Since their first win at the Billboard Music Awards in the year 2017, a lot of media outlets have been trying to figure out the reason behind BTS’ success in the music industry. Today, there are a lot of popular and influencial artists who are constantly breaking down the conventional set up of the industry. So, why is so much attention being paid to a group?
- BTS is an Asian group. Being an Asian has been a factor of struggle for artists, with less opportunities and visibility being some of the most common consequences. BTS is not just Asian but a Korean speaking group who have been able to single handedly disrupt the music market without using English language.
- They question the idea of what it means to be an artist. Harry Styles questioned the definition of male fashion when he flaunted floral designs. BTS like any other South Korean idol wear makeup, adorn pearl sets and accept their love for it. They follow the suit and do so unabashedly.
- As artists, they had been unnerving misfits in the domestic industry. They broke away from the very structure in which people now try to categorise their music.
In a recent press conference at Olympic Main Stadium in Songpa-gu, Seoul, Suga and RM openly shared their own interpretation of BTS’ success. Here is what they said,
Suga said, “When we debuted, we started with the stories of school and youth. We have told stories about being human from the very beginning, and it was something we’d planned on before we even debuted. We think that our worldview has also expanded bit by bit.”
“I think that in analyzing BTS’s popularity, it is wrong to say that it was just because of social media.”
He added, “Of course it’s due to our fans that we received so much love, but I think that people started paying attention to us because we focused on the music and messages that we thought were important. They listened to our thoughts and took greater interest in what we had to say. People didn’t search us up just because of social media.”
RM said, “I think that what Suga said is very true. If I were to add to it, I would say that ‘I Need You’ was our starting point. Before ‘I Need You,’ not a lot of people knew who we were, but it’s clear that after that the ‘HWYH’ series found success.”
He continued, “We think that it’s about consistency. Even new fans seek out our old albums. When ‘No More Dream’ came out, the stories we were best able to tell at the time were about school. As the members went into their 20s, ‘youth’ became the starting point, and so on until it became a catalyst.”
It is true that Social Media has played a huge role in drawing people’s attention to BTS but the medium was never the first step in BTS’ journey. Had social media been the sole reason for BTS’ success, then, a lot of artists should have been able to achieve the feat the group is achieving right now.
Neither should the boys be treated as a “phase” in the pop history. Failure to understand the origin and the fundamental ideology behind someone’s artistry leads to harmful ignorance, bringing all the efforts to square one.
Today, when BTS became the fastest K-pop group to attain 100 Million views on YouTube we should pause and ask if SNS alone led to the success of the video? The music video brings together the traditional Asian music and South African dance culture without any culture misappropriation.
So, where should the focus lie?
Even though BTS sing in Korean, their concerns, jokes, and banter resonate with a 20 year old American, a working Indian, a teenager learning about positivity in Malta, and a father in South Korea. Their success lies in their music that has gone through a series of transformations and the progression is a direct result of boys’ experiencing life as it comes to them.
Instead of treating language as a barrier, it is high time that we pay attention to the “use” of a different language to share the “common” concerns.
BTS have not always been sensible. Before releasing “21st Century Girl”, the boys released “War of Hormones” and were held accountable for the latter.
The relationship between BTS, the staff and fans is such that with every new song, the group learns where they have gone right and the areas where they need to improve. BTS are reliant on their fans’ honest feedback and they do listen sincerely.
ARMYs work in tandem with BTS to help people understand why people should listen to BTS’ songs. BTS’ growth is a consequence of a collaborative effort between the boys and the fans. Such a relationship is both unforseen and unexpected.
The group’s massive popularity lies in their bonding with their fans who make sure to not follow the boys blindly but instead correct them whenever they are going wrong.
The basic premise of “interaction” (done via SNS/Vlive/YouTube) is music, the core element that has defined septet’s ascendency in the music industry.
Talking about this core element, RM said,
About the “universality of pop music,” he said, “There are a lot of driving forces [behind our success], but I think the main one is faithfulness to the essentials. We are singers and idols, so the place you can see our final product will always be a concert. Concerts and albums. If you love music, it’s even more important that you stay faithful to the essentials. I think that the public is now able to discern the difference between sincere and ‘sincere.’ It’s hard to convey sincerity clearly. We try hard to show our true thoughts, so I think that that was able to overcome the language barriers and touch other people’s hearts as well.”
When being a pop star meant focusing on success and portraying a larger than life image, BTS ripped off the façade and showed the crude reality of being an artist. They were misfits and underdogs who questioned the conventions since their debut. No one can deny that their popularity grew with the adoption of themes that internalised their “struggles” (one of the repetitive motifs in their albums) because it helped people understand their concerns and ideas better, something that was missing during “No More Dream” era.
Today, BTS speak for a lot of fans. Their recent trilogy that focuses on self love has helped spread the message of love, something listeners have been yearning for. The message becomes more significant when one tries to understand how it is conveyed. Instead of preaching love, members use music to show their own progression from self doubt to self love, a progression that helps people believe that they too can love themselves. Such influence is not a mere social media accident. Instead, it’s a consequence of constant discussion held between people on social media about group’s “music” and their “messages”.
No one expected BTS to succeed in the western music industry but their very success show the power of authenticity. Popular or not, BTS are here to stay, for a long time.
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