“I thought you would feel at home,” says United States President Joe Biden, flipping through a touch pad. Delivered at its leisurely pace, the sentence has likely been delivered countless times to dignitaries and politicians of global significance. But on a beautiful Tuesday last week, his audience was a group of twenty-something idols who collectively identify as BTS, all dressed in sharp suits, letting out an incredulous cry of joy as the chorus of their hit single “Butter” filled the iconic walls of the Oval Room.
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This historic moment is just one of a long series of milestones that punctuate the meteoric rise of the boy band in pop music. Along with RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and JungKook, the septet’s staggering success is often, and perhaps unfairly, tied to metrics. The headlines speak for themselves: BTS becomes the first Korean musical group to receive international recognition at the Grammy Awards! BTS’s “Dynamite” sets a new Guinness World Record as the fastest video to reach 10 million views within 20 minutes of its release! Reports estimate that BTS brings in $3.6 billion to the South Korean economy! If the BTS fandom (known as ARMY for Adorable Representative MC for Youth) were to form an actual army, there would be enough people for 18 armies! Oh, and did you hear about the time the fandom came together to raise $1 million for the Black Lives Matter movement in one day?
Many have attempted to glimpse the levers that maneuvered the band’s unfathomable success, including the best minds at Harvard Business School who have published an in-depth analysis of the band’s global popularity. But simply summarizing BTS’s success in the context of their record singles and other arbitrary stats would do a disservice to the work they’ve done to shift the tectonic plates under the highly regulated and often exploitative K-pop idol. . industry. Who’s ready for a history lesson?
How BTS defied all odds to reshape the identity of K-pop idols
It’s 2013 and music producer Bang SiHyuk is ready to launch the group he assembled, known as the Bangtan Boys or BTS. In a tale that’s bound to get a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival one day, the odds have been stacked against the band from the start. The multi-billion dollar K-pop industry has long been monopolized by the big three – SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment – making Bang SiHyuk’s Big Hit Entertainment an underdog. Without the lure of an established, industry-defining name, how would the humble start-up live to see its one-year anniversary? Armed with hopes and dreams, yes; but also a decluttering approach to the idol industry.