D-Day is the final album in what could be called Agust D’s “youth” trilogy which also consists of Agust D (15 August 2016) and D-2 (22 May 2020). Released on 21st April 2023, this is possibly Min Yoongi’s last music before compulsory military enlistment that all men in South Korea are required to do. Agust D is, of course, BTS’s Suga, one of the group’s three rappers, He turns 30 this year. However, Yoongi’s identity is not binary, he is also a prolific producer and composer, who has appeared on and produced tracks for luminaries of the Korean music industry such as Heize and, of course, IU, as well as Western musicians including Halsey and MAX. And not forgetting that he is also Min Yoongi, a real person behind the idol image.
Composed of ten tracks, including the pre-release single “사람 (People) Pt.2 (Ft. IU)” and the main track “해금 (Haegeum)”, D-Day is considerably less confrontational than the other albums in the trilogy. Having said this, D-Day still fits into the “angry young men” genre (originally associated with a British movement of the 1950s consisting of playwrights, novelists and ultimately film directors) in its raw honesty, concern for humanity, and direct address to the audience. Excluding the title and the singles, the other tracks on the album are: “HUH?! (Ft. j-hope)”, “AMYGDALA”, “SDL”, “극야 (Polar Night)”, “Interlude: Dawn”, “Snooze” (Ft. Ryuichi Sakamoto and Woosung of The Rose). The final track is an alternate version of “Life Goes On” (the lead single from BTS’s BE, their fifth studio album which was released in 2020).
The title track “D-Day” sets the tone for the album in its concern for identity as formed through and over time, not as a fixed entity, but rather as something which is in a state of perpetual flux. In the chorus, Yoongi utilises the metaphor of the mirror as that into which the self is reflected: “Future’s gonna be okay (Okay) / Okay, okay, look at the mirror and I see no pain (Yeah, yeah, yeah)”. However, the image in the mirror is one constructed through misrecognition and is therefore inherently duplicitous. Like Dorian Gray’s portrait, what is seen on the outside is a performance of perfection hiding the ‘real’ subject from view. In these terms, this mirror can be understood not as a reflection of the self, but rather as a construction shaped by and through the desire of the spectator. As such, there is not one given meaning but rather multiple meanings depending on the perspective of the onlooker.
The chorus continues: “I’d die for real ‘til the D-Day”. In the West, D-Day refers to 6 June 1944, the date when allied troops landed on the beach of Normandy marking the beginning of the liberation of Eastern Europe from Hitler’s and the Nazi Party’s genocidal control. For some the D in D-Day simply stands for Day, while for others it means disembarkation or demarcation, and others, day of decision. And although there were multiple D-Days during World War 2 and other conflicts, before and after that date, in that D-Day is a general name given for the date that a military operation will commence, it has become synonymous with 6 June 1944, or the day when democracy would win against fascism. However, it is possible that the title of the album and the song has a much simpler meaning. To create a clear separation between his identity as Suga and his identity as a solo artist when releasing his mixtapes, Min Yoongi rearranged his name (Suga) and added DT to the amalgam to stand for his birth place, Daegu town. In these terms, D-Day can be understood as meaning Agust D’s day, or even the day of Agust D’s symbolic death, given that Agust D was born from, and of, Min Yoongi’s trauma: BTS’s success came with a price, including accusations of sajaegi (bulk buying) and plagiarism, when it became obvious that BTS were becoming a force in K-POP to be reckoned with. Yoongi understands that despite his multiple identities, he will always be Suga from BTS. This can be seen in the allusions to the group, sometimes through metaphors and direct citations of BTS albums: “Lotus flowers bloom again in a world covered with hatred (Okay, okay, okay) / Yes, D-Day’s coming I hope you open your chest out, yeah / The proof is yours, so please prove it, yeah (Yeah, yeah, woo-ooh)”. Or may be “D-Day” marks the day of Yoongi’s liberation as an artist from the restrictions of K-Pop, noted for its squeaky clean surfaces.
The second track is the lead single, “Haegeum”, which self-reflexively reworks and rewrites “Daechwita” from D-2. While the latter was situated in the distant past, the former is set in some contemporary present with the scar on the fictional Yoongi’s face linking the two together as apparent in the music video which accompanied the release. Like “Daechwita”, “Haegeum” merges classical Korean music with contemporary rap. The Haegeum is a traditional Korean stringed instrument, used in both classical and folk music. It has two silk strings and is played with a horsetail bow and is similar in appearance to the fiddle. The instrument is constructed from eight materials: stone, bamboo, metal, ground, earth, wood, silk and leather. Known for its manyness, as a result of its materials and materiality, the Haegeum can be understood as connecting people and the universe: in addition the two strings can be interpreted as representative of the intertwinedness of suffering and happiness, rather than the separation or the effacement of one by the other. This is one of the dominant themes in the album, the understanding of life as both painful and joyous, sometimes simultaneously.
While “Haegeum” brings together rap and traditional Korean music, “HUH” is an experimentation with Drill music, a type of Hip-hop which originated in Chicago in the early 2010s, the spitfire lyrics describing the often violent lives of the rappers in particular with relation to gang cultures. While the tempo ranges from 70 BPM to approximately 140 BPM in UK Drill music, the lyrics are often minimalist. “HUH”’s lyrics are simple and straightforward and like drill, it eschews metaphors. Although it is a diss track, it is not centered on a particular individual but rather is addressed to multiple individuals including other idols, their fans, and the media. Compare Yoongi’s verse to Hoseok’s: “It’s disgusting to pretend that you’re clean / Please check your shit first / Many articles and gossip, the villain in the information age / If reality is a gutter, get out of it / I pray that even you’ll do well” (Yoongi); “No matter what you may be, huh / I’m all about you, huh / Because it’s just worthless, huh / What do you need to say, huh, huh / Even if I do my job, even if I go my own way / ‘Cause it’s a hot topic, bring the fire back” (Hoseok). Both verses are direct addresses to their “haters”, telling them to focus on their own work rather than try to bring others down as embodied in the continual refrain: “What the shit, do you know about me? (Yeah, yeah) / What the shit, do you know about me? (Yeah, yeah).”
The fourth track is “AMYGDALA”, a music video for which was released on April 25th, three days after the album dropped. Perhaps the most brutally honest and emotionally engaging track on the album, Yoongi focuses in on the relation between past, present and future, as constructed through memories, some of which have to be forgotten to move forward, others which lie in the future yet to be made. The dichotomy in music is often that the most meaningful tracks have to do with trauma and the exploration of that trauma. For example Kanye West’s powerful debut single “Through the Wire” which was made after the terrible accident that nearly killed him and while his jaw was still wired shut. Kanye has often talked about the accident as both the worst and best thing that happened to him. In the music video for AMYGDALA, Yoongi replays an accident that he had at the very beginning of his career when he was knocked off a motorcycle while doing deliveries. He has referred to this at multiple times during his career including on “The Last”, one of the tracks on his first mixtape. He also makes reference to his mother’s heart surgery, his father’s liver cancer and his struggles with depression: “Uh uh, in my ears, the sound of my mother’s heart clock / Uh uh The news of my accident that I couldn’t tell you / The news of liver cancer of father received during the schedule…”. Shot mainly in black and white, the music video that accompanies the track visualises the past as deformations of space and time, doors as pathways that connect memories, but which like in the memory palace can be locked away and forgotten (although repressed is a better analogy).
The amygdala is a complex nest of cells in the brain whose function is to regulate emotional response. Situated next to the hippocampus, it connects our emotional responses to our memories. In the song, Yoongi pleas to his amygdala to save him from his memories: “My amygdala (my amygdala) Come on save me come on save me / My amygdala (my amygdala) Come on, take me out, come on, take me out / My amygdala (my amygdala) / My amygdala (my amygdala) Save me from here, hurry up and get me out…”. He also uses the lotus flower as metaphor; the lotus flower flourishes in damp, muddy water, its beauty when it emerges from the mud, one petal at a time, in direct opposition to the mud in which it is rooted. The lotus emerges in the morning and submerges at night, the petals lasting just for a few days before they die. In many cultures, the lotus flower is a symbol of rebirth and in Asian ones, it is seen as signifying the transcendence of the soul over the self, through a journey from the underworld to the light. In these terms, the mud can be conceptualised as representing suffering, and the lotus flower, happiness, one cannot exist within the other. In order to be happy, one needs to separate oneself from the muddy depths where trauma threatens to overwhelm and obliterate the self. It is a choice to allow oneself to be a lotus and leave the trauma of origins behind.
The fifth track, “SDL”, tackles the vagaries of love, its relationship to memory, time and the subject, again utilizing a series of binary oppositions to emphasize the interconnectedness of self and nature: “Love is pouring out in the spring day / Even though it’s like sunlight / The strong waves of the winter sea that came in before we knew it / Is it then that we miss / Or is it buried in your memories?”. Like many poets before him, Yoongi wonders about how love is conceptualized and whether one’s experience of it can ever live up to how it is represented: “Thanks to the grandeur of the word love / What is easily forgotten and lived is called love / Is it you that you miss / Or is it that time on the other side of the glorified memory?”
The sixth track is “People Pt.2” (ft.IU), the pre-release single, a review of which was done at the time of release. Like the other tracks, it investigates the workings of memory and the impact of loss on constructions of self through and within time. He asks: “Will I be happy if I give up my greed / A half-illusion that can never be fulfilled”. This is a common theme across Yoongi’s oeuvre: is ordinary dailiness a better way of living life as compared to the extraordinary life of a celebrity. Using word-play, Yoongi places the emphasis on the listener for constructing meaning. In an interview with Billboard, Yoongi remarks: “Depending on whichever consonant you put at the end of the word ‘사라 (sara),’ it can become ‘사람 (saram)’ and ‘people,’ or it can become ‘사랑 (sarang)’ and ‘love’ in Korean. So, it’s the listener’s choice to put which consonant you want at the end of ‘사라 (sara)” (Benjamin, 2023). Significantly, Yoongi understands that his auteurship should not define how his music will be received, and is not the only way to interpret the work. By addressing this overtly, Yoongi acknowledges the collaborative nature of knowledge and understanding, allowing the listener to complete the text, contextualising it through their own experiences and understandings.
This is followed by “Polar Night”, which addresses contemporary debates around free speech and censorship: “Between so many truths and so many lies / Are we seeing this world right?”. Political correctness is also my cup of tea / Keep your mouth shut about troublesome problems / Selective hypocrisy and uncomfortable attitude / That interpretation that only suits my mood.” While it might seem that he is advocating for the regulation of speech, there is explicit irony here in the line about hypocrisy in that idols have to live up to an image of perfection, which is an impossibility. Returning to the metaphor of Dorian Gray’s picture in the attic, we can see the result of concealing the truth on the subject and those around him. In the book, Dorian is only loved and desired, because of his beautiful appearance, and he will do anything to maintain that illusion including murder. In the media and in other fandoms, BTS is continually critiqued for the smallest of missteps, while others in the industry are excused for bigger misdemeanors. While BTS have been nominated for five Grammy awards, a first for Korean artists, there is more interest in the group not winning, than in the global recognition implied by the nomination itself. The song can also be understood in relation to the wider political context where misinformation circulates and is disseminated across social media platforms, making it difficult to separate the truth from the lies. Indeed, in the South Korean context, this takes the form of debates over responsibility for the thousands of deaths during the Gwangju uprising (18 May 1980); there is a discernible silencing of criticism of the military government whose actions directly led to these deaths during the present regime.
Track eight is the instrumental “Interlude – Dawn”, which can be seen to divide the past and present from the future, as the next two songs are forward looking rather than backwards. And the dawn represents a new day or a new beginning.
The ninth track is “Snooze” ft. Ryuichi Sakamoto & Woosung of The Rose. In the Disney documentary that was released on the same day as the album, we see Yoongi meeting Sakamoto, his childhood hero, and the pair talking about their careers and inspirations. Sakamoto was one of the most important Japanese composers and musicians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He was one of the founding members of YMO (the Yellow Magic Orchestra) whose music was influential in the development of hip-hop and electronic music in Japan, and elsewhere. Perhaps best known in the West for his award-winning soundtracks (Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, 1983; The Last Emperor, 1987 ; Revenant, 2015), Sakamoto was a fearless artist, always pushing the boundaries of music. In the documentary, he talks about how he would have also liked to have been an academic and nomad like to explore the music of the world. His final album, 12, recorded between 2021 and 2022, was released in January 2023. As is known now, Sakamoto was in the final stages of cancer when this meeting took place and sadly he died before the album was released. As a result, the track is one of the most memorable on the album. Woosung, of The Rose, plays no small part in this collaboration and is another artist whose work experiments beyond generic boundaries. In addition, his sultry tones accentuate the lyricism of the chorus: “When the last petal falls / I’ll accept it, hold tight / When you reach the end of the rainbow / I’ll leave bye / Blooming dream”. In light of Sakamoto’s death or his sleep from life, these lyrics have taken on particular emotional resonance. The final refrain from Yoongi: “You, who’s dreaming while looking at me behind your back / I’m always here, so don’t worry too much / If you’re afraid to crash, I’ll willingly receive you”, promise solace to those fans who will accompany him and BTS on their musical journey over time.
The last track is an alternative version of BTS’s “Life Goes On” which was released at the height of the pandemic in 2020. This functions as a coda. While Agust D is a solo artist, jokingly referring to himself as a fourth-generation idol just debuting (the current generation of idols), he is, and always will be, a member of BTS. The final lines: “Time is like a wave / It will be washed away like the ebb / But don’t forget to find me” attest to promised longevity.
D-Day can be seen as the culmination of Agust D’s youth trilogy, as this, the final album in the trilogy, was released at the start of Min Yoongi’s 30s. While Yoongi is still angry, his anger is mobilised through creativity to produce a work of remarkable artistry, lyricism, and maturity. Musically, Yoongi continues to push himself as can be seen in his significantly improved vocals, as well as in the conceptualization of the music videos, and the dance practices that accompany them. The poignancy of Sakamoto’s inclusion gives the album particular resonance, and perhaps Yoongi’s future may well be modeled after his childhood hero and a score for a film in his future. The final words of this review are given to Yoongi (the multi-talented triptych threat of Agust D, Suga and Min Yoongi) and are aptly from “Snooze”: “The beginning may be weak, but the end may be great”.
Written by Dr Colette Balmain
Featured image © BIGHIT MUSIC
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
Really enjoyed this review and leaned a great deal. It is so informative to have background information and details on the songs, the lyrics and so on. I’m totally addicted to Snooze – it’s just a beautiful piece of music. The other tracks are pretty good too.
Thank you for your kind comment. We are glad you liked the review.
Team View of the Arts