BTS’ Success: A Deep Dive (Part 1)
When pulling examples of how social media can make a multi million brand, BTS never fails to make the mix and for a good reason.
With a very small management company behind them, Jin, Suga, Jhope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook, collectively known as BTS, had very little marketing support when they began. Unlike other boybands from bigger management companies who are able to establish a fanbase enough to fill up stadiums even before they debut, BTS had less than a hundred fans attending their first showcase/fanmeet. They were, by KPop standards, a flop when they were launched.
With two consecutive Billboard Award for Social Artist, 16 million followers on Twitter, a sold out world tour, a performance in the American Music Awards with an all-Korean song, and countless appearances in some of the most popular TV shows and magazines worldwide, they are anything but a flop.
The success comes as a surprise for many because very few artists have made it mainstream in the U.S. without singing and speaking in English. Many of those who try and dissect the road to success point to how BTS used social media to market themselves and although it is undeniably one of the reasons BTS made it big, it is hardly the full story. Social media is an important part of their success but not as important as substance, honesty, attitude towards work, quality of their art, and, perhaps more importantly, the failures they experience.
Is SNS or Social Media the Only Reason Behind BTS' Success?
Everything they’ve got… and then some
There are very few artists that performs with so much energy and passion they seep through your skin and into your consciousness. Watching them is like a spiritual experience. You can just see how they give their heart and soul in each note, each move. Beyonce comes to mind. Michael Jackson is another. Their energy is consistently high and the sheer perfection in their every move shows just how hard they work to perfect their craft and how hard they go in performing them.
It’s an elite few… BTS belongs to that.
I first came across them when I was searching for the best dance performances by a male group. I got to their We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2 practice video and was amazed at the perfect synchronicity of their every move and how hard they go in every jerk, every jump, and every stomp. Not a single member is ever off even by a split of a second and everyone hit every move with the same intensity, not one is ever off by a drop.
It wasn’t just the skill because only three of the members are actually dancers with one of that three trained in modern dance rather than hiphop. Such perfection can only come from outstanding dedication and a commitment to work as a team so that each member performs in the same level of excellence.
And if they were hitting every step like it was the last performance on earth during practice, their actual performance shakes the whole building. There’s that undeniable precision in their moves that is unquestionably a product of hundreds of hours of practice. There is soul, heart, and that drive to pour every ounce of talent, determination, and dedication in the stage.
It was clear that whatever training BTS was getting was way beyond honing their skills because skills come a plenty in Kpop. You can throw a boomerang in this sea of celebrities and catch enough talents to replace every deployed US soldiere. What comes rare is for talent to meet discipline and for that combination to be found in a group of people that are willing and able to put the same amount of work to make every dream a reality.
BTS' First Single, We Are Bulletproof Pt. 2
What we are scared to say
No More Dream, one of BTS’ earliest single is a based on RM’s sentiments when he was in middle school. He didn’t know what he wanted to pursue when he grows up. While it is extremely common for Western kids to take a gap year to figure out what they want or skip college altogether to go straight into pursuing their passion, expectations are laid out to Asian children as soon as they are born. Asian parents are known for driving their kids to becoming doctors, lawyers, or engineers and many children are too scared or love their parents too much to reject even if their passion lies in stand up comedy or flipping burgers in some corner restaurant.
Going against Asian parents is not just rebellion, it’s arrogance.
When BTS sang about not sharing the dreams they were expected to have and not having any dream at all, it was beyond courageous. It was the cathartic for Asian kids. It was a secret peaceful rebellion, it formed an underground society of well-mannered Asian children who love their parents too much to go against their will but are also too tired and too scared to succumb to expectations. Suddenly, it was okay not to want what the parents want. It was normal to find happiness somewhere else, in places beyond the imagination of imagined perfection. In fact, it was perfectly normal not to know what you want. It doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes us young.
Suga’s mixtape talked about his battle with depression, a disorder highly uncommon in Asia. With a very strong family support system, psychological disorders are frowned upon. Often, those who suffer from psychological disorders are tagged drama queens and kings and attention seekers. While Westerners are busy understanding the levels of depression, Asian children were simply not allowed to be depressed. They had no reason to be.
Suga’s decision to open up about his battles nudged many to take a serious look at the issue and finally confront its reality. More importantly, it encouraged those who are suffering from it to speak out.
Suga shaved the shame away.
Many other issues common among Asian children that were only talked about in dark alleys and dirty basements were finally pushed to the center by many of their songs. Many of their issues are hard to hear and scary to confront but that’s what attracted fans to BTS. It wasn’t just about secret crushes, unrequited affection, and reckless love.
BTS was simply talking about trying to figure s**t out. BTS was simply expressing that although their parents love is ever present, their concern endless, it doesn’t provide all the answers to questions we find ourselves asking.
That’s where the connection is rooted, a common sentiment, a valley where youth can release the shame, pain, and fear that no one else in the world would ever understand.
Suga's solo mix tape features 'The Last', a song about mental health
Just as how it was in the Motown era, Korean pop stars, also known as Idols, are given songs to sing, dress to wear and steps to dance. They are also given a persona, a personality or role they have to play when in front of the camera. Some idols talk about how they are even forbidden to smile or talk much during interviews.
BTS is one of the few idol groups who write their own music, participate in every production, and exercise no filter in their interviews. One of the most ‘shocking’ moment in idol history is when they talked about porn in an interview stating their group PC often gets a virus because RM often downloads porn. The leader retorted that he may be the one downloading it but the rest of the members watch it.
The show hosts emphasized the boys are in the legal age to watch porn and treated it with so much humor
Idols are supposed to have innocent and pristine personalities that have no dirty thoughts or dirty actions. They aren’t even supposed to have girlfriends. Some of those whose relationship was exposed got so much hate, they are forced to take a hiatus or completely walk away from their career.
The mere fact that BTS managed to talk about it on air is a clear proof the management team isn’t wrapping the boys in shiny spotless white fabric. The boys are to speak their minds and people will just have to take them for who they are, lock, stock and porn-ridden barrels.
There’s a marked authenticity in the whole process that makes the sentiments expressed in the lyrics honest, sincere and that much relatable. These words they utter with the melodies aren’t coming from a 35-year-old hit maker hauled up in the studio that steals the pain of the youth and turn them into canned good to sell to the world. It’s coming from the same people singing them and feeling them.
Their music become theme songs, a diary shared across the world, not a canned good fresh out of an assembly line.