On May 21st 2017, BTS made music history by winning Billboard Music Awards’ Top Social Artist Award with more than 300 million votes, overtaking Justin Bieber by many millions, breaking his six year streak and becoming not only the second artist ever to win this award, but also the first Korean one. This achievement came as a surprise to many and you could literally hear the American music press go, “Who the heck is BTS?”
Well, I guess it is safe to say that the honoured colleagues of the American press don’t have a teenager living at home, because then they would know that BTS is currently South Korea’s most famous K-pop group. Currently they have made four studio albums, four compilation albums, eight video albums, twenty-nine music videos, four EPs, twenty-two singles, and a singles album.
Their recent studio album “WINGS”, released in October 2016, charted all over the world and went to number one in the iTunes album charts in Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Denmark (where I’m from!), Finland, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Laos, Latvia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United States, and Vietnam.
Their monster hit “Blood, Sweat & Tears” from the album currently has a whopping 138,105,292 views on YouTube, a number that is increasing by the minute, and their present Wings Tour sees them perform at large sold-out arena concerts in South Korea, Chile, Brazil, United States, Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Thailand.
I myself have a now 18-year-old daughter living at home, so I have been listening to BTS for almost two years now and I totally get why they are so big. However, when I am to explain who BTS are to my peers or people even older, I end up comparing them to the Beatles, because the impact that BTS have on the youth of today is the same as Beatles had on the youth of the sixties and for very much the same reasons. Like the adorable mob-tops of the sixties, BTS come with a full package of new sounds, looks, fashions and an honest, sincere, deep, silly, humorous, new approach to the music industry and their fans.
Where did they come from?
In South Korea, management agencies offer binding contracts to potential artists at a young age and trainees live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day learning music, dance, and other skills for years in preparation for their debut.
In 2005, music producer and former composer Sihyuk Bang, also known as “Hitman” Bang, founded Big Hit Entertainment record label and management agency; a relatively small company, but known for treating their artists better than many others to the extent that artists are encouraged to develop their own music.In 2010, Rap Monster auditioned for “Hitman” Bang after which the group BTS was built around him as the group leader. Soon after he was joined by Suga, as the producer wanted to create a hip-hop group and a year later, the gifted dancer J-Hope became the third member. The four other BTS members joined within the next couple of years.
BTS (short for Bangtan Sunyeondan meaning “Bulletproof Boyscouts”) or Bangtan Boys as they are also known got their name from “Hitman” Bang, of course, and to the group he became the equivalent of the Beatles’ Brian Epstein. There is a deeper meaning to the BTS name though, which the group itself explains as them being bulletproof, i.e. resistant to stereotypes, criticism, and expectations that aim at the youth of today like bullets.
BTS debuted in 2013, but not until they dropped their hardcore hip-hop image for something closer to their own personalities, did they break through internationally with hits like “I Need U”, “Dope” and “Run”. By now they cover many genres musically, not only hip-hop, but also pop, rap and even a bit of jazz mixed with strong power ballads.
Rap Monster, Suga and J-Hope have writing credits on the majority of BTS’ material and in recent years, they have started producing more and more of their own songs. On “WINGS” the four other members have started writing and producing as well.
As perhaps the first K-pop group, BTS took to writing about such heavy and diverse issues as depression, inferiority complexes, politics, and female empowerment. Showing things like suicide attempts, domestic violence and drug abuse in their videos have set them apart as well. Their music video “I Need U” even had to be edited into a “family friendlier” version before release, as the original 19+ version was too strong to be aired on TV, but eventually the original“ director’s cut” was released and now has over 9 million views on YouTube.
BTS are very mature in the way they portray the darker sides of youth and life. They are totally aware of the seriousness of these topics and handle them with brilliant insight. Several of the group members have confessed to suffering from depression, social phobia, and loneliness themselves, so they know what they are talking about.
Most of the BTS members have recorded solo as well, where Rap Monster’s “Do You” , Suga’s “Agust D” and “Give It to Me” as well as J-Hope’s “1 Verse” stand out to me.
To people who diss BTS because they don’t sing in English, I can only say: so what! We non-English kids of the sixties didn’t quite understand the Beatles either, when they were around, but today at least the internet is here and you can easily google a translation. Furthermore, like most other K-pop acts, BTS incorporate many English sentences in their lyrics, which help connect to international fans.
You will rarely see BTS play at concerts, although Suga is a brilliant piano-player and plays a string of other instruments, V plays the saxophone and several of the other members are able to play guitar, piano and drums, not to mention J-Hope playing the recorder with his nose! The absence of instruments is not so much inability to play as it is tradition. K-pop is not just music, you see, but also dancing, fashion and social media content; an all-round packet.
As a K-pop group, BTS dance on stage, which makes it difficult to play instruments. Instead their choreography is without comparison as they are extremely precise and in sync even compared to other K-pop groups. BTS is known for this elaborate and perfectly-synced choreography, both on stage and in their music videos. Furthermore, their videos are small masterpieces in themselves, or maybe rather small short films, some of which make out greater narratives when put together. They are highly artistic and symbolic and it doesn’t hurt if you know your art history and classical literature and music along with the Bible, Greek mythology and the main pointers within philosophy and psychology if you want to analyse them!
As a group, BTS is especially famous for its social media following on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and the Korean V-app where artists live-stream and fans are able to chat with their idols. They have followers by the millions as what sets the BTS social media presence apart from other K-pop groups are their honest and constant uploads that let fans see them as they are, not only the good and glamourous sides, but also when they are down, practising, eating, sleeping and whatever. The bond made between group and fans this way is extremely strong.
Not the least because of this, I hesitate to call BTS a boyband although that is what they are, but they are a boyband with a difference as – despite them starting out as a put-together group – they have developed into seven close-knit brothers or maybe a seven-headed (rap) monster as opposed to the Beatles’ four-headed one!
Seven members seem a lot to a western audience and at first, it can be different to tell who is who, especially as they have a habit of changing hair colours as quickly as they release albums. You soon learn to differentiate the seven of them, though, as they have very different personalities and functions in the group. Here’s a short who is who:
Rap Monster, real name Namjoon Kim (but you’ll usually see it written the other way around as Kim Namjoon because Koreans write their surnames first), b. September 12, 1994. Leader of BTS, main rapper, main lyricist, lead composer and producer. Known as Rap Mon and God of Destruction because he happens to break everything around him. He is known for his strange dance moves, but he is extremely intelligent with an IQ of 148 (mine is only 142 ☹), which put him in the top 1% in the Korean preparatory university entrance exams. He has taught himself English from watching the American TV series “Friends” and is sometimes called the “dad” of BTS.
Jin, real name Soekjin Kim (not related to Rap Monster, but Kim is just a very common surname in Korea), b. December 4, 1992. Known to the American public as “car door guy” and “the third member from the left” because that’s where they noticed his looks. Jin is the oldest member of BTS, sub singer and the look of the group. He has ridiculously broad shoulders, loves Super Mario and cooking and has his own live-streamed mukbang (eating broadcasting) called “Eat Jin”. Fans call him Pink Princess because of his love for the colour pink and he is known for his bad “dad-jokes” his windshield laugh and for blowing kisses to his fans. Jin is regarded the “mom” of the group as he is in charge of the cooking and used to drive younger members to school.
Suga, real name Yoongi Min, b. March 9, 1993. Lead rapper, lead lyricist, main composer and producer, known as Grandpa and Motionless Min because he likes to sleep. As a solo artist as well as producer and lyricist for other artists, he calls himself Agust D and within the industry, he is said to be a genius-levelled producer. He’s honest, blunt, and salty and deeply into socially conscious themes, but with a big heart for his fans and fellow BTS members. Received the stage name Suga because of his pale skin and sweet smile. Suga is very knowledgeable and part of SOPE, a self-chosen name for his collaboration/ship with J-Hope.
J-Hope, real name Hoseok Jung, b. February 18, 1994. Main dancer, choreographer assistant, lead rapper, lead lyricist, composer and producer, the real “mother” of the group as he nags the others about tidying up, tying their shoelaces etc. Known as Hobi and J-Horse because of his longish face, and is the self-declared hope of the group, the sunshine, and the angel. He is the master of aegyo (cuteness) and girl dances, noisy, hyperactive, easily scared and the second half of SOPE.
V, real name Taehyung Kim (still not related!), b. December 30, 1995. Sub singer, the one with the deepest voice. Along with Jin, he’s in charge of the looks of the group, which has already landed him a part in a Korean drama series. Known as Tae Tae, Blank Tae because he often has a blank expression on his face and Alien as he is generally weird, erratic, unpredictable and does random stuff. He’s said to be 10% genius and 90% idiot and loves art, dogs, and little kids.
Jungkook, real name Jeongguk Jeon, b. September 1, 1997. Main singer, lead dancer, sub rapper, known as Kookie, Seagull, which should have been his stage name originally, and the Golden Maknea (maknea meaning the youngest person in a group) as he is good at everything. He is the strongest of the bunch and known for pranking his fellow members and making them laugh.
All seven members of BTS are very close and committed, not only to each other, but also to their fans who are on a first (stage) name basis with their idols just like Beatles-fans were with the fab four. Although fans usually have a bias within BTS, they tend to love all seven members and not just one because of the genuine attention and affection that they receive from the entire group. Despite their huge success that is still growing, BTS have managed to stay true to themselves, decent and down-to-earth and that is another reason, why they are so widely loved.
The fans of BTS call themselves “A.R.M.Y.”, which is short for “Adorable Representative MCs for Youth”. They see themselves as an army that protects their idols from hate and fight for their opportunity to expand. The best example of their power is their feat in making BTS win the Billboard Top Social Artist Award as the first K-pop group ever and securing their attendance at the BBMAs, as originally BTS weren’t invited.
1. Fun Boys (a.k.a. Boyz with Fun), (2015)
2. Rise of Bangtan (a.k.a Attack on Bangtan), (2013)
3. SaatoriRap (a.k.a.Paldogangsan) (2013)
4. Fire (2016)
5. Not Today (2017)
6. We On (2013)
7. Boy in Luv (2014)
8. Boy Meets Evil (2016)
9. Cypher pt. 4 (2016)
10. Danger (2014)
© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2017