South Korea: BTS, the most popular boy band in the world, forced to take a break

Between the Palme d’Or of Parasite by Bong Joon-ho and the global success of the series Squid Gamethe cultural influence of the South Korea is at its zenith. However, the Korean Singer Association feared in June 2022 that this “hallyu” (for “Korean wave”) is interrupted by very bad news: the cessation of the flagship group of national pop, BTS.

It seems all the more difficult to reconsider this decision since the eldest of the boy band, Jin, began his military service on Tuesday, December 13. Classical musicians and Olympic medalists are exempt, not pop stars. The group will therefore not be able to reform until all its members have fulfilled their military obligations, in 2025.

Although the environment is extremely competitive, the incredible popularity of BTS allows its members to hope to return to success. Even after such a long hiatus.

“Armored Boy Scouts”

The group is part of the movement of K-pop, or Korean pop. Its name, “BTS”, is an acronym meaning Bangtan Senyondan, a combination of the words “bulletproof” and “boy scouts”. In good French, this would therefore give “The armored boy scouts”.

Composed of seven members, he won the “new artist of the year” award at the MelOn Music Awards, the Korean equivalent of the Victoires de la Musique, upon the release of his first album in 2013.

In 2017, the magazine Time names BTS as one of the 25 most influential personalities on the Internet. Their notoriety abroad is growing, and in 2018 they become the first South Korean group to obtain a gold record in the United States.

3 million likes for an emoji

If they are not the only group to have crossed the borders of the small country of East Asia, “they stand out for their exceptional success”underlines Patrick Messerlin, professor of economics emeritus at Sciences Po Paris.

Since its creation, BTS has been setting records, especially digital ones. The clip Butter is the one that garnered the most views in twenty-four hours in the history of YouTube (108.2 million). Its members wrote 19 of the 30 most liked tweets of all time. In 2021, a simple emoji allowed Jungkook, the youngest BTS, to garner more than 3 million “likes”.

This contemporary “Beatlemania” generates considerable economic benefits. Thus, it is estimated that the piece Dynamite would have brought nearly 1.4 billion euros to South Korea’s GDP alone.

BTS at the White House

In addition to this financial windfall, the group represents a formidable tool for soft-power for South Korea. This is evidenced by the discourse held by its members on the subject of self-esteem at the United Nations forum in 2021. In 2022, BTS was also received by US President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss of the rise in anti-Asian crimes in the United States.

“BTS’s international success, combined with the political recognition accorded to them, is a source of pride for South Koreans,” recalls Patrick Messerlin. Which explains the discomfort of their fan community, the “BTS Army”, following their decision to stop performing in June 2022.

From a financial point of view, this decision is also particularly detrimental to the members of the group. “They make money from royalties, of course, but it’s mostly their monumental performances that have made them rich,” analyzes Patrick Messerlin.

2.46 million viewers

Their popularity allows them to fill stadiums around the world. In 2020, they notably performed in front of 90,000 people at Rose Bowl Stadium in Los Angeles. 2.46 million people had also logged in to attend one of their concerts in Seoul last March.

“This primacy of the spectacle as well as the model of K-pop groups, composed of five or six people who take turns sharing the limelight, are rooted in South Korean tradition. They are inspired by the ensembles of peasants who performed from village to village from the 19th century. recalls Patrick Messerlin.

This link with traditional culture is also embodied on stage, where the members of BTS have for example used popular masks from the time of the Kingdom of Goryeo (918-1232). A nod to the rich history of the peninsula, when the military dictatorship that dominated the country from 1948 to the 1990s relegated its cultural sector to the background.

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South Korea: BTS, the most popular boy band in the world, forced to take a break