Some albums tickle your mind. Others expand your political conscience or soothe your heart. But some albums are entirely for your senses, those that awaken feelings and sensations buried deep within.
Jimin’s new solo album, FACE, is one of those. It is a brief, 20-minute journey into the singer’s confounding emotions during the pandemic and one that takes the listener into a mesmerizing, immersive sonic experience.
Jimin is one-seventh of the iconic South Korean band BTS. Since his debut with the band in 2013 at age 18, he has been known for his elegant contemporary dance-influenced moves and unique, delicate vocals. Here, in his first solo work, he proves his incredible gift with melody, something fans have previously remarked in his solo songs such as “Lie” and “Serendipity,” but also a newly revealed mastery of mood.
The album’s release comes in the context of a complex period for BTS and all its members: first, the personal and professional reckoning with the pandemic, which impacted artists and musicians in a particularly acute way by erasing their livelihoods overnight. Unable to perform and interact with their fans, many questioned their very reason for being. Second, the announcement last June of the temporary hiatus BTS would go on to focus on solo music, later confirmed to be prompted by the need of the members to fulfill their mandatory military service.
In multiple promotional interviews, Jimin has said he started working on FACE after realizing he was not doing well during the pandemic and its aftermath. Encouraged by his BTS members, he decided to pour all of these feelings into music, which resulted in the five songs that make up FACE. I remember the early days of the pandemic and how cultural critics often wondered about the art that would result from this collective horror and trauma. Jimin’s album is a moving example of an artist processing the angst and confusion he felt during that time into a remarkable work of music.
While each song on FACE stands perfectly on its own, they gain in meaning and resonance when played in order from beginning to end. The album moves through quite distinct but intertwined emotions: the anger in the opening song “Face-off,” becomes defiant liberation in the closing one, “Set Me Free Pt. 2.” The sensual search for abandon in the main single, “Like Crazy,” is followed by unforgiving self-awareness in the next, “Alone.” Filled with rich synths, electronic beats, vocal distortions, and even a choir and horns used in a quite unexpected way, FACE is a sophisticated 80s-inspired electronic pop album with devastating emotional depth.
Sonically cohesive, the album also feels like a concept album or the soundtrack of a short movie, with Jimin starting in a disturbing dark place and progressively moving through different emotions until the end, where he does seem to find a powerful sense of resolution.
The cinematic feeling may also be related to the fact that, as Jimin has explained, the title song “Like Crazy” was inspired by the movie of the same name (Like Crazy, 2011), which tells the story of a couple struggling to stay together as they face forced separation and doubts despite the profound love they have for each other. In the song, this is translated into a story of longing and confusion, and of a wish to hold on to a reality that seems to be slipping away.
“Like Crazy” starts with the wistful strumming of a guitar or mandolin and Jimin’s melancholic vocals. Soon, the acoustic sound gives way to a fully electronic, transfixing beat. “I rather be lost in the lights, I’m outta of my mind,“ he declares in the chorus, giving the first hint that he’s seeking a certain kind of oblivion in the night. Then, when he sings the amazing second or third hook of the song, “Give me a good ride, it’s gon’ be a good night,” drawing out each word slightly on top of the beat, he is fully evoking the delicious feeling of letting go but also, of the choice he is making of letting go—this is a controlled, conscious abandon.
A brilliant line in the English version of the song —the album contains a Korean and an English version—further illustrates this when Jimin sings “emotions on ice, let me have a taste,” which could mean both putting his emotions “on ice” (in pause, on hold) as he surrenders to a night of the senses or of choosing to drink to feel more pleasurable emotions than the ones he’s currently dealing with. The Korean version of the lyrics is no less beautiful: “너를 품은 달 (the moon with you in its arms), let me have a taste,” he says, a poetic declaration of love or desire.
The song then goes into a magnificent electronic break, and now, following Jimin fully into the night and the headiness of drinking and dancing in a crowded room, we feel transported into a delicious musical high that’s absolutely addictive. This is no over-interpretation, as that’s how Jimin has exactly talked about the song, describing it as having “a feeling of dreamy intoxication.”
The video of “Like Crazy,” released on March 24 at the same time as the album, illustrates all of this but adds a further layer of complexity in which Jimin seems to be confronting multiple dualities – masculine vs feminine, in-control vs trying to let go, virtue vs guilt, keeping up appearances vs showing real feelings. As he told Rolling Stone, with the video and choreography of “Like Crazy” he wanted to portray “the somewhat complex, somewhat lonely, somewhat happy emotions. [To try] to express all these ambiguous and subtle emotions in a slightly sexy way.”
Despite FACE’s clear pop appeal, there is also a clear artistic vision, with ambient sounds framing nearly all of the songs and which help enrich the narrative concept of the album: A circus-type song opens the album before “Face-off,” while at the end of the anthemic “Set Me Free Pt. 2” (where he triumphantly sings he’s “finally free” like a “butterfly”) we hear him audibly struggling to break free. Ambient sounds actually made the entirety of what for me is a highlight in an album of highlights, the song “Interlude: Dive,” the second track on FACE.
Starting with what seems like a rewinding effect, the song then settles on a deep, hypnotic low note contrasted with sparkle-like chimes indicating we are entering a dream-like state where sounds flood in like distant memories: a startling knocking on a door, Jimin’s shortened breathing, walking, pouring of a drink on a glass and drinking, and most moving of all, the audio from Jimin’s introduction to his audience (ARMY) during BTS’ last concert together before announcing their enlistment.
Jimin has said that with this song he wanted to find a bridge between “Face-off” and “Like Crazy,” and to give the feeling that he was “lost or wondering.” Both goals are beautifully achieved, in addition to creating what feels like a return to a vulnerable primal state, the place where all wounds and joys are imprinted and that we need to painfully revisit to fully “face” ourselves.
The album keeps building on this musical atmosphere song after song, doubling down on the lushness of the arrangements, and offering complex, unusual melodies that keep us on our toes as listeners–this is where Jimin truly shines, carving and curling and shaping his voice around the words and the unresolved notes and keys like water flowing around pieces of smooth and not so smooth glass.
For this album, Jimin worked with a group of close long-time producers and collaborators, including the brilliant BTS in-house producer P-DOGG and producer GHSLOOP, who also contributed as co-writers together with Jimin. Other co-writers include Evan, Supreme Boi, and Jimin’s bandmate RM in a couple of songs.
My way into music is usually through the music first (as opposed to the lyrics) and how it paints pictures and creates meaning with sounds. This is a wonderful album to get lost in the musical choices made, such as the way in “Face-off” the explicit anger of the lyrics is contrasted by the controlled elegance of the music through an elusive, syncopated beat. Or the way in “Alone,” the most starkly painful song on FACE (“The me who pretends to be okay every time, I find him pathetic,” Jimin sings in Korean), a gentle guitar seems to suddenly fracture into weaker strains of sounds as if the world is itself fragmenting inside his mind. Later, in the same song, as Jimin sings “it’s gonna be all right,” an eerie high-pitched chorus responds by saying “lie lie” repeatedly, as some mocking, horrifying inner voice.
“Set Me Free Pt.2,” which came out as a pre-release track on March 17 together with a stunning music video, closes the album (before the English version of “Like Crazy”) with bombastic zeal. Featuring an operatic chorus and an exhilarating horns arrangement, the song sounds almost like a horror movie battle cry as Jimin is simultaneously angry (“Shut up, f*** off, I’m on my way”), celebratory (“지나간 나를 위해 손을 들어-I raise my fist for the past me”) and liberated (“finally free”).
FACE is an emotional and, clearly, very personal album. Despite this, the main single “Like Crazy” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, demonstrating not only the power of ARMY in supporting the song but also how both the single and album succeed in capturing the musical mood of the moment: dark, melodically intriguing electro-pop that seduces the senses while inviting us to look deep within an artist’s darkest corners of his soul.
Jimin’s FACE is available everywhere music is sold. The CD version of the album also contains a hidden track called “Letter.”
All lyric translations are by Doolsetbangtan.com.