by Felicia Giwa
One of the biggest names to come out of K-pop (Korean pop music) is the boyband BTS, which stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan (this translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts”). In the past year they became the first K-pop group to top the Billboard charts with their albums Love yourself: Tear and Love yourself: Answer. Their music video “Idol” holds the record for the most views on YouTube in twenty-four hours, and they are the only K-pop group to have performed at the Billboard and American Music Awards. They also traveled the globe on a sold-out world tour. In other words, they are everywhere right now. They even spoke at the United Nations last year. Thanks to their loyal fans—which BTS calls the ARMY— they have quickly become the biggest boyband in the world.
BTS is made up of seven members: RM, Suga, J-Hope, V, Jin, Jimin, and Jungkook. RM, Suga, and J-Hope are the rappers of the group, while V, Jin, Jimin, and Jungkook are the singers. The group made their debut in June of 2013 with their first single “No More Dreams.” Since then, BTS has changed the definition of what K-pop artists look like. In the past, K-pop groups would mostly focus on their music, but BTS focuses on the music and social media. Unlike other K-pop groups, BTS is constantly updating the ARMY by posting photos and videos of themselves on their social media accounts. The group likes to livestream with their fans on the app V Live, and they post on Twitter regularly. This amount of engagement is uncommon for K-pop artists, and it’s why many people think that the band is so popular globally. However, any true member of the ARMY knows that it is the music that makes the group so unique and popular. Even RM, the leader of BTS, has said that social media is not the main reason for their international success; it is BTS’s music that makes them special.
The group is one of a few K-pop groups that writes and produces their own music, a practice that is uncommon among K-pop groups. Most K-pop groups sing or rap about love and relationships. And while BTS also sings about love and relationships, the group has become one of the first K-pop groups to speak openly about social issues that affect Korean society and the rest of the world. For example, they focus on the ethics of work in South Korea, the pressure students face, the reality of mental illness, and much more. One of the group’s best songs, “Not Today,” is an empowering song for people who feel like underdogs. Another song, “Silver Spoon (Baepsae),” encourages young people to work hard to get over the obstacles that are put up by the older generation. In this way, many of the group’s songs are for people all over the world.
One reason BTS is the only K-pop group to get away with writing about critical social topics in Korea is because the group is from a smaller music company. Most other K-pop idols are from one of the three big music companies in Korea: JYP entertainment, SM entertainment, and YG entertainment. BTS’s company, BigHit Entertainment, allows the boyband to get involved in their music-making process: over their career they’ve been hands-on in writing and producing their songs. So when BTS releases a song, there is a good chance that at least one of the band members helped in the creation of that song.
BTS is the first K-pop band to really break out in America. Their fan base consists of people from all ages and all types of backgrounds. Men in their 20s listen to them just as much as teenage girls do. Moms listen to them with their kids, and even the elderly listen to their music. Famous American celebrities like Halsey, Ansel Elgort, Shawn Mendes, and John Cena are fans of them. While it’s true that BTS’s music is relatable to many different people because of the powerful messages in their songs, it can’t be overlooked how advances in technology have also played a major role in their popularity. Over 20 years ago it would have been difficult to gain access to K-pop music outside of Korea. But the internet has made the world a much smaller place. Now we just go on YouTube to listen to music from Korea or Ethiopia or any place around the globe where songs are uploaded to the web. This access to diverse music is changing tastes, and this is another reason why BTS is so popular here in the states. Listeners’ tastes are expanding.
BTS says that they have the best fans in the world and looking at the ARMY’s social media presence one most certainly agrees. The ARMY here in the states is involved with other ARMY fan bases around the world. Together, members of these fan bases create and share funny memes about bandmates, while also sharing testimonials of the ways BTS has helped them through rough times. The ARMY has also been able to spread the awareness of the band to other music fans. One example of this is when the ARMY and the BeyHive, Beyoncé’s fanbase, created a shared playlist of both BTS’s and Beyoncé’s latest albums so that both fan bases could share and find new music.
It’s cliché to say this, but music transcends languages, and for BTS’s music this is true. BTS sings primarily in Korean with some English. Even though they have a massive fanbase all over the world, few of their fans speak or understand Korean. Some of their fans have said that the band speaks to them through their music alone. Even though some fans can’t understand BTS’s lyrics, these fans can still feel something when they listen to the group. BTS has said that the sincerity in their music and performances is what draws western audiences to them.
K-pop, as a musical genre, has grown in popularity in the past few years. More and more, people are searching Spotify and Apple Music to find the latest K-pop sensations. And while the future of K-pop is still unclear, one thing is for sure. BTS and their fans aren’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.