Did you catch the first two installments of my Music Video Anatomy series last month? I covered Epik High’s epic ode to hating the haters “Born Hater” and the H1GHR Music collab for the TELÉFONO Remix!
Title: No More Dream
There are a couple main settings for No More Dream. At points across the video they’re on a school bus. At others, they’re in an alley in front of it. At the start of the video, they get off the school bus into skatepark with a skatepark with a quaint neighborhood theme and then a skatepark with classroom… themes.
One thing I like noting within Music Video Anatomy is when a hip hop video doesn’t go with expected settings. With “No More Dream” you can tell that there’s a goal for there to be some clear hip hop connection but then, as you can see on the Behind the Screen site’s entry on the No More Dream music video, there are a lot of nods to what’s basically alt culture that isn’t related to hip hop in the US? Which is pretty cool.
Produced by Pdogg and with writing from him, “Hitman” Bang, the three members of BTS’ rapline, and Supreme Boi, this is a song that really embodies what “Hitman” Bang was initially going for with BTS from the name on down. This is a song that blends the sounds – literally via obvious notes in the beat and nudges at a theme of “swag” traditional hip hop from the US (notably Yoongi’s “I wanna big house, big cars & big rings” from the first verse and some AAVE/blaccent usage across the song) –
But it also largely aims its lyrics directly at the audience in Korea most likely to listen to hip hop: teenagers and young(er) adults. (That’s not a dig or anything, in Hanguk Hip Hop, author Myoung Sun Song quotes personal correspondence from the rapper Vasco where he says that, “Simply put, in Korea, hip hop is something you move away from when you graduate from middle and high school.” (p16))
The lyrics for “No More Dream” show the group pushing back against the idea that you have to know what you’re doing and where you’re headed. It’s pretty much primed for a younger audience that’s getting set up to choose between their “fanciful” dreams (like being an idol) and boring expectations. It’s giving them permission to rebel. However, it’s also still something that older adults can relate back to and find hope in.
Perhaps it’d be different if I’d been a BTS fan from debut or pre-debut, but I first saw this video at some point in 2018 and mmm… To this day I lose my shit laughing when RM gets off of the school bus with his little faux afro.
“No More Dream” is one of 3-4 of BTS’s videos where the “hood cosplay” that I’ve clocked and talked about with other artists is in full display. There is no question about what the assorted members of BTS are trying to represent with their jerseys, with thick gold chains, bandanas, and jauntily tilted snapbacks: they’re trying to be authentically hip hop right down to their visuals. RM’s little faux afro and the wannabe street gang fits aside, however, this isn’t even remotely the worst hip hop styling I’ve seen from any Korean artist.
In case you didn’t know – because you haven’t consumed their back catalog or because you’re not a BTS fan – BTS came out swinging as a hip hop oriented idol group along the lines of BIG BANG – a group that probably contributed heavily to the initial look and sound of a lot of the still active male idol groups.
This is because back when Seo Taiji & Boys came onto the scene in the early 90s, they set the stage for the future of the industry. It’s to the point where almost all of the groups out across the past twenty years have some semblance of a rapline – even though at least half of them really don’t need one/the one they have.
But not BTS –
Back in October 2019, Bang Si-Hyuk, Big Hit’s CEO, did an interesting interview in TIME magazine that provided some insight to BTS’ early work and where they’re going in the future. In response to the interviewer’s question about how he found and trained BTS, Bang said in part that:
One of our producers, Pdogg, brought RM’s demo tape to me and said, “This is what the young kids are into.” RM [who is now the group leader and a rapper] was 15 at the time. I signed him immediately. I had considered putting together a hip-hop crew, not an idol group. But when I considered the business context, I thought a K-pop idol model made more sense. Because many trainees wanted to pursue hip-hop and didn’t want to be in an idol band, they left. At that time RM, Suga, and J-Hope stayed back, and they remain BTS’s musical pillars. From there, through auditions, we discovered and added members that had more of an idol-like quality to the group.
Bang came up in the early K-pop scene of the Nineties as a composer who even wrote with Park Jin-Young (JYP Entertainment’s main man) and so his early experiences with and interest in music including hip hop colored what he was looking for in a group when he was putting together one that was solely his own. BigHit’s crew would’ve been training BTS about 2010 (as this year marks the tenth anniversary of Namjoon and Yoongi living together) and at that time you had a lot of hip hop oriented groups coming out.
In Gatekeepers and Idol Rappers, I mentioned that we had basically this straight shot of other hip hop and/or R&B focused idol groups that bookended BTS before and after their debut. After BIG BANG’s debut clearly sparked a series of trends in the Korean idol industry you had EXO, Block B, and B.A.P at the front and groups like Winner and GOT7 following them. Black music-based concepts were incredibly integral to hip hop between 2009-2015 or so and you saw it all the time in visuals for the entire group.
I wasn’t a member of the fandom back when BTS debuted and so my experience with the fandom is briefer. In re/over familiarizing myself with “No More Dream”, I saw a critical enough review from Seoul Beats from 2013 and that made me think of authenticity again. (Yes, I’m always thinking about authenticity in hip hop and pop. Leave me alone.)
In the review, writer Lindsay points out that:
Although there are people skateboarding and break dancing all around them, not once is one of the members of BTS actually participating; they seem too busy posturing and waving around their bling. This doesn’t automatically mean that the members of BTS do not possess these skills; the fact that they don’t reveal them in the MV shows that their rebellious, bad boy facades are that much more contrived.
Despite the over-done hip-hop rebel concept of the MV, the members actually pull off the overblown attitude.
I first truly learned about how important authenticity – appearing to have it and actually having it – were to BTS thanks to Hanguk Hip Hop’s chapter on idol rappers with Song referencing a September 2013 Arena magazine article by Hana Cho where Yoongi says that:
Our life is hip hop… We do not pretend. We are telling our own stories. Our confidence comes from that. I do not think that under- ground hip hop fans do not think well of us. However, I think it is up to us now to show and prove our authenticity. We can be loved because we are idols, but there are also times we are automatically depreciated because we are idols. We want to become the connecting link between the mainstream and the underground. (Translation from Song.)
(I’m still looking for a live link of the piece but here’s the link that Song uses in her bibliography: http://navercast.naver.com/magazine_contents.nhn?rid=1636&contents_)
Yoongi and Namjoon – and maybe Hobi to an extent, that I’m not actually sure of – were interested in hip hop prior to BTS to the point where they were performing and creating it. It was their thing. And Yoongi is explicit here that this is his thing – and while I go in and out of who can/how to claim hip hop while non-Black, everything I know about Yoongi makes me feel like he was right fucking there.
He’s passionate about hip hop because at that point in his life, it was his driving passion and he was gonna fucking do well at it. I know earlier this week I was like “yeah hip hop is fake” and I do stand by that because hip hop is incredibly performative, but I also… I think that Yoongi in 2013 was being authentic to hip hop as he knew it (and he’s a nerd who does his homework so…) and he was defending his right to be seen and respected as hip hop alongside BTS from “No More Dream” on and –
I really do respect that drive.
I want to return to Lindsay’s review to end this because earlier in her review she points out that, “The song and its lyrics send a mixed message that in consolation (or not), match up with the “thug life” theme of the MV.”
And it makes me think about how that is one of the things that works for me.
I like listening knowing the lyrics are kind of supportive standard set with a rebellious tilt to it, trying to support the “youngsters without dreams” in a world where they have an immense burden on them. And then they’re all dressed up like they just… stole a school bus and maybe might be on their way to knock over a convenience store for healthy snacks?
I love that for me.
Also, honestly: I do get a kick out of seeing Namjoon’s little faux-fro and the weird responses fandom has to it in the present where it’s either that they Don’t Talk About It (or post it) or they do post about it kind of belligerently like “what are you gonna do, roast him?”. And considering how I love to watch this video and laugh a bit at the hair? Hell yeah I’m gonna roast him – even if it’s currently just… internally because I’ve actually made all of my jokes before.