The first single of BTS’s upcoming album, Map of the Soul: 7, has arrived in the form of “Black Swan.” Released on January 17 with no official teasers, fan anticipation was high. But BTS, once again, managed to surprise ARMYs by releasing not one but two versions of the song, both equally poignant.
The first version of “Black Swan,” which features a more classical string arrangement, was unveiled through YouTube. In lieu of a traditional music video, the septet opted for an art film for the song. To help convey their artistic vision, they enlisted the help of Slovenian dancing group MN Dance Company.
“A dancer dies twice – once when they stop dancing and this first death is the more painful,” a quote by the late Martha Graham, a prominent American dancer whose work was heavily influenced by Greek mythology, introduces the accompanying art film. Clocking in at exactly 5:30 minutes, the video shows seven dancers, in a straight line, as they make their way into an abandoned space. Six of them are clad in full, black suits, the last one, however, displays their naked torso — setting them apart from the rest from the very start.
With complex artistry and captivating visuals, we witness the grappling of conflicting emotions. At one point, we see the seventh dancer trying to escape what looks like a prison, represented by light beams, while the other six shadowed figures keep them pushing in. In the end, they are uplifted and able to fly, carried by their six counterparts.
The film is undoubtedly a tribute to dance, which is no coincidence given the recent unveiling of Connect, BTS, a global art project that has included performance art in its Berlin installment: a series of dance performances titled "Rituals of Care" are being held in the city's Gropius Bau exhibition hall.
Though the string-heavy composition on YouTube matches the art film’s cadence perfectly, the track sounds vastly different on streaming platforms, where a pounding beat and synth-y guitar riffs replace the sinuous violins. Regardless of the version you favor or choose to analyze, the song’s theme and lyrics remain the same. From the very first lines (“Do your thang / Do your thang with me now / What’s my thang/ What’s my thang tell me now”) it’s clear that notions of identity influence the track.
In considerable opposition to their 2016 track “First Love” — in which Suga explores his history with and love for the piano over time — the members sing about losing their drive to follow their passion for music, or even more, the fear of such a thing happening. These sentiments echo their emotional 2018 MAMA acceptance speech, and, thematically, they also closely relate to the ideas examined in "Interlude: Shadow," where Suga raps about the favorable and unfavorable results of pursuing one’s dreams.
Though the streaming version of the song is detached from its dance context, the members still reference Graham’s concept of “first death” amply throughout the song. "The heart no longer races / When hearing the music play / Seems like time has stopped / Oh that would be my first death / I been always afraid of," Suga first sings, per the video’s official subtitles. “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,” RM mentions shortly after.
The overarching symbolism of the black swan invokes the “shadow” notions the members have been hinting at so far in this comeback. Much like the figures of Odette and Odile in Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, the members seem to highlight the juxtaposing light and dark features that make up our personas. In a press release, BigHit explains that, through “Black Swan,” the seven-man act seeks to “dive deep into their inner selves as artists and face the shadows they had once hidden.” In the end, and much like in the accompanying art film, they embrace both sides.
The dark hints of “Black Swan” stand out against BTS’s previous single releases, like the more upbeat “Boy with Luv,” but the reflective track also feels like a natural progression for the septet, which is readying for a new era.
Watch the art film for “Black Swan” below:
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue