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.
BTS has racked up a lot of accolades over the last year. Their 'Map of the Soul' world tour recently outsold massive pop artists on StubHub like Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and Elton John. They've even received their own Funko Pop Vinyls.
What is BTS?
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:
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.
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.
— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) January 27, 2020
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.
— BT21 (@BT21_) October 12, 2017
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.
K-pop fans love their K-pop, and there's no bigger K-pop band than BTS. And while Samsung didn't roll the Korean supergroup out during their Galaxy S20 launch this morning, one of the members did appear on stage in background shots, which has naturally set the fanbase alight.