BTS: The K-pop sensation taking the world by storm

There is a fat chance that you have been hyper-connected to social media and not heard of BTS. Even if you are not that active on social media, there is a chance that you have heard of BTS. And if you are wondering, what exactly is BTS, here is your answer. BTS is the Korean pop (K-pop) sensation boy band that is taking the world by storm.

And I am not kidding when I say that they are taking over the world. Even CNN agrees. They have gone ahead to say that BTS has a rabid following quite similar to that of the Beatles. And never before has this feat been achieved. Not even by the Backstreet Boys, N SYNC and Boyzone. Believe or not, it is even bigger than the One Direction fandom.

And if you still are not convinced, they performed live on Saturday Night Live this past week. And it would be a gross understatement to say that they brought the house down. Even Hollywood star Emma Stone, who hosted the episode, confessed to Jimmy Fallon that she screamed when she heard just their soundcheck.

According to CNN: their new album, “Map of the Soul: Persona,” out Friday, is expected to demolish international sales charts. They have a new single featuring American pop star Halsey. Pre-orders for “Map of the Soul: Persona,” have surpassed 3 million copies, Big Hit, their management company, told CNN. Their two most recent two albums — “Love Yourself: Tear” and “Love Yourself: Answer” — each sold around 2 million copies.

But this kind of fandom is nothing new for K-pop bands in Korea. But what sets BTS apart from the others is that they have slowly cultivated a global audience. And have slowly elevated K-pop from a niche’ in Korea to a global phenomenon.

But, who are BTS?

The group was formed in 2013 in South Korea and their name initially stood for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which roughly translates to “bulletproof boy scouts.” However after they received international acclaim they decided to officially change the meaning of their acronym.  It was then called ‘Beyond The Scene,’ which is a nod to themes of social change and empowerment.

The group consists of seven members: RM (previously Rap Monster)/ Kim Nam Joon, Jungkook/ Jeon Jeong-guk, Jin/ Kim Seok Jin, Suga/ Min Yoon Gi, J-Hope/ Jung Ho Seok, Jimin/ Park Ji Min, V/ Kim Tae Hyung. They are referred to as ‘idols’ in Korea because of the crazy fandom they inspire the world over.

BTS fans call themselves the ARMY and and incredibly loyal. Think of ‘Beliebers’ (Justin Bieber fans) or Taylor Swift fans with intense loyalty. They usually have one favourite band member who they call their ‘bias.’

According to the CNN, the sheer size of ARMY also means there’s a high potential for toxic drama, unhealthy obsessions and online abuse between members, as well as intense animosity toward anyone who dare speak ill of BTS. And it gets bigger the world over, everyday.

Their fandom began its steady rise after two of their albums reached #1 annually. The feat was previously achieved by everyone’s favourite One Direction. The two albums that hit #1 on the Billboard 100 chart were: “Love Yourself: Answer” and “Love Yourself: Tear.” And both the albums topped charts in 2018.  

But what truly sets them apart from other K-pop sensations is that two years ago, they beat out the likes of Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry to win the Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artists of the Year, and became the first Korean artists to take home the prestigious BBMA prize.

So, what exactly made them so famous?

Well, I believe the answer to that is quite simple: Social media. Like media houses have pointed out: BTS also holds several Guinness World records, including the most Twitter engagements and the most music video views within a 24-hour period (records that had previously belonged to One Direction’s Harry Styles and Taylor Swift, respectively).

Though most of the members of the band do not speak English fluently, they still use social media continuously to interact with their fans. What definitely helps their social media engagement reach a crescendo is their female fandom. Their female fans are very fluent in the language of social media. There is a very healthy meme culture surrounding the band, especially in their circle of ARMY. Everytime a band member does anything, a meme or a joke regarding it starts circulating on all social media channels.

What also works for them is that their influence extends beyond just music. Their decision to change their name to ‘Beyond The Scene’ encapsulates their other endeavors as well. They also focus on other topics like mental health and the dark side of fame in their songs. This coupled with BTS becoming the first K-pop group to address the United Nations in September last year, when they delivered a three-minute speech during the launch ceremony of UNICEF’s global partnership Generation Unlimited. They talked about their ‘Love Myself’ campaign, which was launched in partnership with UNICEF and focuses on global education and the prevention of youth violence made them media darlings.

“Tell me your story. I want to hear your voice, and I want to hear your conviction,” Kim Nam Joon, aka RM, said during the address. “No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, gender identity: speak yourself.”

The self-love campaign

Though several K-pop icons have achieved international success in the past few years, the question that often arises is: What sets BTS apart from the rest? The most prominent fan theory is that it is because of their focus on self-love and their music tends to be particularly introspective, emotional, empowering and hyper-aware of the machinations of perfection and conformity that often drive both the world and the K-pop industry.

Other artists like Psy and BigBang have made it big on the world stage but they are simply one-hit wonders. But BTS seems to be here to stay. And CNN puts it best: Since BTS has international and cross-lingual appeal, being a part of ARMY is as much about interacting with and supporting other fans as it is about supporting the group. ARMY members from across the world will gather online at all hours to watch and enjoy a BTS appearance in a different time zone, or translate different BTS news and interviews so more fans can enjoy it. Memes, handmade products, fan art and fan fiction also connect ARMY members across the globe.


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