BTS’ Success: A Deep Dive (Part 2)
The Saga Behind the Song
Perhaps the most infuriating, frustrating, and engaging part of every music video released by BTS is the continuing story it tells through the MVs. Known for releasing albums in threes, they follow a consistent concept throughout. Fans refer to this as an “era”. Each era runs a story that is told in parts through the MVs. Each MV reveals a part of the story and each part keeps the fans guessing what the story is all about and how everything will end.
The narrative is revealed in parts and is non-chronological. Every MV appears to be nothing but a series of video clips but putting them together reveals connections, like pieces of a puzzle. It contains a lot symbolisms that makes the narration more gripping. It’s like watching a whodunnit film that gives one twist after another.
These discussions on narrative and visual interpretation take a life of its own, inspiring many to write their own version, make movies, and conduct research based on elements shown on the MVs to help them interpret the meaning more accurately. Some fans who have been consistent in providing theories, interpretations and other contents have actually developed a fanbase of their own.
Many of the symbolisms, visuals, and treatment used in the MVs nod to other pieces of art, paintings, books, plays, movies, and poetry. Researching these elements often lead fans to other bodies of art. Fans strive to understand their meaning, history, and other references that could explain the significance of those arts because understanding them help understand BTS’ narrative.
There is no other boyband that has inspired fans to immerse into art and literature in the depth BTS has done so. That process strengthens the bond between BTS and fans, the same way people who share certain interests bond and form friendship. In BTS and ARMY's case, they bond over books, paintings, theater, and social issues. Is there anything more beautiful than that?
Although BTS does not participate in the writing of the narrative, concepts of the era come from the members. Young Forever, one of the most popular eras, was based on Suga’s desire to maintain the same childlike enthusiasm for music, performing, and ambitions. Blood, Sweat and Tears was inspired by a book RM read, Hermann Hesse’s Demian. The publishers of the book reported that it was sold out in so many parts of the world, they actually had to reprint.
A highlight reel is usually revealed at the end of an era the ties certain loose ends. However, clues point out to how each era is actually connected to each other and the story being told is much bigger, much deeper and much more beautiful that everyone thought.
It is epic… literally.
One of the most popular fan theories
Heart on their sleeves
BTS has never been shy of voicing out their ambitions, no matter how improbable and embarrassing their ambitions are. It took them three years to be remotely recognized as a popular band in the Korea. They weren’t exactly the favorites when discussing who can bring Korean music to the international market but it didn’t stop them from telling everyone they wanted to get into Billboard 200, and then Billboard 100 and then perform in Billboard.
They are aware that dreams always come with its twin, failure. They are aware of the possibility of humiliation, criticism, and, most painfully, of simply not being enough. They are not naive to the possibility but it doesn’t stop the from wanting it and from admitting they want it. In a generation where everyone is made to believe they cannot fail, BTS’ head on approach to the possibility of failure inspires their fans to not only articulate their ambition but pursue it. BTS’ fan cafe, fan site, twitter accounts, and fan meets become an open diary to these testimonies.
Started at the bottom
The only thing more inspiring than hearing someone succeed through adversities is someone who has succeeded through adversities twice.
BTS was a boyband from a small company in Korea. The company was so small they couldn’t even give the boys proper marketing support in the beginning. They prevailed. It took them four years to reach considerable success but they prevailed.
When they entered the US market, they were, once again, a boyband from a small company from the other side of the world speaking a language no one understands. They were the newbies all over again. One of the hardest experience the boys had to go through was setting up their concert in the US and marketing it themselves too. They hanged around the streets of LA, giving away flyers to people, and informing them they were going to have a free concert.
Many ARMYs find it painful to watch but it is a necessary experience. BTS experienced and ARMY saw how hard, humiliating, embarrassing, and heartbreaking it is to make it to a big country who speaks a different language. But it is that memory, that experience that makes their success much sweeter and it is that memory and experience that make ARMY realize they can give it a try too. They may not be the BTS of whatever field they choose to pursue but they can be something.
And if they are feeling discouraged, they can just look at BTS. They started at the bottom, twice and now they are here.
BTS American Music Awards Performance which served as their U.S. Debut
BTS 2nd Fan Meeting with barely 150 attendees
Sheer Quality of their Music
BTS was introduced as a hiphop group and that was apparent in the early days of their career. Many credit their slow start to their non-pop sound. They were very street, hard hitting, and “tough”.
But they have evolved and they continue to evolve.
For better or for worse, the management company respected the members’ songwriting skill and artistry. No stranger to making hits, Si Hyung Bang got his nickname ‘hitman’, after producing some of the most popular songs for some of the most popular idols. Yet, Bang never stepped in to pen a song for BTS to sing.
BTS doesn't limit their genre to hip hop. They have dabbled into other genres and mix them up to create a prolific portfolio of sound. Their carrier singles, Dope, Fire, Not Today, and Idol are characterized by hard hitting bass and percussions, frequent beat drops and impossibly high energy dance breaks but they vary in tonality and theme. Their most recent single, Idol, is a mix of African and Korean traditional sound.
Such deviation from Korean Pop sounds often confuse even the most passionate ARMY, a collective name for BTS fans, but it is also that frequent deviation that keeps the fans interested, engaged, and in love.
There is so much complexity in every song, so much layer meant to provide a deeper and wider meaning to every word. Percussions are never just a percussion in a BTS song, it’s there for a purpose as in every instrument, ever word, every split second of silence.
In fact, some of the most popular BTS songs were never released as a single because they are too “uncommercial” such as Baepsae, Nevermind, and B!3!.
BTS is one of the few groups that has never gone a year, since their debut, without releasing at least two albums in one year. With three songwriters, RM, Suga, and Jhope, there was a continuous flow of materials that allows the band to make several albums in a year. With the other members slowly getting into production and writing, it seems BTS will only be more poised for even more materials.
The consistency and frequency do two very important things for BTS. It keeps them visible, present, and relevant. There was always something new, stirring the threats of monotony. There was a new narrative or new dance step or new poetry to listen to. Anybody worth a **** in marketing would know that if there is anything that can beat quality, it is consistency. BTS got that down to a tee.
More importantly, consistency allows them to evolve in tune with the times. They keep their skills honed and their minds aware of what’s out there they can learn from and sing about. They relentlessly experiment in order to produce something new and different or consistent with their equally evolving disposition, priorities, personalities, and emotions.
SNS is a channel, not the substance
Crediting BTS success to social media alone is reckless. With so many young people looking for role models and inspirations, making them think that posting on social media is all it takes to make it big will not help them achieve their dreams. This generation is already seeing the world through filters and photoshopped perfections, making them believe someone can achieve BTS’ level of success with consistent social media presence won’t help them realize how actual success is achieved.
SNS is a channel BTS has used to deliver news to their fans and to start conversations. SNS is not what makes them popular, it is what they say, show, and deliver that they often announce first on social media.
It is important for people to understand what really made BTS successful is not not the medium but the substance.
Critics believe that BTS’ success will be short-lived because boybands have a short shelf life but such claims are made by men in suits who cradle their prejudices and stereotypes instead of immersing themselves in the music and band they are writing about.
BTS has achieved success by ignoring boundaries, ignoring stereotypes, and ignoring expectation. They achieved success by creating songs with sentiments and tonalities that resonate to those who will listen to it. It was never success they were focused on, it’s music. They have it all figured out right in the beginning. It’s time for the rest of the world to do the same.