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Christiana B. Dimanalata

Prof. Victor Bautista

Eng 13 WFW4

5 November 2018

The Intertextuality in “Blood, Sweat & Tears” of BTS as a coming-of-age music video


On October 17, 2016, it was reported at a Korean local news channel that there was a

sudden increase in sales for Hermann Hesse’s novel, “Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair”,

which was originally published in 1919 (Hee). This increase in sales was then directly linked to

Korean boy group Bangtan Sonyeondan’s comeback with their second studio album entitled

“Wings”. Reportedly, the increase in sales was due to BTS’ use of excerpts and themes derived

from Hesse’s novel in their music video. BTS is currently recognized as the largest boy group in

the world due to their achievements and overwhelming popularity worldwide. BTS is also known

to have a large fanbase and, according to Fiske, being a fan involves excessive engagement with

texts related to their idols (146-147). Due to the group’s influence and the fanbase’s productivity,

Bangtan Sonyeondan’s incorporation of “Demian” in their comeback also impacted the

popularity of the novel itself.

In the release of their second studio album, BTS also uploaded a music video titled

“Blood, Sweat & Tears”, the title song for their comeback. This music video was released on

October 9, 2016 on a Youtube account named “ibighit”. This channel was created by the

entertainment company that currently manages BTS, Big Hit Entertainment. The music video is

6 minutes and 3 seconds long however the song itself is 3 minutes and 37 seconds long. Since its

release, it has garnered over 345 million views. “Blood, Sweat & Tears” was directed by

LUMPENS, a South Korean creative group that directed multiple BTS music videos and other

Korean pop music videos. According to a press conference statement made by Kim Namjoon,
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the leader of the group, the theme for “Blood, Sweat & Tears” is the youth as it faces temptation

and, eventually, gives in to temptation.

The coming-of-age genre is known to consist of works that depict the transition from

childhood to adulthood. This genre can mostly be seen in literary works classified as Young-

Adult literature or Bildungsroman. In Young-Adult literature, coming-of-age is depicted as an

initiation into the adult world narrated in the perspective of the protagonist, most likely, a

teenager (VanderStaay 48). Meanwhile, the term Bildungsroman, coined by Karl Morgenstern,

denotes a protagonist’s Bildung, which means formation. As a genre, the bildungsroman attempts to

grasp how adolescents adjust to an unendingly evolving environment and how their state of

being progresses along with time. However, the bildungsroman also concerns itself with the

adolescent as a representation of the world of its context and its growth as said representation.

The objective of the adolescents in a bildungsroman is to communicate the context of development

in the modern world to its audience (Bell 29-30). In film, coming-of-age is seen as a metaphor

for transformation and transition from adolescence to adulthood not only for individuals but

also for societies and nations that go through social and artistic development (Hardcastle et al. 5).

Moving forward, the coming-of-age genre presents itself usually in the form of literature

and film. However, the coming-of-age genre can also be seen in other modern formats which

include digital formats such as music videos. “Blood, Sweat & Tears” of BTS is a music video

that contains a narrative on a transition towards adulthood and maturity, making it a coming-of-

age music video, which makes it possible to view the genre in different forms apart from film

and literature.

This research paper focuses on “Blood, Sweat & Tears” as a coming-of-age music video

and shows the intertextuality and the elements present in the video that were derived from

various texts that depict an initiation towards adulthood in its three phases: separation, transition

and incorporation and as a product of Korean pop culture, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” is an
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evidence of how the distinction between what is considered as “high” and “low” culture is


Review of Related Literature

“Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair” by Hermann Hesse was originally published in

1919 and it narrates the story of Emil Sinclair as he struggles between the world of good and the

world of evil. This Bildungsroman focuses on the protagonist’s intellectual development as he

achieves maturity. In the novel, as Emil Sinclair progresses into an adult, he also gains a better, if

not complete, understanding of himself which is the objective of a traditional Bildungsroman (Bell

130). This novel served as a central influence to the aesthetic and narrative present in “Blood,

Sweat & Tears”.

“The Structure of the Appeal of Korean Wave Texts” by Sooyeon Lee presents a

content-analysis of the first (K-Dramas) and second (K-Pop music videos) Korean Waves in

order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of its popularity. She then analyzes the most

viewed K-Pop music videos of 2009 to 2011 based on a few common characteristics, namely, (1)

theme and subject, (2) mise-en-scene and narrative, (3) sexuality, (4) group dynamics, (5) music,

(6) performers, and, lastly, (7) imaginary pleasure. Her findings showed that the appeal of Korean

pop music videos lies in the imaginary pleasure that comes from the fabricated world presented

in K-pop music videos (463).

In Katherine Bell's “Troping the Timeless: Ontological Desires and the Representation

of Childhood in Coming-of-Age Narratives”, she considers the relationship of the

Bildungsroman’s structural features as a genre that continuously develops and changes over time

and how this translates to the writer’s conceptualization of child development. The research

provides an understanding of the structures of narratives in the Bildungsroman and how the genre

defines a reader’s definition of childhood and adolescence. She ends the research with the

conclusion that a reader’s conceptualization of childhood based on a bildungsroman is incomplete

since the child or the protagonist also hides part of his or her own narrative (185).
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“The Post-Television Music Video: A Methodological Proposal and Aesthetic Analysis”,

the researcher analyzed forty different music videos that were uploaded on Youtube from 2013-

2014 based on a defined criteria, (1) the relationship of the music with the visuals, (2) the

relationship of the lyrics with the visuals, (3) the average shot length which indicated the average

duration between cuts in a music video, (4) the number of shots and close-ups showing the

performers and, lastly, (5) the type of music video. The relationship of the music with the visuals

in a music video can either be a (1) kinetic correspondence, where the visuals follow the speed of

the musical tempo, (2) syntagmatic correspondence, where the visuals are segmented according

to the structure of the song, or a (3) content correspondence, where the visuals correspond to

the lyrics. The relationship between the lyrics and the visuals can either be (1) amplification,

where the visuals transcend from the meaning of the lyrics, (2) illustration, where the visuals

strictly follow the meaning of the lyrics, and (3) disjuncture, where the visuals completely

disconnected from the lyrics of the song. The types of videos are categorized as a narrative or a

descriptive music video and under descriptive it can be a performance or conceptual music video

(Valdellós et al. 336-337).

This research is distinct from the texts mentioned above due to the specification of the

study towards a single music video, specifically, “Blood, Sweat, & Tears” by BTS. The music

video to be studied is a product of Korean pop culture. While there are scholarly articles that

discuss Korean pop culture extensively, there is a lack of research in BTS as a Korean pop idol

group due to the fact that the group debuted in 2013 and only recently reached international

fame. To add, most scholarly research on Korean pop music videos aim to show the impact of

K-pop music videos and reasons as to why K-pop is the current trend. The analysis of the music

video in this study focuses on the narrative of a transition towards maturity including the

symbols and intertextual references present in the music video that complete the overall meaning

of “Blood, Sweat, & Tears”. The content-based analysis performed will then be used to show
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“Blood, Sweat, & Tears” as a coming-of-age music video and as an evidence of how the

distinction between “low” and “high” culture cannot be determined.

Conceptual Framework

In Arnold van Gennep’s “The Rites of Passage”, an initiation can be subdivided into

three phases, namely separation, transition, and incorporation (11). Separation pertains to the

isolation or the struggle of the protagonist, the person going through the initiation, which causes

a loss of identity. Transition occurs as the protagonist gradually builds and accepts a new and

improved identity. And lastly, incorporation occurs when the protagonist is then reintroduced

into society with his or her new identity (VanderStaay 49).

According to Graham Allen, all texts, literary and non-literary, lack any independent

meaning and intertextuality explains how each text always contains a dialogical relationship with

other separate texts (1). Andrew Goodwin stated in “Dancing in the Distraction Factory: Music

Television and Popular Culture” that the format of music videos include intertextual references

to other texts such as film and literature (90).


The video begins with Big Hit Entertainment’s signature opening sequence. This takes

up approximately 8 seconds of the music video. This is to signify Big Hit as the manufacturer of

the music video and as the entertainment company that currently manages BTS.

2 - The plot begins with the members entering a museum filled with various artworks.

Among these artworks, there are a few that are noteworthy in the development of the coming-

of-age story. The statue on the lower left of the museum is known as the “Venus de Milo”. This

Greek sculpture is widely renowned for its lack of arms and it was theorized that one of the

statue’s hands held an apple (“The Statue of Venus de Milo”). In the context of Greek

mythology, it was also theorized that the apple held by the statue is also the “Apple of Discord”

which was a golden apple that provides eternal beauty (Foster 41). 3 – The statue on the lower

right (image 2, closer look image 3) is the bust of Laocoön, from the statue “Laocoön and His
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Sons” which serves as an icon of human agony. 4 - Lastly, for sculptures, is “Perseus with the

Head of Medusa” by Benvenuto Cellini which depicts Perseus victorious against Medusa, a well

known Greek mythological character. MEANING NETO ANO

The initiation rite towards adulthood begins with the protagonist’s separation. In the plot

of the music video, the separation pertains to BTS discovering evil in their reality. 5-The

separation begins as Seokjin stares at a painting in between two doors, one white and one black.

The painting Seokjin stands in front of is “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” by Pieter Bruegel the

Elder. The two doors symbolize the worlds of good and evil. 6Afterwards, the members are

shown in a single room and in the background there is a neon sign that says “the tempter” in

cursive writing. This comes from a quote in Hermann Hesse's “Demian: The Story of Emil

Sinclair's Youth” which will be mentioned in its entirety at a latter part of the music video (53).

7The music starts at 0:56, with Yoongi covering Jimin’s eyes. This can be interpreted as a symbol

for concealing the truth from others or oneself and this symbolism will be repeated in a latter

scene. 8Jungkook is then shown alone in the same room. However, in this scene, he is riding a

swing in a way that makes it seem as if he’s flying. Once more, this is a reference to “Demian:

The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth”, the protagonist, Emil Sinclair mentions to his mentor

figure, Pistorius, that he was afraid of the dreams in which he flies (Hesse 118). In the novel,

flight is presented as a gauge of power. Flying too high is equivalent to powerlessness which can

be related back to the story of Icarus. To add, there is a painting hung in the back of the room.

This painting is “The Lament for Icarus”, which is a depiction of the Fall of Icarus wherein

Icarus is shown dead surrounded by mourning nymphs (Draper). The painting is based off the

myth of Daedalus and Icarus, where in Icarus was given the power to fly, a power which he then

misused which led to his death. In this text, fear of flying can be perceived as a form of triumph

since it provides safety. However, it can also be viewed as a shortcoming since fear of flight

prohibits further exploration (Kröller 113). 9 Seokjin is then shown with hands above his eyes,

this is similar to the symbolism mentioned earlier regarding the truth being concealed from
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others or from oneself. 10Afterwards, an image of a painted bird is shown. This is another

reference to “Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth”. Emil Sinclair paints a picture of a

sparrow hawk. In the novel, the bird flies toward Abraxas, the god of good and evil (Hesse 100).

With this, the bird serves as a symbol of the desire to become independent and to break free. 11-

12,15,22Namjoon is then shown holding a green liquid known as absinthe or the Green Fairy

which is a highly alcoholic beverage that is rumored to cause hallucinations (Adamowski 1).

Jungkook and Namjoon both swallow the absinthe. This substance appears once more in the

form of smoke later on in the music video. 13Hoseok is then seen in front of an adaptation of

the “Pietà” by Michelangelo. The supposed image of Jesus Christ in the statue is unrecognizable

which is parallel to how the protagonists are also not completely developed. Hoseok sits in a

Roman bath which symbolizes not only cleansing but also social interaction and public

ostentation (Reeves 20-21). He then fires off an arrow which hits Taehyung and multicolored

droplets, assumed to be blood, are splashed. The members are seen together in a single setting

similar to The Last Supper. In the Last Supper, Jesus predicts the betrayal of someone who’s also

seated at the same table (New King James Version, Matthew 26.17-25).

Jimin and Yoongi are shown facing each other in a room with Yoongi holding a

blindfold and Jimin holding an apple. In the Creation Story, the apple is the source of knowledge

for both good and evil (Genesis 3.1-13). The setting of the room is also a reference to

“Chatroom”, a film focused on five suicidal friends who communicate their troubles through an

online chat room. Afterwards, Jimin is blindfolded, presumably by Yoongi. This can be

interpreted as Yoongi’s fear of wisdom and power which is why he shuts out Jimin’s eyes.

Taehyung is seen sitting on a ledge which he then jumps off from. The painting in the

background for this scene is known as the “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel

the Elder. Jungkook is shown levitating without the swing. This symbolizes how he no longer

feels fear towards flight. The hands covering Seokjin’s eyes are removed one by one which

symbolizes his exposure to the truth and the reality of evil.

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From 4:03 to 4:18 of the music video, the music stops completely and Namjoon, says

this line: “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”. Yoongi is then shown playing an organ as Seokjin is led

by Taehyung to a statue with large, black wings. Seokjin then kisses the statue. The quote

mentioned above is taken from Hermann Hesse's “Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth”

(53). This quote served as a catalyst of the protagonist’s acknowledgement of the existence of

evil. Yoongi playing the organ is a reference to Emil Sinclair’s mentor, Pistorius. Pistorius

teaches Sinclair about Abraxas, a god who is also a devil (Hesse 110). The kiss also shows how

Seokjin gave into temptation, therefore losing his innocence. Taehyung is then shown with his

back exposed with two black marks where wings were presumably attached. This connects to

Taehyung’s character as Icarus and his fall.

Towards the end of the music video the themes and references represented in the

members’ individual narratives come together. The statue Seokjin kissed is bleeding in different

colors and so does Jimin when he removes his blindfold. In 5:47, a German quote can be seen,

"man muß noch Chaos in sich haben, um einen tanzenden Stern gebären zu können". After this

scene, the image of Mother Mary in the “Pieta” disintegrates (refer to image 6). Seokjin then

faces himself in front of a mirror and next to him are lilies placed inside a vase. However, in the

reflection, the flower next to him is a Liatris. And it can be observed that Seokjin's image

disintegrates at the very end of the music video. The quote is from “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”

which translates to “one must still have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star”

(Nietzsche 8). Moving forward with this quote, the disintegration of the image of Mother Mary

symbolizes the chaos that is within her since she gave birth to a dancing star, Jesus Christ. Lilies

symbolize purity and modesty (Silcox 3). The Liatris is also known “the blazing star” which is

still related to the quote. The disintegration of Seokjin’s image is similar to that of Mother

Mary’s, Seokjin acknowledges the chaos within him and this creates a newly perceived self-image.
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In “Understanding Popular Culture”, it is mentioned that popular culture is built on

repetition and no single popular text is complete on its own (Fiske 126). “Blood, Sweat & Tears”

by BTS is considered as a product of popular culture since it belongs to a broadly inclusive

category referred to as K-Pop which includes any form of music or performance that came from

Korea and resembles pop music (Lee 460). Products of popular culture are usually characterized

to be excessive, vulgar and sensational. Popular texts are considered as forms of “low” culture

due to its characteristics that lead to its appeal to the masses. Meanwhile “high” culture is

characterized as works or texts that are considered complex and difficult and therefore can only

be appreciated by a select few. This distinction creates an implied division between social classes.

However, what is considered as “high” and “low” culture is defined by a dominant class to assert

and reinforce their superiority. This is the reason as to why cultural critics do not recognize a

meaningful distinction between “low” and “high” cultures (Tyson 296). Moving forward, as

there is no clear distinction between the two cultures, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” by BTS, as a

product of Korean popular culture whose elements were derived from novels and works of art

that are considered “highbrow”, can be considered as evidence of how the distinction between

“high” and “low” culture is blurred as established by multiple cultural critics.


Even though “Blood, Sweat & Tears” is a coming-of-age music video due its

intertextuality and its elements that were derived from other texts, “Blood, Sweat & Tears” of

BTS still presents a concept unique in the K-pop music industry. The significance of this study is

to (1) show how the coming-of-age trope can also be seen in formats other than literature and

film, (2) to present the intertextuality in a product of pop culture such as “Blood, Sweat &

Tears”, and, lastly, (3) present “Blood, Sweat, & Tears” as evidence of how the distinction

between “low” and “high” culture is blurred. For further study, there are seven videos in the

form of short films that served as teasers for the “Wings” album, BTS’ second studio album,

which can also be considered in the analysis of “Blood, Sweat & Tears”. The set of videos, along
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with “Blood, Sweat and Tears”, can also be seen as a series that contain intertextuality and the

coming-of-age trope.
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Works Cited

“[ENG] 161012 BTS - 'WINGS' Press Conference.” Dailymotion, uploaded by BangtanSubs, 11

Oct 2016,

“BTS (방탄소년단) '피땀눈물(Blood Sweat & Tears)' Official MV.” Youtube, uploaded by ibighit,

9 Oct 2016,

“The Statue of Venus de Milo.” The Journal of Education, vol. 56, no. 11 (1395), 1902, pp. 185–186.

Adamowski, Josephine. “Presence of Absinthe: Famed Green Fairy Tells Her Tale.” Wisconsin

State Journal, 2006, pp. D1.

Alexandros of Antioch. Venus de Milo. 130-100BC, Louvre Museum, France.

Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. New York Psychology Press, 2000.

방탄소년단. “Blood Sweat & Tears.” Wings, Big Hit Entertainment, 2016.

Bell, Katherine. Troping the Timeless: Ontological Desires and the Representation of Childhood in Coming-of-

Age Narratives. Dissertation, York University, 2009. Ann Arbor Library and Archives

Canada, 2009.

Bruegel, Pieter. The Fall of the Rebel Angels. 1562, Royal Museums on Fine Arts of Belgium,


---. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. 1558, Royal Museums of Fine of Belgium, Brussels.

Chatroom. Directed by Hideo Nakata, Revolver Entertainment, 2010.

Cellini, Benvenuto. Perseus with the Head of Medusa. 1554, Loggia dei Lanzi, Italy.

Draper, Herbert James. The Lament for Icarus. 1898, Tate Britain, London.

Fiske, John. Understanding Popular Culture. New York Routledge, 1989.

Foster, Benjamin Oliver. “Notes on the Symbolism of the Apple in Classical Antiquity.” Harvard

Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 10, 1899, pp. 39–55.

Goodwin, Andrew. Dancing in the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture.

Minneapolis University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

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Hardcastle, Anne, et al. Coming of Age on Film: Stories of Transformation in World Cinema. Newcastle

Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.

Hee, Shimyeon. “[문화광장] 외신주목한‘제2의싸이’, 방탄소년단.” KBS News, 17 Oct 2016,

Hesse, Hermann. Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth. Trans. Michael Roloff and Michael

Lebeck. New York Harper & Row Publishers Inc., 1963.

Kröller, Eva-Marie. "Fear of Flying? The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus in Canadian Culture."

Journal of Canadian Studies, vol. 28, no. 4, 1994, pp. 102-116.

Laocoön and His Sons. Vatican Museums, Vatican City.

Lee, Sooyeon. “The Structure of the Appeal of Korean Wave Texts.” Korea Observer, vol. 43, no.

3, 2012, pp. 447-469.

Michelangelo. Pietà. 1499, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Reeves, Mary Barbara. The Roman Bath-House at Humeima in its Architectural and Social Context. MA

thesis, University of Victoria, 1996. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1996.

Silcox, John. “The Language of Flowers: Send a Message with a Bouquet”. The Journal Gazette,

2001, 1D.

The Bible. New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-friendly Guide. New York Routledge, 2006.

Valdellós, Ana Sedeño, et al. “The Post-Television Music Video: A Methodological Proposal and

Aesthetic Analysis.” Revista Latina de Comunicación Social vol. 71, 2016, pp. 332-48.

Van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. Chicago Chicago University Press, 1960.

VanderStaay, Steven. “Young-Adult Literature: A Writer Strikes the Genre.” The English Journal,

1992, pp. 48-52.

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Image 34: A screenshot from the trailer of “Chatroom”, this is the visualization of the online
chatroom of the main characters.

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