Oral storytelling has been one of the oldest forms of literature and this oral element of reciting folk tales and fairy tales also allow them to be deeply connected to music or a lyrical form of existence. Music and literature have always impacted each other, and each has inspired the other from time to time. The greatest texts of literature have inspired musicians and singers to create songs on them in all the different decades and all the different musical genres available, where each adaptation of the story is different and highlights a different aspect of it.
Here, I will be analysing how the tale of “Pied Piper of Hamelin” was adapted by the K-pop group, BTS (Bulletproof Boy Scouts) in one of their songs called “Pied Piper” in their 2017 album “Love Yourself- Her” to critique the obsessive nature of fans and how the celebrity – fan relationship forms and exists on a larger scale in society.
The story of “Pied Piper of Hamelin” goes as following. Once upon a time in the village of Hamelin, which was inflicted by rats, there came a man who promised to get the city rid of rats for a certain amount of money and the villagers agreed. He had a colourful coat on and played the flute, thus he came to be known as “Pied Piper.” He played his flute and all the rats came out, he led them to the river and jumped in the river, the rats too followed him and jumped in the river. After getting rid of the problem, villagers regretted having promised such a large sum of money to the Pied Piper so they made excuses in order to not pay.
The next day Pied Piper came and again played his flute, only this time the children above the age of four followed him and he led them to a cave and disappeared. The villagers came to know about it, but they could not find their children. Few children who strayed came back and told what happened, but when the villagers reached the cave, it was empty. Whether the Pied Piper abducted the children and led them to jump in the river and drown is unclear. Various versions of this story exist. The most famous and the one which I refer to is the “Brothers’ Grimm” version.
This story shows the devastating effects of the following someone blindly, though in this case the rats or the children did not have much choice as they were not in their control which also reflects the power of music on human senses and its ability to create an impact and influence. Here the Pied piper is the powerful figure who is in control and can be set to be commanding the stage and leading his audience wherever he wants much like our musicians.
The song “Pied Piper” by BTS adapts this tale in the modern context of celebrity culture and fan culture where in they critique this obsessive nature of fans to follow their favourite celebrities without any control reversing this idea that people are not in control to the idea that it is the fans who have this over consuming tendency and over indulgence wherein they don’t want to control. They strive to know more about the celebrity’s life, many times by neglecting their own life. How this idea of a public figure can completely overpower someone specially the relationship singers and musicians share with their fans.
The lyrics of the song goes:
It’s bad so it’s better, you know on the inside, you can’t stop it now, so be honest with me.
The beginning of the song talks about that on one hand even the fans know that their behaviour is not productive but they’re still unable to stop themselves just like the rats or the children are unable to stop themselves, especially in this digital age where there are so many avenues for content to exists from fan groups to fan fiction to artists themselves using different social media platforms to put out stuff other than their music in this case. K-pop is an industry which is very fast moving in terms of the amount of content they put out and the fans feel compelled to see everything and to know everything. In some sense, it is also the critique of the increasingly consumerist turn society is taking and growing addictiveness of people to other people’s lives.
We see this behaviour of people losing themselves to the music in live concerts where the collecting energy of the crowd is such, where for almost two hours nothing else exists, for the people attending the concerts than the stage and the music being played, which is same as how the children who followed the Pied Piper were completely enraptured by his flute. Some more of the lyrics goes as:
Stop, Now stop watching and study for your test, Your parents and boss hate me, Video clips, pictures, tweets, V app, Bon Voyage, I know, you can’t help what you like, But stop, interpret the music video later, You have so many pictures of me in your room anyway, It’s not just one hour, it’s a whole year that’ll disappear, So, this song is an award I’m giving to you.
Here, BTS advises their fans to stop watching them and focus on their own life’s such as their studies and jobs. BTS say that nobody can control what one likes but because of their fan’s sometimes excessive behaviour, they are hated by their parents and bosses. BTS then mentions the names of different contents they have put out and says that while attempting to keep up to date without realising the fans would lose precious time of their lives. The song also brings attention to this idea of living vicariously through others and indicate that anyone can have the lives they want but one needs to work for it, nothing will actually happen by following someone else’s life.
The song shows tough love to their fans and besides critiquing the fans it also can be seen as critiquing on a larger scale, the consumerist nature of today’s society whose hunger is insatiable no matter the amount and variety of products available to consume. But apart from critique, the song also brings out the helpless condition of society and the fans where they are unable to control and resist the temptation just as in the story of Pied Piper as the following lyrics goes:
You’re not being punished, come here, I’m your paradise, can’t close your eyes, can’t close your eyes, you can throw a fit but it’s no use (Don’t reject me), Just close your eyes, tune your ears.
If we look at it from another lens or perspective it also seems to be highlighting how people use celebrities as a means of escape from their everyday life which can be because of various social anxieties or insecurities or some other problems they are facing in their lives, where art especially music is a comfort. In a way for some fans their fanatic nature is also a means of coping and for some time to be able to forget the hardships of their own lives and find comfort somewhere else. One cannot deny the fact that fandoms on a larger scale can also provide a sense of belongingness and community that an individual might not have otherwise based on people’s mutual love for someone. But even then, extreme behaviour is more likely to cause harm than benefit anyone.
Follow the sound of the pipe, follow this song, it’s a bit dangerous but I’m so sweet, I’m here to save you, I’m here to ruin you, you called me, see? I’m so sweet, Follow the sound of the pipe, I’m takin’ over you I’m takin’ over you.
These lyrics again emphasize as well as critique the nature of celebrity fans relationships as all the sentences can be seen as pair of opposites which is a structure followed for the most part in the song highlighting both the sides, the good and the bad of this para social relationship that exists between celebrities and fans. In the end the song is a fun dance number and dissects this unique celebrity – fan relationship in humorous manner.
Music has always been able to talk about things which are otherwise difficult to comprehend or articulate. It affects us all on a deeper emotional level. But how do we react to it and why do we react the way we do? It’s because of different reasons according to the individual listening to the music. Music is also a form of storytelling like literature. Here, we also see how an old children’s fairy tale is adapted and modified to talk about the problems of modern society and people’s behaviour in it.
It tells us that the scope of interpretations of stories and literature is never-ending and perhaps in every decade there will be new interpretations of the same text available to understand new problems and situations. It also shows the mobility of stories and music, as the tale of pied piper originally came from Germany from the Brother’s Grim collections which was first published in the beginning of the nineteenth century and the story has been adapted since then on various platforms from movies to tv series to music. BTS is not the first artist to incorporate this story in their songs not would be they the last. But from Germany to the tale being adapted by a South Korean boy band and then the songs being listened by anyone living anywhere in the world shows the true global nature and reach of music and literature in today’s day and age.
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