Reading in Between BTS V’s Warm Words & Sounds in “Snow Flower”

A coalescence of BTS V’s (Kim Taehyung) musical composition and lyrics with his friend Peakboy, Snow Flower makes a fine substitute for warm hot chocolate in winter.

While there are many Christmas songs already pre-existing under the jazz and rock genres, the masses have their favourites and the more popular songs (of today and of all time) are geared to sound bell-like, using chimes, bells, organ, and tambourine to get qualities of tintinnabulation — and many carols are being performed with such. The height of melodies in vocal performances by bands, choirs, and (most especially) soloists are more naturally fitted to accommodate the vocal qualities of the tenors and sopranos. It’s understandable, how in the Christmas season, many will liken the brightness and lightness of voices to a choir of angels.

Snow Flower hits quite a little different where our usual lithe and piercing timbres are replaced by thicker, warmer, and darker timbres through two male singers, the brass versatility of the trumpet, and a harsh electric guitar — an eclectic band for a Christmas song. However, it must also be noted that amidst all the more angular and richer sounds, Snow Flower still has subtle notes of a traditional Christmas song with a bright string in the chorus, the harmonies found at the end of the second verse (which is subtly reminiscent of a church choir), and the string-and-choir effect found in the verses; the latter being likely achieved through a keyboard or synth. Taehyung also makes use of his airy and light falsetto in some parts of the song. All these elements together make up for the charming, unique quality of the song — fitting both on and off the yule season.

Intro: Before anything else, the very beginning of Snow Flower has that snow rustling/white noise as the instruments also make their pulses in four bars — a chill rhythm guitar giving strong syncopated kicks and a driving bassline that gives the singer ample momentum before the vocal onset. This rustling noise starts to blend with the background, then softens and transforms into something more akin to radio static. This noise will still be present in the chorus, disappears for a while during Peakboy’s first lines, then returns starting with a snow-like rustle then quickly into radio static — a double entendre and a genius play on what and how ‘white noise’ can sound like, and adds into the radio theme that the song also has through the voiceovers.

Hey snow
it’s coming today
what should I prepare?
I’m ready to welcome you — to greet you
falling on the grey canvas you can cover it
I’ll give the world to you

First Verse: Taehyung sings a lot on his chest and mixed voice here, with minimal texture on his vocal fry (0:21). The tone transitions are hardly obvious with how smooth he ascends and imbue the chest tone on his middle, like smooth slopes (e.g. Taehyung opens the song on his neutral on the first part of the verse, then he constantly moves between his mixed and chest voice on the latter half).

Taehyung greets the winter season and informs them of the coming of something, this ‘it’s coming today’ may be interpreted in many ways — the coming of spring, of brighter days, both in the concrete and metaphorical sense, and coinciding with this possible intention to the coming of something warm, positive, Taehyung bides his time with his flow and cadence here, allowing the listener to indulge in the sweet richness and warmth of his voice. This flow foils with Peakboy’s during the second verse, which we’ll get on with later.

It’s also here where Taehyung introduces the concept of colour and art by mentioning the ‘gray canvas’. Just a little further down the lyrics and the song calls back to the sublime, complex experience and song that is Blue & Grey. Taehyung was able to sum such a complex idea in just a few words — words that he now also owns through his meanings.

In this cold season,
your visit is a special occasion
to you, who will melt my blue and grey with your warmth
Christmas without you would just not be Christmas at all
Bright mistletoes up above us, it’s just you and me

‘I love you’

By the latter half, Taehyung’s phrasing picks up a bit while the drums enter. Taehyung’s phonation is more solid and thick especially here, using only a minimal amount of breathiness to cue an intimate vibe, a deviation from the more dispersed phonation and ample breathiness he showcased in his other winter song, Scenery. Why so? It’s all still part of his storytelling. Thick and solid can give the listener an assuring and emotionally-enveloping nuance: the lyrics here tell us the coming of a person in midst of the winter, the person or entity who can bring spring, and Taehyung shows that this needs to be conveyed in both his and Peakboy’s singing. And true to his intention, he brings traditional images of Christmas for the first time in the song upon the mention of the holiday and the mistletoes, ‘it’s just you and me’ and the ‘I love you’ voiceover straightforwardly expressing the affections. It’s simple, terse, but the intimate image is burned in our minds.

The white blossoms fill up the world
making our time much more special
hope the flower come down onto your sad smile,
in the paused time

Chorus: Something that needs to be appreciated is the bright brass that chimes for the melody, accenting the downbeat. It further transforms the opening of the chorus into something more expressive — makes a nice build-up just before Taehyung transitions from his mixed to head voice (and then to falsetto) And when he is singing that transition, it is decorated with a twinkle of strings midway as he sings about the world getting filled with ‘white flowers’. Although he mentions a white flower, the snow flower he mentions is the purple crocus that blooms during the snow and thrives in the winter, the flower we see in the cover artwork of Snow Flower. The bulb symbolises everything positive, happy, and youthful, and celebrates the coming of springtime.

However, this is songwriter Kim Taehyung we’re talking about, and his songs can be interpreted in various ways. It’s part of his intention. There’s also the double entendre for what these flowers are — he may also be referring to the snowfall or snowflakes when he describes them as ‘white’. It’s endearing how he likens such a wintery image to a very springtime image such as flowers as if hoping the snowflakes can bring joy as they ‘come down’ to the recipient of the message. This colour also becomes furthermore important and symbolic in the next part of the song.

We also read another familiar image in Taehyung’s songwriting, which is the passage of time when he sings ‘in the paused time’. Taehyung mentioned in the official blog release that this paused time may have added more anxiety and gloominess. The idle time when nothing in life seems to march forward:

“I think that this year would be felt like a period of paused time, and that there would be many people with increased anxiety and gloominess as the year-end approaches. For today at least, I wish the white flowers come down into your heart and you are able to feel warm comfort and happiness even for a bit.” — translation cr. doolsetbangtan

But Taehyung sings about this quite differently from the usual melancholic or yearning tone he sets when he sings about the passage of time. The said moment in the lyrics is special, and it may be nice that time stops for a bit so they can rest at ease with the flowers. And in this said time, he wishes for the recipient of the affection to be greeted and embraced by the snow. For in Taehyung’s world, the snowfall can be just as beautiful.

Something I also liked is how the trumpet riffs also move similarly to Taehyung’s flow and cadence — The trumpet legato after he sings “Uriui siganeul” straightly, staccato on Taehyung’s “hey, hey”, then moves back to legato when Taehyung sings in legato too — likely because it personally felt like the trumpet sounds like the rich, warm and smooth timbre of Taehyung’s voice. The chorus ends with the voiceover.

Second Verse: One of the things Taehyung likes to employ in his music is the contrast of his second verse’s structure compared to the first. In Stigma and Scenery, the flow and cadence of his vocals pick up the tempo and notches the tone by singing on his falsetto and mixed, respectively. This is also seen in the pace of his singing on the second verse of Sweet Night but returns to his chest voice after the falsettos in the chorus.

When the world is colored beautifully in white
I will spread that faded color with you
I see a lot of white angels this year here and there
Breathe deeply and see those flowers look like you
Feel the warmth next to me
Hold my hand with cold and gentle hand

In Snow Flower, it’s Peakboy starting the second verse with his fast and accurately measured phrasing in each bar he sings — especially the first part of it — like rap-singing. He always starts and ends his lines succinctly on each bar, contrasting Taehyung’s slower legato. Peakboy‘s melodic shape mostly consists of several short strokes of zigzaggy patterns (approximately with 2-to-5 note intervals save for the cadences where he riffs, e.g. 1:57). The gaps of the intervals are much more closer in Peakboy’s verse than Taehyung’s verse where the melodic shape is more like mountain slopes (seriously :-D). Peakboy ascends to his upper range midway, still retaining the similar melodic shape ’til this phrasing.

Peakboy’s thicker, warmer timbre and fast phrasing in this first part of the second verse creates very positive, stable yet also lively energy as he delivers lines that further keep mentioning the colour white and images related to it. The ‘flower’ that is white) that looks like ‘you’, and the ‘white angels’ that refer to the people on the medical field, alluding to the frontliners of COVID-19.

Going back to the subtle art/painter theme in the song, in subtractive colour theory where we see colour as a pigment, if black is the presence of colours (for us to create black pigment in paints we must add all the colours together) then the colour white is the absence of it. However, in additive colour theory in which we see colour as light, colour exists if light exists; all colours of light mixed create white. In my humble opinion, though the colour white is inherently a positive colour, it is also heavily associated with the winter season and its meanings, including negative ones. It is also probably more amplified to connect with the human subconsciousness during the season. How Peakboy himself sings “I’ll be snowed on with you for the rest of my life” on a higher pitch, as if it’s exciting, climactic, subverting the idea of being ‘snowed on’ for eternity into something more romantic, positive.

For how Taehyung uses it in Snow Flower, the colour white sounds very prismatic and iridescent.

I’ll keep you safe
I’ll be snowed on with you for the rest of my life

It’s in these phrasings where Peakboy breaks the monorhythmic shape of the melody when he descends back down to chest voice, and holds a C#3 before jumping back which I assume would be his mixed and blends at the end with another vocal, possibly his double or Taehyung’s. Another thing worth pointing out is Peakboy’s vocals echoing his “aah” riff at 2:04 several times which is quite a pretty detail.

Taehyung reenters the soundscape with “Did you see the snow”, his timbre lighter and brighter as he uses more head tone on his mixed voice while Peakboy retains his metallic and heavy timbre. We are now listening to a duet. This part of the second verse further shows Taehyung’s ability to manipulate his voice and provide juxtaposing accompaniment to Peakboy’s tone, especially how Taehyung sings believe in Santa Claus?” and his next line, sounding sweeter and lyrical, despite the doubled effect on his vocal.

While this song has been absolutely generous of Taehyung’s chest tones, it does not shy away to make use of his falsetto in “I’m just feeling” and “neowa bareul matchwo” as Taehyung and Peakboy switch roles on leading the vocals.

When I think of the brightness and lightness on the head voice and falsetto I often picture the sharp yet gentle beam of the sun pierced across the sky — but Taehyung’s upper range in Snow Flower is more akin to a blazing flame in the hearth of the fireplace. This warmness remains when he uses his head voice and falsetto in the chorus as the tone on his upper range is thicker, the usual flutey quality on these are barely there.

Did you see the snow?
like your eyes
believe in Santa Claus?
I’ll bring a warm gift with you
like a tip of the nose, every time when this season comes

It’s also in this portion we can truly see the ‘duet’ essence of Snow Flower through the lyrics when Peakboy and Taehyung sing as if they’re conversing with each other. Taehyung asks with much sharpness and assertion, “did you see the snow?”, “believe in Santa Claus?” with Peakboy replying “like your eyes”, and for the latter “I’ll bring a…” —but here, Taehyung completes Peakboy’s sentence with “warm gift with you”.

Fall in love
I’m just feeling
stay with me
keeping pace with you,
I’ll sing this song

‘You make me wanna be a better man’

From the moment Taehyung completes the sentence, the inquisitive exchange transforms when the two singers switch. Peakboy sings “fall in love” and “stay with me” as Taehyung starts to lead the vocals and sing in his falsetto with “I’m just feeling” and “keeping pace with you” respectively; altogether the lines read more now as completing each other’s thoughts, and after Peakboy sings “I’ll sing this song”, Taehyung and Peakboy start to harmonise with each other — as if the characters they’re representing in the song are now on the same page. The second verse then ends with another radio voiceover line, taken from the movie As Good as It Gets (1997).

From here, the details in Snow Flower’s second verse abovementioned show the required ear and musicianship on the vocal instrument to subvert the listeners’ expectations, making it an effectively beautiful and dynamic second verse.

The world is filled with white blossoms
deepening our mood
under the standing streetlight,
hope the flower comes down upon your smile

Chorus and Coda: The chorus repeats with the same melodic line but with a change in the lyrics, this time there is a clearer scenery in the lyrics. Taehyung writes the details in very straightforward exposition, but the images used when put together are very emotional and intimate— streetlight, indicating being together in the streets on the evening as snow befalls the characters. The streets seem to hold a special place in Taehyung, for he has also written scenes on the streets in his other songs like in Inner Child’s “I vaguely recall that summer day’s air, so cold, the sound of the gray streets, breathing in and knocking on your door”, Blue & Grey’s “The sound of my heart breathing faster that I felt while walking on the cold winter streets”, the cover art of Scenery, and the locus of Taehyung’s travels in his self-directed MV for Winter Bear.

And in the tradition of Kim Taehyung’s composition, we get a coda for the trumpet highlighting its own groove, syncopated in true jazz fashion for eight bars. It’s there to fill in the hollows of the heart with all the energy and warmth as it hits the weaker beats.

What makes a true artist or poet is having their own signature that identifies their work, and in Snow Flower, I feel Taehyung has been further expanding his already detailed storytelling. We also hear more compositional authorship from Taehyung when he imbued spoken voice lines on a vintage radio and recurring white noise that can be rounded back to the images of said vintage radio and the snow. He makes a callback and synecdoche out of the colours “blue and grey” to make a short, quick, encapsulating reference to the very complex story and experience in the song. The colour white and the snow now has more personal touches and abstract meanings. The intro also uses the sound of snow whirring on the wind, which is something similar to Scenery’s opening. His use of something familiar also immediately subverted as the bass plays along with it instead of a bright piano chord. The concept of Time, once again, is mentioned in this song, but we see Time behaving differently in Snow Flower. Additionally, we also see how the streets have become a favoured and meaningful setting for him, as abovementioned. From here we can see some sort of world-building in the stories of Taehyung’s oeuvre through music and lyrics.

Snow Flower also feels like a complementary accompaniment to Blue & Grey. I also want to highlight how Taehyung can successfully provide solace and inspiration to people by bestowing positive nuances to images and things that have negative connotations and give them fresher, more life-changing meanings. Taehyung himself loves the winter season, and he openly shares the things he loves about it by creating these better images in the lyrics. For fans like us, when we experience the chilling nights, the December air, the snowfall now we will surely remember the warmth of his voice, the comfort of his words, the beauty of his music, and the images he shared in Snow Flower more than the blues and greys of the cold season.

In what’s supposed to be the darkest hours of my life, I will remember 2020 for all the memories with Taehyung as I followed his music and artistry, with all the words I wrote and all the images I created which are inspired by him.

Because how Taehyung does this, how he adds meanings, is done sophisticatedly and thoughtfully. There’s probably no absolute science, detailed process, or recipe to break down what makes a luminary such as Kim Taehyung. It’s just the magic of the artist’s mind and the purity of his heart and soul.

Snow Flower is available on YouTube and SoundCloud. Follow V on Spotify.

Lyrics translation are from Vernal_Bom.

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

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