Encountering the Unconscious: “Interlude: Shadow” Explained
This piece is cross-posted on my website, The BTS Effect.
In a previous piece, I wrote about the Jungian and old-school Bangtan influence in Namjoon’s “Intro: Persona.” With Yoongi’s installment of “Interlude: Shadow,” we now have more Jungian themes to unpack, as well as some references to past Bangtan eras and lyrics that discuss one’s duality.
Before getting into the music video and lyrics, it’s helpful to have an understanding of some of Jung’s ideas surrounding the unconscious, the shadow, and the self. Jung believed that beyond our consciousness, a deep unconscious realm exists — a realm in which repressed attributes reside. The shadow, he theorized, contains negative traits we’ve put aside, as well as any traits we learned were not acceptable (even if those traits weren’t inherently bad). Additionally, Jung thought that our consciousness was not the whole of the “self,” and that in order to achieve wholeness and reach one’s true self, one must go through the individuation process. This process requires us to encounter and integrate our unconscious elements into our conscious selves. After a person acknowledges their persona (a social mask we wear to fit in with society), they can move on to their first encounter with the unconscious: the shadow.
Murray Stein, in Jung’s Map of the Soul, writes, “The problem of integrating the shadow is a moral and psychological problem of the most thorny sort. If a person completely shuns the shadow, life is proper but it is terribly incomplete. By opening up to shadow experience, however, a person becomes tainted with immorality but attains a greater degree of wholeness.” Jung believed that shadow integration was difficult and that if someone did not go through this process, the result could be chaos. Stein notes that most people “only reveal shadowy elements by accident, in dreams, or when pushed to extremes.” The shadow exists in everyone, and it influences us from the unconscious. And if we don’t deal with it, we can’t become truly whole. It’s this first step into the unconscious that is expressed through “Interlude: Shadow.”
The video opens with Yoongi in a long hallway, lined with many doors and shadowed figures, invoking imagery of the multiple aspects that compose one’s shadow. As the song opens with him describing how he wanted to be on top, there’s graphic overlays that read O!RUL8,2?, hearkening back to a previous BTS album, like we saw in “Persona” with the Skool Luv Affair references. (Later on in the song, there’s also some similar sound effects to “Intro: O!RUL8,2?”)
There’s a cut to Yoongi on a back-lit floor with shards of glass suspended above him, similar to the shattering that happens in the comeback trailer for O!RUL8,2? (as well as a microphone shattering through glass, which also occurs in both videos). This trend of reflecting back on previous works indicates a sort of self-reflection, perfectly in line with the idea of encountering all the parts that make up an individual through the individuation process.
Yoongi raps about wondering how far he’d go, and when he says “shadow at my feet,” we can see shadow figures reaching towards him beneath the floor panels, a representation of the shadow that lies just beneath the surface of consciousness. The shadow figures press up against a door, trying to get through to the other side where Yoongi stands alone, as if providing a visual of how our repressed elements can threaten to come up into our conscious minds. While this may seem like a negative, as previously noted, encountering and resolving the shadow elements is actually a positive (and necessary) step of the individuation process.
Yoongi goes on to discuss how his shadow has gotten bigger, which can be understood both as one’s unconscious shadow growing in force and as a description of the shadow BTS has due to the bright light of fame that keeps shining brighter. He describes his shadow following him — whether our real shadows or our unconscious shadows, they’re a part of us we can never escape. He raps, “I’m afraid, flying high is terrifying,” lines that are reminiscent of similar sentiments he’s made in the past (such as in Halsey’s track “Suga’s Interlude”), because we all know that the higher you fly, the further you can fall. He also references the loneliness of being successful and at the top. This can mean many things to each individual, but it’s understandably a nod to how difficult it can be once you reach certain heights. Your life changes forever, the circle of people you can trust dwindles, and the expectations placed on you grow and grow.
The shadows run towards him, as if rushing up from the unconscious to the surface, and he stops them just before they consume him. This scene appears as he raps about his shadow becoming a monster and swallowing him, which we must be careful of — our repressed traits may swallow us up if we don’t responsibly engage with our shadows and deal with our faults.
On stage again, he raps in front of a familiar crowd of people holding cellphones, with lights shining down on him, but the lights look like bars on a cage. He talks about achieving what he wanted, but that the shadow grew in that light, showing both the duality of fame as well as humankind. The descriptions of his shadow becoming bigger and threatening to swallow him resonate with these words from Jung in Psychology and Religion: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
After Yoongi appears in all black as he says he wants to be himself, the music and video change with some added distortion. Yoongi, amidst the crowd of people with cellphones, raps “I’m you, you are me, now do you get it? We are one body, sometimes we will clash. You can never break me off, this you must know” and “You’ll be at ease if you admit it too.” Soon after, he encounters himself on screen, representing the encounter of the conscious with the shadow. His words reflect the existence of the dark side within one’s self, and the fact that sometimes this can cause conflict.
There’s not much of a resolution here, but as it’s an interlude and a representation of the first encounter with the unconscious, there doesn’t need to be one. We can assume that the structure of this series will be MOTS: Persona and MOTS: 7, linked via this interlude, with a potential third album released as a repackage. BTS’s tendency towards trilogies gives me reason to believe a third album is likely, but we’ll have to see if timing will allow for such a structure this time around. Perhaps we’ll see a repackaged album in the form of something titled “self,” which could serve to wrap up the thread of the Jungian individuation process. That being said, it doesn’t have to be that direct, and we’ll just have to wait and see whether we’re getting a final trilogy to fill out this portion of BTS’s conceptual timeline.
Yoongi doesn’t try to hide his shadow but rather embraces it and acknowledges that it’s a part of him. This was one of the main points of Jung’s individuation process — you can’t be rid of your shadow or other unconscious elements, but you can work to integrate them into your whole self and become more harmonious within.
For those who want to go the most in-depth, I recommend Murray Stein’s Jung’s Map of the Soul. However, if this text is too dense for your liking, or if this is your first encounter with Carl Jung’s ideas, I recommend the lighter Map of the Soul Persona: Our Many Faces title from the same author.
Additionally, if you’d like some quick information on Jung’s theories, I’ll link some videos below that give an overview of important information surrounding Jung’s ideas and found in Stein’s book.