When he first started listening to BTS music during the Covid-19 pandemic, Henry Cheng never expected to end up writing a 15-minute classical music sequel based on it.
But the songwriter-bandleader fell in love with the K-pop boy band while trying to figure out why so many people love their music. The result is Suite for Army, which infuses classic hits with BTS hits and B-sides.
The artwork was first shown in an exhibition called “Beyond the Scene” at the Total Museum in Seoul, South Korea on July 13. The exhibition was linked to another event, “BTS: The Third World Interdisciplinary Conference,” a gathering of BTS fans and experts. , also held that month.
Cheng, who is the artistic director of the Klangkraft Orchestra in Duisburg, Germany, started thinking about the musical impact of BTS after his wife, art curator Joanne Kim, got involved in the 2020 art project. Connect, BTS, stimulating Cheng’s interest in their musical messages and philosophy. .
When orchestral performances came to a halt due to the coronavirus, Cheng began to analyze BTS’s work and its impact from the perspective of his classical training.
“I just didn’t really get it,” Cheng said. “BTS is a boy band, a K-pop boy band, so all the stereotypes in my classical music mind kicked in. I said, ‘Well, what does that mean? What does it mean for a group of boys to have a philosophy?’
“And so throughout Covid, I ended up analyzing each of their pieces like you would a Beethoven symphony, which was kind of fun. And it became a bit of an obsession.”
From their debut single No More Dream in 2013, Cheng quickly realized that BTS was doing something totally different from the stereotypes they had.
“I came as a complete skeptic but said, ‘Well, if I want to know more about BTS, I should start with the very first song. No More Dream was quite fascinating because, and maybe the English translation lacked nuance, but if I remember correctly, it said, “Well, you don’t have to have a dream.
“And that’s very strange to me. Because, of course, my generation is like, ‘No, you have to have a dream, and our job is to go and fight for that dream.’ But then the lyrics say you don’t have to have a dream to be happy. And I thought it was really like there was a release or a release from the pressure. And I I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really beautiful.'”
As he continued to analyze BTS’s work, it became more apparent how BTS managed to become one of the most popular groups on the planet.
“No matter how much you like their music, or whatever prejudices or preconceived ideas one may have, they have clearly reached a generation.”
Cheng says that while classical music is constantly struggling with its place in the modern era, his analysis of BTS’s work has given him hope. He realized that BTS drew on many classical legacies, whether incorporating classical music into their songs or relying on its storytelling and thematic elements, and that their fandom, called Army, reacted positively to it.
“Classical music, where it sits in society, is always the question of how it will survive. Beethoven [wrote] letters about it,” he says. “But I noticed so many parallels, thematically, musically. They “quote” Chopin and Debussy.
“[Meanwhile] philosophy books sell [as the group has incorporated ideas and themes from famous philosophers in their music]. It’s not such a bad thing if you allow millions to read [Carl] Jung and [Hermann] Hesse, right?
Cheng’s website describes Suite for Army as 15 minutes of “intertwined movement [that] chronicle the philosophical and personal developments of BTS & Army.” The piece is inspired by the music of BTS as well as that of Chopin, Bach, Wagner and more.
Cheng admits that by creating the artwork, he also hopes to inspire BTS fans to think more about classical music.
“Since the days of Beethoven, it was like, ‘Oh, the culture is decaying all around us. How is classical music going to survive?’ And here’s BTS spreading the legacy. So the sequel was inspired by BTS, but it’s for the military, maybe for people to say, “Hey, maybe classical music is kinda cool, maybe it’s relevant.”
Cheng says he has plans for other BTS-related works that focus solely on Beethoven, with one piece, Beethoven.BTS Opus 1, currently in the works.
This article was first published in the South China Morning Post.