Mapping Me: A Look at Jimin’s “Filter”
There was a boy who saw a scarf on a mannequin. He took it off and put it on. It added a spot of colour to his plain white shirt and black pants. A song started from his lips and a rhythm began coursing through his body. Shrugging his shoulder and tapping his feet to the beat, he took off the hat from the mannequin’s head and elegantly placed it on his own, poised to begin. Graceful movement sprung from his arms as the mannequin’s coat was also removed and donned. As his dance gained momentum, the scarf, hat, and coat were discarded. His dance became a search for something better. He flung his arms around, as he paraded through the space, allowing the music to guide him and bring rhythm to his body. Suddenly hands appeared out of nowhere, pulling on a coat around him. He resisted, even as he continued dancing, but then gave in to the coat, letting it shape the contours of his body. Another hat appeared, pivoting and pirouetting him about. The music was now emboldening his moves, leading him but also being led by him. But the new jacket was constraining, and he could feel himself done with it. The music now reached its bridge, and he had made his choice. He started throwing off the jacket and the hat, as dancers gathered, effacing him from view. At the climax, the dancers parted and he emerged in a beautiful burgundy suit, with a corset of the same colour across his waist, spotlighting his lean, slim frame with dainty curves. The suit didn’t own him, he owned the suit. The dancers were now his wings, expanding his presence as he took centre. The music was in sync with his body, and there was no hat to hide his face anymore. He was finally where he wanted to be.
Jimin’s performance of his solo “Filter” during BTS’s Map of the Soul O:NE concert in October 2020 added a new dimension to the song and its place in the album. Map of the Soul: 7 (MOTS:7), released in 2020, is an album capturing the realisation of the self. It is significant for me that this album was released after the Love Yourself era, which feels like a starting point to discovering oneself: only with love and curiosity can one dig deeper into one’s shadows. MOTS:7 offers us the idea that in acknowledging our past, present, and the future we have hoped for, we can feel whole as human beings and make the most of life. Each of the members put out a solo track that held deep relevance to their personal stories. Jimin’s solo, “Filter,” did not feel as meaningful for me until it was performed in that specific manner (my interpretation given above).
This essay proposes that the song is built around the hyphen between the actor-spectator, a relationship that gives meaning and life to any performance (like BTS and ARMY). No stage is complete without its audience, no dance is real without a witness, no utterance carries weight without a listener, no writing lives without its reader. This hyphen that traverses singular personas is a key feature of therapeutic work and, as I hope to discuss, life. The psychotherapist ceases to exist without the client and their story. And both are also in performance.
Jimin offers to be a filter, a lens we can wear to see the world again. Naturally, it makes me think: what sort of a world would I want? Many times, experiences fall short of expectations and can impact one’s faith in a beautiful, hopeful, kind world. So here Jimin comes in to say: put me on, whatever me you like, and see if it helps. What would he really mean by that?
This moment is analogous to a psychotherapeutic encounter. A psychotherapist creates a blank canvas to allow for the client to paint their story and lay out their projections first, before reaching some understanding. You need to spill out, vent, lay yourself bare, before you can sort through the mess and work on it. I am of the opinion that Jimin may be inviting us to do something similar — to make use of him in this manner, to project onto him all of our wishes and desires. Jimin is the blank screen to see and make sense of our inner world again.
How does a person become a blank screen? Through the performance, Jimin shows us a glimpse into his own transformation. He experiments with filters, masculine and feminine, some thrust upon him, and some chosen, and the song moves in sync with his intentions. He can be your genie, the one to grant your wish, or Aladdin, the one who does the wishing (lyrics from the song). The more he experiments, the more he opens himself up to be your muse. By making himself, and therefore the filters, changeable and temporary, Jimin offers an opportunity to notice our own filters, and uncover what has been hidden all this while.
“Look at me, suddenly changed into a kid” (translations by Doolset) the bridge starts and tension mounts. Jimin is now hidden behind dancers for a moment, stripping off all the filters he tried, before he emerges in a gorgeous fitting wine coloured suit with an outer corset. Does he look like a kid again? No. But he seems to feel himself, unencumbered by life’s expectations. After projecting and engaging with and reflecting on the different filters, suddenly they are all shed to reveal a beautiful moment of ownership, and life is direct, simple and most real.
To be an adult is to keep in mind responsibility, duty, and obligation. But Jimin has grown into himself, by removing all things that hide him and his origins (we can yell about how nothing seems ill-fitting on Jimin separately). He finally sees himself for who he is, the person he had seemingly covered up through others’ expectations and specifications. It is a reminder of who he always believed himself to be, but perhaps forgot along the way. It is the freedom of childhood again, unfettered by life’s filters.
And that is the kind of journey we all can take on to find ourselves, that specifically psychotherapy propagates. It is a journey outwards into many unknown territories, to finally reach something true inside. Now that I’ve reached me, reclaimed me, that little spark that made me me, I can choose how to be, on my terms. Jimin’s spectacular transformation into those violet and burgundy suits (MOTS ON:E) are the choices he has made — the outfits become him.
Our everyday lives are filled with moments of responsibility and performance. Those aren’t fake, but speak to the authentic realities that we must abide by in order to survive in society. We are performative beings, adapting to multiple situations and roles. Not everybody finds their childhood as authentic an experience as other stages in their life. Some may have felt more themselves in adolescence, some as young adults, some when they became parents, and some when they got divorced. But we can all identify a moment or a space (or several) when we felt/feel most ourselves, as really “me” as possible.
That sense of me isn’t devoid of certain choices we have made as human beings. The choice of being vegan, the choice of clothing, the choice of a partner, the choice of dessert, the choice of words. Choice undeniably comes with privilege — not everybody can choose or have options to choose from. But choice also takes courage, to select at the cost of leaving something behind.
This song raises for me the question of the performer. A performer works in relation to their audience, speaking and interacting with them. The performance loses meaning without its audience. If no one can see my art, does it exist? Am I an artist at all? Artists like BTS have experienced the force of this existential crisis over this pandemic. What makes this song powerful is Jimin speaking directly to you, inviting you to make him perform the way you would like him to. He wants to be your performer, to show you what life can look like if you choose it. He is stepping over the already broken fourth wall, stretching his hand out to you, and asking: how would you like (me) to perform?
A psychotherapist asks a similar question in session. What use would you like to make of me in understanding yourself? How can I make it easier for you to connect with yourself again?
The other important message from the song is the emphasis on doing, on trying and trying again. There are so many options available to us, so many different masks to work with, so many colours to embody, so how about you try them out? Through the song, Jimin chooses the outfit that feels like it belongs there. The outfit melts into him with such grace that there is no doubt it was made for him. He can be freer to be himself through the outfit.
The final revelation that the entire set, Jimin’s choice of clothing and the song, brought me was that it takes us back to a time where gender wasn’t a question or an answer of our lives, where we lived free and could look towards life with hope. Gender is yet another filter that can be empowering or suffocating, and Jimin is offering us all a chance to think with it, and beyond it. The song is a reminder to stop and do the most difficult task of life: look at myself.
So how does Jimin’s song become relevant to all of us today? Through his journey with art, he has found who he is and wants to be. He wants to be the artist you can rely on in order to find yourself. A therapeutic process also begins in a similar manner, as the therapist listens and makes room for you to unpack your story. If it starts with filters, so be it. Most of the important relationships in our lives began with filters. Some managed to bring out what felt authentically us and allowed for a level of conviction that made us believe in ourselves. For me, the song signifies that once you can identify your filters, you will connect with that enduring magic within you. You’ll find you.
It echoes RM’s words famously spoken at the end of one of their Love Yourself Speak Yourself concerts. “Use me, use BTS to love yourself.” Many of us ARMY have found our way into this purple wave to feel and give love again. Many carry backstories of pain and struggle and didn’t want it to ravage their capacity for love. Perhaps we just needed something stronger to help us heal at the time. I have found a personal resonance with their music and their work. It feels to me like through this album, Map of the Soul: 7, and specifically “Filter,” BTS seems to be extending a hand and saying, “I’ll help you draw your map again,” much like I hope to be doing in my work as a psychotherapist.