BTS is a global phenomenon. They are a K-Pop group that has achieved worldwide fame and brought what was previously a niche genre into the mainstream. Keep reading to learn about the individual members, how they achieved stardom, and why, despite their success, they may soon be just a memory.
Who is BTS?
Most fans refer to them as the “Bangton Boys,” or simply BTS. BTS is an acronym of Bangtan Sonyeondan which translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts” but has morphed over time into “Beyond the Scene.”
BTS chose their name as a sort of armor against negativity and a promise to stay true to themselves, no matter what critics or anyone might say. This passion and fierceness to protect what matters most to them and is reflected in their fans who call themselves the ARMY (Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth).
The Bangton Boys announced a name change in 2017 as they began gaining popularity outside of South Korea. Beyond the Scene seems able to represent the same ideals of staying true to oneself, staying detached from what others say is cool, and do what makes them happy. The name change was also a move away from the potential controversy arising from a name like Bulletproof Boy Scouts.
I can imagine the reception in America might have gone a bit differently. For a country that loves their guns, they don’t want their kids listening to it! It was probably the smart move, from a marketing standpoint. And they seem to have found a name that carries the same meaning for them. Though their fans at home in South Korea still call them by their original name.
The South Korean boy band made their debut in 2013 with their breakout single “2 Cool 4 Skool.” They spent the next few years releasing more music and gaining recognition as an emerging K-Pop band. In 2017 they made history as the first K-Pop group to perform at the American Music Awards. They quickly moved from being well known to K-Pop fans to recognized by music lovers everywhere.
BTS has collaborated with several prominent artists and producers. Nicki Minaj appears on a bonus track version of BTS’s song “Idol.” Halsey is featured in the track “Boy with Luv” on their newest album “Map of the Soul: 7.” Steve Aoki has featured BTS on several of his tracks, including “Waste It on Me” which is the group’s first song entirely in English.
Though the group draws on many different sounds and influences, they sat down with the radio show, “Bae Chul Soo’s Music Camp,” and shared some of their biggest influences. Musically, they mentioned artists T.I., Nas, and J. Cole. Personally, they often reference each other as their biggest influences.
These superstars recall their humble beginnings. When they first formed the group they all lived under one roof. They learned to navigate disagreements and came out stronger. They “learn from each other” and “have a very special bond,” according to RM in an interview with CNN.
This boy band, like the most successful ones before it, was assembled through years of careful consideration and auditions taking place all over South Korea. BTS began in 2010 but didn’t debut until 2013 because it took time to find and train the men who would become BTS. Big Hit Entertainment is the entertainment company that created and manages BTS. BTS originally began forming as a hip-hop group but Big Hit Entertainment eventually decided the group would find more success as a K-Pop boy band. This is why the first three members are all rappers. Currently, the lineup consists of the following seven members.
RM- Kim Nam-Joon, known as RM, joined in 2010 as a rapper when BTS began as a hip-hop group. He is considered the leader of BTS. In 2017, he announced he was changing his stage name from Rap Monster to RM. He further explained that “RM” stands for “Real Me.”
SUGA- Min Yoon-gi, known as Suga, also joined BTS in 2010. He joined as one of three rappers when BTS was still intended to be a hip-hop group. He began his career producing beats for artists before entering a Big Hit Entertainment rap competition, “Hit It.” Although he did not win the competition he placed second and was signed by the company as a producer and trainee.
J-hope- Jung Ho-Seok, or J-Hope, joined BTS in 2013. He chose the name “J-Hope” as his stage name because he wants to be a source of light and hope for his fans. He is considered the lead dancer and is also one of the group’s three rappers.
Jin- Kim Seok-jin, or Jin as his fans know him, is 27 years young. That makes him the oldest member of BTS. He joined Big Hit Entertainment as a trainee after being spotted exiting a bus. In another twist of fate, the theatre major auditioned as an actor because he had no prior singing or dancing experience. Big Hit Entertainment saw much more potential and he joined BTS in 2013.
Jungkook- Jeon Jung-kook, known as Jungkook, is the youngest member of the group. He auditioned for a show called “Superstar K.” Although he was rejected for that show, the exposure he gained left many agencies interested in him. He specifically chose to join Big Hit Entertainment because of RM and admiring his talent as a rapper. He joined his role model and became part of BTS in 2013.
V- Kim Tae-Hyung, or V to his fans, joined BTS in 2013, through a set of circumstances that seem like fate. Though he has always been musically inclined, he attended an audition for Big Hit Entertainment with no intention of participating. He was there solely in support of his friend when a team member convinced him to audition.
Jimin- Park Ji-min, or Jimin, had a high school dance teacher who was so impressed with his talent, he convinced him to audition with Big Hit Entertainment. He was accepted as the newest member and debuted with the rest of the group in 2013.
How did they become superstars?
A boy band with this level of popularity obviously has the foundation of making music people want to hear. They put on amazing performances, such as when they performed at the 2020 Grammy’s with Lil Nas X . These are basic requirements of successful pop stars, so what is it about them that has launched K-pop and BTS into a worldwide phenomenon?
To put it simply, caring is their brand. They make it known that it matters for their music to have a message. They acknowledge the importance of their fans and return the love of their fans in everything they do. They want to spread positivity and love to both their fans and the world.
BTS became the first Korean group to speak at a United Nations conference. RM spoke about his own struggles with self-doubt and the importance of self-love. He said, “No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, your gender identity, just speak yourself.” Working with UNICEF to end violence against children, they raised $2.3 million.
By developing an openness and allowing their fans to know them beyond their music they have created an ARMY, like Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters” calling these fans loyal would be an understatement.
Their ARMY plays a huge role in their success as well as their worldwide recognition. Social media plays an unprecedented part in the rapid and overarching reach of BTS. Boy bands of the past can only marvel at the ability of their fans to organize which catapulted this group into mainstream stardom.
Their album “Love Yourself: Tear” was the first Korean album to reach number 1 on the Billboard top 200. They broke yet another world record when they became the first Korean group to have a platinum single and gold album recognized by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
They were the most tweeted about music group in 2017 and even became the most tweeted celebrity in 2018.
BTS won the reader’s poll for TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for two years in a row in 2018 and 2019.
In 2019 they became the first group since the Beatles to earn three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 Chart in under a year.
Their music video for “Idol” is the fastest music video ever to hit 100 million views.
BTS has been the face of Puma, Uno, makeup lines, and even the Hyundai Palisade. Not to mention their ticket sales and ability to sell out stadiums.
Because they have shown interest in things that matter to their fans, they have fostered brand loyalty and enabled their fans to spread their popularity on a global scale. In doing so, they have become influencers that account for .3% of South Korea’s GDP, according to The Washington Post.
Are they doomed?
Looming in the mind of fans, in a not so distant future, is the compulsory military service they will all be required to enlist in before they turn 28. Missing two years in the prime of your career isn’t exactly career suicide, but it is cause for concern nonetheless. Especially since BTS members range in age from 22 to 27 years old. Maybe they could all go at the same time? That would make an interesting reality show! Copyright! Ok, you can have it, just give me 1%.
Jin, the oldest and first member who will face this challenge, is ready for what may come. In an interview with CBS’s “Sunday Morning” he said, “As a Korean, it’s natural, and someday, when duty calls, we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.” It may seem strange to Americans but around 26 countries around the world have similar requirements.
Some countries, like Israel, also require women to serve. Equality! South Korea requires roughly two years of service, depending on which branch of the military they choose. They are also able to choose another civic duty such as fire fighting, the police, and sometimes even government offices. They are very strict about everyone doing their part, possibly because they are technically still at war with North Korea, which requires an alarming 10 years. That’s about three and a half more years than the average US citizen is enlisted, who choose to do it. I mean sure, maybe they were coerced or given false promises and unrealistic expectations, but they’re 18. They’re a full-grown adult. They can make a life-changing or even ending decision. Except they can’t drink alcohol or smoke. I guess they had 18 years to learn not to trust the government. Right? You still there?
There has been some precedent of South Korea waiving this mandatory requirement for Olympic athletes who bring honor to the country. But BTS is not counting on an exemption. In fact, they seem proud and prepared to serve their country and communities. They have already used their star power to bring awareness to issues that are important to them so it’s natural that they would appreciate the importance of being an example of the qualities they value.
In the meantime, BTS is unveiling a global art collective to ensure the ideals of diversity and love have a platform they can continue to be a part of, in whatever way works for them. The collective, known as Connect BTS, is spread across five countries and twenty-two artists. If their musical success is any indication, it will blossom into something unique and beautiful.
No one can be certain what the future holds for BTS but fans will hold tight to the memories they made and perhaps more importantly, their message. Embrace yourself for all that you are. Allow yourself to be afraid but don’t let it stop you from speaking your truth. No matter what comes next, a reimaging, new additions to the group, a crazy boy band in the military reality show (hey, I can dream), or a dignified retirement of a special thing too precious to touch. The ARMY will be there, excited and supportive of the members no matter where their lives take them, but also dreaming of the comeback.