BTS: The rise and rise of the K-Pop band

BTS: The rise and rise of the K-Pop band

I’m a born singer, a bit belated confession (I swear)
A mirage that used be ever so far away is in front of my eyes (It’s here)
I’m a born singer, perhaps a bit early confession
But, I’m so happy, I’m good

-Born Singer, BTS

In 2013, a seven-membered boy group full of ambition made an explosive hip-hop debut, unaware of the unprecedented fame and influence they would achieve in the next few years.

These youngsters stood out as outliers in the conforming music environment they were a part of, not hesitant to criticise society, those in positions of power, and even politics. Speaking for youth, their albums 2 Cool 4 Skool and O!RUL8,2? urged them to reject social pressure, forge their paths, and say “NO,” while criticising society for turning the once-vibrant youth into lifeless robots.

Photo Courtesy: BTS’ Official Instagram @bts.bighitofficial

The lines above were from their debut track, “No More Dream,” which was dedicated to the youth and those without dreams trying to find their place in society, and they demonstrated that this group was not about sunshine, daises, and rainbows. Bangtan Sonyeondan, or BTS, had much to say about such ideals. However, most members were still in their teens, with the eldest being twenty and the youngest being fifteen, and the world eventually listened.

With the foundations of hip-hop, the group under Big Hit Entertainment was initially meant to be formed around Namjoon, aka RM, the leader and a well-known underground rapper in the music scene. The next member to join was Yoongi, aka Suga, another hard-hitting underground rapper and producer who originally only planned to be a producer.

Soon after that, Hoseok, aka J-Hope, a well-established street dancer with several trophies under his belt with a prominent reputation, joined the rap line of BTS and became the dance/performance leader of the group. However, a change in the original vision was visible when the group’s vocalists started coming in. Jungkook, the youngest of the group with offers to several top companies impressed by RM’s rapping, decided to join Big Hit.

The eldest member Jin and the next member of the vocal line, a theatre artist with no singing or dancing experience, was scouted by the company because he was irresistibly good-looking. This was a blessing in disguise because not only is he a fantastic singer and performer, but he is now known as ‘Worldwide handsome’ and has scientifically proven to have the perfect golden ratio when it comes to facial features. Park Jimin was a top contemporary dancer of his school who, on the advice of his teacher, auditioned at Big Hit and became another vocal line member.

Finally, Taehyung, aka V, who only came to the auditions to support his friend, was convinced to audition himself, and while the friend didn’t pass, V became a member of BTS. Hence, three rappers and four vocalists, from different parts of South Korea, far apart from one another, living separate lives, found one another. The stars were meant to be aligned, and they were meant to see each other.

“We came together with a common dream to write, dance and produce music that reflects our musical backgrounds as well as our life values of acceptance, vulnerability and being successful. The seven of us have pushed each other to be the best we can be. It has made us as close as brothers.”

-Namjoon (member), Times magazine

Photo Courtesy: BTS’ Official Instagram @bts.bighitofficial

These lyrics from their song Tomorrow, produced by Suga, represented their growth. Their hip-hop albums Skool Luv Affair and Dark and Wild in 2014 had people tuning in as they touched upon subjects of innocence of youth and blossoming love in school. However, the rise of BTS was an uphill struggle, a true underdog story.

Their recognition was not immediate, and for countless other groups. The top 3 reigning entertainment companies, otherwise known as the ‘Big Three,’ had the industry in a chokehold which rarely gave breathing space to groups not belonging to the Big Three. With reporters, media, public figures, entertainers, MC positions, broadcasting rights, public recognition, and the whole shenanigan on their side, any group from these companies was born into stardom, that is, with golden spoons while those from smaller companies faded away to obscurity.

Threatened by BTS’s slow but steady rise, false plagiarism, chart manipulation accusations, cutting off from broadcasts, mistreatments in variety shows, and near bankruptcy were used to bring them down. During their rise, 2014-2016 were their worst years in terms of unprecedented online targeted hate and media blackout, as this was also the time when it could be seen that BTS had started making waves internationally. However, passion cannot be extinguished, talent cannot be suppressed, and BTS was here to play a whole different ball game.

As of 2022, the three rappers of BTS have over 100 registered copyrights for songs, with RM leading at 187. Unlike other groups, the members had their artistic freedom from writing and producing the songs to conceptualizing the story they wished to tell with beautiful lyrics showcasing their literary talent. And yet another strength of BTS is their unique choreographies and enrapturing performing abilities, as called by many critics, one of the most fantastic performers ever. It is believed by many that there is not a single bad seat in a BTS concert.

“They were that perfect underdog story. But it worked, because they are amazing performers. They looked almost like America’s best dance crew, but they could sing and rap amazingly well at the same time. I was at ‘KCON LA’ in 2014 where they were the opening act. ‘KCON LA’ had the most stacked line-up that year; there were all like big and heavy hitters from the industry. I watched them there and they stole the show. Their choreography, charisma and the way they did things made people go, ‘Is that magic? What is going on?’, and from there, there was this organic growth of international fans. “

-Eric Nam (Singer)

The release of their album series “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” from 2015–2016 was one of the most touching and overwhelming eras. A coming off age story, it represented the hardships of youth and dealt with sensitive topics such as depression, self-harm, suicide, and confusion. But it also provided comfort by covering love, friendship, family, and togetherness topics.

The series began by capturing the feeling of hopelessness and ended with overcoming it together and finding joy in life and the lightness of being. Recognized as a turbulent emotional masterpiece, it also bought an insurmountable number of loyal fans, which grew to now the most powerful fandom in the world, ARMYs. And from then onwards, it became a domino effect as more international and Korean fans slowly started pouring in.

Photo Courtesy: BTS’ Official Instagram @bts.bighitofficial

The next few albums, such as Wings with themes from the novel of Herman Hesse, a German philosopher ‘Demian’ about the loss of innocence, dealing with reality, and finding yourself a place in this world, and the Love Yourself album series revolving around the theme of accepting and loving yourself however you are, from 2016-2018 transitioned them into the biggest boy group in the planet. Around this time, the fanbase grew exponentially, responsible for driving BTS’s success by breaking long-held international records left-right and center and becoming a global powerhouse.

Photo Courtesy: BTS’ Official Instagram @bts.bighitofficial

From 2019-2020, BTS, via the ‘Map of the Soul’ album series, dealt with a complex and intensely mature setting dealing with the human psyche and several theories of Carl Jung, father of modern psychotherapy and modern analytical psychology. And in 2020, the BE album provided much-needed comfort during the pandemic and imparted the message that life goes on.

It was crystal clear by this time that BTS didn’t do things by halves and were far apart from superficiality and conventional static standards and values. The general public fails to recognize that these seven men from Korea had already been top-tier artists for quite some time, even though it took English songs to bring this to the spotlight. During the pandemic, the songs Dynamite, Butter, and later Permission to Dance catapulted them to be the biggest artist of the decade.

However, those who question their rise to fame and reasons for their loyal fanbase have failed to look into their expansive discography filled with philosophical, psychological, historical, mythological, socio-political, and cultural basis portrayed with artistic expressions of singing, dancing, acting, and literature amongst many things.

“Tell me your story. I want to hear your voice, and I want to hear your conviction. No matter who you are, where you’re from, your skin color, gender identity: speak yourself.”

— Kim Namjoon (member), United Nations

Beyond their music but consistent with their messages, BTS has been championing social causes early in their career with multiple philanthropic efforts without publicizing the majority of them. They have partnered with UNICEF to promote the Love Myself campaign, ending violence against children, etc.

Having faced racism (which they still do), they were vocal about Black Lives Matter and anti-Asian hate, donating to the said campaigns and addressing these matters at United Nations conferences and the White House with the current American President, Joe Biden. And while their inexhaustible list of donations and philanthropy is impossible to cover, it easily surpasses millions of dollars.

These actions have inspired the ARMYs to do the same with multiple million-dollar donations, running charities for the underprivileged, planting trees, adopting animals, donating in the wake of tragedies, etc. With the influence that BTS holds and with the loyal fanbase that dances to their tune, it sheds light on the kind of people they are and how this influence is used in the right way.

“Two bare feet are our gasoline, yeah, yeah.
Jimin(ie), V, you’ve worked hard. Namjoon(ie,), Hope, you’ve worked hard. Yoongi (elder brother), Jin, you’ve worked hard. Jungkook(ie), everyone, so thanks”

-Run BTS, BTS

The above lyrics, from their 2022 anthology album PROOF, highlighting their years from the debut, is a memoir of their struggles, hard work, passion, and success and is wholly dedicated to ARMYs who have always been with them. Growing organically and responsible from saving Big Hit from bankruptcy to being worth $11 billion today and with years of being together with several solo projects as members of BTS, the boys recently have started exploring particular musical direction outside of their BTS image.

From a fantastic solo album, “Jack in the Box” by J-hope, and “Astronaut” by Jin, which will soon be followed by solo releases of other members, the entire group is said to reconvene in 2025 after the completion of their mandatory Korean military service. But even then, BTS and ARMYs show no signs of slowing down, breaking records even with their solo albums and going more vital than ever.

Photo Courtesy: BTS’ Official Instagram @bts.bighitofficial

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