The musical genius of South Korean superstars BTS doesn’t come out of thin air. Their work—which is embraced by millions of fans around the world—is heavily influenced not just by their personal experiences, but also by amazing pieces of literature that are worth checking out just like the band’s most iconic releases.
Including a centuries-old folk tale, an award-winning novel, and a well-loved poem, here’s a list of eight great reads that inspired some of the most-played tracks and music videos on your Bangtan Boys playlist to awaken the literati in you:
Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami
BTS’s sentimental 2015 release Butterfly depicts one of the two plots of this novel, which follows a teenage boy who — after running away from home to escape a revolting prophecy—meets a simpleton of an old man. Together, they experience events that cross the realms of dreams and reality.
As though the song itself isn’t enough a reflection of Murakami’s celebrated work, leader (and resident bookworm) Namjoon, who also goes by the stage name RM, is heard directly referencing the book in his verse — “I don’t know if this is reality or a dream, my Kafka on the shore, don’t go to those woods over there.”
Demian by Hermann Hesse
In 2016, BTS went all-out Demian with their second full-studio album Wings. The coming-of-age novel by German author Hermann Hesse tells the story of a boy struggling between the world of illusion and truth. Prior to the release of the album, seven short films, which carried a variety of references from the book, were dropped as teasers. Later, the concepts were ultimately weaved into a visual extravaganza of a music video that is Blood, Sweat & Tears.
Jung’s Map Of The Soul: An Introduction by Dr. Murray Stein
A comprehensive yet easy-to-digest summary of the lifetime work of Carl Jung a.k.a. the father of analytical psychology, this book served as an inspiration for the band’s 2019 EP Map Of The Soul: Persona. The track Intro: Persona opens the album, with RM rapping a quest for answers about who (the hell) he is and the human psyche as a whole.
In 2020, Stein released a book titled Map of the Soul 7: Persona, Shadow & Ego in the World of BTS, which, in turn, gives a closer look into the band’s album by examining the tracks’ lyrics through the lens of Jungian psychology.
The Pied Piper Of Hamelin
Time and again, BTS would write songs dedicated to ARMY, like the unreleased I Know (written for the group’s anniversary party in 2015 and performed by RM and Jungkook) and, of course, the OG fan song 2!3!
Another favorite is Pied Piper, which—as you have guessed—is inspired by the German legend The Pied Piper Of Hamelin. However, instead of going the touching, heartfelt route with this song, BTS comically likens ARMY and their devotion to the band with the children of Hamelin, who were lured by the pied piper with his musical instrument after being left unpaid by the town he saved from a major rat infestation. Well, what’s there to say? BTS has cast a spell on the world, so the comparison is pretty valid.
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin
In the Spring Day MV, a neon green sign saying “Omelas” glows above the entrance of what appears to be an inn from the exterior. This is a reference to the utopian city Le Guin created for her philosophical fiction piece that tells of a summer festival in Omelas, where the people’s joy is dependent on the eternal misery of a child. According to fans’ theories, BTS’s maknae Jungkook, who appears somber for the most part of the music video, could be portraying the role of the doomed child.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Namjoon played his Murakami fanboy card once again in Sea, the hidden track he produced for their 2017 EP LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her.’ The song’s lyrics paint vignettes of the dystopian world in the novel, and even carries the line, “Wherever there’s hope, there’s a trial,” which is directly quoted from the book.
Into The Magic Shop by James R. Doty, MD
This memoir by neurosurgeon James R. Doty introduces the idea of a magic shop we have within that has the power to fundamentally change our lives by first changing our brains and our hearts. In BTS’s song, the group presents themselves as ARMY’s magic shop that fans can turn to for comfort and inspiration when they’ve hit their lowest point.
Flower by Kim Chun-soo
Beloved South Korean poet Kim Chun-soo (1922-2004) sure has left a legacy and it lives on in the work of new artists, BTS included. One of his most famous pieces Flower projects a metaphor for one’s meaningful existence. This is exhibited in Jimin’s intro for LOVE YOURSELF 承 ‘Her,’ in which he seemingly sings in the point of view of the person being referred to early on in the poem (“when you called me, I became your flower”), expressing his desire for the person he loves to acknowledge his existence, all the while fearing what destiny might bring.
Which of these BTS songs resonated the most with you? Share your answer with us in the comments!