South Korean artists BTS have been taking the world by storm, making and breaking records like nobody’s business, whilst garnering the attention of millions with the help of the undying support of their fans, BTS’ self-proclaimed ARMY.
From being the first Korean artists to be awarded Top Social Artist at the Billboard Music Awards two years running, to smashing Taylor Swift’s YouTube record for the most views within 24 hours with a staggering 45 million on their latest hit IDOL, it is clear to see that they are a force to be reckoned with.
TIME magazine has even honoured them with the cover of their latest issue this month, heralding them as ‘Next Generation Leaders’.
But what is it that has made RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook so popular amongst their millions of fans and how have they, out of the many polished groups in the Korean music industry, managed to command the attention of the West so successfully?
The group of 7 all have their own identifiable styles, from Gucci enthusiast V (real name Kim Taehyung), who takes fashion inspiration from the late John Lennon, to J-Hope (real name Jung Hoseok) who is seen frequently sporting bulky Balenciagas, to the youngest member Jungkook, who probably owns more black t-shirts than the Argoths in Stirling.
Following their appearance at the BBMAs in 2017, Twitter and Google blew up with searches for the “third one from the left”, due to the public eagerly seeking out information on vocalist and eldest member Kim Seokjin, known more commonly as Jin, due to his good looks. Dubbed “Mr Worldwide Handsome” by fans, his appearance really caused a stir amongst people unfamiliar with the band who had stumbled across their appearance at the awards show. This is certainly not the first time Jin has captured the gaze of people not familiar with BTS, and in 2015 whilst the band attended the Melon Music Awards, he became a trending search referred to as “car door guy”.
It is easy to believe that the personalities of stars portrayed on stage and in interviews is not always genuine and, as part of building a particular brand identity for themselves, they have to show a certain side that fits with how they wish to sell themselves in the media. However, the boys of BTS have expressed time and time again that they pride themselves on sincerity and they believe that this is one of the main factors to their success.
Talking in a recent interview with NME in London, vocalist Jimin said that “the things that we say, the actions…the mindset we have, we try to be as sincere as possible and I think it gets across”.
BTS are also highly active on social networking sites and produce content at an almost constant rate in the form of behind the scenes vlogs called Bangtan Bombs and multiple V-Live series, which allows their fans to see the members interact with one another in different games and challenges such as their Run BTS! series and their Bon Voyage travel series, they have showcased their fun and care-free personalities in plenty offstage activities.
Despite producing music predominantly in Korean, with a flourish of English lyrics here and there, the group have topped multiple Western charts and gained a worldwide audience.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has commended BTS on the way “their melody and lyrics transcend regional borders, language, culture, and institutions”, for which they have recently been awarded an Order of Cultural Merit for helping to spread Korean culture throughout the world with their music and activities.
Although they debuted in 2013 under BigHit Entertainment, they lived relatively under the radar in terms of success within the Korean music industry, which is well-known for being tough to break. Their debut track No More Dream only reached 124 on the Gaon Music Chart. In 2015, however, BTS finally reached their goal of achieving a first win with their much-loved I Need U, on SBS’ The Show.
At the time, this milestone was incredibly important to BTS as they were little fish in a big pond, but it seems now in 2018 that they have become a Megalodon shark in the music pond (though less extinct), sweeping up awards at an alarming rate and no longer just within the Korean industry, either.
When they broke through into the West there was speculation that it was just another PSY fad, however, over the past couple of years it seems that BTS have truly accomplished more than even they expected.
From landing the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart with the debut release of their latest album ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ in August, to performing to an audience of 84,000 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on their current sold-out world tour, it is evident that the BTS success train is hurtling along the tracks at an unstoppable pace. Leader and rapper of the group RM (real name Kim Namjoon) has said previously that “everything around BTS moves so fast…sometimes too much”.
The fact that BTS do not shy away from being open and honest about how overwhelming their success can be at times is admirable. In amongst all the celebrations for the world records and their many, many music awards, it is humbling to see that they remain grounded.
Suga (real name Min Yoongi), rapper and the second eldest of the group admitted during their BTS Festa (a celebratory period commemorating the anniversary of BTS) that he had cried in the shower after they had performed at the AMAs.
“Not because I was overjoyed, but because I was scared” he revealed honestly, “I felt pressured and I felt lost about what to do from then on.”
BTS has reached a point of success that has surpassed all of their previous expectations and at that time, Suga had felt worrisome of future burdens, questioning how they could continue to best themselves.
RM put the situation to rest, however, agreeing that he too had felt the pressures and as a group they had achieved more than they originally set out to but that “something more exciting will be waiting for us”.
The question still remains, however, of what it is that people connect to with BTS and what makes them Next Generation Leaders?
Aside from the visual appeals and the overall sound of BTS, which is subject to personal taste of course, the messages behind their work is an important hook for their audience. Most K-Pop groups historically shy away from involving politics and cultural issues that may cause controversy, but BTS has incorporated these matters into their music from the very beginning. Especially including youth related issues, by tackling topics such as mental health, the pressures and expectations that are placed on young people, and the anxieties and worries that they face daily.
Their latest Love Yourself album trilogy especially focuses on the journey we all venture on to embrace ourselves for who we are by facing and overcoming troubles and lows in life. At the AMAs RM touched on their beliefs that “love is the key for the integration of all of society”.
BTS has managed to reach out to millions with their Love Yourself message, receiving positive critique from many. They have participated in a campaign with UNICEF to spread love and support to young people, and in particular to help #ENDviolence against children and young people across the globe. In September they even attended the annual General Assembly for the United Nations to help be a part of launching the Generation Unlimited and Youth 2030 initiatives, at which the First Lady of South Korea thanked the group for their hard work, stating that “through music, you are a source of strength for young people by representing their anxieties and worries about the future”.
Despite all the success and positive feedback BTS continue to receive for their work, they still remain as humble as ever and focused on spreading their positive message through their music. During an interview with Liam McEwan for J-14, Suga said that “anyone with influence should be trying to send out a positive message…I think it would be better for the world”.
It is likely that, with this attitude for giving back to the world as much positivity as they can, their success will only continue to soar, and their fanbase grow. As they embark on the next leg of their sold out Love Yourself World Tour, it will be a pleasure to witness them smashing more records, reaching new heights and spreading the love wherever they go.