8:56 am - 10/11/2018

How BTS Is Taking Over the World

The boy band hails from Korea and achieves continued chart attention in the West

It’s early on a Monday night in September at a lavish top-floor suite of the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles, and Jimin, one-seventh of BTS, the most popular boy band in the world, is napping upright in front of an illuminated dressing room mirror.

You can’t blame him for being exhausted. Exactly 24 hours earlier, Jimin, 22; Jin, 25; Suga, 25; J-Hope, 24; RM, 24; V, 22; and Jung Kook, 21, were warming up backstage at L.A.’s Staples Center, prepping to perform their fourth and final show of a sold-out stretch at the 20,000-seat arena. Each night is a marathon of sharp dance choreography, music-video interludes and indoor pyrotechnics—all backgrounded, of course, by the roars of screaming fans. “It’s a real honor,” says J-Hope, via a translator. “We’re proud that everything we do is giving off light.”

Like The Beatles and One Direction before them, BTS serves up a mania-inducing mix of heartthrob good looks and ear-worm choruses, alongside dance moves in the vein of New Kids on the Block and *NSYNC. But the band—whose name stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan in Korean and Beyond the Scene in English—is also breaking new ground. Not only is BTS the first Korean act to sell out a U.S. stadium (to say nothing of the records they’ve set across Asia), but they’ve done so without catering to Western audiences. Only one of their members, RM, speaks fluent English, and most of their songs are in Korean—even more proof that music “doesn’t have to be English to be a global phenomenon,” says Steve Aoki, a U.S. DJ who has collaborated with BTS. The group is also preternaturally adept at leveraging social media, both to promote their music and connect with their fans.

But for now, at least, they may need sleep. “I’m still trying to get over my jet lag,” deadpans Suga, one of the group’s three rappers.


Since its genesis in the ‘90s, Korean pop—or K-pop—has become synonymous with what studios call “idols”: a cadre of young, polished, perfect-seeming pop stars whose images are often rigorously controlled. (They’re often discouraged from discussing their dating lives, so as to seem available to fans.) But even as K-pop matured to a nearly $5 billion industry with fans around the world, its biggest stars—including Rain, Girls’ Generation and Big Bang—largely failed to gain traction in Western markets. The outlier was Psy, a South Korean rapper whose “Gangnam Style” became a viral hit in 2012, though his comic, outlandish persona was an unlikely (and some critics argue, problematic) herald for the genre.

When BTS arrived in 2013, it was clear they would play by new rules. They were formed by Bang Si-hyuk, a K-pop renegade who left a major label to start his own enterprise. He chose young stars that appeared to have an edge, beginning with RM, who was initially a part of Korea’s underground rap scene. And although BTS has idol elements—the slick aesthetics, the sharp choreography, the fun-loving singles—they also embrace their flaws. Their first release, “No More Dream,” took on the ways Korean kids feel stymied by societal expectations; RM recorded a song with Wale that alludes to the importance of activism; Suga released a mixtape addressing his depression. “We started to tell the stories that people wanted to hear and were ready to hear, stories that other people could not or would not tell,” Suga says. “We said what other people were feeling—like pain, anxieties and worries.” They convey these messages in their music videos, loaded with metaphors and cultural references; in their social media updates; and in the lyrics of their music, which fans translate and analyze on message boards, group chats and podcasts. “That was our goal, to create this empathy that people can relate to,” Suga continues.

It helps, too, that their sound is broadly appealing, fusing hip-hop with EDM and pop production. Recent collaborators include Desiigner and Nicki Minaj, who added a verse to their latest single “Idol,” whose lyrics wink at their place in the K-pop firmament. “You can call me artist, you can call me idol,” they sing. “No matter what you call me, I don’t care… you can’t stop me lovin’ myself.” RM says that mantra—love yourself—is core to BTS’ identity; it’s even incorporated into their most recent album titles. “Life has many unpredictable issues, problems, dilemmas,” says RM. “But I think the most important thing to live well is to be yourself. We’re still trying to be us.”

This combination of traits has resonated with fans, especially on social media, where BTS has amassed millions of devoted followers. They call themselves ARMY, which is both an acronym for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth and a nod to their organized power. In 2017, BTS fans made headlines for lifting the group to the top of Billboard’s Social Artist chart—which incorporates streams, social-media mentions and more—and besting the likes of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Since then, the ARMY has catapulted both of BTS’s latest albums, Love Yourself: Answer and Love Yourself: Tear, to the top of album charts in the U.S., South Korea and Japan. “Even if there is a language barrier, once the music starts, people react pretty much the same wherever we go,” says Suga. “It feels like the music really brings us together.” Adds Jimin: “We give energy to our audience members and listeners, but we also draw energy from them.”


Back at the Ritz, a makeup artist wakes Jimin from his nap. Nearby, V sings a bar of music as his bleach-blond hair gets blown out. Jung Kook stretches his neck as a makeup artist applies concealer. RM chats with a manager. Suga slips into loafers. Jin, who goes by the fan-given moniker of “Worldwide Handsome,” lets a wardrobe assistant tie his necktie. J-Hope’s laughter filters through the door.

It’s a rare moment of downtime for the boys. Over the coming weeks, they will perform another 11 sold-out shows, appear on Good Morning America and even help launch a youth empowerment initiative at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, at which RM spoke about self-acceptance: “No matter who you are or where you’re from, your skin color, your gender identity, speak yourself.”

A schedule like this might seem daunting. But for BTS—and their ARMY—it’s an encouraging sign of what’s to come. “I’m just throwing it out there,” Suga says, “but maybe we could perform at the Super Bowl someday.”

source: Time

there's a video at the source that i cannot embed for the life of me :c
scionofawhisper 11th-Oct-2018 11:57 am (UTC)
I do wonder how much of their music having to do with actual issues helped their rise. If their music was just the sort of candy a lot of other kpop is, how far would they have gone? Would talking about real issues instead of singing about swag or simple love songs help other kpop groups rise and resonate with more people? Or did it only work with BTS because they filled the void that wasn't being filled by anyone else...

Anyway, lol.

Man, I totally forgot a year or two ago they decided that BTS now stood for 'beyond the scene' in English. I feel like no one ever mentions that.

Edited at 2018-10-11 11:57 am (UTC)
jyusou 11th-Oct-2018 12:18 pm (UTC)
Man, I totally forgot a year or two ago they decided that BTS now stood for 'beyond the scene' in English. I feel like no one ever mentions that.

And for good reason....🙄....
ty 13th-Oct-2018 03:17 am (UTC)
ggumd 11th-Oct-2018 12:38 pm (UTC)
I don’t think it’s their songs about actual issues that rose them to the top since they started getting popular with their misogynistic songs like war of hormones and the likes but them singing about said issues did become a part of their “woke image” after they really blew up (albeit how problematic the members themselves are).

What I think helped their actual rise was all the content they were putting online at the time which no other group was doing and it was genius tbh, all those bangtan bombs made them easily “accessible” and many hopped on the train and it just grew from there. It was a very interesting watching them grow from 2016 and onwards
miwa201 11th-Oct-2018 02:18 pm (UTC)
i don't think war of hormone is what made them start getting popular, it's more so hyyh with i need u. they were steadily growing with boy in luv which has a pretty gross video though
ggumd 11th-Oct-2018 05:33 pm (UTC)
I stand corrected on that point but they do have a string of questionable songs that were popular when they were blowing up and working into that “artist/woke”
image in particular I remember people trotting “21st century girl” as some feminist song but when I looked up the lyrics I was ???
katheli 11th-Oct-2018 01:12 pm (UTC)
I think it could help other groups just cause it appeals to an audience that might not be reached or feel as connected to a group if they only sing about your usual "love me baby" or "I'm so rich and popular" songs. BTS has those as well, but they also offer something for fans who like to pen essays on how deep and complex the lyrics of song XY are. It just casts a wider net.

so I think it helped them but not as much as other factors. It really helps them now to kind of justify their top position to the media, as to why they "deserve" their success.
existingisfunny 11th-Oct-2018 03:20 pm (UTC)
i remember listening to pre-debut bts with raps abt how hard school is and that made me interested in them bc it was "deeper" but i think the real issues~ thing has been exaggerated and honestly find "love yourself" kind of a vague "campaign"

i feel like bts is good at making the image while army creates the narratives and that's why every release comes w nonsensical army essays abt how everything is much deeper than we think~

i think their true power isn't from being deep but just a genuine grouping of personality and chemistry that ppl like

Edited at 2018-10-11 03:20 pm (UTC)
pourtant 11th-Oct-2018 04:17 pm (UTC)
more than just talking about actual issues, a lot of their material feels personal to the members and relatable, so people connect to them through the music too instead of the music being this disconnected thing that's purely performative. so yeah i think that aspect is possibly the most important, and then of course it helped them a lot with credibility when it comes to press/media coverage (even though obviously some people still don't take them seriously but the more they lean on the message, the more positive the reception seems to be).
nekokonneko 11th-Oct-2018 05:37 pm (UTC)
i absolutely agree. so much of their music is infused with their own feelings and views and thoughts. like, a little punny observation about the similarities of the hangul for love, live and people that namjoon made in a vlive in 2016 became the basis of his solo track in ly: answer. they put a lot of themselves out in their music and in their variety shows and all the other extras and that vulnerability and sincerity really goes a long way in fostering bonds with fans.
pourtant 11th-Oct-2018 06:28 pm (UTC)
yep, that's why when they're asked why fans all over the world are able to connect with them they often say "our sincerity". it probably sounds like a glib answer to some but that's really what it comes down to tbh. that's also part of what makes them such good performers imo, it's probably easier to perform with conviction when what you're singing about is relevant to you
gigabytexx 11th-Oct-2018 08:25 pm (UTC)
For me personally now that I'm getting into my 10 months anniversary (lol) liking them, and there's no sign of slowing down at all (I think I'm slightly getting crazier by deciding to buy Taehyung's photo blanket... God save me), it's because they keep to put new contents. Like omg they're not resting at all.

I usually get bored with a group after few months because honestly usually someone would get into a Kpop group through promotion of a new MV/single, then they promoted for 3 months and basically just it. Maybe once in 2 weeks or so one of the member is showing up as a guest in some program, and it sucks to fans who only like certain member. We tend to like it when the group showing up together and that's what happened when I was liking exo during their debut. I've managed to stay in the fandom for like 2 years (until Kris was out) but tbh my interest was long gone even before 1 year because they always had this huge gap between releases. I've only stayed because of fandom friends.

Now in Bts I don't make friends but I like how they're always active, it's like I always see something new every morning and it's exciting lol.
lil_poisonfrog 12th-Oct-2018 11:50 am (UTC)
Ppl really underestimate the importance of this in their rise to fame, "social media" is always mentioned in a generic sense but I feel like western media doesn't really grasp how BTS uses social media in a way that's different from other Kpop groups. Like you said, they are ALWAYS providing content. They tweet almost every day, and if they aren't promoting a comeback or touring they're releasing bombs, doing Vlives, and they put out multiple dvds/variety series every year. And most of it is prob pretty cheap for BH to produce. It's no wonder Armys are so loyal, Kpop is entertainment and they're constantly entertained.
gigabytexx 12th-Oct-2018 01:30 pm (UTC)
True. I mean I understand that some people (even the members, like Suga) don't like when we said that social media is one of the main factor of their success because they're more than just social media, but honestly no matter how good your music is, if there's no one talking about it then it's not possible for people to know you. Social media isn't just about Twitter, but also their contents like what you have mentioned above. And those contents being spread out by fans through social media. BTS work hard but Armys work harder tbh. And the main point is also because BH is smarter than everyone lol

I also think it just happened that all 7 members (probably) have a really good match with each other that they have no problem being together for a lot of years, and BH make used of it since it's far easier to manage all members in the same place; be it dorms or social media account. It prevent mistakes.

I kinda wonder how all of this will end in the future.......... BH having new group? Bts enlist? a member leaving? a scandal? but I'm more curious with the path of each members will go after not being Bts, looks like I think too much lol
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