The Impressive Rise of BTS Truly Puts them “Beyond the Scene”
Every generation of K-Pop has a break-out idol group, perhaps even several at once. But none have reached quite the heights of the new generation. As time goes on, performers have access to a different playing field, new tools, and different means of achieving success, so the size and scope of success become bigger. This is where mega-stars BTS come into the conversation; simply put, there has never been a K-Pop act that has become quite this massive on the global stage. With all respect due to those who paved the way, it’s impossible to ignore that BTS has truly extended “beyond the scene” over the last few years.
To put things in perspective, the earliest listeners of BTS were first exposed to the group by way of a feature verse: Jo Kwon, then making a solo debut as a member of 2AM, featured BTS’ J-Hope on his flamboyant track “Animal.”
This was back in 2012, a time when now-defunct generational groups like 2NE1 and SISTAR still dominated, and the K-Pop landscape was gradually shifting around the social media and digital streaming eras. Though the track was only a moderate success, it planted the seed in the minds of many that BTS was exciting and worth checking out. In hindsight, it seems like part of a calculated long-game strategy, using a similar approach to self-promotion through features to Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj.
BTS are not overnight celebrities, and their rise from humble roots is part of what makes their story so compelling. Their first two releases sold moderately well but didn’t rack up any number one spots or break-out singles. Eventually, they set a pattern for their selves – each release hit number one, and performed slightly better than the prior. This is impressive in its own right and is mostly achievable with the help of die-hard fans purchasing physical albums. Everything was right in place for a meteoric rise by the time 2015 came, and that’s when things truly got interesting for the group.
With “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, Pt. 1,” BTS set a new sales record for their selves. There was something quite interesting about the details, though: several thousand of those sales came from America, and it was becoming clear that there was a demand for the group stateside. Later that summer, in advance of “The Most Beautiful Moment In Life, Pt. 2,” BTS came to America and made their earliest media appearances with sites like Billboard, while also meeting their American fans directly through the “2015 BTS Live Trilogy Episode II: The Red Bullet” tour. With the future of previous-generation groups becoming uncertain, BTS offered promise and potential. It’s clear from how the next few years progressed that man-in-charge Bang Si Hyuk knew that the group’s peak was yet to come.
Throughout their tenure as a group, BTS had used social media like Twitter and V-Live to communicate with fans. It was around the time of the first American tour that they realized it had another purpose: that of an amplifier. You see, by having a successful tour in America and subsequent press coverage, the group was able to share content that would aide their careers in South Korea. They would then use this enhanced hype in Korea and capitalize on it by internationally touring. This cycle – along with extremely committed fans using their influence on trending topics and other youth-oriented media outlets – set the stage for the last year of events, one that has been defined by a steady pulse of high profile appearances, international recognition, firsts, and broken records.
Of course, promotion is hardly the only thing that the group used social media for. Sometimes, members of the group will simply post music they’re into through their shared account, or celebrate a milestone alongside fans. According to Billboard and Fuse writer Jeff Benjamin, the group has “been very savvy about social media and showing their daily lives and incorporating fans into it, which has resulted in anytime they make contact with a media outlet or celebrity on social media the fans respond just as passionately as they would to a selfie or news update.” He added, “I also think using group accounts versus individual member accounts on social media has played into this.“
2016 proved to be another big year for the Bangtan Boys, with many internationally recognized achievements. They topped the Billboard Social 50, a chart of music stars that are dominating social media services through their own posts and discussion about them. They released the “Wings” album, which sold so well internationally that it charted on the upper end of the Billboard 200. Title track “Blood, Sweat & Tears” gained an astounding 6.3 million views within a day of its release. They closed the massive 2016 edition of KCON, with a performance that received attention from numerous media outlets both Korean and American. Things became entirely too big to ignore, and as the group closed the year by winning numerous Korean music industry awards and performing at year-end ceremonies, it seemed like they were truly set to transcend. With previous generation groups, all losing time in the spotlight to the usual suspects – military time, scandals – BTS was poised to become the end-all, be-all of K-Pop.
Aside from filling the earlier part of the year with memorable social media interactions with fans and other celebrities, 2017 saw BTS pull off their most impressive feats yet. During the summer, the group kicked off the “Love Yourself” campaign on social media, one that was just as focused on its face value message of self-empowerment as it was about promoting a new album. Fan feedback was huge, with many reaching out to American radio stations to request the group’s music, while also appealing to TV show hosts and organizers through social media. Demand for the group became hotter than ever, and seemingly over the course of a few nights, everything took off: “DNA,” the title track from “Love Yourself: Her,” dropped. The music video gained more than 20 million views in just 24 hours. The album itself – a rather self-aware effort, featuring a clip of their Billboard Music Awards acceptance speech from the prior year – sold impressively, reaching the top 10 of the Billboard 200 Albums chart, a first for a Korean group. Simultaneously, the group logged the highest sales week for a Korean act in America, far surpassing the work of years prior from acts like Wonder Girls. Through the strength of their own achievements, their dedicated fans, and the media interest surrounding them, the group ignited on a blaze of glory that still continues to this day.
November 2017 has been like a crown jewel for BTS, their busiest but most (internationally) important month yet. First, the group landed in America to much fanfare and press coverage, heading out to record the Late Late Show with James Corden. Next, they participated in several radio interviews. On the 15th, the group recorded a mini-concert for several thousand fans for the Jimmy Kimmel Show, which will air later this month. On the 19th, they make their U.S. television performance debut through the American Music Awards, an unprecedented stage for any Korean act to reach. Then, to top it all off, the group still has appearances yet to make on the Ellen Degeneres Show and an internationally-flavored “Mic Drop” remix with Steve Aoki and Desiigner.
BTS is, without a doubt, a history-making group and perhaps now can be called the “biggest K-Pop group of all time.” Although journalists have noted that this wouldn’t have been possible without acts like 2NE1, Girls’ Generation, Wonder Girls, BIG BANG, and others paving the way during years prior. We can’t forget about their contributions leading the way to the celebration of BTS today.
If you’re still unsure what to think of BTS, their American Music Awards and Jimmy Kimmel performances should be pretty good opportunities to make your mind up. Whether the group suits everyone’s personal tastes or not, it’s remarkable that they’re achieving so much in the name of the Korean pop scene, especially given how much involvement they have with the creative direction of their own music. As BTS continues to make the leaps and bounds necessary to expand K-Pop’s profile as a whole, longtime fans should watch with pride; as BTS will let them know, they couldn’t have done it without them.