Gangnam Style may be forgotten, so how is BTS leading the K-pop culture charge in America?
BTS (Bangtan Sonyeondan) isn't the first K-pop sensation to take the world by storm. How can anyone forget Psy with his "Oppa Gangnam Style"? But people have. The way one-hit wonders often do, Psy couldn't really top his first smash hit. The world danced to Gangnam Style and the step of hopping sideways while spinning an imaginary lasso became an overnight sensation. As much as the catchy song on Seoul's posh neighborhood was relished in every corner of the world, Psy was soon forgotten. However, the most watched YouTube video even till 2017 was Gangnam Style and as of today, it ranks fourth.
Now, the K-pop genre is almost synonymous with BTS and every household in America seems to be well-versed with the lyrics without having any knowledge of the language, similar to what Psy had secured with the catchy tune and dance move. But the seven-member boy band, after selling 1.6 million song downloads, over a billion online streams seem to be growing bigger and bigger in America's highly-competitive music market. They have appeared in America's favorite TV shows including 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show,' 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' and you name it, BTS is serving as an extension of America's pop culture. They even rendered their historic performance at the American Music Awards, where they became the first Korean boy band ever to perform.
Many thought the boy band's fame would be shortlived after they shot to fame with 'Blood Sweat and Tears' music video in October 2016 as part of the 'Wings' album. But BTS had been in South Korea since 2013, struggling to be in competition with many K-pop groups especially during the time boy-group 'EXO' was raging.
BTS at that time was formed by a little-known South Korea label Big Hit Entertainment, which was not the "BIG 3" namely big 3 JYP, YG, SM entertainment. They were locally known as "Bangtan Sonyeondan" and they steadily built their fan-base with slow burn Hiphop albums like '2 Cool 4 Skool', 'O!RUL8,2?', and 'Skool Love Affair', which together comprised their 'school trilogy' series and found moderate success in South Korea and Japan. It was their second album, 'Wings', that broke records as the highest debut of a K-pop album in the US, and just one short year later, they smashed that record when 'Love Yourself: Her' peaked at number seven on the Billboard 200.
On April 5, the K-pop group surprised fans with "Euphoria: Theme of LOVE YOURSELF Wonder," with a 9-minute long video, which was more of a silent film sort of a music video, intensely lined with disturbing visuals of blood, fights, water and drowning scenes. The music video, as expected of BTS, soon went viral. Just a month before their latest hit, the boy band had its fifth music video pass 200 million views on YouTube for "Not Today." The group previously reached the milestone with its music videos for "Fire," "Dope," "Blood, Sweat & Tears" and "DNA."
Their fame has been steadily increasing ever since entering the American market. Even when BTS performed in the AMAs, Psy took to social media as a veteran and shared his own AMAs 2012 performance of his mashup of 'Gangnam Style' and 'Too Legit to Quit' with MC Hammer. The 40-year-old's reminiscence was BTS' moment, so it was an inevitable question if BTS could sustain K-pop culture in America more than Psy could.
The answer seems to be positive. Psy was a viral sensation but BTS has garnered an impressive fan base. Their followers, known collectively as "Adorable Representative M.C for Youth" or popularly known as ARMY, have been capable of mobilizing the band's fan base across social media platforms with coordinated campaigns that have led the band to bag awards like the Top Social Artist Award at last year's Billboard Music Awards.
BTS' influence online is so expansive that they have left behind figures including Justin Bieber and Donald Trump, as the most tweeted about celebrity in 2017. The boy band also managed to outdo the American president for a Guinness record for Twitter engagements, earning a mind-boggling 252,200 retweets per tweet on average.
BTS, an acronym which variously stands for Beyond the Scene and Bangtan Sonyeondan, which means Bulletproof Boy Scouts, is comprised of seven members in their early to mid-twenties — RM, J-Hope, Suga, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook — who share singing, rapping and dancing duties.
An informal conversation with any ARMY will give you an insight into why BTS is the ultimate K-pop sensation. First of all, it is the genuine enthusiasm they have for each group members. The ARMY's unity prompted the group leader, RM to announce on 'The Ellen DeGeneres show' that the BTS’ fandom is called ARMY because they stand alongside the group like an army. The group has dedicated several tracks to their fans, including the Best of Me, the band's first collaboration with The Chainsmokers.
When it comes to their music, you will hear an ARMY talk about the rap RM, Suga and J-Hope renders to the vocals by Jin, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. And if this isn't enough to garner praises, the group has some kickass dance moves to accompany their catchy tunes. Two of the members have dance backgrounds: Jimin was a contemporary dancer and J-Hope a street dancer.
Besides their combined talent, their undeniable asset is their good looks and colorful wardrobes that attracts millions of fans, especially teenagers all over the world. They never look the same in their music videos; their hair colors are always changing and their attire is always in tune with what is on trend. The boy band is not hesitant with their make-up and does not shy away from trying smokey eyes or blinding highlights. It wouldn't be a misnomer to call them trendsetters.
Another reason why BTS has more international fans is because the BTS' management agency, Big Hit Entertainment, is a smaller outfit founded by the producer Bang Si-hyuk. The agency was struggling financially, so instead of full-blown advertisement and TV appearances, they took to social media to promote the band, which was not a bad strategy in the long run.
While they are selling it big and living it big in America, how is their popularity in their home country? A year ago, it was reported that Psy was back to basics with his eighth full-length album, paying greater attention to his home fans and giving up international stardom. Unlike BTS, Psy, who skyrocketed to fame with one single, had been a popular South Korean icon for 15 years and his new music continues to top the South Korean charts. Whereas for BTS, major news agencies and TV channels including Korean Times Magazine had omitted their mention. The first South Korean musicians to tour the US, Wonder Girls, had to be eventually disbanded after a lukewarm reception.
While EXO was the most famous boyband in South Korea in 2014 and 2015, Google Trends point that BTS has taken over since 2016 and boasts a persuasive domestic fandom accompanying the international ones who phonetically sing their songs and attend their concerts, citing their music transcends the language barrier. John Cena recently revealed he is an ARMY too.