The BTS Effect: I Get it Now and You Should Too
BTS may be a group you have heard of in K-pop circles, in certain sections of social media fandom, or come across when listening to music collaborations with artists like Halsey, Lil Nas X, or Lauv. They are on the verge, though, of absolute worldwide domination, and before you cast them aside for being another boy band with only teen appeal or even just another K-pop group with fun bops, I urge you to give them the chance that I finally gave them after years, and I will never turn back.
Despite being a casual K-pop fan, I seemed to almost intentionally avoid BTS for years. I am not sure why, but I think it came from that deep inner desire to not want to like something that could potentially become too mainstream (my rebellious side). Also, there was the fact that there are seven members. Seven! Can you imagine trying to learn all of their names?
It just seemed like too many people, and to me, that meant overly-manufactured and superficial. As someone who was in high school during the heyday of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, I knew that labels would throw together additional members that may not have been entirely necessary just for their appeal to fans.
The group (officially called 방탄소년단) is made up of three rappers (leader Kim Nam-joon who is professionally known as RM, Min Yoon-gi who goes by Suga, and Jung Ho-seok whose stage name is J-Hope) and four vocalists (Kim Seok-jin who is the oldest member, Park Ji-min, Kim Tae-hyung who goes by V, and youngest member Jeon Jung-kook).
BTS was formed by Big Hit Entertainment and debuted in 2013. They have released several albums defined as eras throughout those years while achieving commercial and popular success throughout the world. They have a huge fandom (officially known as ARMY) made up of some of the most passionate and social-media savvy people in the world.
Even though most of ARMY have a bias (or favorite member), the entire group together round out this musical septet that tends to defy musical genres by dabbling in a little of everything, from gritty rap to the most romantic vocals you have ever heard.
While having seven members seemed to be a deterrent for me initially, what I didn’t realize is how absolutely necessary all of them are. With the kind of artistry that they have (more on that later), you need to have a balance between hard and soft with enough nuance to cater to a variety of fans. While a lot of fans easily see what is on the surface (attractive men, great dancers, good voices), there is a quality to each member that brings out something else in another. From RM’s hard-hitting and gut-punching raps to Jimin’s thoughtful and almost ethereal voice, it just works.
I also didn’t expect how easily I would fall for them. One of my friends got turned onto them through her daughter after seeing them perform live, and she gave me a few of her favorite songs for me to try out. As someone who lives for electronic dance-pop, I asked her for a sampling as recommendations. I loaded up YouTube and watched a couple of music videos for the songs she sent me. It went about as well as I was expecting which is that I thought they were good, but nothing overly special.
That is until YouTube automatically took me to the video for “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” which was not one of the songs specifically recommended to me by my friend (good job, YouTube algorithm!). Within the first thirty seconds (even before any music started), I was intrigued. I am really into art and art history and basically anything having to do with ornate visuals immediately sucks me. The video starts, and the BTS is literally in a museum admiring actual art. But then the scene cuts to the seven members in an overly-stylized, opulent, and lush room staring at the camera as though they are the art and we must not avert our gaze.
Once Suga’s hand covered Jimin’s eyes and he gasps, I was in DEEP. And then the music started. This particular music video is stunning visually and conceptually, and I knew that even if the seven members themselves weren’t directly part of the art direction and concept, to have them so actively immersed in it intrigued me. I knew these men were intelligent and had something to say…something you, unfortunately, don’t find frequently in pop music. With every scene I watched of the video, I found myself saying out loud over and over again, “This is stunning!” And that, my friends, is when I knew I was inevitably going to become ARMY.
What happened after that was a whirlwind of scouring music videos to see if there was further duplication of that artistry, as well as my friend sending me seemingly endless gifs of the seven to teach me each of the members. It only took me one evening to figure out who all of them were. By the next day, I knew I had messed up: I had been sitting on BTS for YEARS thinking that I would not like them. Oh man, was I wrong!
The next several days were filled with content consumption. I learned very quickly that there is an endless arsenal of BTS content on the internet through interviews, edited fan videos, music analysis, social media… basically anything you want. It was tempting to fall down that rabbit hole, and being the sort of fan that I am (which is fall hard, fast), I gave in. I tweeted about my rough timeline which is painfully accurate–even starting to learn Korean.
It wasn’t until several days had passed until a different friend who is a big fan outside of the US told me about some of the different eras for the group in their past. She told me about one specifically that she had been thinking of that day and shared with me a video. That video ended up being a short film from their WINGS era, specifically WINGS Short Film #4: FIRST LOVE which features rapper Suga. I won’t go into the content too much here because it really needs to be seen for full impact, but it was during that moment that BTS went to a completely different level for me. No longer was I giggling at Carpool Karaoke or watching J-Hope and Jin get teased from their reactions to James Corden’s Flinch game. I was experiencing unabashed art.
This friend continued to tell me that the era was defined by an entire series of these short films that were combined with music videos creating an alternate universe storyline (one of those music videos being “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”–the video that moved me the very first day). I watched everything in order and wept (which, thanks for that, BTS). This “boy band” had more depth than I could have ever imagined and used inspiration from art, literature, their own experiences, and philosophy to create visual, lyrical, and musical storytelling like I have never seen. This particular era conceptually explored the tension between good and evil using temptation and even biblical imagery to reflect and question the dichotomies that all of us have. Seems pretty intense for a boy band, right?
I truly believe that BTS are visionaries. Beyond their creative works, they have so much passion for their fans and their community (they are huge philanthropists and continually work locally and even with UNICEF for the greater good). I have never seen anyone in entertainment or pop culture give so much of themselves on a daily basis. They live together to maintain their demanding schedule, produce, and practice, and even document their lives and share for the world to see (either through their documentary-style variety show In The Soop or holding live streams through the VLive app).
Not only do they dabble in music and “reality” content, but they also have a webcomic and even designed a series of Line Friends. They put on breathtaking live shows (including the incredible performance they gave at the Melon Music Awards 2019 linked below) that blow everything out of the water that I have ever seen (and hey, I had Joey Fatone fly above me during an NSYNC concert when I was 17).
So now that you know that they are fervent entertainers, I want to touch on their music a bit. One thing that really surprised me about their complete discography is the tonal shift from one song to the next. Each member gets to showcase themselves throughout their albums. While it’s not unusual to have music group members have solo projects on the side, it is unusual for solo projects to take up space in the group sense. Again, I don’t know why, but it works. That push and pull is a constant theme throughout their career.
I could literally write hundreds of more words trying to explain my admiration and respect for these men, but I want to leave some time for you to explore them yourselves. I will leave you with their latest video (linked below) to “Dynamite” which is their first solo English single.
It debuted at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in August 2020 after they performed it at the MTV Video Music Awards. It is definitely a bit peppier than some of their other songs, but wow is it catchy and certainly exactly what we need in 2020!
Allow me to leave you with a huge grin after reading this giant feature.
And as a little bonus, let me say directly to BTS for creating music that transcends language: 감사합니다
Are you a fan of BTS? Do you consider yourself an ARMY? How deep have you analyzed their creative works?
Let us know in the comments
Erin has reviewed many shows over the years including Orphan Black, iZombie, Penny Dreadful, and Killing Eve. She has a keen eye for on-screen chemistry, and loves to tackle the subject of casting. She is also our horror aficionado. She live tweets shows, and loves to share her feelings. Erin has a BA in History, and likes to analyze the lore behind historical fiction. She attends San Diego Comic Con every year and has also attended C2E2 and WonderCon.
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