Jimin (Park Jimin) is part of the maknae line of global sensation BTS, he is the same age as V (Kim Taehyung) and two years older than Jungkook (Jeon Jungkook), the youngest of the group. While Jimin has released singles in the past, FACE is his debut as a soloist, and he is the first of the vocal line to release an EP.
Noted for his unique vocal colours, Jimin produces a cohesive EP in which he mediates on the multi-faceted nature of identity as a member of the biggest boyband in the world, and South Korea’s “It” boy, while also having to negotiate a private life outside of the stringencies of the Idol industry and the system of surveillance which monitors idols’ every step and misstep. Written during the pandemic, FACE traverses a range of genres, from hip-hop, trap-soul to the pop ballad, articulating an emotional journey of self-discovery in the midst of overwhelming loneliness caused by constant quarantines and lockdowns that defined many of our daily lives during this period.
The first track on the EP is the trap-soul “Face-Off”. Using circus music to signify the carnivalesque at the very beginning of the song and drawing on the motif of the literary carnivalesque through referencing masquerade in the lyrics, “Face-off” sets the tone for the remainder of the EP, not only is Jimin confronting himself, he is also confronting the regulatory mechanisms of the K-Pop industry by ensuring that KBS would find the song unfit for broadcast (along with “Like Crazy” and ‘Alone”). Constant repetition of swear words and allusions to drunkenness, set this Jimin apart from the Jimin, whose angelic vocals, have been part of BTS’ distinctiveness in a saturated field of K-pop boy groups, past the present.
The second song, “Interlude: Dive”, features Jimin’s greeting from BTS Yet to Come in Busan (15 October 2022): “Wow, everyone, I really missed you a lot, We get to meet like this, Everyone, this is Jimin.” This is contrasted by the sounds of dailiness, a liquid being poured into a glass, sounds of the same liquid being drunk, vague noises and voices in the background that are too faint to understand, situating Jimin’s intersectional identities. It also provides a bridge into the single, “Like Crazy”, the English version of which concludes the digital release.
As well documented by Jimin in numerous interviews, one of the inspirations behind the lead single, “Like Crazy” is the 2011 romantic drama of the same name, directed by Drake Doremus, and based partly on his own long-distance relationship. The music video which accompanies the synth-pop single utilises a psychedelic cinematic palate to express the feeling that loneliness can persist, even when one is in a crowd. The euphoria of club culture, the main setting for the video, here segues into darkness and despair, with repeated close-ups of Jimin’s face, highlighting the faciality which is a dominant metaphor throughout the EP. Dismantling the face, signified here through the use of part-shots, is a powerful, politicised act, it is the refusal to accord to a system in which one’s face is literally one’s identity, and through which systems of oppression and discrimination are based. In K-Pop visuals are everything, vocals often are incidental to the primacy of the face, and of course, the lithe body which accompanies it. For Jimin, to find himself, he has to be free of the overvaluation of the image and its concomitant over-sexualisation. This is clearly demonstrated through the visuals at the end of the MV, where we see Jimin not just psychologically but physically separated from others, slumped at a table, his hand covered in what could be mud or brown paint as he looks away from the investigating cinematic lens.
“Alone”, the fourth track, echoes the enforced/self-isolation with which the MV for “Like Crazy” concludes. It shatters the veneer of perfection showing the inner turmoil that Jimin was experiencing while assuring BTS’s fans that he would be their sanctuary in the storm throughout the pandemic: “I walk in my dark room alone / I said it was okay / I feel like I’m losing myself slowly”. In March 2022, the WHO reported a 25 % increase in anxiety and depression worldwide, while other statistics show the escalation of mental health issues in young people with pre-existing problems with 9 out of 10 teenagers reporting that the enforced loneliness had made their mental health worse (Mind, 2021). While admitting to mental health problems is still largely taboo in South Korea, Jimin’s openness and honesty throughout the EP about his struggle with self-worth (like the other members of BTS) helps to shine a light on how one’s seemingly happy exterior often masks one’s interior turmoil. The refrain of “lie, lie, lie” undercuts the final lyric of the track: “Make it right, it’s gonna be all right”.
“Set Me Free: pt.2” mobilises Jimin’s anger (at the world, at himself, at those that have hurt him, whether personal or professional) and marks a transitional moment in the EP and in Jimin’s long day’s journey into night. The underlying melancholy of the previous tracks and their focus on pastness and/or the dailiness of everyday life during the pandemic, is dissipated through the hip-hop beats which shows Jimin breaking free of the constraints of the past, as shown by the pre-chorus: “Look at me now (Me now) / I won’t hide anymore, even if it hurt / Going insane to stay sane / Raise your hands for the past me.” The continuous refrain “Set Me Free” can be seen to allude to a multiplicity of things: freedom from his idol image and the focus on exteriority over inferiority and the tyranny of faciality, freedom from the pain of the past and the isolation of the pandemic, and freedom to explore his own identity, as an individual, rather than a member of BTS.
There is one final track on the EP, which is only available on the CD. Titled “Letter”, this offers a much more reflective and mellow Jimin, accompanied on vocals by Jungkook. It explicitly intertextually references BTS’s “Sea”, one of the two hidden tracks on Love Yourself 承 Her (their fifth EP, and the second in the Love Yourself themed series, August 2017 – September 2018), with the lyrics: “Will you still be the same even if some time has passed? / Like the first time we met, hmm-mmm / If we were together, even the desert could turn to a sea / Just the way we wеre then, oh-hoo-ooh.” As much as this might be a personal letter to those loved and lost, it also needs to be seen as a direct address to BTS Army. K-Pop can be a cruel mistress, with its never ending cycle of groups, replacing the old with the new, within a fetishisation of youth. 10 years into their careers all members of BTS have expressed in one way or another doubts about whether their fans will remain, especially given the enforced hiatus that mandatory military service entails.
There can be little doubt that FACE is in multiple ways a triumph for Jimin, as a person and as an artist. While the Jimin of BTS remains, as evident in the many intertextual references to BTS’s substantial oeuvre, this Jimin is running towards the future and away from the restrictions of the K-pop industry and his objectification as a visual, and while he might still not know who he is, he is embracing who he will be, as a becoming rather than a being. In FACE, Jimin bares his soul, experimenting with different personae’s throughout, as can be seen by the contrast between the “rapper” of “Set Me Free”: pt. 2” and the more mellow, soulful Jimin of “Alone” and “Letter”. He uses his vocal range and dexterity as a tool of self-discovery, perhaps most clearly demonstrated in his use of auto-tune in the pre-release single. Jimin has a rare talent in that his range allows him not to be constrained by gender stereotypes, his vocal genderfluidity allowing him genre fluidity as can be seen here. One only hopes that he has left behind the constant self-doubt and feeling of worthlessness, and that this EP will mark the beginning of that.
Written by Dr Colette Balmain
View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, and art, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop / K-music, and Asian music in general, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, music, and arts, worldwide.
2 Comments Add yours
This was so perfectly written! Thank you
Beautifully written! I appreciate the note that there are multiple possible layers and interpretations to these tracks, and also the recognition of Jimin’s vocal agility as he branches out musically.