(pic credit to Soompi)
Proceeding the K-pop group, BTS’, U.S. Billboard award, unfamiliar netizens spewed racist comments in defense of Western artists such as Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. While I admit that I’m a big fan of BTS and am coming from a very biased point of view, this post isn’t going to be a rant about why BTS deserve this win. Instead, I’m going to dedicate this post to educate you on the group.
Now, first of all, when you think of K-pop, the first thing that comes to mind is probably PSY’s “Gangnam Style“. If not…um…well, better late than never. It’s a great, catchy song, but deeply contrasts the dark themes the group, BTS, offered this year. And even though “Gangnam Style”‘s fame far surpasses any of BTS’ videos, they’re the ones who ended up causing a stir in the West for their unprecedented award win.
To begin, we’ll go all the way back to what we fans call the “fetus” days of BTS. The days when they were wee lads, still searching for their distinct sound. The trick of the K-pop industry is that, unlike in the West, the name, image, and group personality are essentially chosen, and the group must fill their designated roles.
In BTS’ case, their image started off as hardened punk kids who fought against the grain. Their song, “N.O.“, which peaked at 93 on the Gaon Digital Chart(1) in 2013, centers on social pressures and the harsh reality of the Korean education system. Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, many of the cases being related to the overwhelming pressures the youth face.
Following “N.O”, came “No Dream“, continuing the theme of fighting against social pressures. The song speaks about the leader’s actual experiences as an aspiring artist. On the Korean online talk show, “Afterschool Club”, the leader, Rap-mon, mentions how his love for hip-hop ultimately resulted in his mom throwing his sound system out the window!
Despite the number of K-pop artists, it’s not an uncommon story amongst these celebrities about how their parents didn’t initially support them.
However, BTS didn’t really become “BTS” until they dropped their single “DOPE“, which showcased not only their musical talent but their physical capabilities as dancers. BTS quickly made themselves known as a group that could dance, as their choreography is often complicated and fast, requiring a high level of endurance. The video itself is also extremely appealing, as it goes through each member’s scenario in a single shot, bouncing from room to room with enough simplicity to make the focus of the video on their dancing.
After “DOPE”, which peaked at 44 on the Gaon Digital Chart in 2015, more and more people began to claim themselves as “ARMYs”.
Oh, “ARMY”? It’s their fanbase name. Korean–and global—fans love K-pop because of the strength of their specific fanbases. One fanbase isn’t necessarily stronger than the other, but the strength of the fanbase lies in the activity of the members. Part of that activity is deciding on a fanbase name. The name is sometimes decided by the fans themselves, and other times it’s decided by a member. If you ever look on a Kpop video, you may notice things like “Forever ELF” or “SONES ROCK!”; those are the fanbases.
Proceeding “DOPE” was their full-length album The Most Beautiful Moments in Life Pt. 1“. This was the album that really stood out to the Kpop world, earning the number 1 spot on the Gaon Digital Chart in 2015. The album features hit singles like “DOPE”, “I NEED U“, and “Run“. These songs take on a more old-school hip-hop/ r&b sound, rather than the angsty, fist-pumping chants of their “N.O” days. The theme of their songs has also matured from the opposition to social pressures to recognize the consequences of those pressures, such as murder and suicide.
In October of 2016, they released their widely successful “Blood, Sweat, and Tears“, which sold 198,987 copies in the first week! (1) The video is not only beautiful, but the story it tells about temptation is also extremely creative and interesting.
The K-pop world definitely deserves more than the comedic face PSY has given it and, thanks to BTS, the Asian music industry is no longer a laughing matter.