“Lights” is the newest music video from the phenomenally popular South Korean K-pop group, BTS. Its main theme is the question “What is love?” to which there is a response: “your Light lights the way for me . . . no matter how far apart we are.” If you haven’t heard of BTS you are probably over 25. Please scroll to the bottom for more background on who they are.
L-R: V/Kim Tae-hyung, Suga/Min Joon-gi, Jin/Kim Seok-jin, RM/Kim Nam-joon, JHope/Jung Ho-seok. Bottom: JK/Jungkook/Jeon Jeong-Guk, Jimin/Park Ji-min.
In addition to expressing their extraordinary talents, highly developed skills, and social consciousness, their works are filled with heart-felt messages mixed with complex symbolism that I appreciate based on my over 50 years as a Jungian-based tarot reader and symbol interpreter.
As others have noted there are so many levels of meaning to the song and video “Lights.” If you can’t see the English subtitles in the video, be sure to turn on CC (closed caption). Please watch.
Whether consciously intended or not, the movie theatre depicts Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Only instead of viewing reflections on the wall we have the modern analogy of viewing a film being projected. This leads to the question: What is Reality? Plato said we are limited to perceiving existence through our senses, which can easily be misled.
The Allegory of the Cave
In Plato’s allegory, prisoners are chained in a cave so they only see images projected on a wall formed by statues moved in front of a fire, and they hear only echos from sounds made by those moving the statues. They think these illusions are reality. One of the prisoners escapes and, coming out of the cave, first perceives reality as shadows, then as reflections in a pool, then stars and moon, and finally the sun. This is the role of the philosopher who must subsequently return to the cave to free the other prisoners. Unfortunately, as his eyes are now accustomed to the sun, the philosopher can’t see in the dim light of the cave, so the other prisoners think his explanation of the true reality is crazy and kill him. This video presents a more hopeful view of humanity connected through sound and light internalized.
In the movie video, the youngest BTS member, JK/Jungkook goes to the theatre where he finds himself alone. Others arrive in the lobby but on the way to the screening room seem caught in a time freeze. Jin (the oldest member of BTS) is the only one who can walk through this frozen timescape. He seems, like Plato, aware of some overriding reality and may be a stand-in for the Philosopher-King, Bang Si-hyuk, head of their management company. V looks for a way into the theatre which he finds only when Jimin shows the way through a wall which opens into a ray of light. In the theatre, JK turns and looks into the light of the projector. He leaves the theatre but outside he is immediately frozen in place—unable, perhaps, to grasp the exterior light of reality. V joins him and is likewise frozen. Cut to JK asleep in the theatre with the other members where Jin wakes him. Outside again, Jimin “walk[s] forward without fear,” knocking both V and JK awake. The boys in the theatre watch this scene on the screen. Later we see all but one of the boys lying in a circle in a parking lot. Only one of the members, Suga/Min Yoongi, is “sleepless,” separate from the others where he realizes that the lights and connections are not lies, “They made me stronger.” As his eyes adjust to a greater reality he sees past the shadows, to the stars. (Are these Plato’s steps to the sun’s “reality”consciousness or are they the ‘light bombs’ waved by fans in concerts?) All the members return to the theatre to watch the film that now shows them running outside in the parking lot lit by street lamps (a new light in the darkness). It seems that even when they close their eyes they can see the light that is the true light connecting them. Jungkook, who initially entered the theatre alone, could represent the ‘personal us’ who must be “woke” to the reality not only of Plato’s starlight and eventually the sun, but, heartened by RM, to the sustaining connection with others.
Other Levels of Meaning
1. What ARMY means to BTS. On its surface this is an uplifting love song by BTS to their millions of fans, known by the initials A.R.M.Y., in deep appreciation for their love and making it all happen. BTS acknowledges, with every award and in their social media commentaries, that their achievements are due primarily to ARMY. “No matter how far apart we are, your light shines on me. . . . We are connected.” Even when the members of BTS are ill or tired, they can continue to grow and perform for the sake of ARMY.
2. What BTS means to their fans, ARMY. Many of the song’s lyrics seem taken directly from comments by fans, quoted by BTS members as what has touched them most: “I feel sick [of it/reality], helpless right now. . . [Then] I hear your voice.” “When I close my eyes, in the darkness your light lights the way for me.” In the song, JHope seems to speak the words of those deeply affected by BTS: “I want to face my loneliness and color my reality, losing and gaining, pursuing something every day.” Fans are heartened by BTS’s reaction to bullying, mistakes, stress, social inequality: “I believe things will change. No one is perfect. . . . Even this moment has its own meaning . . . we are connected by sound.” One of the founding principles of the group was that the youth of today need “a hero who can lend them a shoulder to lean on.”
3. What each of the boys mean to each other. As the person singing changes (watch the lyrics video to see who is singing what), I hear the words as a conversation in which they voice projected concerns about their future (eventual disbanding as they face required military service) as well as reassurances that they will always be connected to each other no matter how far apart. Will this phase of their life seem like a dream later on? How do their BTS personas fit in relation to both an earlier and later life of each of them? Their leader, RM walks toward the inside light, “I can see there’s light inside that will overcome even the future. . . . Everyday take a step to grow up.” He seems to show the way through future crises (spilled popcorn and movie ticket confetti).
With these three items we see BTS, ARMY and the members of BTS all connected by sound (matter) transmuted to a psycho-spiritual light for them to follow through the darkness (the unknown, sadness, depression, etc.). These themes apply equally to each of us: what keeps us moving ahead despite social constrictions, mistakes and troubled emotions? What do we gain from our inner journeys and reflections?
4. What the Maknae (youngest members) mean to each other: L-R: Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, Jeon Jungkook.
In the music video they are presented as a triad with Jimin as a catalytic particle, opening hidden doorways and waking Jungkook back into time/space. In countless fan videos the “skinship” (hugging, touching, etc.) of these three is minutely documented looking for evidence of their real relationship(s). By featuring the puppy-dog playfulness of these three the movie video producers are making the most of these fan-tasies. Jimin may represent compassion as the way past limitations that block or freeze us. But, is this just their public personas—simple fan service or a manufactured entertainment drama—confusing and fulfilling the dreams of fans? The fan service among the three is explicitly apparent in this concert video in Japan, deliberately enticing the crowd to go wild.
In ultra-conservative South Korea it seems unlikely that any LGBTQ pairings in mainstream idol-dom will be able to declare their love, even though BTS is outspoken in its support of the LGBTQ community. Is BTS speaking to this when they say: “Let us walk forward without fear, you and I”?
5. What Carl Jung’s concept of the unconscious—symbolized by the watery film projection at the beginning—says about how we individuate: to live life awake versus asleep. Here we see them exploring the unconscious/dream world or “liminal” [threshold] state via the projections of others onto their public masks/personas. How do we move past the money ATM machine and the theatre of idol-dom to cross a greater threshold to spreading the light of knowing and loving our true Self and being truly open to loving others? Remembering, “It’s okay sometimes to show weakness. It’s okay to be you.” In their last album, Map of the Soul: Persona they began a depiction of the path of individuation and we are invited to share their journey via social media in a way never experienced before. It is believed that there will be more albums based on Jung’s ideas in the future.
6. What the Time/Space continuum of quantum physics and/or multiple/parallel universes of String Theory means to us as individuals. This is depicted by time stopping for some of the group while others move outside of frozen time. They also seem to be jumping back and forth in time (time may be an illusion anyway). We all live in parallel, entangled universes. Just so are sound, song, and music a world-wide entanglement force from whence we may be “woke” to the Light. We are wave AND particle, sound and light, matter and spirit, individual and connected.
These last two items form a modern psychomyth based on Plato’s tale – a cinematic drama for our time. We also see an evolution in BTS since 2013 with their focus on the stresses of youth and the all-too-real generational barriers, then moving on to a broader themes of mental health and “Love Yourself,” and then to the “Mikrokosmos” of Map of the Soul, and now are standing at a threshold where we are all part of a connected universe—lights in an infinite web. “Mikrokosmos” is one of the most uplifting songs you can possibly imagine, featuring an early hymn to the same Lights and sung at the closing of all their concerts this year (watch it also on fancam from the Los Angeles Rose Bowl, see especially 8:35 where the crowd goes wild as Jungkook comforts a crying Jimin). Here are the lyrics and who sings them:
Much of the symbolism appears in earlier videos and enlarges on those themes (search youtube and twitter for more), but here are a few things to note:
- The story connects with the AU (alternate reality storyline(s) found in the many other music videos they’ve produced) – not covered here.
- The theatre is the same as the one in “Boy With Love” – but they are now inside (psychological interior). Direct image references to Wings and Love Yourself albums (among others).
- Outside the theatre: Stars = ARMY light bombs = guidance systems. Lines on ground in parking lot = directions in space/time.
- Projector = projections. Being underwater = in the unconscious.
- Sound & Light –
- Video and performance require both. “To create sound waves, light must interact with a medium. This medium must be large enough to propagate the waves over any great distance.” George Talon on Quora.
- “The relationship between sound and light is like sea and earth. Sound is the various waves of sine wave signals, and it arrives to human ears like the wave of ocean hit the shore. Light is also a form of wave that is visible on human eyes, and brings life on every creatures on the earth.” Syd Crimston on Quora.
- “Sound and light are similar in that both are forms of energy that travel in waves. They both have properties of wavelength, freqency and amplitude. Here are some differences:
- Sound can only travel through a medium (substance) while light can travel through empty space.
- Sound is a form of mechanical energy caused by vibrations of matter. Light is electromagnetic energy caused by interacting electric and magnetic fields.
- A light wave is a transverse wave, meaning that its displacement is perpendicular to its direction of travel. (Picture a sine wave or an ocean wave.) A sound wave is a longitudinal wave, meaning that its displacement is the direction it travels. It’s also called a compression wave. Picture a Slinky toy (spring) being stretched and compressed longitudinally.
- Light travels much faster than sound. It travels at a speed of about 300 million meters per second, while sound travels at about 340 meters per second depending on altitude and air temperature.”
Something special happened when Bang Si-hyuk handed the keys to their own future to the six youths who formed a group around the genius 16 year old rapper, RM/Kim Namjoon. Bang looked for talented boys who were self-motivated and gave them an unheard of amount of independence and creative input, plus a lot of his criticism. Their singing, rapping and dancing as well as staging are all outstanding. Winning awards around the world, while singing in Korean, their songs are upbeat, inspiring and socially conscious.
I first became interested as they based their last album, Maps of the Soul: Persona, on the concepts of Carl Jung and an earlier album referencing Herman Hesse’s Demian. The use of symbolism and social commentary in their videos is matched by their deep compassion and love for self, each other and fans (known as ARMY). Currently ranging in age from 21-26, these seven young men have lived together 24-7 for seven or more years. They write most of their own lyrics, produce solo material, and share their lives through social media to an extent never seen before. They’ve spoken before the U.N. and were featured on the cover of Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” (with twice the number of votes as any other person). They just completed a world tour of the U.S., London, Paris, Sao Paulo, and Japan, performing to 15 sold-out audiences in the world’s largest stadiums. You might have seen them perform on scores of TV shows this year in the US. If you want to know more, I recommend the “CBS report on BTS’s phenomenal rise to fame “, and Vox’s “The key to BTS’s success: emotional resonance, sincerity, and an ARMY of fans”.
P.S. My dream is to someday do a Jungian Tarot reading with Kim Namjoon.
Added: Besides Bangtan Boy Scouts, BTS also stands for Beyond the Scene. Here’s the ‘behind the scene’ video for Lights through which you can get a little sense of their individual personalities.