How BTS’ V Wrote a Coming-of-Age Story in “Inner Child”

In BTS’ album Map of the Soul: 7, Kim Taehyung, a.k.a. V’s Inner Child, takes his listeners to their own emotional journey of nostalgia and maturity as the singer-songwriter himself retraces the painful yet worthwhile steps from adolescence to adulthood.

BTS’ V a.k.a. Kim Taehyung from 2014 to 2019. Images from BigHit; Cover by taefolio

Storytelling in songwriting

But first — Oh, how layered and complex this song is beneath its sincere lyrics! When I read that his solo song would be “a song to V’s past self back when he was going through a tough time”, I was instantly reminded his ending ment at 5th Muster Magic Shop in Seoul, where he was using the image of the scrub towel as a metaphor to say he’s grown up and things which used to hurt him, don’t anymore. It strikes us with how his mind creates these metaphors even on speech:

“I bought a scrub towel yesterday. When I was a boy and my dad used to scrub my back and sometimes it hurt so much that I’d cry. But I found out that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I must have grown up thanks to ARMY. It’s a magical thing.” — cr. KTHbase_

Credited as both a lyricist and composer, Taehyung wrote a coming-of-age story where we encounter bittersweet lessons and progressions from then to now. Producer ARCADES mentioned in an interview:

“He (V) wrote it as a story where he is reflecting on his childhood. He is an incredible story-teller and can convey emotion in his performance in an unbelievable way.”

We must also point out that the purpose of this song is to create an intimate conversation of ourselves. The concept of the “inner child” originated with Carl Jung, the same person behind the album title’s concept. “Inner Child Work”, or speaking to your inner child, is a legitimate psychological practice.

More importantly, the act of inner child work tells Taehyung’s coming-of-age or maturation process. For those who don’t know, a coming-of-age story focuses on the mental and emotional growth of youth or adolescent to adulthood.

As author and professor Christina Wodtke from Eleganthack would visually summarise the arc of this genre:

by cwodtke from The Shape of Story

The song lyrics and sounds themselves are majorly the transitional details between the painful experience/trauma mentioned in the first verse and the resolution (the bridge and chorus finale).

From Psychology Today: “To formulate a dialogue, to write a letter to one’s inner child, to say nurturing things, and to think and write about what you loved doing when you were young.”

In the following texts, we see Taehyung accomplish some of these exercises abovementioned.

Taehyung also mentioned before that Inner Child his first solo track that’s bright, a fresh deviation among his BTS solos as he indulges us his further development on his upper range (upper mix, head voice, and falsetto).

Another thing also worth mentioning is the special sound effects used as part of the instrumental. He is known to use non-musical instruments for his pieces. From Stigma, Scenery, Winter Bear, to Inner Child, Taehyung has shown grasp and meticulousness on sounds to paint his picture, creating the consistent atmospheric and synesthetic experience in his songs.

There are many elements to a coming-of-age story but one of the prominent tropes is the presence of flashbacks that reactivate the internal turmoil and pain that the protagonist must face and overcome them.

For this analysis, we are using the translation by STUDIO_0613 as theirs seemed to be the most accurate and flowed naturally:

The us of that time
It was really quite difficult
Looking up at
The sky’s star that was so far away

0:00 to 0:25

The song starts with a bright piano synth. There is its reverb against an empty space and is already setting the nostalgic vibe and soundscape of Inner Child – inside a star system.

I must say, Taehyung was set from the get-go to put his listeners to one hell of an emotional ride through incredible storytelling with vocal styling. This includes the ascending and descending of pitches that form the sloping pattern of the vocal melody, and in vocal dynamics where he plays around the intensity and delivery of his phrasing.

An example of this is already found in the first verse with how he starts on his upper range and dips down on pitch, even briefly reaching his chest register only to ascend again. He also uses diminuendos to shape the story of his phrasing. This constant sliding and jumping are very prominent in the verses and in the first half of the chorus.

When Taehyung’s voice enters the picture, so does the guitar, which to be very honest, its timbre and weight remind me of one of the modes of Taehyung’s voice around his middle-upper range… sweet, thick, yet also a little bright!

Taehyung sings with “The us of that time”, acknowledging his inner child and him are in this together as present-Taehyung opens a box of deep-seated issues. Growth and maturity always come after hard-won battles. How Taehyung conveys this in his singing is just precious, his gentle and vulnerable phrasing akin to how one would tell a meaningful story, each line emphasised with musical rests.

The you of that time
Didn’t believe in the galaxy
But I saw it
Silver galaxy

0:27 to 0:40

Taehyung sings about his old self not believing in the galaxy, which in the context of BTS’s lyricism like in Magic Shop, the “galaxy” refers to one’s person — his wholeness. The line was an addition from RM when he witnessed a pure moment of Taehyung seeing a galaxy for the very first time in Bon Voyage 4. The silver galaxy he mentions may be alluding to the Sculptor Galaxy a.k.a. Silver Coin Galaxy, which is currently undergoing a period of intense star formation.

The second part of the first verse follows the melodic shape of the first part, and yet there’s already a change of his tone here as he uses more chest quality on his mix, again with some jumps and slides before he diminuendos with “eunsaek galaxy”. The introduction of a darker, more amplified quality of his voice here already adds a nuance of what he knows is about to come: the recalling of powerful, long-lasting memories and emotions etched in him.

The drums have also already entered during this part, which signifies the progression of the song’s story.

It must’ve been painful
It must’ve been so difficult
Because I ran, chasing after
An endless light

0:42 to 0:56

But Taehyung is not done yet and he starts the refrain by switching back to a softer and brighter quality of his voice. He sings about the painful and difficult memories to give voice to the hurt of his inner child. And how comforting and validating that is, to have your pain seen, especially if you’ve been carrying it for 7 years and more.

There’s also that special sound effect of a suspenseful whoosh that’s obviously indicating this transitional part of the song that just matches the lyrics of how he ran towards an endless light as if Taehyung is chasing something with a speed of light. It ends with an isolated beat of a percussion as if putting a period on this chapter.

Again, from the lyrics to the music, his vocal styling, and the coming of these instruments and sounds one by one — Taehyung is clear in so many ways with how he intends to go with Inner Child. He is communicating how he wants to put his listeners to also get in touch with their emotions, as well as laying the details thick to his inner child.

The protagonist attempts to overcome his past and pain. However, it is not easy.

I vaguely recall that summer day’s air
So cold, the sound of the gray streets
Breathing in and knocking on your door

We gon’ change
We gon’ change
We gon’ change
We gon’ change
We gon’ change

0:56 to 1:24

This chorus has Taehyung knocking on the door of his inner child, possibly a metaphorical way to refer to the turning point in his life. As Taehyung recalls his memory along with his inner child, everything feels heightened as there are also more layers in his voice now. It is where things escalate as he raises pitch and tone, the tempo also quickens with the phrasing, and it reminds us how vivid and fast this memory comes into his mind, and the violins have entered the soundscape to hype the allegro with what sounds like moderately fast bowing of the strings, thus creating the sense of urgency, importance of this event.

This sloping phrasing at the also beginning gets contrasted with how he sings “Breathing in and knocking on your door”. It lowers a pitch and has a steadier melodic contour. It is as if Taehyung steadies and stabilises his listeners after putting them into a whirlwind of emotions only to buckle us up for the booming repetition of “we gon’ change”.

“We gon’ change” gets repeated often in the song which could refer to a number of things — Taehyung telling his inner child they’ll be changing in terms of having to grow up under the harsh spotlight, or changing for the better, maturing as humans. It’s so deliberate how Taehyung wants to draw out emotions and reactions from us with the grace notes of the vowel in “change” for emphasis. And this phrase repeats over and over with the gang vocals and his own vocals layered.

A new chapter of this story unfolds as this chorus ends with a marker of another whooshing sound effect.

Personal growth is gradual, a slow-burn journey. For the protagonist to overcome his conflict, he employs not just one, but two or more solutions and methods.

Now I hope that
We smile/laugh a lot
It’s gonna be okay,
Since the me of today is okay

The you of yesterday
Now I see it all
The many thorns within the budding rose
I want to give it a hug

1:25 to 1:53

There’s now a guitar beat in the background indicating progression again, as Taehyung continues to comfort and reassure his inner child more in the second verse:

The line “Us now, I’d like it if we laughed a lot…” parallels “The you of yesterday”, where Tae looks back and sees clearly what his younger self was like — a budding rose but with thorns. He sings this part with optimism — the brightness again present in his voice, but he ends it in a diminuendo for “Since the me of today is okay”. It’s either how he wants to be kind and comforting, or how the present-him that’s talking to his inner child is still delicate.

Oh, how Taehyung sings through The you of yesterday is just so tender and gives Inner Child that very conversational, informal flow! Taehyung sings this line in an abruptly accented phrasing. It gives a sense of knowing — because in this line he does come down to a realisation that “The you of yesterday, now I see it all”.

Take note as well with how he affectionately refers to his young, vulnerable self as a “rose” here. He uses a breathy chest tone for the somber comfort when he sings “Umteudeon jangmi sok maneun gasi, anajugo sipeo/The many thorns within the budding rose, I want to give it a hug”. The echo effect emphasises the strength of this realisation in his mind.

Taehyung embraces the struggles and pain that he went through; all the rites of passage that made him who he is today.

A smiling child
A child who always just smiled brightly
When I see you like that,
I keep smiling/laughing
1:52 to 2:07

“When I see you like that, I keep smiling” is such a powerful line. Often when we look back at ourselves, we cringe at stuff we did or said. Here Taehyung looks back on himself without hard feelings, with humour even, signaling he’s made peace with his past.

The drums enter again here in the refrain shortly followed by the whooshing effect, marking that we are near another emotional peak for this song, the chorus.

…because painful memories and emotional trauma does not go away overnight.

Listening to the chorus again just gives us chills because of the story progression and how Taehyung’s vocal tone here just fits. He revisits the memory of that summer. The emotions are still strong, stirring when he sings high and fast on his upper register. The memories that leave lasting impressions on us will always make us feel something. And again, the fast tempo, flow, and bright tone of Taehyung’s vocals suggest the intensity of how he feels towards his memory/ies. I have also failed to mention on the Twitter thread about the more prominent gang vocals with the “woahs” in 2:22. The second chorus is just filled more with wonder and amazement with the gang vocals – it sounds promising and hopeful, and his inner child is nearly convinced.

Now, all Taehyung has to do is to make a covenant to his younger self.

Acceptance liberates and renews.

In literature, characters must feel just as alive as real persons and must be treated as such in the coming-of-age genre. More often than not, the coming-of-age protagonist learns to accept that the pain and experiences will always be there and must be embraced.

Tonight
If I [reach out to] touch my hand to you
Can you hold that hand?
I’ll become you

You just have to
Look at my galaxy
Face those stars
I’ll give you my world

2:36 to 2:04

For all the emotional build-up Taehyung gives us, we are given a respite from these feelings on the bridge, cradles us on his airy mix with a slowed tempo. He welcomes us into the silver galaxy and here, Taehyung is gently talking/singing directly to his inner child. The bridge culminates in Taehyung gently asking and reaching out to his younger self, coaxing him to look at Taehyung’s galaxy, the silver galaxy he saw and was always inside of him mentioned in the first verse. The music gives plenty of space, embellished only with the astral oscillation effects and some of the echoing chorale in the background. The almost-emptiness of the soundscape from 2:36 is so important in depicting the raw, uninterrupted confrontation and acceptance of each other – Taehyung and his inner child.

The line beginning with “You can just look at my galaxies” is also beautifully built. It is the resolution Taehyung offers as the slow percussion enters with the line at 2:50. The presence of the added instrument shows another progression stirring within the story.

The lights that illuminated your eyes
Are the me of right now
You’re my boy, my boy
My boy, my boy, my boy

3:05 to 3:20

The guitar is present again during this part as if to heighten the anticipation when Taehyung builds the bridge’s climax with his ascending legatos.

“You’re my boy” being repeated is truly a crescendo of emotions, this part connected with how he sings “nanikka”. That elongated “-ka” syllable connects right away with “you’re my boy”, and Taehyung repeats over and over and over on static, booming melody on his chest. The flatter contour of this melody depicts his resolve with his inner child.

To sum this bridge: Taehyung and his inner child are becoming one. Their settlement with each other is progressing and this reflects on his vocals – the ascending pitch and long phrasings; the instruments that are being introduced one by one to paint the final soundscape. The character growth is happening here and now.

Another quote from the previous article mentioned above,“True adulthood hinges on acknowledging, accepting, and taking responsibility for loving and parenting one’s own inner child.” here, we can see how Taehyung expresses his pride like a parent to their child, or between friends.

The reconciliation of Taehyung of the past and now is complete. Taehyung’s coming-of-age comes to a conclusion, but there is still continuity and progression in his vocal storytelling with how he connects “my boy” to the “woah” in the chorus. Taehyung gives an open ending.

…because life goes on!

“We gon’ change. We gon’ change. We gon’ change. We gon’ change. We gon’ change. We gon’ change. We gon’ change… We gon’ change.”

Taehyung no longer sings about that summer day. Instead, he chants “we gon’ change” softly amidst the layers of other piercing vocals ascending in the background. The line becomes anthemic not only to Taehyung but also to us as we acknowledge that we will continue to experience hurt and happiness throughout our lives. In the final chorus, we and Taehyung accept the future that promises an endless cycle of metamorphoses.

BTS’ V in 2020. Edit by taefolio

Moreover, I feel the song hits us harder because it’s known that Taehyung loves kids. There are many moments of Taehyung being kind and caring for children. This helps us visualize the lyrics of Inner Child even more, of him speaking softly, gently to his younger self. Not to mention, Taehyung also always has this innocent, childlike quality we all know, love, and want to protect.

See what we mean about how layered and complex the song is? Overall, it can be said that the creation of Inner Child is so very much like Kim Taehyung.

Listen to Inner Child by BTS’ V:

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

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