South Korean boy group BTS may seem like most other K-pop groups with multi-coloured hair, flawless complexion, colour-coordinated fashion and charismatic visuals.
However, underneath the perfectly-packaged group of seven is a rising act breaking the mold in the highly manufactured K-pop industry, turning them into household names.
Much to the surprise of many, BTS, an acronym for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which loosely translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts or their rebranded English name Beyond The Scene, made history by becoming the first K-pop boy group to perform at the 2017 American Music Awards, where they slayed with a mind-blowing performance of their popular Korean track DNA from their fifth record-breaking and award-winning EP, Love Yourself: Her
Their collaboration with rapper Desiigner and DJ and producer Steve Aoki for a remix version of BTS’s song Mic Drop jumped to No. 1 on the World Digital Song Sales chart and debuted at No. 28 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for nine weeks, making them the highest-charting K-pop group.
Last week, the group announced their Love Yourself world tour and shared dates for shows in 11 cities throughout Asia, North America, and Europe. More dates and cities are expected to be announced. The group will become the first-ever K-Pop group to perform at the Billboard Music Awards on May 20 in Las Vegas, where they are nominated again for the Top Social Artist award (they won last year).
BTS is not only making K-pop history by recently becoming the first K-pop group to have both tracks Mic Drop (remix) and DNA certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), but also their first-time appearances on popular American TV shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Late Late Show with James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2018 with Ryan Seacrest and historic rankings on the Billboard charts may prove that they’re arguably the hottest K-pop act around the world.
Unlike Psy’s 2012 mega-hit song Gangnam Style, Admin Kim, head admin of UAE’s main BTS fandom account, BTS UAE, believes that the chart-topping K-pop group is “not a viral artist that had one catchy song that trended worldwide”.
“People might easily dub them as just a trending topic that’ll pass by or some hyped up boy band but I think that is not the case,” she adds.
BTS didn’t emerge under the three big agencies that dominate the industry — SM Entertainment, JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment — from which the most successful, perfectly-groomed idols have emerged. They debuted under a relatively small record label and management agency, Big Hit Entertainment.
Before being recruited by the agency, rappers Suga and RM and dancer J-Hope were all part of the underground scene, while Jimin was a top student in modern dance. V wasn’t thinking of auditioning until he was encouraged by one of Big Hit’s rookie groups.
Jin, who is the oldest member of BTS, was talent-spotted while attending university. The last of the seven band members, Jungkook, had failed to advance in a popular singing competition, Superstar K3. He subsequently rejected offers from seven major music labels to become BTS’s youngest member, because he thought RM was “so cool”.
When they officially debuted in 2013, they were called “dirt-poor idols”, reflecting their non-traditional pathway, but quickly proved their worth through their music by tackling head-on controversial and personal topics, which makes the group a standout among the genre.
“They’ve surpassed the language barrier and the usual love concept in the music industry and went for topics we all relate to,” says Fadhela Manar Mezmaz, a dentistry college student and admin of Algeria’s main BTS Twitter fan base, BTS Algeria.
Twenty-year-old university student, Erij Raach, who is the creator of Tunisian-based BTS fan account, BTS Tunisia, says that their socially conscious lyrics is “the most important factor” that made her a huge fan.
“They are that band that makes you find the real ‘you’ through their music”, Raach adds.
For some fans, BTS’s music changed their lives and healed them on a deeper level.
“I went through a hard time a year ago,” says Belhadef Nora, Algerian-based primary school teacher and an admin of BTS Algeria. “I lost hope in life and almost fell in darkness but their music saved me and made me a strong person. Thanks to them I can now face the world without any fear. They just taught me how to be true to myself how to love myself.”
Twenty-two-year-old Maha Rkhissi, a college student and admin for Morocco-based fan Twitter account, BTS Morocco, said that BTS’ music has also helped her through depression, especially their Most Beautiful Moment in Life album, as it deals with “mental health and a lot of other youth issues”.
“I feel like their music has a purpose, it is not just bubbly pop to jam to,” says Ms Rkhissi.
Each of the seven members, in particular Suga, J-Hope and RM, are more creatively involved in composing lyrics and producing their perfectly distinct dance, hip-hop and EDM-infused sound that goes along with their synchronised, elaborate choreography on stage and in music videos.
Part of the septet’s appeal is that they give fans an intimate access of them entertaining themselves backstage, reacting to their own music videos, opening up about their worries and thoughts and much more, through their V Live channel and their Bangtan Bomb web videos.
They are also known for their proactive presence on social media ever since their pre-debut days. Twitter unveiled its 2017 year-end roundup, revealing that BTS is the most tweeted-about music artist in the US and the most tweeted celebrity globally. They even earned a spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition for most Twitter engagements for a male music group.
Up against popular American artists at last year’s Billboard awards, where they were crowned Top Social Artist in the fan-voted category, dedicated fans, who go by Army — Adorable Representative MC for Youth — supported and proved their admiration for BTS by tweeting #BTSBBMAS more than 300 million times.
“We create accounts and do mass votes together with our fellow Army around the world with our blood sweat and tears because we consider them as friends more than artists we are fan of,” says Walaa Abd Elatti Mohammad Nour, twenty-eight-year-old Sudanese Army member from S. O. A, Sudan’s main BTS Twitter fan account.
It’s a devotion that the band is patently aware of, never forgetting to thank ARMY when collecting their awards.
“They know exactly how to interact with fans and make us feel like a close family,” says twenty-one-year-old Tunisian university student Amel Kadri from BTS Tunisia.
They might be conquering the US music charts but BTS has also reached fans’ hearts in the Middle East. UAE iTunes store and Anghami both released the rising superstars’ best-selling album Love Yourself: Her and MIC Drop remix online, which in return has made them the first and only K-pop group to surpass over 14 million plays on Mena’s largest music platform.
Not only has their hit single DNA been played on Virgin Radio Dubai and Radio 1 UAE after mass request by fans but also their Mic Drop remix track “has been charting daily on Virgin Radio Dubai’s top hits in the whole country”.
“Their company Big Hit Entertainment also shared the news which mentioned that UAE is one of the 10 countries around the world with their new track ‘Crystal Snow’ as the No. 1 song on the iTunes chart,” says Admin Kim from BTS UAE.
Because BTS helped their fans one way or another, Armys are always eager to repay them for their love and constant hard work.
“The simplest thing we can do to give back is by making them top the charts and help their goals and dreams become a reality,” says Admin Ren from BTS UAE.
“Seeing them happy and go far is what makes all the ARMYs happy.”
After the release of their album, BTS entered a two-year partnership with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on a campaign called LOVE MYSELF to #ENDViolence against children and teenagers.
BTS went on to win Artist of the Year at the 2017 Mnet Asian Music Awards for the second-year in a row as well as Daesang or Grand Prize awards at this year’s Seoul Music Awards and Golden Disc Awards and many more awards.
With all their accomplishments and philanthropic work, twenty-one-year-old Heba Emad, who solely runs a fan account, Egyptian ARMY, in Egypt, says that this is only the start.
“BTS still have a lot to show, more awards to win, more records to break, more hearts to steal, and more concerts to hold,” she says.