The Soundscape of 4 O’Clock by R&V

In collaboration with RM, Taehyung gives us his internal monologue about the cycle of their every day and inclination with the blue hour through their music, vocals, and lyrics in 4 O’Clock.

Cover image of 4 O’Clock by R&V
cover image for 4 O’Clock

For this, I used bts-trans/bangtansubs’ translation as a frame of reference for the lyrical analysis as I feel it matched the nuances of the musical decisions and creative vision of RM and Taehyung the best and felt it naturally read more like a poem when it was translated to English.

Let’s also take some time to reread these fancafe posts from Taehyung and RM: they both gave a really detailed overview of how 4 O’Clock came to be and the processes behind it:

From here, it is clearly said that Taehyung wanted to write a song about “dawn”, specifically moments before dawn; that short window of time before the sky warms up — before sunrise. It’s also called the blue hour. The blue hour is like the golden hour, a moment of time that is very fleeting and brief. 4 O’Clock explores this moment of time and how both Taehyung and RM feel during this part of the day and the cycle of time.

From the very start, we are already given a strong clue-in for what kind of mood we were in for. The minimalist intro establishes the solitude. We start off with an acoustic guitar and Taehyung’s soft, breathy chest voice that denotes his quiet, calm weariness:

I wrote a long letter
to the moon one day
It isn’t brighter than you but
I lit a small candle

The image of the moon does not only symbolise light, but also of the passage of time as it waxes and wanes. It implies he’s stayed out that night for long to ‘write’, or maybe to think and ponder. We find out in the next verse that indeed he stayed out for as long as the sun coming into the horizon:

The nameless bird that sings
in the park at dawn
Where are you
Oh you

Why are you crying
It’s only me and you here
Me and you
Oh you

Taehyung now brings in the bird that he has heard chirping as he waited. His staccato ‘trills’ can be likened to chirping, the “yo-o-ou, oh you” — either to allude to the bird with him or him mimicking the bird as if he’s talking to the creature. Whichever between the two, this part is akin to a conversation between Taehyung and the bird keeping each other in good company, but the touch of solitude remains.

There’s another way to read or interpret this, and hence another proof that makes Taehyung’s lyrics so poetic. He is ambiguous, but not ambiguous enough to be formless. From the lone calmness in the first verse, the piano comes into the soundscape to bring out the underlying sadness here in the pre-chorus. As pointed out in the lyrics, someone is crying. If we contextualise what we recently learned from Taehyung — him mentioning that the idea for 4'O Clock sprouted during the emotional heights of the dumpling incident with Jimin, it is possible to surmise that Taehyung could also be the said ‘nameless’ bird that’s talking and comforting himself — for it is mostly in the dark when we are able to be briefly ‘anonymous’:

Your singing voice,
That follows deep into the night,
brings the scarlet morning
One step, then another step

Dawn passes by and
When that moon falls asleep,
then the blue light that was with me
disappears

It’s rare to find people and fans talk about the musical transitions and cadences in 4 O’Clock because they’re just gorgeous and clever. Nothing about this song is random.

We are about to get a change of scenery where we move forward not only from Taehyung’s singing but also his soundscape. He sings “ blue light that was with me disappears” at the end as RM enters with his rap, and he raps about the dawn, the sun rising, the colors changing blue to red. The soundscape, as I mentioned, changes. From the soft guitars, the ‘overbearing’ feeling RM raps about is manifested with the abrupt entrance of more percussion:

Today, too, I go on living just enough
Keeping in step, wearing my feet out just enough
The sun makes me breathless
The world has stripped me of all I have
Without a choice, with no other alternative,
Under the moonlight I am picking up my scattered self
I call you moonchild
We are the children of the moon
We draw breath from the cold air of dawn
Yes we’re livin and dyin
at the same time
But right now it’s alright to open your eyes
Because like any movie, like any dialogue (from a movie)
The whole world is blue under the moonlight

After the chorus, the chord suddenly changes — the change is harsh and fast, and it’s now morning by the time we reach RM’s rap. “I go on living just enough, keeping in step, wearing my feet our just enough” — RM swiftly phrases through how he feels and does on a diurnal cycle. Fast tempo to give the subtext of being busy and quick-paced, as most of us are during the day.

He slows a bit when we reach the lyrics that express his anticipation of the night. The tempo in his rap of the daybreak juxtaposes Taehyung’s slow legatos of the blue hour.

Now Taehyung sings the pre-chorus and chorus again — same timbre — with the more prominent drums accompanying him:

The nameless bird that sings
in the park at dawn
Where are you
Oh you

Why are you crying
It’s only you and me here
Me and you
Oh you

Your singing voice,
That follows deep into the night,
brings the scarlet morning
One step, then another step

Dawn passes by and
When that moon falls asleep,
then the blue light that was with me
disappears

It’s just reiterating the emotional point of this resonance.

RM starts to sing part of the chorus too and this proves that he and Taehyung share the vision of the song. Paralleling the slowness of Taehyung’s vocals and the hint of weariness in Tae’s breathy tone, RM sings in legato, elongates the vowels to bring out the same nuances:

Your singing voice,
That follows deep into the night,
brings the scarlet morning
One step, then another step

Dawn passes by and
When that moon falls asleep,
then the blue light that was with me
disappears

The coda gives us a major conclusion to this cycle of our days — the low piano timbre is firm but melancholic as we return to the chord, Taehyung’s, even more softer and breathier timbre, just like the very beginning of the song: It’s 4 o’clock in the morning again:

Dawn passes by and
When that moon falls asleep,
then the blue light that was with me
disappears

In retrospect, this song also already reinforced Taehyung’s musicality (Stigma being the informal debut) and his fondness for storytelling (Scenery being the most obvious) — the constant presence of ‘story progression’ not only through lyrics but also with the music. I mentioned not long ago how his second verses are always different from his first ones — he frequently changes chords, tempo, plays with the hook, melody, or adds instruments to establish difference from the first verse. Since this is a collaboration, I am certain Taehyung and RM agreed to this with 4 O’Clock.

It is clear to me that 4 O’Clock was written from Taehyung’s and RM’s streams of consciousness during certain moments of time. The calm slowness of Taehyung’s breathy vocals matching the solitary acoustic guitar as he sings about the blue hour; the sudden chestiness of Taehyung vocals and the presence of guitars joining as he sings about the transition — implying he is already nearing dawn; the entrance of the drums and the spilled rush within RM’s rap verse about the morning, decelerating tempo as he nears twilight… it’s just pure genius with the number of details has been put.

Taehyung’s lyricism also gets to be very figurative and metaphoric through simple imagery. It is through his details that eases us the image he wants to convey without exactly giving too much. His connotations are ambiguous but not formless (common giveaway that one’s a rookie or tries too hard) — they take shapes — accessible to the imagination for every folk.

I also want to comment on how the song uses pronouns interchangeably to give a wide net of ambiguity on who he’s talking to, which briefly reminds me of the more obvious connotations in Inner Child. But this is not only applying to Taehyung but also with RM. His rap in particular, together with Taehyung’s own lyrics, gives a sense of ‘world-weariness’ — the melancholic and sad feeling that rises from the inadequacy of the human experience. Much evident of their soliloquising and also fitting — the song title’s read as Your Poem in Hangul too, after all.

Being his very first SoundCloud release, now looking back, 4 O’Clock held the bright promise of his being as a songwriter. Just thinking about his growth from 4'O Clock to Sweet Night is so satisfying and pleasing.

It’s been said many a time that the RM&V collaboration was one of the best ones that came out of BTS and it’s obvious why. Both artists, although stylistically different and distinct from one another, respecting the other’s creative vision and abilities to produce this. Even without their fancafe posts, it is heard in the music and lyrics of the mindfulness they had on each other’s parts and it’s why this song is simply beautiful.

We all have different frames of reference with how we want to interpret this song. Since 2017 much has been said, interpreted, and analysed about 4 O’Clock. Like a true poem, there are many narratives that surround it. We hope the one that we have spun, with consideration from multiple points of view, will bring a more nuanced appreciation and understanding of this song and Taehyung’s artistry.

professional nerd; BTS & V; a fan not a critic