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Welcome to BTS’ Universe

Join us for a deep-dive into the BTS Bantan Universe.

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Have you ever listened to an album and totally immersed yourself in it? Constructed stories to fit the songs and their cryptic meanings; invented a whole new world for yourself? In the case of BTS, they’ve done it for you. And it’s called Bangtan Universe.

Bangtan Universe (BU) is a fictional world created by BTS’ label Big Hit Entertainment that blends into their musical work, and is revealed through music videos and short films, books, a mobile game and a webtoon. It’s a rich, multimedia realm where fans can decode and theorise, with Easter eggs sprinkled throughout BTS’ content over the years.

Fans have fallen into BU via many paths. Some would’ve become intrigued from the first signs of it in 2015’s “I Need U” music video which introduced the story of seven young men and their friendship. Others may have been lured in later by the highlight reels: a series of short films released for BTS’ Love Yourself era in 2017. Then there’s the books, mobile game, webtoon, and forthcoming drama series. These multiple entry points make BU easy to access no matter when you became a fan.

BU’s narrative is told out of chronological order, which makes it all the more intriguing. The basic storyline is this: seven boys become besties in high school, despite their family backgrounds and individual traumas. But conflict arises, and they become young adults living separate lives, longing to rekindle their friendship. 

This isn’t light fare: in V’s storyline we witness violence and domestic abuse; J-Hope is traumatised from childhood abandonment; Jimin is stuck in hospital; RM is simply getting by, and there are suggestions of arson and self-harm in Suga’s and JK’s storylines respectively. At the centre of it is Jin, who’s been gifted time-travelling abilities from an unknown force, and is destined to relive days trying to save his friends from death and suffering.

We won’t give everything away, but here’s some paths you can go down to discover BU for yourself.

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01. Music Videos & Highlight Reels

BU began with BTS’ “I Need U” music video, and more of the narrative was revealed in the subsequent “HYYH On Stage: Prologue” and “Run” videos. There’s a definitive nostalgia for lost adolescence in these videos, where the characters party together and run on beaches before darker times descend, as they begin to fight between themselves and with authority figures. Symbolism abounds with the sea, dark city streets and abandoned train tracks reappearing over the years.

2016 album Wings broadened BTS’ musical horizons as they showcased their individual styles through solos. Those songs’ music videos became vehicles for BU. For example in JK’s “Begin” he dreams of a piano on fire and hears a car crash, and it connects with Suga’s “First Love”, in which he sees a car crash and goes home to find his piano on fire. There’s even a clue of the Love Yourself era in RM’s solo “Reflection” with broken mirrors and the repeated mantra of “I wish I could love myself”.

The Japanese music video for title track “Blood Sweat & Tears” harkens back to “Run” as we see JK reject help from Suga, and Jin and V in a bloody fight. The song’s theme of a boy tempted by evil plays out both lyrically and in BU.

By 2017, we had a clearer sense of the overarching narrative thanks to those videos, so when the Love Yourself Highlight Reels were shared, it was like sliding puzzle pieces into place.

We’d left the boys in adolescence, full of youthful freedom and uncertainty, yet when the reels catch up with them they’re mostly divided, struggling with the aftermath of events hinted at in the past. JK is in hospital after an accident, as are Jimin and J-Hope, though we also see them recalling dancing in a studio with a girl. In fact, all the members are paired with girls: RM helps one pick up dropped flyers, while Suga’s companion steals his lighter before he can light a cigarette. At the end of it all, Jin is seen holding flowers while witnessing a car accident. Are these women the Jungian representations of the boys’ own unconscious psyches? This has been left for fans to mull on.

Symbolic cues continue into the “Fake Love” era, with the MV’s teaser showing members approaching a mysterious booth to exchange items which eagle-eyed fans could easily spot as coming from previous stories. In the music video itself, Jin tries to protect a flower while everything crashes around him, Suga watches flames burn without blinking, and the eventual reveal is of the members donning masks and capes.

Most tellingly, Jin’s solo song “Epiphany” has him replaying the same day, further connecting his BU storyline with his ability to time travel.

That time traveller storyline is reignited in 2021’s “Film Out”. Although the MV isn’t officially BU-related, the one-room setting draws cinematic parallels to “Epiphany”, and elsewhere Jin is caught mid-explosion in a replay of his role in “Fake Love”. In a scene where Jin walks into a galaxy of floating doors, we’re left to wonder if these symbolise the alternate timelines he’s explored in his search to reunite the members.

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02. The Notes

If all those videos pique your interest, The Notes is the best place to go; a series of chapbooks included in the Love Yourself and Map Of The Soul physical albums that have since been published as books with new content added.

The Notes again tell the story out of chronological order, and further add context to what we see in the music videos and highlight reels. While the ones included in the albums are in Korean, the books are available in multiple languages for avid BU fans.

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03. Smeraldo Flower Shop and Books

Back in 2017, a mysterious blog popped up on Korean portal Naver, written by a florist who owned the imaginary Smeraldo flower shop. Smeraldo is a fictional flower that’s referred to throughout BU, we can assume it’s the flowers Jin is holding in his highlight reel too. 

The blog posts never mention the members, but instead provide background info for what we gather from The Notes and videos. The shop also has the uncanny habit of tweeting when BTS is about to drop a comeback.

In 2019, a Twitter account named Smeraldo Books began sharing news of the webtoon and the first Notes book, confirming all suspicions that this place exists within BU only.

04. Webtoon

In 2019, Big Hit collaborated with Korean animation studio LICO to create SAVE ME, a webtoon set in BU that pieces together snippets from The Notes and music videos, giving the narrative a clearer sequential form. 

In the 15-chapter series, the seven boys are best friends whose intertwined fates bring them both good times and tragedy. Having parted ways since high school and lost their way in life, Jin is given the power to time-travel to bring them together when they need it most. The question becomes whether he can succeed in saving them. The same day plays out in different ways, changing each time based on Jin’s actions. 

SAVE ME solidified the fandom assumption that Jungian theories of synchronicity form the crux of the storytelling. That is, that events can be coincidentally linked by meaning rather than by a direct cause and effect.

While the webtoon makes references to prior BU events, it can be read as a standalone piece, and is an excellent starting point to BU.

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05. But wait, there’s more…

If it’s not enough to read, listen and watch all this BU content, you can play in it too. NetMarble launched the BTS Universe Story mobile game, a storytelling game featuring the BU characters. There’s also a drama series in production focusing on the seven boys from the start of their story, that’ll star seven unknown actors.

In a direct way to engage their fans, BTS have truly created a world like no other, both in their music, and in their very own universe. Bangtan Universe may seem overwhelming at first, but like a good book, you won’t be able to stop following the story once you dive in.

Sevana Ohandjanian is a writer who wants to talk to you about K-pop. Find her tweeting into the abyss @IchbinSev