|The popularity of Korean boy band Bangtan Seonyondan also known as BTS was so sudden most especially after their tv guesting in the US. / Photo credit by JStone via Shutterstock|
K-pop has always been a fringe kind of entertainment. Even when its infectiously joyous nature—in addition to K-dramas—drew the attention of many people around the world for various reasons, it was still largely confined to Asia. If they ever do events in the US, these are usually small ones, pockets of cheering crowds and bawdy merchandise sold for whichever group would be taking the stage to perform.
Back then, it was already called a “wave,” but it wasn’t until recently that K-pop was able to find its big break riding on the back of fresh-faced Korean Boy Band, “Bangtan Seonyondan,” or BTS for short.
Their popularity was so sudden that when asked about them, the common person might not have the slightest idea who they might be. But anyone who had been following K-pop in its humble newness knows exactly who they are.
From relative mainstream obscurity, how did BTS break into the US’ insanely competitive market? And how were they able to bring niche into the public eye?
Go Public or Go Home
|BTS was one of the first K-pop groups that expanded their fanbase on social media. / Photo credit by Kathy Hutchins via Shutterstock|
The beginning of BTS was as humble as can be. No one knew who they were except a handful of people. While fans were raving about long-time boy bands that have carved their own place in K-pop stardom, BTS members were spending precious time in studios, dancing rooms, and recording booths, trying to get their boy band career to take off.
The winning strategy would come sooner rather than later when Big Hit, their entertainment company to this day, decided to build audiences, rather painstaking, despite the startup agency’s lack of wide industrial connections.
It worked wonders in the best way.
According to international news site CNN, these intimate and mundane moments actually worked in that BTS was able to fully commit to being relatable.
In these little videos, clips, and blogs, BTS members, as young as they were, would be filmed cooking food, hanging out, playing pranks on each other and, at one time, even starting a quasi-research on which member was easiest to scare.
This marketing strategy unsurprisingly yielded amazing results. Fans of the band became interested in them because they felt a certain kinship to the simplicity of their lives. They had the pleasure of knowing them before everyone else.
BTS was also one of the first K-pop groups that went on social media and expanded their fanbase in the increasingly techy generation. Before long, they were gathering hordes of fangirls and fanboys, all while staying true to their vlogging origins and their affinity for letting their audiences in on their lives one video at a time.
Michelle Cho, a professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, described the business model of BTS perfectly, saying:
"I think that for some people it's quite alienating to encounter other K-pop (groups) ... that they know are a product of this very rigorous training system that (they believe) makes them a bit less authentic. BTS are quite different because their whole concept from their inception was that they were going to be honest purveyors of the experience of youth."
Fame and Fans
However, baring it all can only take any popular person so far before it gets old, and BTS might reach a certain point where, in the fickle nature of show business, they are then replaced by a younger, newer version of themselves. If that’s the case, then how come they’re still able to reach the US market? A market that, for many years, has eschewed K-pop for its manufactured and packaged appearance.
What K-pop—most especially BTS—can thank is the multicultural embrace that the US is taking as emotions run high in the country’s current political spectrum.
That’s too big of a topic to discuss. Vulture, an entertainment news website, instead focused on the “why” of BTS’s stardom and focused on their music and how it’s grown to their new EP “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” from “the secret thoughts and woes of schoolboys” that spanned most of their first albums.
On their music, Vulture comments: “BTS’s soundscape expanded with lambent synths and lush reverb, incorporating shades of novel subgenres like cloud rap and future bass.”
Compared to their first foray in music, “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life” was more about “big-picture anxieties that would be relatable for just about anyone alive and awake to their surroundings these past few years.”
It makes sense to go big these days, after all, big-picture anxieties are ever-present in the big world.
Despite being recognized now as a K-pop group, Bang Si-Hyuk, the founder and CEO of BigHit, shared to Time how BTS was not originally planned to be a K-pop group at all.
“I had considered putting together a hip-hop crew, not an idol group. But when I considered the business context, I thought a K-pop idol model made more sense,” he said, and he clearly made the right call.