“Blood, Sweat, and Tears” video, by BTS, hit the internet by storm recently, breaking numerous YouTube records such as the fastest K-pop music video by a group to reach 10 million views and the first K-pop video to reach 6.3 million views in only 2 hours of its release. People worldwide praise the video’s artistic aesthetic, incredible choreography, impeccable acting, but surprisingly, not the purpose. Even though many fans can sense the artistic presence to the video, the plot is fleeting at first glance. The MV, at first, seems to be just a compilation of interesting, somewhat dark visuals to pair with the near-confessional lyrics. However, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” resembles more of a short film, complete with character development and motifs that cry out the LGBQT struggle that many individuals face. The MV for “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” is a daring statement for LGBQT rights on the main premise that religion and societal constructs are not valid reasons to deny these human liberties.
A main force in this video is the allusion to a novel called “Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth” written by Hernan Hesse. The prominent theme of Hesse’s work is the protagonist’s conflict between living in a world of illusion and living in a world of truth. The world of illusion is synonymous with a world of superficial and materialistic value, while the world of truth is equal to a world of truth, of reality, and of self-realization. The main give away of the video’s allusion is when Rap Monster recites a quote from the novel in English: “he too was a tempter. He too was a link to the second. The evil world with which I no longer wanted to have anything to do”.
The video ties in symbols from Nietzsche, a well-renowned philosopher, who is known for his association with nihilism and will to power. To explain in a few words, nihilism is the rejection of all religious principles. In that sense, Nietzsche claimed that humans can achieve power through their own motivations, without religion as a barrier (as religion did not exist as truth in his ideology, thus unimportant). In this sense, the video’s display of Nietzsche’s words in German on the ancient wall above the looking glass (the mirror being somewhat of a reminder of the true self) emphasizes the conflict felt by the protagonist (society vs self): “Man muss noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können” translates into English as “one must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star”.
Nietzsche’s idea of nihilism is explored through the video’s study of angels – specifically, fallen, rebel angels. The painting that the protagonist (Jin) stares into innocently at the start of the video seems at first passing, but in further inspection, the audience can see that the artwork is actually Bruegel’s famous “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” – a piece that portrays a passage from the Book of Revelation: the good angels driving the fallen, rebel angels out of Heaven, which are depicted associating with monstrous demons and half-human and half-animal monsters, connecting sin with the animalistic side of humanity (specifically lust, in terms of this video). Throughout the video, this fight between good vs bad angel is explored.
Enter Jin. In the first scene, the group is seen playfully and innocently goofing off in an old art exhibit. Suga is seen hitting Jimin’s head while riding a bike. The rest are laxly discussing literature and pointing at the sculptures. Jin, however, breaks apart from the group to stare at a painting, Bruegel’s piece mentioned before. J-Hope, who serves the video’s good angel, is seen spying on Jin with golden binoculars.
Throughout the video, J-Hope sits on a throne that lays in the midst of a baptismal pool with an angel looking down upon it. The angel is holding a body that lacks form from the neck up, hinting at the uniformity that is held esteemed rather than individuality. J-Hope dwindles his fingers in the holy water and serves as a heavenly hunter, swiftly shooting an arrow across a bow. J-Hope, in one of the dances, puts his hand upon his eyes, serving to blind himself – as a man who blindly follows heaven’s orders in driving out these fallen ones, without seeing the “rebels’” reasons or internal fights. J-Hope has a lot of lead vocals and takes the lead in the choreography as well, emphasizing his prominent role.
The scene cuts to the group resting in a dark room on a chaise lounge, with Jimin in the middle. Suga slowly uses his hand to blind Jimin. The scene cuts to a dance break with Jimin in the center still, in clothing that is slightly more feminine, markedly the red ascot around his neck. This presentation of Jimin represents his role as a
queer man in the video. Suga represents the one who tries to break Jimin’s individuality as a queer man, coaxing him to society’s standards. Suga’s role will be further explained later.
The theme of green versus blue comes into play with the video’s theme of illusion. Suga sits on a chair in a blue room. The room is empty except for the decorations on the wall, a glass square on the floor, and green smoke centered above Suga. The scene cuts to Rap Monster downstairs in a messy room. A drop of green liquid enters a clear glass of water, and Rap Monster is seen lighting it on fire, signifying that the drink is actually alcohol. When Rap Monster lights his drink on fire, the image of a hawk, which is often representative of awareness in many cultures, is lit on fire. There is another scene where Jungkook sits on a swing inside a white room, sucking on a lollipop, in a position where he’s almost falling. Jungkook is an accomplice with Rap Monster as people living in the world of illusion – symbolizing the superficial delusion that society puts upon humanity. There is a scene where a white candle melts and drips a wax drop that is colored green, of which Jungkook places on his tongue. Jungkook’s tongue after that wax drop and the lollipop is blue, not green. It is later revealed that Jungkook and Rap Monster reside in the messy room together, lollygagging around with a green smoke emitting from the floor. This green smoke is the smoke that crawls up to the second floor, where the blue room and Suga is. This blue room is representative of the false simplicity that religion and society claims to offer when you follow what they want, but the messy room with the green smoke is representative of what society really offers: a life of no value and confusion. The blue room is higher than the messy room, indicating that the blue room is representative of heaven while the messy room of human Earth.
Suga is seen in the blue room presenting a blindfold to Jimin, who is carrying an apple. The apple that Jimin holds is representative of the forbidden fruit. Jimin, as a queer man, is sacrificing this “sin” of not being like society for what Suga is offering: a blindfold. Suga represents society offering the way out of his sin. The blindfold signifies this way out: a skimpy cover-up that LGBQT people must pu on to appease society, a pretend play that they must abide to their lives. Once Suga puts the blindfold on Jimin, a heavenly light is placed upon him, and he is seen stuggling to move as the blindfold keeps him restrained by the wall.V is seen in two settings. One where he is sitting on a balcony ledge (that is connected to the blue room), and another where he seems to be suffocating under a sheer, endless veil. V decides, with a smile, to take the jump off the balcony after Jimin trades his apple for a blindfold. However, when V jumps off of the balcony, the setting outside is not a real world, but a painting – playing on the premise that V lives in a world of illusion as well and wants to escape. This is the first hint that V represents a fallen angel. Once he decides to escape, J-Hope is seen splashing around in the baptismal pool out of anger, a reaction representing the good angel J-Hope’s disdain for rebel angels. After this, V is seen under the sheer veil once more; however, the veil seems to be lifting up slightly on the right hand corner. This marks the start of the illusion’s end.
After V takes the choice to fall from heaven, Jungkook is seen in the same place as he was on the swing, except he is floating. The swing is no longer present. Rap Monster is seen blowing a clear smoke out of his mouth, a contrast from the green smoke surrounding the room earlier. This signifies that through V’s fall, Jungkook and Rap Monster are starting to break free of these constraints.
Throughout the video, Jin is seen with multiple hands over his face, covering his sight. Gradually, these hands go away, allowing Jin to see. Once V falls from heaven, Jin is able to see completely. The scene cuts to Rap Monster’s excerpt of Hesse and Jin letting go of the balloon at the Last Supper table. The signification will be explained later.
Although the video starts with a playful innocent setting, this initial naivety is gradually broken with Jin’s realization of self. He looks at the painting a little too long for a fleeting glance, which marks the start of his journey towards self. The scene alluding to the last supper signifies a monumental moment for Jin. At the table, everyone is seated with Jin at the head; everyone has an apple on their plate. Even though Jin stands at the dining table as the lead (as Jesus was in the Last Supper), toasting with the holy grail, he stops to glance at the pink sky, recognizing that something is not right, not real. The sky above them is one of a watery substance of a rosy color (not a true sky), signifying Jin’s recognition of the world he resides in at the moment: the world of illusion, a world of superficiality (perhaps reputation). The apples on their plates signify that everyone has sin, not just the ones who defy society’s standards. Even J-Hope has an apple on his plate, despite his heavenly role. The true sin is within the self, and although the illusion of society and religion can hide that, the truth is that nobody is perfect and nobody can follow society’s deceptive guidelines. The transition from this naivety to self-realization is marked by Rap Monster’s recital of Hesse’s quote. Jin is seen as a black silhouette at the table with a red sky, letting go of a balloon, which represents his naivety. Once he chooses to let it go, he reaches to get it back, signifying his want for simplicity. However, in the end, he knows that a life of hiding behind society’s and religious ideals for simplicity’s sake will break him down.
After V’s and Jin’s embrace, J-Hope is found, rather than sitting on the baptismal pool’s throne, sitting on the ledge of the pool (not in the water) in a dazed defeat, with no throne to be found, rainbow geyser-like bursts of water around him, as well as the angel statue’s face shattering into pieces. The fall of the angel stark contrast: a mere man now with the breaking of his angel, which turned out to be merely a statue – tying in Nietzsche’s idea of religion’s falsehood. J-Hope is now free of the pool’s restraint, and thus, religion’s.
The statue of the man with black wings starts to cry rainbow tears. The statue also starts to crack on his shoulder, bleeding rainbow blood, signifying V’s and the LGBQT struggle and freedom. Jin looks around reflectively, as he knows what he’s done, but is having a hard time accepting himself. The scene cuts to Jimin in the blue room, taking off his blindfold to reveal rainbow tears staining his under eye area, depicting Jimin’s struggle as a queer man and his rejection of society’s and religion’s harmful standards.
After the victory, the video cuts to Jungkook resting on the bed in the messy room. He is smiling happily under a strand of rainbow tassles, wearing a shirt of the dharma wheel. The dharma wheel, or the dharmachakra, is a symbol in Buddhism representing not only the pathway of becoming enlightened, but also the action of successfully fighting all obstacles of illusion. In a nutshell, the dharmachakra signifies the ultimate ability of awareness. Jungkook and his friends have cut through these illusions of discrimination that religion and society has casted upon LGBQT individuals, and are now liberated to embrace themselves.