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Earworm: Paradise by BTS

photo of the seven members of the musical group BTS

The Song: Paradise (낙원)

Artist/Composer: BTS (방탄소년단)

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obH7iPDAn2Q

With Lyrics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g60P1VD2Lc

What I like about it: The concept of dreams is a running theme throughout BTS’s nearly 9-year repertoire, starting with their debut track “No More Dream.” In that song, right from the get go, BTS demands that their youthful peers think about their own dreams for the future, rather than blindly adopt the pre-packaged dream that society and culture dictates -- to work hard and get a “big house, big cars, and big rings.”  Maybe, the song suggests, it’s better to have no dream than one that isn’t really yours. The lyrics in “Paradise”, written 5 years after “No More Dream,'' double down on this message. Here, the suggestion is to try to be ok not knowing what to do, or where you’re headed, and learn to find paradise wherever you are. They spotlight the societally manufactured dream that once you run the “marathon” of your life, you’re promised a reward of paradise. But, as they go on, “the real world is different from the promise.”

photo taken overhead of many people running a marathon on a city road

The chorus, based on a quote from the wise Min Yoongi (Suga) lays the groundwork for what’s really important:

It’s okay to pause

There’s no need to run without knowing the reason

It’s okay not to have a dream

As long as there are moments to briefly feel happiness

It’s okay to pause

We now don’t run without knowing the purpose

It’s okay not to have a dream

Every breath you exhale is already in paradise

In other words, connect with yourself, follow your joy, practice patience and self-love, and you’ll find that you’re already in paradise. As someone who has struggled with imposter syndrome and the pressure to fill some widely accepted professional role in society, this song seems like a warm embrace, a reminder to breathe, and an invitation to reflect on and appreciate what brings me joy. Rather than work myself ragged in a meaningless or life-draining job in hopes of someday retiring and having the “paradise” of nothing else to do, I can (and believe I have) find happiness in what I do every day, to the point where paradise is not some far off destination, but my current address. I’m not running a marathon, hemmed in on either side by billboards and 24-hour news, hoping I make it to the finish line before I run out of breath. I’m meandering along a quiet, mossy, forest path, stopping as I like to count rings on a fallen tree or listen to birdsong, and grinning ear to ear. Curse you, Capitalism! Thank you, BTS.

photo of three people counting rings on a fallen tree

How I first heard it: It was probably sometime in early 2019 when my interest in BTS grew from just watching videos of them (being silly, being serious, tearin’ up the stage, etc.) to actually listening to their music. Once my curiosity grew to affection (devotion?), I often listened to multi-hour playlists on YouTube. At the time, this track was only about a year old, so it showed up frequently on those playlists.

Why it’s stuck in my head: Since most of their lyrics are in Korean, and since I don’t speak Korean (though I am in my 3rd year of Duolingo!) I first got hooked into simply the sound of each song, whether it made my head bop or if it put me in a certain groove or mood. "Paradise" builds from a soft, single voice (Jungkook’s angelic crooning of “Marathon, Marathon”), to essentially a battle cry sung by all or nearly all of the seven members (“Stop runnin’ for nothin’ my friend”), so it’s easy to assume something is changing or evolving in the “story” or “timeline” of the lyrics just by hearing the dynamic journey from start to finish. Listening to BTS as a non-Korean speaker, I tend to grab on to whatever lyrics I can so I can sing along. BTS tends to make this a little more convenient by writing a lot of songs with “la la las,” “na na nas,” “oh oh ohs,” and catchy phrases in English like “Stop runnin’ for nothin’ my friend.” So that was the first part of the song that got stuck in my head. These days, I know a bit more of the Korean lyrics, too, so there are even more earworm hooks to keep the song popping up in my head. 

image showing the logos for BTS and the fandom ARMY

Added thoughts: If it isn’t obvious by now, I’ll share that I’m ARMY. This is the name (an acronym for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth) for the BTS fandom. It symbolizes the protective nature of the fandom for its beloved group members, and is widely seen as one of the strongest, most generous, kindest, and perhaps most feared music group fandoms on the planet. Yes, all seven of these Korean men are handsome, but my interest in them has always been more closely tied to the content of their characters. They are intelligent, kind, hard working, compassionate, complex, generous, and highly skilled. Their sheer endurance is astonishing, and that they maintain sincere humility and radiate gratitude through it all is impressive and just downright attractive. 

Also, I have to give a shout out to the best source for BTS lyric translations: Doolset Lyrics. Thank you!