Korean boy band BTS exploded onto the scene in 2010, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 2010s that they became internationally known. The seven-member troupe has become a worldwide phenomenon, proving that the boy band phenomenon is far from over.
Originally a hip hop group, they have since expanded into a more complex genre characterized by layered harmonies, fascinating instrumental tracks, and elaborate dance routines. With fans around the world—characterized as ARMY—BTS has proved that these songs express themes that are universal.
1. Black Swan
BTS released Black Swan in 2020, a stunningly deep track about fear, inadequacy, and self-perception. Most specifically, it describes the singers’ fear of losing their love of music and having their career come to nothing, but it is less focused on success and failure and more on the tragedy of losing one’s passion.
The song is a trap-infused hip hop piece with a surprising amount of artistry involved; it gained praise for both its lyrics and the accompanying music video, which was performed with a Slovenian interpretive dance troupe.
2. Save ME
The 2016 release Save ME is a practice in contradictions: a high-energy, happy pop beat whose mood stands in stark contrast to its message. It is easy to overlook the lyrics, which are interspersed with cries for help.
Of course, it is even easier if you don’t speak Korean, but BTS manages to communicate the feeling with subtle agitation. As with many of their hits, this relies on heavy synth and percussion to create a sound space that has both elements of modern pop and older genres such as funk and disco.
It is impossible to overlook the 2016 song Fire, if for nothing else other than the intense music video. It features the members of BTS at their frenetic, choreographed best, in a performance that is utterly mesmerizing.
But the track holds its own with or without video accompaniment; its release saw it climb to the top of the Billboard World Digital Songs chart and was nominated for multiple awards. It was widely seen as their stepping into their signature style to great success, in a maturing of their earlier tracks.
4. Louder Than Bombs
The year 2020 was certainly a time when the world needed a reason to come together—emotionally, that is. Louder than bombs was intended to be a cry of both pain and unity, with the title referring to the “loudness” of heartbreak and joy.
Co-written with icon Troye Sivan, the track layers harmonies on top of sparse instrumentals that burst into a mesmerizing bass line that seems to mimic the titular bombs. Ultimately, it is about the agony of the human experience and singing on despite it all.
Butter burst on the scene in the wake of 2020’s Dynamite, an English-language track meant to be an upbeat, danceable single. Released in May 2021, it became the song of the summer around the world and, in some ways, the anthem of the latter part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It topped pop and dance charts around the world and was nominated for a Grammy Award. It also led to a slew of remixes that only helped bolster its popularity.
The band released Heartbeat in 2019, a love song that served as the lead single for their mobile game BTS World. In typical fashion, the track gives each member their moment in the spotlight before building to spectacular, seven-part harmony.
It was composed as a message of love for the band’s fans while also shaping each member’s identity as both an individual and a part of the team. When it was released on the mobile game, the song was concealed, requiring players to complete 14 missions to hear it.
Dope was released in 2015, an early single that helped cement BTS as a fixture in the Western world. The song’s popularity was bolstered by its music video, which featured the band’s now-legendary intricate choreography.
Dressed in suits, the band members alternated singing and rap verses while performing their seamless footwork. Instrumentally, it gives a nod to Flo Rida with its dampened saxophone backing track, and despite the imitation, it’s a great success.
Dis-ease is a hip hop single from BTS’ 2020 album, BE. The album dealt with many of the struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly feelings of fear, hope, isolation, and burnout. The song is an ode to that familiar feeling of being completely fatigued in the midst of a crisis.
But despite its heavy topic, it communicates through an irresistibly light and catchy dance track in a song that is both relatable and cathartic all at the same time.
Even those who don’t classify as BTS fans will recognize Dynamite, the band’s first English-language song that skyrocketed to the top of charts around the world in 2020.
The ultra-upbeat dance track is difficult to put into a musical category. Its brass- and percussion-heavy instrumentals feature nods to hip hop, funk, soul, and disco. It made history as the band’s first Grammy Award nomination—the first ever given to a Korean group.
10. Blood Sweat & Tears
Boy bands are meant to be heartthrobs, but they don’t always venture into the outright seductive. This is normally true of BTS, with the exception of Blood Sweat & Tears. The sultry, reggae-inspired track is all about the senses—with a music video to match, of course. With lyrics that are all about passion and desire, the song is bound to get every teenager’s heart pounding. There’s a lot going on at every movement, from seven-part harmonies to a clap track.
ON is about as intense as BTS has ever gotten, and that’s really saying something. The song is more than a pump-up track—it’s positively a roar of attack on the experience of human existence as a whole.
The lyrics scream, “…bring the pain on, oh, yeah” and “Can’t hold me down, ‘cuz I’m a fighter.” As if that wasn’t enough, the track features a gospel choir, horns, a marching band, and all of their signature frenetic dance moves.
JUMP was one of the band’s earliest hits, a high-energy dance track that will get you pumped up at the first listen.
Released in 2014, it made waves not just because of its catchiness, but also for the members’ vocal performance. V was a particular standout, performing his part of the song with an attention-catching snarl that has turned this into one of his signature tracks.
Though it has since been overshadowed by their bigger hits, it remains a forecast of the high-energy songs that would make them superstars.
13. Life Goes On
BTS explored many emotions and experiences that we all went through during the COVID-19 pandemic, from fear to despair, loneliness, burnout, and exhaustion. Life Goes On takes things in a new direction in an anthem of hope and togetherness.
Seen as a kind of follow-up to songs such as Blue & Grey and Dis-ease, this is a brighter track featuring stunning harmonies, a reminder that there will be an end to the challenges—even when it doesn’t feel like there’s an end in sight.
14. Boy With Luv
Not to be confused with their other song Boy In Luv, BTS’ 2019 collaboration with Halsey scored them one of their biggest early successes. The track, alternately referred to as nu-disco or bubblegum pop, is a happy dance mix about finding appreciation for the small things.
Boy With Luv was a massive success, breaking records for its number of music show wins—a record that they would later break again with Dynamite. It seems as though they continue to produce breakthrough hits on top of their breakthrough hits.
15. I NEED U
The group’s early days were more focused on hip hop, and I NEED U, released in 2015, showed them beginning to move away from that genre.
With a heavy but gentler feel than their previous work, the song nailed BTS’ signature style and shaped the music to come. It’s most notable for introducing the fictional version of their own story, the Bangtan Universe.
It became one of their first international hits and has been called one of the great K-pop tracks of all time.
Call it cheesy, but for all its over-the-top sweetness, there’s something irresistibly charming about Dimple. Done by anybody else, it would probably be too much, but from BTS—led by Jung Kook, Jin, V, and Jimin—it feels genuinely sweet.
It might have something to do with the delicate melody and the band’s signature layered harmonies that make it adorable rather than excessive. If there’s one thing they know how to do, it’s laying the emotions on thick in a way that completely works.
Ddaeng was first released on SoundCloud, and you might have difficulty tracking it down anywhere else. The song shows the group’s more aggressive side in a no-holds-barred cut-down of their critics. Fueled by a backing track of classical Korean instruments, BTS employs a kind of wordplay that might go over your head if you don’t speak Korean, but the unmistakable attitude needs no translation. It can alternately be interpreted as “you’re wrong” or “you’re out” and is meant to mimic the sound of a bell.
It’s common for pop stars to sing about shooting for the stars and making your own dreams come true. In Paradise, BTS takes things in a slightly different direction. The song is about working for your dreams but also appreciating where you are in the moment. The singers wish their fans all the best in achieving their dreams, but add that if they don’t have any dreams—or don’t know what those are yet—that’s also fine.
It’s a gentle ode to everyone seeking what makes them happy, whether it’s a life in the spotlight or something much simpler.
19. Spring Day
Spring Day is often considered one of BTS’ greatest songs, at least as far as their fans are concerned. The lyrics are a reflection on the deep loneliness and isolation that comes from missing a friend and feeling as though you are rooted in a winter that will never end.
Nevertheless, the ballad is infused with hope, as the singers describe looking forward to their “spring day.” The track is generally accepted to be a reference to the Sewol ferry disaster of 2014, but its lyrics of grief, isolation, and bewildered hope express something universal.
IDOL is a feast for the senses: harmonies, wild percussion, and a frenzied instrumental track that fuses traditional Korean instruments and elements of music and dance from South Africa.
As with many BTS songs, it became widely known through its music video, which showcases each of these cultures through costumes, intricate dance routines, and other art forms. But the track is a standout even on its own, a response to critics and haters that’s less aggressive and more a joyful declaration of self. Everything about it feels like a party.
21. MIC Drop
BTS knows how to make a diss track that is less about clapping back at the haters and more about reemphasizing their own, unabashed identity. MIC Drop was a nod to Barack Obama’s viral mic drop in 2016. The song resurrects the hip hop style that they were known for in their earliest years, though their style and fame have only grown since then.
Part message to those who didn’t believe in them, part celebration of what they’ve achieved, this has become one of their most popular tracks and has been performed on Ellen, SNL, and more.
22. Blue & Grey
BTS dropped Blue & Grey at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the surface, the lyrics are about musicians experiencing burnout and wondering if they will ever get their spark back. But more broadly, the song is a declaration of solidarity for the whole world wondering the same thing in the midst of the pandemic as they struggled with the consequences of fear, loss, and isolation.
This is ultimately them saying, “We feel it too, and we’ll all get through this.” Unsurprisingly, its relatable themes made it a massive hit around the world.
23. Make It Right
BTS often writes their own songs, but it isn’t uncommon for them to do so in collaboration with other major artists. In 2019, they teamed up with Ed Sheeran to produce Make It Right, an R&B-inspired hit.
The song feels like a throwback to the early 2000s in many ways and adopts musical styles from both Sheeran and K-pop. It shouldn’t be surprising that that kind of star power helped make it hugely popular, and they notably performed it live during the 2019 New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square.
24. The Truth Untold
Another famous collaboration was 2018’s The Truth Untold with Steve Aoki. The melancholy ballad shows the band coming together in exquisite harmonies to tell the story of a secret love that is never confessed.
Fascinatingly, it makes several references to the legend of the smeraldo flower, an Italian tale about a man who grows a special flower for the woman he loves from afar. It’s quite a niche reference, but BTS has repopularized it—and retells it in modern language that is, quite simply, perfectly heartbreaking.
25. Silver Spoon
Silver Spoon has some linguistic and cultural concepts that might not be as evident to Western audiences, but the overarching message—a generational act of defiance to the “old way” of doing things—is universally understood. Also known as Baepsae, this is a Korean word stemming from an idiom about knowing your place.
In the song, BTS smartly upends this notion with a rap-heavy, in-your-face track of youthful rebellion. The members know they came from nothing, but they’re not about to stay in their lane just because society expects them to.
26. Pied Piper
BTS is known for writing songs to and about their fans, but none has ever been quite like Pied Piper. The cheeky track gives a nod to the classic fairy tale The Pied Piper Of Hamelin and serves as a playful dig at fans who take their BTS obsession just a little too far.
The song plays heavily into all the pop star tropes, with lyrics about the band as an addiction and a repeating melody line that almost hypnotizes. It’s all to make the point that, while they love their fans, they also want them to get a grip.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.