“Reflection” off BTS’ 2016 album Wings presents a raw batch of revelations culled from a scene of temporary escape. Originally titled “In Ttukseom,” the track chronicles BTS leader Kim Namjoon’s nights on a small island in the middle of Seoul’s Han River, a clandestine getaway where he could momentarily slip the hustle and bustle of life as an idol. Like many of the solo tracks on Wings, there’s a sinister air to the song’s production; where the Park Jimin solo track “Lie” hinged on the drama of orchestral flourishes and chopped-up samples, “Reflection” is more sparse in approach, centering on a droning atmospheric synth line and a drowned-out drum kit.
When I hate myself, I come to Ttukseom
Namjoon presents the ability to assume anonymity and watch people on the river as a precious luxury, especially following the international success of the Most Beautiful Moment In Life series. His first Ttukseom impressions read like romanticized vignettes of normal happy people, each with their own aspirations, all laughing and drinking with close friends:
I know every life’s a movie
We got different stars and stories…
I think this movie is really fun
Every day I want to shoot it well
But as he sits there, alone for perhaps the first time in a long time, Namjoon’s life crawls to a standstill. He’s faded back into status as another human being, and in the silence of his loneliness, he has to confront something even more difficult than life under a microscope: his own fears and anxieties.
I’m the only one walking aimlessly
But it’s more comfortable to be here, mixed with others
The Ttukseom that has swallowed up the night
Offers me a completely different world
I want to be free
I want to be free from the freedom
Facing down a list of agonizing contradictions, Namjoon learns the type of lesson that only experience can teach: you can’t run away from your problems when the problem is yourself. Sitting there on some Ttukseom bench, watching happy couples pass him by, Namjoon ends “Reflection” with a single mantra, repeated eight times:
I wish I could love myself
As the final product of his self reflection, it doesn’t even come close to offering a resolution and almost feels grotesque in its pessimistic finality. The song’s companion film concludes with an image that’s just as hopeless: Namjoon stands stranded on an island in the darkness, face hidden in shame, shut out from his only means of communication, stuck with a constant reminder of his own mistakes.
The only respite BTS offers to cut through the darkness of Wings is the idea that suffering, too, can subside. Looking back on it in retrospect, “Reflection” isn’t a fixed solution, but a starting point.
One of the most remarkable moments of BTS’ 2016 Wings tour came during Namjoon’s solo performance of “Reflection” in São Paulo, Brazil: as he carried the crowd through his “I wish I could love myself” chant, they answered with “We love you,” an unprecedented show of joint support that pushed Namjoon to the verge of tears.
The interaction must have gotten through to him. In a subsequent São Paulo performance, Namjoon switched up the chant to say “Yes I do love myself,” and later, “Yes we do love ourselves.”
This is Wings-era BTS in its purest form: the band gives fans a glimpse at its deepest fears and anxieties, and ARMYs lend support en masse. Over the course of their last few releases in particular, BTS have mastered the art of creating music that feels two-sided. The act of listening is a gesture of benevolence; you’re not a consumer, you’re a stitch in someone’s safety net. In turn, BTS reminds you that you’re not alone in your suffering—they’re wrestling with the same issues, even if it looks a little different from their perspective. It’s collective-as-therapy; a never-ending feedback loop of inspiration, art, and support that make the desolation easier to digest.
Earlier this week, Namjoon gave a six-minute speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Before an audience of global leaders and promising young minds, he called back to his hopeless recollections of the Ttukseom night sky, but re-framed his fears and mistakes as “the brightest stars in the constellation of my life.”
There is no catharsis in reflection, only acknowledgement. BTS knows this, and one of the group’s wisest artistic choices is that they don’t attempt to challenge the immovable weight of sorrow because sometimes, when you’re going through hell, there’s simply nothing you can do but be there for others and hope they’re there for you. Then maybe one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to look back on it, say a few words in remembrance, and trudge on.
I have many faults, and I have many more fears, but I’m gonna embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself gradually, just little by little.