BTS and the Resurgence of K-Pop in the American Mainstream

2017 was an incredible year for the K-pop group BTS, and as a fan who discovered them right as they broke through in America I must remind myself how much the boys accomplished in the first year of me knowing them. The seven-member boy band broke a slew of records for their genre, from having the highest-charting album on the Billboard 200 to being the first group to break the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the lead single “DNA”.

The cause of their dizzying ascent to success in America can be traced to the commercial and critical success of their previous LP “Wings”, which saw a surge in their fanbase that led to their win at the Billboard Music Awards for Top Social Artist. Though the prize was social media award, it fueled interest in the band that led to collaborations with the likes of the Chainsmokers, Steve Aoki and Fall Out Boy while becoming popular enough to be invited onto the Late Late Show with James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

As any seasoned K-pop stan can tell you, BTS is not the first K-pop group to achieve attention in America.  A case in point from the time before the global hit “Gangnam Style” is the tragedy of the Wondergirls’ career, who gave up a spot at the top of the charts in Korea in order to start a name for themselves in America. But despite heavy promotions on late-night talk shows and a TV movie starring the girl group that aired on Nickelodeon, the Wondergirls effectively flopped with the release of their pioneering English-language single “Nobody“. They then returned to Korea having made inroads in the States for the future of K-pop but with little compensation.

Think pieces have reached a consensus on what sets BTS apart: a down-to-earth public image, raw and sincere lyrics about the tribulations of youth, and a prolific use of social media. The effectiveness of their large social media presence can be evidenced by the fact they are the most-followed Korean Twitter account and were the most tweeted artist of the year. But what will the future bring them as they verge into territory no K-pop group has gone before?

I believe that BTS fans (called “ARMY”) will continue to support the boys as long as they continue to be true to themselves. It is the only thing that has stayed consistent in their music as their discography has morphed from hip-hop to electro-pop with experimentation in rock and R&B in-between. The way the members contribute to the songwriting of their sincere music has allowed an organic relationship to form between BTS and ARMY as both grow up, and there is no doubt seeing the work members have created on their own that they are full of more heartfelt reflections on life yet.

This band is one of the few musicians I personally follow because they inspire me to raise my voice in my own writing as a young person trying to follow my own path. Their uplifting message comes across as genuine from young men who had the odds against them when they debuted in a small company in 2013, to being on the brink of world domination as they conquer the Japanese music market (the second largest in the world after the US) as the year’s best-selling foreign artist. May their reign be long and prosperous.

Ana Lucena

Ana is an English major with plans of becoming a lawyer if her writing career doesn’t take off. She is passionate about literature, film and comics. She also enjoys anime and K-pop and would be eager to discuss her favorites with you.

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