By Azimah Zainal
It has been the toughest summer ever for everyone all around the world. Everything may have passed by at a fast pace as if March 2020 were just yesterday. Yet, the struggles and obstacles faced by every single soul during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic were almost unbearable as if the time had caused a stop on us.
The sound of people chattering and vehicles zooming by the bustling streets of the city had gradually died down as it turned to a hushed and somehow gloomy atmosphere. The loud and upbeat music blaring through every corner of the gym accompanied by the heavy breathing of the visitors running on the treadmills is now empty.
All of these unfamiliar situations happened when the world had gone into a lockdown due to the pandemic. People are forced to adapt to life in new normality that is far different from what they were used to. Minding the 1-meter physical distancing between one another and wearing a mask in crowded or public spaces has become the new practice to all.
Without realising, half of a year has passed and now we are nearly at the end of 2020. This situation had drained out the energy left within me, especially the will and motivation to do anything productive, including the things that were once a routine for me.
Perhaps, losing a passion is a ‘nightmare’ because to have something that I once loved dearly throughout my life, come to a sudden long pause, is frightening. However, listening to a song regarding this issue that I could relate to and grow with, is very much comforting to me.
Thus, one of the most successful acts in this generation, BTS is not an exception either in regards to this ‘nightmare’ as they had voiced out their fear of not being able to be passionate anymore through the song, “Black Swan”. Most people are able to feel an emotional connection to the lyrics of Black Swan especially during this difficult time as the inability to practice their passion is suffocating.
The lyricism of Black Swan
Charted as the only Korean act to be at #1 on Billboard Hot100 for three weeks on their latest single release ‘Dynamite’, the seven young men from South Korea’s boyband, BTS had shocked the world with their artistic values in delivering strong yet impactful messages to the youth through their music. And one of them is the first single released in April 2020, ‘Black Swan’ from the album ‘MAP OF THE SOUL:7’.
The opening of the ochestral version of ‘Black Swan’ Art Film performed by MN Dance Company had right away captured the attention of the audience by highlighting a quote from a pioneer of American modern dance, Martha Graham.
‘A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the most painful.’
The heart wrenching orchestral sound of the classical instruments echoed through the abandoned complex pierced into the heart of many watching the music video. But, reading the translated lyrics and the meaning behind that had doubled the pain. The song carried an indescribable emotion of the boy band’s sincere confession as an artist in expressing the agony of growing distance from one’s passions, in this case, dancing.
“If this can no longer resonate
No longer make my heart vibrate
Then like this may be how I die my first death
But what if that moment’s right now
In the first half of the song, BTS talks about the ‘what if’ that most artists, musicians, performers, etc. think of when they are experiencing a burnout. In this verse, BTS highlighted how they are afraid that the feelings of excitement rushing through their body and pumping to their heart is going to subside one day. It is when the feelings of self-doubt and anxiety were eating them away to the point of considering giving up as these moments were seen as the dead-end of their career. Although they try to seek help, no one can give a helping hand as this is the battle within their shadow, and only their will and desire to continue with their passion are able to save them from having to face the ‘first death’.
“I slowly open my eyes
I’m in my workroom, my studio
Even if harsh waves brush against me in the darkness,
I will never get dragged away again
I saw myself, myself”
As the song continued, the crisis finally reached a resolution as they decided to face the shadow that was haunting them and promised to never let the fear prevail. The above verse conveys their deep regrets for falling into the state full of doubt towards their passion for music. In fact, who would have thought that this successful boy band’s fear is not the fear of failure, but is it the fear of living as an artist who loses his passion in music?
Indeed, music transcends languages. Despite the music was in Korean, the message of the self-reflecting and mature confession of BTS through Black Swan had made the whole community to have a discussion on their passions and the fear of losing that possession. Along with the energetic yet delicate black swan-like dance routine which were done barefoot with no shoes and the desperation laying in their voices, BTS conveys the worry of many during this pandemic where people are struggling to overcome their own shadow.
Cancelled World Tour and BTS’s passion
“COVID-19 was beyond my imagination. Our world tour was totally cancelled, all our plans went away and I became alone” said Kim Namjoon, the leader of the group in his speech at the 75th United Nations General Assembly as the representative of the youth under the banner of UNICEF.
The boy band was supposed to hold their first phase of “MAP OF THE SOUL TOUR” in 17 cities across the globe from April until September 2020. The fans were very excited to experience the exhilarating two-hour concert with their brand new songs from the album ‘MAP OF THE SOUL:7’, new setlist, new choreography, and new stage set. However, the concert had been postponed due to the pandemic outbreak that has affected the whole world. With the idea of postponing, the group kept on practicing and perfecting their routine for a couple of months until they decided to cancel the tour and held a two-day online concert instead.
As an artist who had spent most of their life performing live on stage, this situation is quite devastating and depressing to the whole group as they have been doing a concert tour since 2014 every year since then. The passion they have in performing in front of their fans, “ARMY” were seen through their energetic and mesmerising routine on stage. For them, the smiles and the screaming of the excitement of the thousands of ARMYS bombarding through the huge stadium motivates them to reciprocate the love they received by making more music for their fans and continue what they are doing.
“When COVID-19 became widespread, I wanted to perform with the members more than anything and hang out with you all and be happy. I don’t know why we have to go through this” said Park Jimin during his ending statement at their online concert, ‘MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E’
Perhaps, being forced to take a break from their passion had taken a toll on them and brought back the pain of ‘Black Swan’, the fear of falling out of love for their passion, in this case performing on the stage as an artist. The members had most likely experienced burnout, self-doubt, frustration, stress, loneliness, or dispirited during this pandemic as they have shared their thoughts with their fans through social media, live streams, and interviews before. The boyband also confessed to the fans how they also have wondered whether they should give up and disband in 2018.
BTS however acknowledged their responsibility as the influencer to the youth and the impact which they possessed to encourage people to make this world a much better place. Along with the company’s motto, “Music and Artist for Healing”, BTS had been using their platform to amplify underrepresented voices and issues by releasing songs that touched and comforted many youths. The group’s passion for making music that could help others was shown through their efforts in taking part in producing all the albums.
For instance, visiting art museums to include artistic value in their lyrics or music video and reading literature books regularly on the topic such as mental health, self-love and development, anti-bullying, and social problems to have a better understanding of the issues.
However, the inclusion of the members’ personal struggles and experiences in their songs is what makes people attached to this group as transparency somehow shows how BTS are real people with real problems and struggles too. Thus, the feelings of having someone who understands what we are facing, our desperation, suffocation, frustration, and proceeds to cheer us through their music and speeches, bring comfort to many and this is why BTS’s discography always charted at the top in the long run.
The group’s passion for making others feel better and hopeful had once again shown when a new single ‘Dynamite’ was released on 20 August. The brightness and joyfulness in this song serve as a comfort to brighten up everyone’s day during these difficult times. The energy will make you want to forget about the current overwhelming situation and just dance by yourself until you ‘light it up like dynamite’.
COVID-19 is killing people as well as my passion. To be frank, I have doubted myself countless times when writing this feature article. It took me months to get out of that destructive headspace, pull myself back on my feet, and just get done with this. Before this, I had once thought that I had no passion for anything. The journey of finding out what I was good at was tiring and it made me think that I am talentless. However, ‘Black Swan’ and BTS’s genuine passion is a real eye-opener for me, especially during this difficulty.
They had driven me to a realisation that having a passion for something is not solely equal to being passionate about what you are good at. A passion should not be subjected to our talents or a career alone as hobbies or even a single task or goal in our life could also be considered as a passion as well. It can be something that we are bad at but we enjoy doing, learning, and experiencing.
As long as there is something that makes us feel alive, something that could make our heart beating and bring us happiness, something that can make us push forward and work hard for, then it is worth being scared of losing.
What you need is a little motivation, a little support, a little inspiration, and a little encouragement to swim from that pit of darkness up to the surface for you to breathe again. Start recognising the depth of love for your passion by facing and controlling the shadow inside you and make a huge comeback today! ***