In 2020’s “People,” Agust D asked, “Why so serious? Why so serious?” The line comes from a now beloved cut off the second mixtape from SUGA of BTS, who records and performs music as an alter-ego known as Agust D when off-duty from band responsibilities. The question is immediately followed up with an admission that acts as the key to the rapper, producer, and songwriter’s solo work: “I’m so serious. I’m so serious.”
SUGA introduced the world to Agust D first back in 2016 with a mixtape of the same name. The EP, initially only released to Soundcloud, is brimming with anger and offers a marked contrast to the music BTS was putting out at the time as a group. In 2016, the septet was in the thick of working on and promoting The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: Young Forever, a tender and nostalgic capsule of coming-of-age. In 2020, a second installment of SUGA’s solo series arrived in the form of D-2, a lyrically dense, deeply introspective 10-track collection that featured the aforementioned “People” and the earth-shaking “Daechwita.” BTS at the time was swiftly on the rise; this release was pre-“Dynamite,” but only by a hair.
SUGA has shared in the past that the Agust D series was designed to be a place where he could make the kind of music he was most interested in without the constraints or expectations of a traditional album structure. Today, April 21st, the trilogy comes to a conclusion with D-DAY, the first official full-length project in the series, and a journey that serves as the kind of goodbye the character of Agust D deserves.
SUGA has never been one to hold back from sharing what he believes. “I’ve got some real-ass karma coming back on me,” he yells in the energetic album opener, also titled “D-Day.” He follows this up with “Haegeum,” which strikes as something of a companion piece to 2020’s fiery “Daechwita” — “What is it, exactly, that’s been restricting us?/ Maybe we do it to ourselves,” he muses. “Slaves to capitalism, slaves to money, slaves to hatred and prejudice.”
The album’s standout track, arguably, is “AMYGDALA,” whose name references Sohn Won-Pyung’s 2017 novel Almond. The central character of the book was born with an underdeveloped amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear and memory. The guitar-laden, harmony-rich song is truly some of SUGA’s best work, and certainly his best work from a vocal perspective. Known for his expert flow as a rapper, SUGA leans all the way into vocalist mode with “AMYGDALA,” which, lyrically, is also one of his most personal tracks to date. He shares family stories that even the most dedicated of fans wouldn’t have had access to before — he discusses his mother undergoing heart surgery, a hospital visit just after he was born, his father being diagnosed with liver cancer, and an accident he couldn’t talk about. “Those things I never asked for/ Those things that are out of my hands/ Imma put it back,” he sings.
Another tender standout is “Snooze,” which features the late Oscar-winning composer and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of SUGA’s musical heroes, and also enlists WOOSUNG of Korean rock group The Rose for vocal contributions. Here, again, SUGA offers a window into the more difficult sides of his story so far: “It might look like it was all flowers, but everywhere, foes.” Even on the less memorable parts of the album — “SDL” and pre-release track “People Pt.2” feat. IU don’t stick as much as others in the grand scheme of the record — the connecting thread is this idea of pushing forward through the difficult moments.
Every member of BTS has long proven themselves to be an essential piece of the puzzle — the team’s decade-long dynamic and the constantly vocalized depth of their affection for one another often serve as reminders of the fact that these specific, uniquely talented strangers coming together (and fighting to stay together) is nearly miraculous. In the same way that RM’s Indigo seems like clear proof of the rapper’s impact on BTS’s work from a songwriting perspective, D-DAY effectively underscores the production style, flow, and musical texture that SUGA brings to to the group. “HUH?!,” which has SUGA trading bars with bandmate j-hope, feels like coming home for anyone who found their way to Agust D via BTS. The days of foggy basement rehearsal rooms and garage studios might be behind them, but SUGA has retained a certain amount of the scrappiness that helped the band reach such impressive heights.
The thing that takes SUGA’s work on this record from good to great, though, is the clarity he has when it comes to his art. He has done the hard work of sitting with himself long enough to unlock the more vulnerable parts of the songwriting process; he’s burnt the midnight oil in the studio editing, re-editing, and starting songs from scratch more times than he can count. Over the years existing in the balance of BTS, writing for himself for projects like this, and collaborating with other figures in the industry, he has honed his skill set into something as razor sharp as it is laser focused.
Here, in the context of D-DAY, it means that the story he set out to tell ends up linear and cohesive, remarkably so, even for people who don’t speak Korean and experience the album first solely as a sonic journey. “D-Day” and “Haegeum” light the fuse and start the album with an explosion that tames to a barely-contained simmer when “HUH?!” feat. j-hope rolls around. The melodic “AMYGDALA” serves as a transitional point, and by the time the comforting “Snooze” (featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto and WOOSUNG of The Rose) and “Life Goes On” arrive, it feels like we’ve been walking alongside SUGA through a process of healing — and if not healing, then perhaps coming to terms with the world and its many challenges. “What do I stand to gain?” he asks on “Polar Night.” “The world’s bullshit, but you don’t have to be.”
The path towards something that resembles acceptance spans the entire Agust D trilogy, in fact. “I’m too big to fit into the ‘K-pop category,'” he said, young and frustrated, in 2016; “I got everything I wanted/ What more will make me feel contented?” he began to ask in the chaos of 2020.
Here, as the conclusion to the trilogy in 2023, it doesn’t feel like an accident that SUGA chose to include a verse that appears in the BTS version of “Life Goes On,” too: “People say the world has changed/ But thankfully, between you and me, nothing’s changed.” SUGA might be hanging up his Agust D attire soon — the fire will eventually burn out, and the scars will fade — but this collection is a body of work people will turn to for years to come.
Essential Tracks: “Haegeum,” “AMYGDALA,” “Snooze” (feat. Ryuichi Sakamoto and WOOSUNG of The Rose)