BTS Reaches Global Charts, Local Hearts


2017 has been a big year for the South Korean boy group BTS (acronym for Korean term “Bangtan Sonyeondan,” meaning “Bulletproof Boy Scouts”). From winning the Top Social Artist Award at the Billboard Music Awards to performing at the AMAs to releasing the album “Love Yourself: Her,” their rise to stardom has just begun in the American music industry.

Their most recent release “Love Yourself: Her” has reached more than 1.2 million sales, breaking a 16-year record on Gaon Chart, as well as on Hanteo Chart. At this year’s Golden Disk Awards, they won a digital Bonsang (main award) and album of the year Daesang (grand prize), being the first group not from SM Entertainment to do so, and were also awarded a Bonsang and Daesang at the latest Seoul Music Awards, breaking EXO’s four-year streak of winning the grand prize. Millions have watched their music videos on Youtube, with their popular hit “DNA” having over 250 million views.

The members have also taken success from their solo projects. Group leader RM has made his debut on Billboard’s “Bubbling Under Hot 100” chart with his feature on Fall Out Boy’s “Champion” remix. Additional member Suga “Agust D” has been applauded by Billboard for his self-titled mixtape. Fans have been eagerly waiting for member J-Hope’s mixtape, which is expected to come out later this year- so far, he has released a song called “1 VERSE”.

Along with accomplishing achievements in music, BTS has been going viral on the internet, with having the most Twitter engagements, acquiring over 12.1 million followers.

The seven-member group consists of rappers Kim Namjoon “RM”, Jung Hoseok “J-Hope”, Min Yoongi “Suga” and vocalists Kim Seokjin “Jin”, Park Jimin “Jimin”, Kim Taehyung “V” and Jeon Jeongguk “Jungkook”. Performances are filled with incredible energy while the members dance, rap and sing with prominent ability.

Their music continues to inspire millions of ARMYs (BTS fans). Through the years, their style has gradually developed. Originally having a hip-hop/ R&B sound in their older releases, their newer albums range from ballads to rock tunes. However, the same passion lies in each of their songs.

Not only is the group talented, they are also socially aware. They recently launched a campaign with UNICEF following the release of their “Love Yourself: Her” album, called “LOVE MYSELF.” Additionally to promoting self-love, they are also supporting the #ENDViolence campaign, which targets to end violence for children and certify their safety. The band donates three percent of their “Love Yourself: Her” album sales to the campaign, as well as all of the profit earned from their official goods.

Sophomore Mariah Talmadge has been listening to the group for about a year.

“My cousin told me about them and showed me their videos,” Talmadge said. “They are really humble and they always want to improve themselves and they work really hard in their albums.”

Their relationship with ARMY is one-of-a-kind.

“I feel like they interact with their fans more and do videos for them and try to improve themselves for us,” Talmadge said.

In addition to shooting music videos, the band also does livestreams and variety show episodes on VLive, posts messages for ARMY on Daum Fancafe and often upload vlogs on their “BANGTANTV” YouTube channel.

According to Talmadge, fans love their music based on the message they are sending.

“I guess their music connects a lot in reality because they do a lot of songs about mental health and depression and all that kind of stuff, so I guess people connect with that in real life. Their music is just so realistic- you connect with it, you go along with it, because they do not do those typical love songs or breaking up songs, they do real songs that people generally care about,” Talmadge said. “I kind of connect with it because back then, I had issues, so hearing them address it more is reassuring that people know about this kind of stuff.”

Other ARMYs have similar feelings. Sophomore Veronica Caldwell talked about how the band came into her life.

“One of my favorite animators on YouTube was doing this thing called a MAP or a Multi Animator Project and so they were looking for animators, so they did this video that had the music playing and split it up into different parts for the animating,” Caldwell said. “I listened to the music and I was like, ‘Huh, this is really interesting’, so a couple months go by and that was my first exposure to them. Then my Korean friends, they talked to me and I got to know them better and they are like, ‘Hey, you should listen to this band’ and so I do and I am like, ‘Woah, this is really cool! I should listen to more of them’ and it basically just rabbit-holed from there.”

Because of the band’s original work and musical ability, she finds them different from other K-pop idol groups.

“Their musicality is at a much higher level than most other Kpop groups, due to most large companies buying B-rate songs that other American artists or British artists or more mainstream artists reject. And then they turn them and they translate those lyrics into Korean,” Caldwell said. “BTS does not do that. And their company does not do that. They write all their own music, and then they do orchestration and instrumental stuff within the company, and producing and everything. They basically do everything inside the company, and start from a place of genuine musicality instead of using something that’s already been made; they take something from themselves, so I find them more appealing due to their higher level of musicality and their lyricism.”

Caldwell agrees that the band’s interactions with fans make them stand out. Their connection with ARMY makes them so successful.

“A lot of other idol groups use social media too but BTS has found an unprecedented amount of social media attention and I think that is wise because they are a lot more genuine than most other idols are, as well as their musicality being on a higher level. So it draws in not only regular Hallyu fans- which is like regular K-pop fans- but it also draws in different types of fans from different age groups,” Caldwell said.
The best part about being an ARMY is sharing the same passion with others and not being afraid to do so, according to Caldwell.

“It is at a higher level of musicality, so it cannot immediately just be discounted, like, ‘Oh, they are a boy band’ [and] like, ‘Oh, you are all twelve-year olds’, even though people still do that, but it shows that the people that do that are very ignorant to how BTS actually is and why they are successful,” Caldwell said. “So in a way, it is proving people wrong about the stereotype of boy bands. BTS draws in [people] from tons of age groups, and as well as genders.”
Caldwell discussed the significance of BTS’ big break in the American music industry and how it affects the exposure of Asian music.

“It affects it a lot. While other groups such as the Wonder Girls and other “Big Three” groups [referring to JYP Entertainment, SM Entertainment and YG Entertainment; the biggest and most successful entertainment companies in South Korea] have come into the market before, like Psy, and like I said before, the Wonder Girls, they have not really broke into the market, even with the Wonder Girls doing an all-English album and Psy having a top hit on the Billboard Top 100 for months,” Caldwell said. “They were more seen as a circus thing to kind of look at and admire, while BTS is more looked at as an equal playing field, because they are artists are in a sense- that they create their own music as well as other artists in the U.S. So it’s giving a lot more exposure to overall, Kpop, and Asian music culture.”
According to Caldwell, it is the group’s awareness of social issues reflected in their music that affects society so much.

“They are, surprisingly, not afraid to shake up political situations- they feel more free to comment, and like I said before, they are more genuine, so they kind of have shaken up the Korean public before, since they technically should have gotten blacklisted for talking with ‘Spring Day’ and the [Sewol] Ferry accident that happened in South Korea- they technically should have gotten blacklisted by the government for talking about that,” Caldwell said.

After the April 2014 Sewol Ferry accident in South Korea, the country’s government blacklisted artists who showed support for the victims; BTS and their company (Big Hit Entertainment) was later revealed to have donated money to the families of the victims. ‘Spring Day’ refers to a song written by the group- it contains themes of losing a friend. The song title itself, coincidentally, refers to the time when the accident happened, in early spring.

“They are not exactly afraid to shake up the status quo, which is pretty interesting considering that some musicians shy away from that sort of thing and tend to more focus on typical music, like pop music being all about love and that kind of thing. BTS shows a different side of that and [is] more genuine to me,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell reflected on how BTS has affected her personally.

“They have brought a lot of really amazing people into my life, with lots of different relationships in real life and through online,” Caldwell said. “They have connected to me a lot of people in different countries and seeing how they are doing, and it makes me care about what is happening in other countries more than before I learned about BTS, as well as making me want to be a better person overall, and helping me to understand different points of view.”

The biggest struggle of being an international fan is the language barrier, expressed Caldwell.

“That is slowly going away just due to how many translators there are now. It still is a struggle not being able to know exactly what they are saying right away, so there is that. It is also a problem with getting merchandise,” Caldwell said. “There is a high probability of possibility getting scammed unless you use the official store, and even then it takes forever to get to the U.S., and some people do not exactly trust their website. And seeing them in concert is another thing… Thankfully, Yoongi wants to do a dome tour, so they better come to the Tacoma Dome.”

In the U.S., BTS is not seen as being culturally viable yet because they speak in a different language, according to Caldwell.

“I think over time that is going to eventually go away, just due to their world presence now. I think it is going to be more acceptable, hopefully in the future, for people to be more accepting of different cultures and different languages so I think BTS is going to be able to [have] even more world presence in the future and I think eventually the U.S. will adapt to that, but right now a lot of people are still very close-minded about being able to play their music or that kind of thing.”

Caldwell highlights the importance of their worldwide presence and how they are bringing about change.

“I think that BTS, besides just being an idol group, I think they really are bringing a lot of people together and helping change a lot and shedding a light on a lot [of] more issues than if we do not have them, because both Suga and RM have talked about mental illness [in their solo work] and have shone a light on their own problems with that, and their own problems within Korean society about the stigma against mental illness,” Caldwell said. “Especially with the recent suicide of [K-pop group SHINee’s] Jonghyun, I think it kind of shows light on how they are even probably affecting change in Korea about the stigma of mental illness and so I think they are doing a lot of important things right now, so that is one of the reasons why I really like them. They are actually opening a lot of people’s minds to talking about these things or even touching the topic. So I think they are overall a really positive influence, and I am glad that they came into my life.”