The odds of not knowing BTS remains low for many. The chances of you hearing about them, even in passing, is high. After all, they are the biggest band on the planet.
There are many things that set BTS apart from their peers. Their music, for instance, is one of the most important attributes to why they are the biggest band on the planet. Their performances, the way they present themselves, their philanthropy, and their words are just a few of the others. For many, it is BTS’ music and lyricism that drew them closer.
Any casual listener or fan would be able to tell you about how BTS are intricate with their lyricism. There is a song and album for every single emotion, every single phase in your life, almost every single feeling felt, whether you are a student or someone much older, BTS’ music comforts many and is understood by many more.
One of the most defining aspects of BTS’ music can be, however, their use of metaphors.
In 2015, BTS released Whalien 52 — a song about the loneliest whale in the world. The 52- hertz whale was assumed to be the only whale in the world that sung in 52 Hertz — a decibel much higher than what any ordinary whale possibly could ever hear.
The whale has been found in many places around the world since the late 1980s and appears to be the only specimen capable of producing a frequency so high. The lonely whale sings on its accord, even though it is never heard, never understood, being dubbed the “world’s loneliest whale”.
BTS’ song Whalien 52 is a metaphor for their own artistry, their own loneliness, and the feeling that comes with talking but never being heard, questioned but never understood.
It is simultaneously being the loneliest whale in the world that sings too high to be heard and being an alien — Whalien 52.
Suga, in the beginning, goes, “In the middle of this wide ocean, a whale talks in a low, calm, and lonely voice, that it can never reach someone else no matter how hard it shouts, feels so lonely that it closes the mouth.” He continues. “It’s fine, whatever it is. Now I don’t care. When this guy called loneliness stays by my side by himself, I become completely alone and lock a padlock in solitude.”
J-Hope then follows,
The world never knows
내가 얼마나 슬픈지를
how sad I am
내 아픔은 섞일 수 없는
My pain is unmixable
water and oil
그저 난 수면 위에서만 숨을 쉴 때 관심 끝
The attention on me is only there when I breathe above the water surface
외로운 바닷속 꼬마
A lonely kid under the ocean
나도 알리고 싶네
I, too, want to let the world know
J-Hope speaks of his pain and hurt, as oil and water. Never to be mixed with each other, a layer on top of one another and separate. He chooses to swim to the surface to breathe and says, “But I always think, even if I sleep curled up like a shrimp now, that I must dream like a whale — the praise that will come one day will make me dance every day.”
RM then speaks, “My mom said that the ocean is blue — she told me to raise my voice with all my strength to reach farther but what should I do? The place is too dark and full of whales that speak other languages.”
Here RM speaks of the unknown, using the deep ocean as a metaphor for the things he does not understand or speak. “I want to say I love you, a round that I sing alone. I run over the same music sheet — the ocean is too deep but I’m still unfortunate. No one will know even if I cry.”
Whalien 52 is a perfect metaphor for the loneliness one feels growing up, never to be understood or heard. It is knowing that what you say is futile when your words are spoken but never understood by someone in the same frequency.
It is a metaphor for the anxiety that comes with venturing into the unknown for the first time and wondering if your book will be ever read, your poems recited and your music memorized, wondering if you would ever be understood but living with the hope, you will.
For many, Whalien 52 is a perfect metaphor for BTS’ own story — their story of how they rose, even when many thought differently. It is the story of how they waded between seas when the only thing they wanted to do was to perform. It is BTS speaking of their loneliness, as artists and as humans themselves.
BTS have referenced the Whalien 52 multiple times — in their illustrated video for We Are Bulletproof; The Eternal, the whale serves as a metaphor and a reminder to them that they are not alone.
In a letter for his fans, RM wrote, “Just like in Whalien 52, I was a lonely whale, but I didn’t realize you guys are the wide sea that hugged me while I’m breathing and swimming. Catch my hertz and willingly listen.”
The story of the 52-Hertz whale also has had much criticism surrounding it. There has been talk of whether or not such a whale exists and if so, if it truly is alone. Perhaps, the 52-Hertz whale is an anomaly, perhaps it is a hybrid, perhaps there are many more of them. There is a possibility that the 52- Hertz is all alone but it is also entirely possible, it is heard and understood.
In Whalien 52, a lyric goes, “An endless signal will reach someday everywhere, even to the other side of the earth.” Our songs will be heard, even if they are not understood. Our words will be understood, repeated, in this lonely void.
Perhaps, we are not alone as we think we are. Perhaps, there are more of us. Perhaps, our words need to be spoken, our music needs to be performed, even if there is no one to witness them at all.
The story of the 52-Hertz whale has had much criticism surrounding it. There are scientists questioning its entire existence but one thing rings us hope — the loneliest whale in the world may not be so lonely after all and neither are we.
Lyric Translation Credits- Doolset