With only three new songs on a record, BTS can still make the earth move. Since most pop stars need to pack out arena shows to make their presence felt, the pandemic has been an understandably unpredictable time for plenty of the world’s most famous musicians. But several of the biggest stars opted to go right back to releasing music without a hitch, like Taylor Swift’s double whammy, folklore and evermore in 2020, or Billie Eilish swiftly following up her breakout debut just two years later, in 2021, with Happier Than Ever. Taking their cue from these artists, who seemed to intuit that even without tours, fans wanted more new music, less than a year after their last release, BTS dropped a massive anthology for fans to dig into.
It’s worth noting that the band also performed a series of one-off shows in massive American markets like LA and Las Vegas to keep their live show top of mind, even if a full-blown global tour hasn’t made sense for them yet. Clearly, the world’s biggest boy band aren’t going to let a minor catastrophe like a pandemic stop their momentum, and a sort of exponential energy of late that just keeps building. Proof is the latest entry into their quickly growing discography, and with a collection of almost fifty tracks, the album is making a case for the band’s progress.
Even if “Butter,” released in 2021, or “Dynamite,” from the summer of 2020, was what really put the band on the map for some American listeners, BTS has actually been together for quite some time. And for those who study the inevitable trajectory of incredibly successful group acts, that longevity is a testament to their patience. Forming over a decade ago, back in 2010, they released their debut EP, 2 Cool 4 Skool, in 2013 — and put out a whopping eight albums before 2020’s Be, which was anchored by the mainstream hit, “Dynamite,” their first all English language single. The group’s early work is mostly split between Korean and Japanese language albums, but more recent releases have prioritized English in their songs, and their success in America has strongly correlated with that move. On Proof, the song selection runs the gamut, with inclusion from all three phases, and a reminder that these guys aren’t just producing hits in the US — they’re superstars around the world.
Coming almost ten years after that first release, Proof is more song cycle than record, a sprawling declaration of the band’s global influence and practically a symposium on their range. Across 48 songs that are divided into two sections — with only the first two available on streaming, a third full of rare demos and unreleased material has been relegated to physical releases only — the seven-member collective is proud to remind the world of their vast back catalog. Each of the album’s three sections also includes a new song, giving listeners something current to chew on even as they dig deeper into the BTS discography.
The first new song, and de facto lead single for the album, is a soft rock track called “Yet To Come,” one that falls in line with other slower, more introspective tracks from the group, like “Life Goes On.” The band also released a brand new video to accompany this track, elevating it a bit beyond the other two with additional visual treatment. The second new release, “Run BTS,” feels like a sly tribute to another three-letter rap group (Run DMC, natch), and doubles down on their hip-hop roots — even if their government isn’t necessarily thrilled about that connection.
Reportedly, this single and another track, “Born Singer,” were banned by Korea’s government-run TV channel. Proof marks the first official release for “Born Singer,” making it technically a new song, too, though it’s existed as a SoundCloud loosie for years now. The song is a modified version/remix/sample of J Cole’s “Born Sinner,” not only doubling down on the hip-hop influences the group has always embraced, but giving an old declaration of intent a proper release. Initially, the song dropped right after their debut EP, a ferocious declaration of where they knew they were headed.
The final new track, and the only part of Proof’s third act that’s available on streaming, is another schmaltzy tune, “For Youth,” and all of this emotionalism should’ve prepped listeners that big news was likely coming. Because one of the other things Proof so effectively does is showcase each member’s distinctive sound and talents, so the news that they’re focusing on some solo endeavors after this anthology is not all that surprising. They’re clear that this is not a break-up, and leaving fans with a big collection of material is definitely a way to connect with The Army until they’re back together again.
In this context, Proof also serves as a monument — a tribute to what the band once was, an end of an era and a start of a new chapter. In that sense, it becomes infinitely more valuable, and serves exactly the purpose it was designed for — proving their worth.
Proof is out now via Big Hit. Stream it here.