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Mixing politics and music: K-pop band BTS is taking over the music scene

BTS has defied conventions ever since their inception in 2013. They have developed a global audience with self-penned lyrics on LGBTQ rights and mental health
UPDATED JAN 30, 2020
South Korean group BTS (Source: Getty Images)
South Korean group BTS (Source: Getty Images)

Nope, it wasn't a deja vu when you saw BTS on the Ellen DeGeneres show, nor was it a time-travel charm to see the K-pop band snag another Billboard award, and it surely wasn't a massive surprise to see the boy band top Billboards 200 sales chart. 

The seven-member boy band from South Korea has conquered America's competitive music industry and has successfully established itself as the modern day global icon. This week, the band became the first ever South Korean band to reach number one in Billboards 200 with 'Love Yourself: Tear' album that sold 135,000 total copies in its debut week, including 100,000 traditional copies.

Several headlines crowned them as "conquerors" since it isn't common for a foreign language music to ace America's tough music scene.

With Cardi B and Shawn Mendes chasing the title, there's anticipation on how long the current 'most famous boy band' can hold on to the crown. But it does not matter how long or short BTS will reign because they have already been etched in history and they have a large fan-base globally called ARMY.

On May 20, the sensational K-pop band bagged the Top Social Artist Award at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards overtaking superstars like Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato to win the honor for the second year in a row.

When BTS shot to fame in the US, critics were of the view that their success would be shortlived just as it was for their K-pop predecessors such as Psy and Girls Generation. The question was whether catchy tunes and good looks would suffice for long-term success. The truth, however, is deeper and global BTS fans understand it.

Their songs have always been in Korean but people all over the world have related to their music. This is because this particular boy band has done something that none of its contemporaries or predecessors could do. They have defied the taboo of Korean music. K-pop may be one of the most sought-after music industry today but artistic freedom has always been a limiting factor.

The South Korean government keeps a close eye on its music industry and pop stars have ensured not to mix pop culture and politics. But BTS challenged that convention and, ever since their birth in 2013, they have openly talked about LGBTQ+ rights and mental health, which are taboo subjects in South Korea. 

Their tweets and their stances mean a lot to their massive fan base spanning across countries, generations, genders, religions, nationalities and sexualities. The band is socially active when it comes to reaching out to their fans and are sincere with their self-penned lyrics. It's the fans who take it upon themselves to translate it in their language. 

With their lyrics, BTS tell their fans to fight back and remain alive. “Live as you like, it’s your life anyway,” they sing in “Fire.” They continue the theme of survival on their new track, “Paradise,” saying that it’s okay to have modest goals: “We deserve a life.”  BTS was also the most notable K-pop band to talk openly about suicide and depression. 

BTS an acronym for "Bangtan Sonyeondan" which means 'Bulletproof Boy Scouts' was the most tweeted about celebrities in 2017 where the band's tweets were liked or retweeted half a billion times, more than those of either President Trump or Justin Bieber, or even Trump and Bieber combined. This can be enough proof of their fanbase.

Rewind to the time when BTS wasn't culturally significant as they are now, the band had always defied convention and stood for what is right. In 2014, when Sewol Ferry sank off the coast of South Korea, killing almost 300 teenage students, the band had donated $100,000 to benefit the victims’ families. At that time, Korea’s politicians tried to distance themselves from the tragedy and were blacklisting celebrities who didn't concur with the government's decisions.

After BTS’ historic number one placement on the Billboard 200 this week, President Moon Jae-In said, “BTS has a magical ability to turn sadness into hope, and differences into similarity.”

BTS may pave the way for more global artists to be heard and artistic freedom may now be integral to the upcoming South Korean pop stars.

Psy, their predecessor in American music industry, must also be given enough credit for opening the door for this young boy band. It was Psy who established that Americans and the entire world was ready for K-pop music sung in Korean and about Korean culture 'Gangnam Style.' 

Psy was the last K-pop artist to break the Top 10, with both 'Gangnam Style' and 'Gentleman,' but BTS is the first K-pop act to have a song debut in the Top 10. BTS previously made history by breaking onto the Hot 100 with 'DNA,' and then ranking as high as No. 28 with 'Mic Drop.' On this week’s Billboard Hot 100, their newest hit “Fake Love” has debuted at No. 10, making them the first K-pop group to have a Top 10 hit.

The album is the first predominantly non-English album to hit No. 1 since Il Divo’s Ancora in 2006. This is also BTS’ sixth project to debut on the Billboard 200, the first one being in 2015 with 'The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2.' 

Just like the British music takeover in American music industry, there could likely be K-pop take over with exceptional bands such as EXO and Blackpink. But BTS holds a special place in the heart of all K-pop fans, mainly because they fought their way to the top with smiles, jokes and broken English, given that only one person of the band (RM) can speak fluent English. 

If you have heard their music and like it, you will be surprised to see the kind of astounding videos they produce with crisp choreography and cinematic effects. Their live performances are no exceptions. And that is the reason why, wherever they go, you just see fans screaming in excitement, often in tears of happiness, singing along to their songs.