“The Beatles, one of the world’s superstars who broke out in all markets in history are one of the top, top groups. And recently, an unexpected K-pop group climbed up the ladder up to that level.”
I think it’s amazing that after 55 years did we see someone beat the records set by The Beatles and to top this off, they are the first Asian group to do so.
(Disclosure: I am not a part of their fandom: the ARMY’s; I quite frankly do not particularly like k-pop and what it usually stand for, BUT because of so much noise, my curiosity got the best of me and here we are, I found out the reason why BTS get to be where they are right now)
BTS — a seven-man South Korean mega-group is an abbreviation for BangTan SoNyeonDan, or Bulletproof Boyscouts. Seven years ago, when BTS released their music video debut “No More Dream”, it was obvious that they are shooting for the moon. No one could have predicted that they would be K-pop’s breakout success story in America.
The group: Kim Tae-hyung (V), Jung Ho-seok (J-Hope), Kim Nam-joon (RM), Kim Seok-jin (Jin), Park Ji-min, Jeon Jung-kook, and Min Yoon-gi (Suga), from the beginning, has shown itself as a unique group right from the get-go — this is especially apparent during their debut, when big groups such as EXO, and Big Bang is seen to have always followed the “standards” set by their agencies: to have a more clean-cut image and songs that are formulaic in nature, written and is usually produced to follow a certain “winning sound” that usually follows the genre of pop songs about romance. True enough, when BTS debuted, they were seen as rebellious “bad boys,” sporting gold chains, bandannas, and heavy black eyeliner, and the track did not perform well in the Korea market.
What is different?
BTS aggressively showcased a different version of a boy group through their rap-heavy track that actually has a message: they urged young people not to be defined by their parents’ dreams and instead should go find their own dreams.
Even thou the debut single did not top the charts, they had something else that set them apart: they were nurtured by a start-up label named Big Hit Entertainment, which for me is the biggest factor.
We all know that South Korea’s entertainment industry is ultra-competitive, we have heard all the horror stories aspiring idols have to go through to “make it”, they undergo gruesome and unfair “proven ways on how to become an idol”, the rest of the popular and well-connected labels are known to audition thousands of hopefuls, often at a very young age between 10 and 14, they then become trainees at so-called K-pop farms and they take part in grueling, full-time rigorous programs in dance, singing and even character formation. The vetted ones were selected for the current K-pop group and are then tied into long contracts that are known to not only restrict their personal lives but also serves as an agreement to years of limited and unfair pay. The hopefuls are expected to conform to the boxed in the world of K-pop, where members are given designated roles within a group and are only pushed to portray those personas.
Luckily, BTS was molded in a very intentional, strategic, and authentic way by a newcomer who just wants to truly make a difference. And I highly suggest you taking these (the bullet points below) into the heart if you are an aspiring idol/artist. So, how did they do it? Let us look at it one by one below:
1. Right management style by Big Hit Entertainment.
You read that right, unlike its counterparts, Big Hit Entertainment set out to do something and they did it. If you are not aware of who they are or what the goal of the company is let me share a quick screenshot of their company description, logo, and purpose (according to their official website) below:
Guess what? they followed through! unlike the known mishaps and unfair treatment to other”almost broke out international artists” like 2Ne1 by YG Entertainment, we saw how Big Hit leveled up the mantle for other agencies to follow. They have created a system where nurturing someone by allowing them proper mindset, goal setting, and of course, the right kind of support and creative freedom opens up a budding group and turns them into the coined term “The Beatles of the 21st century”.
Instead of wearing masks to pretend and be loved, they wore their hearts and who they really are. They took to social media to connect and I mean really connect to their followers. They are probably one of the very first idol groups in the world who allowed their fans into their journey and who were not afraid to show both the good and the bad side (and we all know how rare this is). See one of their fanmade Vlogs below.
Yes, They are bound to be superstars, but they showed that just like the rest of us, they are humans too. The internet is full of mundane BTS clips: the members sleeping, eating together, pulling pranks, practicing and even daily logs of their experiences. They take different forms — from usual posts, live-streamed diaries, or produced episodes of their reality TV-like web show. The group has always stuck to their whole concept from their inception: to be honest purveyors of the experience of youth.
There’s no denying that the group has an undeniable knack for acquiring unlimited charm and people term it as the “it factor”. When people do talk about the “it” factor, they must be talking about whatever the group as a collective has done to continuously push themselves, break out of their molds that the k-pop industry has created along with how society has put artists’ in such a box and we see that throughout the 7 years, they have continuously evolved.
Take a look at how they have shown their commitment to improving who they are via this BTS evolution documentary created by an ARMY fan below:
4. Consistency & Quality
They’re undoubtedly one of the biggest names in K-pop, having been around since 2013. And one of the major factors for this success is that they do have creative freedom, their management allows them to express their art through their songs unlike other major groups like Blackpink who unfortunately does not write & produce their own songs.
BTS do not work as a whole to write their songs, but instead rely mainly on a few of their members. The majority of their tracks are written by the group’s rappers: RM, J-Hope and Suga.
But of course, with such power comes responsibility; and BTS has shown this all throughout with their consistent themes and messages that are written through their lyrics. We can attribute that one of the reasons BTS has become who they are today is that people connect with their music on a deeply personal level: their songs are about following dreams, challenging norms, and staying true to yourself in the face of uncertainty.
And literally no one that I can think of has done this apart from 2ne1. I mean, can we be honest? Most songs right now are just repeating words/syllables just cause it rhymes and if we try to digest the meaning of the entire track — there is no actual message we can understand.
It is widely theorized that this is because the members themselves have an incredible gift for penning lyrics that coincide with their current state and how they are using their art to heal themselves.
This in turn has inspired audiences around and which I think is why BTS has such a huge ARMY of fans (pun intended). The group has meticulously continued to pen lyrics to everyone in the form of their songs in hopes to release meaningful and hopeful words to incite strength and above all, to encourage love. Here are some of our favorite BTS lyrics that may inspire you:
“What is the you that you dreamed of?
Who do you see in the mirror? I gotta say
Go on your path
Even if you live for a day
Put away your weakness.” – No More Dream
“If you can’t fly, then run.
Today we will survive.
If you can’t run, then walk.
Today we will survive.
If you can’t walk, then crawl.” – Not Today
“Who says a dream must be something grand?
Just become anybody
We deserve a life
Whatever, big or small, you are you after all.”– Paradise
But more importantly, their songwriting — particularly in their earlier works — goes beyond the love-lorn lyrics and algorithm of the previously methodological and successful “pop hits”.
Taking a look at “Spine Breaker,” which hits out at young people who are using their parents’ money to buy materialistic things; another is “Baepsae” where they called out the older generation for the idea that the younger generation are lazy (much like how Baby Boomers are to Millenials). Probably one of the most important ones — “Idol” wherein they open up the conversation to the importance of loving yourself, regardless of what others think.
It is also amazing to note that their works also often reference literature or philosophy. A good example is, “Map of the Soul: Persona,” a reference to the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung — which ultimately focuses on self-love and growth.
Probably the most crucial element out of everything so far is on how the group showed that their bond is way stronger than a regular manufactured k-pop unit — they have successfully merged as one collective unit, a true bond of brothers.
We can see this as there is no actual clear competition between members, they have never showcased any need to rise out more than the other (or so as far as I have seen); they also have no personally managed social account which personally for me (as a digital marketing expert) means there are less anxiety and direct competition on who is more popular than the others which can incite jealousy and can potentially create a rift.
Apart from the group’s close family-like relationship with each other — we should also take a look at their fandom: the ARMY, a complete ecosystem of fans. Which is probably the biggest attribution to how BTS came to garner the success that they have now.
We can be reminded that BTS was never especially popular in South Korea, and instead had to rely on the support of their fandom to break into foreign markets. And due to this as well — we saw many other K-pop groups who tried to copy and follow how BTS has been socially savvy and close to their fandom. Unlike before, where “fans” are regarded as a separate entity to the idols; with how old and traditional Entertainment companies made sure of creating that great divide.
Thinking about it, this tactic is very intentional, imagine how much time fans spend thinking about all of the different elements that go into the group that they’re interested in, from the groups’ debut to their daily, weekly, monthly & yearly growth — the stronger that attachment will be. I think it’s a really potent mix, you’re not just a casual fan of BTS, you have to be initiated into their world and then you get sucked in.
BTS, the group that believed it could
Looking back at 2013 and how little expectations everyone in the Entertainment industry has after their debut. What truly sets them apart is their proper mindset, coupled with a really strategic and full-proof game plan which is to use Music to Heal. (And look how it turned out, below is a very inspiring speech by BTS to the UN).
Many aspiring idols out there are lured into the idea of becoming an idol for the so-called gains like riches, fame, and power. Which as we know are not really sustainable and are simply skin-deep. One probable good example are stars like Lindsay Lohan, and Miley Cyrus; of which had been laden with multiple drug and alcohol abuse scandals.
Unlike, the stars mentioned above, BTS is able to retain who they are (even from the beginning) they were never forced to fit themselves into someone they are not. They have always prioritized authenticity and growth. I just wish that the rest of the big “K-pop idols” out there get to go back and dig a little bit deeper as to the purpose of why they wanna be “idols”. Without purpose, direction, and actual passion, you truly can easily lose your way especially in an industry where vanity and greed rules.
Currently, the only ASIAN group to have been compared to The Beatles, BTS climbed up from the bottom to the top. And I hope by writing this article. More artists get to have a deeper understanding of their why’s. I am no expert, but this is what I got from diving in a little bit deeper into how BTS became such a maniacal success. I do hope that aspiring content creators can learn from how authenticity, quality, and direction are key components for anyone to get to who they want to be.
Imagine — The Beatles in world history are one of the only top groups. BTS, I think is going to be unrivaled for at least decades. I would wish for the day for a Filipino to break out as they did. But sadly, our music industry is too boxed in.