BTS Marks a Decade: From 'Underdogs' to 'Superstars' and the 'Epitome of K-pop'
From beginnings as 'underdog idols', to being hailed as the 'Beatles of the 21st century', they are now recognized as 'superstars' and the 'epitome of K-pop'. This is the story of BTS.
Since their debut on June 13, 2013, BTS (RM, Suga, Jin, J-Hope, Jimin, Jungkook, V) have continuously changed the landscape of the K-pop market throughout their decade-long career.
While they can be classified as part of the third generation of idols, some have suggested that the history of Korean pop music can be divided into the periods before and after BTS' activities. They have set unprecedented records and influenced the K-pop history in ways that cannot be overlooked, and this influence is still ongoing.
◆ BTS: The Band that Turned Billboard into Their Home Turf
One of BTS' greatest achievements has been the globalization of K-pop. While their senior idol groups had also knocked on the doors of the Asian, North American, and European markets, it was BTS that truly opened these doors and established a strong presence.
International fans began to notice BTS with the release of their 'The Most Beautiful Moment in Life' series in 2015. The reaction videos to their 'Dope' music video, created and shared by fans themselves, started a word-of-mouth buzz.
From the following year, they began to dominate the Billboard charts. Their second full album 'Wings' made its way into the main album chart 'Billboard 200', and every subsequent album followed suit. They reached number one on the main singles chart 'Hot 100' a total of 18 times, and topped the 'Billboard 200' six times.
After Psy peaked at number two on the 'Hot 100' with 'Gangnam Style' in 2012, the North American market remained quiet until BTS made their mark. This has greatly influenced the activities of junior singers.
BTS' ascension to the top of the 'Hot 100' set the stage for their continued success. They have won awards at the 'Billboard Music Awards' and the 'American Music Awards', among the top three music award ceremonies in the U.S. They became the first K-pop artists to be nominated for a Grammy Award and achieved 'superstar' status with their solo stage performances.
Major global franchise companies have rushed to endorse BTS, naturally increasing interest in K-pop as a whole. They have paved the way for their colleagues in the K-pop market, and groups like BLACKPINK, Stray Kids, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, and FIFTY FIFTY are following in BTS' footsteps with recent successful Billboard chart performances.
◆ BTS: Opening a New Era of K-pop Universe
BTS' entry into the mainstream pop market has significantly changed the status and image of K-pop. Unlike previous pop that had provocative undertones, BTS' music carries a wholesome message of 'love yourself', creating a fresh impact. One international fan at a BTS concert in New York said, "I overcame depression through BTS' music."
BTS has incorporated these messages into their universe and reflected them in their music. They created serial albums through storytelling, such as the 'School Trilogy', 'The Most Beautiful Moment in Life', 'Love Yourself', and 'Map of the Soul' series, and each message within them has resonated with the audience. Fans have enjoyed deciphering hidden clues within this universe.
This has influenced the so-called 'BTS kids' and their musical color. They have begun to create music that contains vast 'universes'. They started focusing more on wholesome messages than provocative subjects, and some are even addressing environmental pollution and ecological destruction in their stories.
◆ The Power of Good: BTS and Their ARMY Transform Fandom Influence
BTS has played a pivotal role in redefining the role of fandom. It's not just about enjoying the musical talents of their idols anymore, but about wielding a positive influence to transform the world for the better, a lesson they have taught their fanbase, the ARMY.
In collaboration with UNICEF Korea Committee, BTS motivated their fans through the 'Love Myself' campaign, demonstrating a global influence that transcends diplomacy. Their actions have been powerful enough to change individual lives.
This all began in September 2018 when they delivered a message of self-love as global youth representatives and special speakers at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, held at the UN Headquarters in New York. This marked the start of various diplomatic activities.
Amidst the pandemic in September 2020, they delivered a special speech at the high-level meeting of the Group of Friends of Solidarity for Global Health Security at the 75th United Nations General Assembly. They told the future generation of the world struggling with COVID-19, "Life Goes On" and urged them not to lose hope in the face of despair.
They also attended the opening session of the 'Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Moment' at the 76th United Nations General Assembly in September 2021 as 'Special Presidential Envoys for Future Generations and Culture'. Here, they emphasized positivity saying, "The name 'Welcome Generation' fits more than 'Lost Generation' due to the pandemic."
Beyond delivering messages of hope through their UN General Assembly speeches, BTS recently addressed the globally emerging issue of 'diversity'. On May 31 last year, they visited the White House on the occasion of 'Asian American and Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander Heritage Month' and shared their own stories of hate crimes against Asians and inclusion during a meeting with President Biden.
Moreover, their actions, such as hiring sign language interpreters for concerts and showcasing Korean cultural heritage sites as music video filming locations, have also drawn attention.
◆ BTS: Riding the Wave of Social Media
When senior K-pop idols focused on face-to-face or closed-community communication, BTS forged a new trend by reaching out to fans through open communication on social media networks (SNS). By forming an intimate bond with fans through platforms like Twitter, they laid the foundation for what BTS is today.
BTS opened their Twitter account in December 2012, about six months before their debut, and communicated with global fans through SNS, gradually increasing the size of their fanbase, the ARMY. They put considerable effort into creating SNS content, frequently updating and feeding 'bread crumbs' to their fans.
SNS also made it easier for them to explain the worldview and messages contained in their music. In a press conference held before a stadium concert in 2018, RM confessed, "When conveying the sincerity of music, it is hard to deliver it cleverly. We used SNS to deliver it to fans."
Twitter and other social media platforms have become the playground for K-pop fandom and a strategic base for K-pop artists, starting with BTS. Junior idols are also benchmarking and utilizing this, announcing various contents before their debut, promoting themselves, and attracting fans.
◆ From Big Hit Music to HYBE
One of the most significant transformations brought about by BTS is the growth of the company they are associated with. What was once a small to medium-sized entertainment agency, Big Hit Music, has burgeoned into HYBE, an entertainment lifestyle platform corporation leading the K-pop market. Bang Si-hyuk, the chairman of HYBE, has become a figure of worldwide renown in the pop music industry.
However, until BTS debuted, HYBE (formerly known as Big Hit) was a small company with artists like 2AM's Lee Changmin and co-ed group 8Eight. Before BTS debuted in 2012, the company had launched the girl group GLAM, which failed to make a significant impact, resulting in Big Hit being categorized as just another entertainment company.
For this reason, BTS was once referred to as "dirt spoon idols". In 2015, during a press conference for the release of "The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Part 2", member Suga responded to a question about this label, stating, "We really started from zero."
But now, HYBE is making waves in the mainstream American music market. They're not just limited to entertainment but are also fulfilling a role as an IT platform.
Having acquired several major domestic and international agencies, a variety of K-pop artists aside from BTS are now leading the company. This includes Big Hit Music's junior group TOMORROW X TOGETHER, Pledis's SEVENTEEN and fromis_9, Source Music's LUMINOUS, Ador's NEWGENS, Belift Lab's ENHYPEN, KOZ's ZICO and BOY NEXT DOOR, all of whom are major players in the current K-pop scene.
In 2021, the company also acquired the American media conglomerate Ithaca Holdings, which allowed it to establish ties with Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and the Black Eyed Peas. Recently, news that it is seeking to raise funds for another acquisition within the U.S. has sparked anticipation.
◆ BTS, The Epitome of K-pop, Continues Its Journey
Most notably, BTS, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, continues to be active and progressive. Despite the "blank period" (time off due to mandatory military service), they are separately and together engaging in various activities.
The members wrapped up Chapter 1 of their career with the anthology album "Proof" in June last year, and effectively entered a "blank period", proceeding with their mandatory military service in sequence.
However, with successful solo albums, they are filling the void left by the group's hiatus. On their 10th anniversary, their new single "Take Two" released on June 9th has drawn massive popularity. The song proved its hot popularity by sweeping the top of the iTunes 'Top Songs' charts in 92 countries/regions on its release day, and also ranked first on Spotify's 'Daily Top Songs Global' and Oricon's 'Daily Digital Single Rankings'.
BTS members and HYBE are hoping for a full group comeback in 2025. Their ultimate goal is to reach 'Bangtan Elderly Boys'.
There is one dream they have yet to achieve: winning a Grammy Award. Despite being nominated for three consecutive years, they have not yet taken home the trophy.
The members have openly expressed their ambition to win at this award ceremony multiple times, saying, "As Koreans, we were curious how far our music could reach." All eyes are on what sort of success the soon-to-return BTS will engrave on the K-pop market next.
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