(CNN Spanish) — When BTS released their debut music video “No More Dream” in June 2013, it was not obvious that they would be a K-pop success story in America. But how did this South Korean group achieve worldwide recognition?
Who are the members of BTS and what is the origin of the group?
BTS —which is short for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts— is a South Korean boy band made up of Kim Nam-joon, (RM), Kim Seok-jin, (Jin), Min Yoon-gi ( Suga), Jung Ho-seok (J-hope), Park Ji-min (Jimin), Kim Tae-hyung (V), and Jeon Jung-kook (Jungkook). And in their early days, BTS presented themselves as a group of rebellious “bad boys,” sporting gold chains, bandanas, and eyeliner. The rap-filled songs urged young people not to be defined by their parents’ aspirations.
The South Koreans, however, were not impressed. The single debuted at number 84 on the Korean government-sponsored Gaon Music Chart.
At the time, bands like EXO, Big Bang, and SHINee were dominating the K-pop charts. And while those groups sometimes referenced hip-hop in their songs, they tended to have a cleaner image and sing pop songs about romance. In EXO’s 2013 hit “Wolf,” for example, the band members howl and compare themselves to an animal that has been tamed by a seductive woman.
But BTS, whose members were then in their 15s and 20s, had something else that set them apart: They had been developed by the Big Hit Entertainment record label that was formed in the late 1990s, when K-pop was just starting to take off.
Among BTS’s long list of achievements, listed by the ARMYthe group that debuted in 2013 is the first from the K-pop genre to top the Billboard Hot 100 list thanks to their song “Dynamite” and they have the Guinness record by achieving the most viewers in a virtual concert.
These are the 10 most popular BTS songs according to the list of Billboard Hot 100:
10.- BTS feat. Designer, “MIC Drop”
9.- BTS, “On”
8.- BTS, “Fake Love”
7.- BTS feat. Halsey, “Boy With Luv”
6.- BTS, “Life Goes On”
5.- BTS, “Permission To Dance”
4.- Coldplay and BTS, “My Universe”
3.- Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo and BTS, “Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat)
1.- BTS, “Butter”
The role of social networks
Unlike major labels in South Korea, Big Hit Entertainment lacked the connections and money of the industry giants, so the label relied heavily on social media to promote the group.
BTS was one of the first K-pop groups on Twitter, Michelle Cho, a professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, told CNN. The band also posted vlogs on YouTube and shared their life on Korean live streaming platforms AfreecaTV and VLive.
The internet is full of these kinds of mundane BTS moments: members cuddling in their sleep, eating, sitting in taxis, and playing pranks on each other. They take a variety of forms: casual posts, live-streamed video diaries, or produced episodes of his reality TV-like web show “Run BTS!”
“I think for some people it’s quite alienating to meet other K-pop (groups)… who know they’re a product of this rigorous training system that (they think) makes them a little less authentic,” Cho said. “BTS is quite different because their whole concept from the beginning was that they were going to be honest providers of the experience of youth.”
From Asia to the West
BTS looked abroad early. In 2014, while still relatively low-profile in their home turf, BTS began to make their way into the US market. They were very successful in KCON of that year, a K-pop convention in Los Angeles. Her music made nods to hip-hop and electronic dance music (EDM), popular genres in the West.
BTS toured the US again in 2015, and in 2017, now sporting their signature colorful hairstyles, becoming the first K-pop act to win a Billboard Music Award and break into the top 10 of the Billboard 200 charts. In November 2017, they made their American television debut, performing at the American Music Awards.
They weren’t the first K-pop group to try to break into the foreign market. YG Entertainment’s Big Bang had achieved some success overseas, winning Best Global Act at the 2011 MTV European Music Awards and, in 2012, becoming the first K-pop group to enter the Billboard 200 chart.
But the personal connection with their fan base established through their social media presence gave them a huge advantage.
Who is the ARMY?
In the early years of BTS, the ARMY acted as a network of unpaid translators producing English subtitles and texts of their content, connecting BTS with their non-Korean-speaking audience. This has been replicated with other languages.
The ARMY, which translates as army, is the fandom of BTS and its name means in Spanish “Adorable MC Representative for Youth” and although it is difficult to calculate exactly the number of people that make up the ARMY, their social networks give us a Approximate idea. The BTS official twitter accountfor example, has more than 35 million followers, while his YouTube channel It has more than 55 million subscriptions.
According to a 2020 census, made by ARMY, in which 400,000 people participated, the ARMY is present in more than 100 countries, and although a large majority is made up of minors, the remaining 49% are over 18 years of age. The census also showed that one in five have a university education and that more than 21,000 people, who participated in the census, are parents.
Unlike other fan groups, the ARMY does not have a leader, so it is a decentralized fandom in which no one speaks on behalf of the ARMY. However, the lack of centralization has not affected its organizational power, but rather it has been enhanced with the help of social networks. “Social media is definitely one of the pillars of fandom because it’s what connects a very, very robust global audience,” said Wallea Eaglehawk, a young woman from Queensland, Australia, who started her own book publishing company under the name “revolutionary” (Revolutionary, in Spanish) to show the revolutionary capacity of BTS, a South Korean K-pop group, and the ARMY, as the band’s group of followers is known.
“I see ARMY as a truly dynamic and ever-changing group of people united through love, and they’re also like a microcosm of the macrocosm, so they’re a cross-section of the world because there are so many of us now,” Eaglehawk said.
Alicia Lee, Julia Hollingsworth, and Alejandra Ramos contributed to this report.
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Who are BTS? Origin, members, most famous songs and why they are so popular