Cultural References in Dionysus by BTS: a Lyrical Analysis

Culture

Dionysus is the concluding song on BTS's album, Map of the Soul: Persona. Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and grape harvest - this is referenced in Persona’s concept photos. He is also the god of theater, insanity, and holy inspiration.

Dionysus was considered an outcast in Olympus as he was the only Olympian with a mortal mother. He established a group of dedicated followers separate from the other Olympians. This creates a parallel to how BTS were considered outcasts in the K-Pop industry since they came from a small company in an industry which favored groups from bigger companies.

Dionysus is also known for entering a room and making everyone in his presence dance because his music and wine freed his followers from social constraint. The same can be applied to ARMY, BTS' fans who often talk about the immense happiness they find in BTS' music and how it relaxes them and pumps them up in different situations

“Thyrsus (grippin’) Grape (eating’)”

Here, a reference is made to the staff Dionysus carries, Thyrsus which is made of reed and ivy. Thyrsus is a symbol of prosperity, fertility, hedonism, and pleasure/enjoyment in general. The Korean word for grape is also a metaphor for empty seats at a concert.

In addition to the Dionysian reference to grapes, wine and Thyrsus, here they are referencing the lack of empty seats at their concerts. Hence, prosperity.

“From my mic made of ivy and rough wood”

Another reference is made to Thyrsus as it's made of ivy and reed. RM says his mic is made of ivy and rough, hence comparing it to Thyrsus and symbolizing prosperity and enjoyment.

“Art splashing inside this clear crystal cup

Art is alcohol too, if you can drink it, you'll get drunk fool”

Here, RM engages in wordplay:

The Korean word for “art” is 예술 (yesul)

While, the Korean word for “alcohol” is 술 (sul).

Here, RM links the two words linguistically and equates art to alcohol. Art can be as intoxicating as alcohol in its own way. Both can offer intense pleasure and satisfaction to those who choose to consume it.

“Until the sun comes up, where the party at

Until we fall asleep, where the party at”

Dionysus was the Greek god of partying and his parties were often associated with ritual madness and ecstasy, reflecting the chaos and darker sides of gaining pleasure. Here, BTS references their diligence in the studio to be extremely rewarding, despite the seemingly never ending workload. They reflect that even though they labor every day to the point of exhaustion, they have no-one but themselves to blame as it is their own “greed” for music and success that pushes them onwards. This furthers the narrative of intoxicating oneself with art.

Here, a possible parallel can be found with BTS’ Dope, which also portrays music-making as a kind of all consuming rave that the artists have willingly thrown themselves into. Dope’s lyrics go:

“Ok we’re dope from head to toe

Over half of the day, we drown in work

Even if our youth rots in the studio

Thanks to that, we’re closer to success”

“Drink it up (the pain of creation)

… One shot (Okay now i'm ready for the show)”

Here, they continue to compare art to alcohol. Like alcohol, intoxication with art also has its consequences. “The pain of creation” can be directly compared to the negative effects of alcohol.

Alcohol is known to lower one’s inhibitions and makes one confident to do things they might usually have the courage to do. After taking one shot of either literal alcohol or art (which RM stated earlier is just like alcohol too), one becomes adequately emboldened and mentally prepared.

“Drink, drink, drink, drink up my glass ay

Everyone all, fall, fall into this crazy artist”

Dionysus was the god of wine, ritual madness and religious ecstasy. These lines from the chorus are the epitome of Dionysus’ purposes because the repeated references to alcohol is symbolic of the ceremonious yet borderline insane level of personality Dionysus possessed and was perceived as by his followers.

A common effect of alcohol is acting more freely than one would when sober, or the drunk state can be seen as one’s natural state which one represses and conceals from the outside world. The lyrics say to fall into ‘artistry’ which foretells the fall from the persona (or your sober self) into the part of the shadow, which is your free drunk (with either alcohol or art) self experiencing religious ecstasy.

According to Jungian Philosophy, the persona is essentially an image or a mask you wear in order to create a certain image about yourself. Most of the time, out persona doesn't display ourselves as whom we truly are. And, within our personal unconscious there are represented tendencies and desires. There is within us an inferior, undesirable aspect to our personality, Jung calls this side of our inner life as Shadow or the 'dark half' of our personality. This is the side of ourselves that we would prefer not to recognize.

“Get drunk on art and say onghaeya”

RM’s earlier analogy between art and alcohol is continued here. The lyrics compare continuously art and alcohol both linguistically and figuratively.

Ongheya is a Korean folk song that Korean peasants sang while they worked. It is also used as an excited reaction word in old Korean, but mostly used in traditional folk songs to uplift the hard work of harvesting. This phrase is similar to the 얼쑤 좋다 (ursu johda) in IDOL. Through the use of this phrase, BTS also ensures to keep elements of South Korean culture prevalent in their music. To them, it is part of staying true to themselves in the k-pop industry of “chaos”.

“When the night comes

Mumble mumble mumble

When the night comes

Tumble tumble tumble

The bass, bass, bass filling the studio

Bass drum goes like dum dum dum (Yeah)”

Here, the lyrics compare the feeling of alcoholic drunkenness (voices not being clear like mumbles, tumbling with a loss of balance) with the thrill of music and the excitement of the stage. The lyrics tell us how they lose themselves in the performance as soon as the music begins. It's as if they become different people, godlike, like Dionysus.

The bass drum and the repeat of ‘dum dum dum’ is also likely a reference to a heart beating fast, both when drunk and when exhilarated or nervous during the performance. Depending on the situation your heart beating fast can either feel good or frightening. Either way, it signals a sensation that can feel good and be (literally) intoxicating, but with a clear head can also be seen as dangerous and a sign of unhealthy behavior.

In Greek mythology, Dionysus was born twice: he was firstborn from Semele, but she died. While she was dying Zeus implanted Dionysus on his leg and then gave birth to him, hence twice born.

The idea of rebirth was also referenced earlier in the song’s second verse: “At last I'm reborn”. And Suga’s line here continue the idea of rebirth:

“Born as a K-pop idol

Reborn as an artist

Reborn as an artist, reborn as an artist

What does it matter if I’m an idol or an artist, cheers”

These lines are also in reference to RM’s starting lines in IDOL:

“You can call me artist (artist)

You can call me idol (idol)

아님 어떤 다른 뭐라 해도 (해도)

I don’t care”

All these lines tie together with BTS’ themes of conflicting identities within oneself through Jungian philosophical basis. These lines present the idea that despite BTS’ varying personas of “idol” or “artist” in the public eye, it is ultimately their own perceptions of themselves that fuel what they do.

“But I’m still thirsty”

This line by Suga can be interpreted in different ways. He may be thirsty for artistry, achievements, fame, or financially. It is possible that he feels as though he is capable of more and better in one or various of these regards. This line can also be connected to Suga’s rap in HOME where he talks about the feeling of missing something despite having reached unparalleled levels of success and artistry:

“Even if we have what I wanted in my dreams

Big house, big cars, big rings

The unfamiliar feeling of missing something as

Someone who has accomplished everything”

“The illest”

The song ends on a phrase with double meaning. It is a slang for ‘the best’ but it can also mean behavior that is not healthy.

The motif of excess and the theme of their creative process and artistry is continued into their Map of the Soul: 7 tracks ‘Interlude: Shadow’ and ‘Black Swan’.

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Vama Suvani

Vama Suvani is a high school student whose interest lies in English literature and History. She writes articles and poems on a variety of topics relatable to teenagers. Vama loves to read books and documents her feelings on them in her Tumblr blog.