
- Intro to BTS