How BTS Became The Internet’s Biggest Obsession

How BTS Became The Internet’s Biggest Obsession

K-pop band BTS has become a literal phenomenon. For outsiders, their popularity can seem baffling, but since the K-pop explosion over the last decade, they’ve dominated global music headlines. Here’s what you need to know.

What is BTS?

bts k-pop

BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, are a 7-piece boy band from South Korea whose popularity has skyrocketed since their expansion into global markets in the mid-2010s. They were established in 2013, and first entered U.S. Billboard charts in 2015, an achievement which marked the start of their worldwide ascent.

BTS’ members include:

  • Jin
  • Suga
  • J-Hope
  • RM
  • Jimin
  • V
  • Jungkook

BTS is known for their deep lyrics, which cover topics like youth mental health, the education system, Korean society and social disparity. Much of their music covers topics that are deeply relevant for their audience of teenagers and young adults, and the group has spoken regularly about the problems facing this younger generation. While they sing primarily in Korean, their message has become incredibly popular around the world.

How did BTS get so popular?

The late 90s and early 2000s were boom periods for Korean music and culture as the country’s government loosened global censorship and began to focus on globalisation. As changes to foreign policy reshaped South Korean culture, pop groups like 2NE1 and Big Bang became the first of a wave of global music exports, a cultural exchange that became known as the Hallyu movement.

Western audiences soon became enamoured by the punchy beats and well-choreographed dance numbers of K-Pop groups, with many entering the mainstream cultural conscious and gaining a new audience despite the language barrier.

BTS’s mainstream popularity began around 2015 (after much of the Hallyu movement had been established), with the release of The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 2, an album that debuted at number 171 on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts. It marked their first entry into mainstream consciousness, but it wasn’t until 2017 that they truly made their mark.

BTS perform on The Tonight Show (Image: Getty)

In 2017, BTS peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at #67 with ‘DNA’, and later appeared at number ten on the Billboard Year-End Artists of the Year chart. That same year, they collaborated with many of the U.S.’ top acts including Steve Aoki, Fall Out Boy and The Chainsmokers.

In 2019, they became the first group since The Beatles to score three number one albums in a single year with albums Love Yourself: Tear, Love Yourself: Answer and Map of the Soul: Persona all topping U.S. music charts on release.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why BTS became the internet’s favourite K-pop boy band, there are several factors that may play a part. BTS addresses issues that are increasingly relevant for their young audience, including societal displacement, expectation, prejudice and anxiety. These are topics that are rarely addressed, and are even rarer heard in pop music.

On top of that, BTS maintains an active social presence that bridges the gap between mainstream celebrity and everyday people. On Twitter, they have 23.9 million followers, and use the platform to share personal stories, moments, achievements and passions that are deeply relatable to their audience.

This social connection, as well as the impact of their music and lyrics has led to a passionate and active fanbase online.

Importantly, BTS has ascended from the status of ‘just’ a pop group. Their brand has expanded globally to include a video game where players can manage the titular pop group, an alternative universe webtoon called Save Me, a series of cartoon characters based on the singers, as well as a global collaborative art project. BTS are also active philanthropists. The band has supported UNICEF and other charity organisations in campaigns to prevent bullying, violence and youth isolation.

Since 2013, the band’s popularity has skyrocketed. They’ve become entrenched in the world of global pop culture, and with a near-religious fervour surrounding their every appearance, their popularity is only set to grow from here.

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  • I’ll always prefer SNSD over BTS (SNSD’s fanbase is far less scary), but I’m glad to see BTS have all this success now.

      • Lets run through some of the things Kpop fans have done shall we?

        Use hashtags related to tragic events and deaths to spam their fan cams for views
        Intentionally spread fake news to cover up the fact a Kpop singer caused a serious traffic accident.
        Relentless harass people who dare say anything negative about kpop, Even to the point of driving some to suicide.

        That’s only a few. I could go on.

    • “The Internet” in question is some alternate reality internet that exists in a different worldline since I’d never heard of them until a day or two ago. BTS means ‘Behind the Scenes’ to me so… I dunno.

      A serious case of Hyperbole, the failure of modern journalism.

      • I spent a few months thinking behind the scenes features on DVDs/blurays were suddenly the best thing on the planet.
        I still read behind the scenes when I see BTS.

  • Awful, what about Big Bang, Exo, Got7, etc? Not even that big a K-pop fan but the BTS hype is so overrated.

    More importantly, what does this have to do with games, this is mainstream beige crud, for shame Kotaku.

  • BTS is a product of the K-Pop music industry where image is hyper-important. These dudes can’t even have girlfriends because they have to maintain the allure of being ‘available’ for their fans. Whenever even slightly negative stuff happens a boyband member can be strong-armed into ‘taking a break’ or ‘retiring’, as has happened on a few occasions recently.

    That being said, the music is catchy, the boys look sparkly and people love it.

  • Working in the entertainment industry I have had more exposure to K-pop than most non fans (I certainly am a non fan to be clear). I’ve operated a follow spot (the big light tracking the performers on stage) for quite a few K-pop concerts now and their fans are the fucking worst. Always trying to sneak/break in to backstage, pushy, rude and the SHRIEKING, OMFG, THE ENDLESS SHRIEKING. 3000 girls (plus the occasional bored bf in tow) all trying to shatter glass with every a band member does anything! It’s the older fans in the crowd who are the main offenders, funnily enough. Never have I prayed for an icepick to the eardrums before I witnessed K-pop. Obviously I’m not their demographic, but some days I wonder if I’m getting paid enough to put up with this shit. The band themselves? Meh. Catchy, inoffensive, pop. Nothing new. Seeing them up close, in person they look decidedly creepy, like androids. But makeup and stage lights make everyone look kinda weird. Their managers and minders on the other hand are decidedly scary. Any K-pop band member I’ve ever seen backstage looks absolutely miserable, tbh.

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