Why are they important?
“Why are they important?”
Analysing the cultural phenomenon that is
The Korean band called BTS.
Before I begin, I’d like to state that this will be an essay from a completely objective point of view. I will not be giving my opinion, sharing my beliefs, mixing my fan feelings, nor talking about subjects that are only inside the BTS fandom (such as inside jokes, fun facts, memorable events, etc.) This is an essay suited for everyone, including people who’ve never heard of BTS, don’t know anything about K-Pop or Korean culture and/or people who don’t like BTS. I’d also like to clarify that I, by no means, am trying to change anyone’s opinion on the subject; I’m only trying to provide information about a phenomenon that I find completely interesting, since I’ve observed that many people are curious about this topic, but being misled by prejudice and stereotype.
Without further ado, let’s talk BTS.
Written by: Cath Pesoa.
Currently, people avoid fans and one can’t blame them. According to general definition a fan is an obsessed, overexcited person that, stereotypically, is between 12 and 18 years old, usually a girl, and can’t hold back the euphoria she feels towards an object of affection (such as a movie, a book, comic, band, etc.) Most critics, art specialists and overall adults underestimate and discredit any opinion or feeling that comes out of a “hormonal fangirl’s” mouth. Again, stereotypically speaking, if a work of art has too many fans around, most people will stop taking it as “art” and start seeing it only as a marketing success. This vision is not entirely wrong, since one can think of only too many examples of works that have a huge number of fans and are as far from being art as could possibly be and were designed and created only to be a commercial triumph; The Twilight Saga, Disney remakes or any John Green adaptation one can think of. But what if this not-entirely-wrong vision is misleading one into the world of preconceived notions and judgements that could culminate in ignorance and thickness?
The industry of K-Pop, or Korean Pop, has been enormously judged in the occidental world, and with reason. K-pop is a genre of mostly South-Korean music, including pop, hip-hop, R&B, etc., that is identifiable for their massive production of “idols” (Korean celebrities), expensive musical videos appalling mostly to teenagers and content related to commercialization of fashionable and aesthetical products. One could assume that, being a genre that is only made to attract fans temporarily, its artistic and cultural relevance is practically… null. This is the same assumption one could make towards any type of product that only exists to be sold. These impressions people get from these products are, again, not entirely wrong. The world still remembers One Direction; the British boyband that sold albums for some years and kept the fans’ going crazy, seeming like it was never going to disappear, and making parents and adults roll their eyes, until, like every other commercial band through history, it eventually went away.
So if one is scrolling down Facebook, or Twitter or Youtube and the faces of seven good-looking Korean guys that are being “trendy” appear alongside comments of random teenagers fangirling, it’s only natural that one, submerged in the aforementioned world of prejudice, would think that is the Korean One Direction. That’s where the unconsciousness of the prejudice becomes dangerous. A person that preconceives and prejudges won’t want to access the necessary information to try and understand what these seven Korean guys are all about, and will likely settle for criticizing, hating or disliking without even “giving it a try”. In addition, if the person has any other type of belief or complex, such as racism, homophobia, etc. these negative actions towards the seven Korean guys, will come up in a much worse and violent way.
These mentioned seven Korean guys are the members of a group called “Bangtan Sonyeondan” or, for short, BTS. BTS is a South Korean band that debuted in 2013 but didn’t become a big deal internationally until early 2016. This band started under the training of BigHit Entertainment, a K-Pop agency that was bankrupt back then, and had the intentions of creating something that would economically save them (meaning: yes, the band started off as nothing more but a product that would hit the sales). Although this was the initial idea, it took BTS 3 years to prove themselves to the world not only as mere idols, but as artists and creators. One of the most obvious reasons that support this last affirmation is that BTS writes, composes and produces its own music, whilst in the vast industry of K-Pop this is not only not normal but usually forbidden by many companies that hire and train idols in the first place.
Even being aware of this last fact, seeing that after 2016 BTS has been breaking records, invading the world with their lyrics and melodies, promoting Korean language and culture, getting nominations to more than 330 award ceremonies and winning more than 280 of them, giving a speech at the UN, receiving the Order of Cultural Merit from the hands of the South Korean president and being the first group (not to mention Korean group) winning the Billboard Music Award three years in a row since The Beatles… one is still left to wonder: How did this happen? Who are these guys? Why do people like them so much?
The “why do people like BTS so much?” list of reasons is big, but from a critics’ point of view, one of the main motives for this is that these seven guys are refreshing. Counting with four vocalists and three rappers (these last also producers and writers), BTS brings the world many new things, for people of any age, to observe and analyse about life that haven’t been a regular topic of conversation before. One of the first things one notices about them, for example, is the free and original masculinity they show, without being androgynous, feminine, or queer, these guys break masculinity stereotypes by wearing make-up, dressing the way they feel like, not being ashamed of disguising themselves as girls for short films and laughs, hugging and kissing each other and sharing the same bed without repressing the amount of love, admiration and respect they have for each member. This is appealing for this century’s generation of teenagers because it breaks the rule that in the occidental culture, this type of behaviour would be instantly qualified as gay and the group would be labelled as so even when they’ve never spoken about their sexuality. However, the honesty behind their free masculinity is not the only aspect of the personality of each member that the world appreciates, since they’re also charming, clever, eloquent and funny men that are fully dedicated to their music, careers and have given it all to get to where they are now.
When talking about BTS’ personalities, it’s also worth mentioning that they show themselves to their public as human beings. They began at a very young age, being the oldest member 21 years old and the youngest member 15 years old, the world saw them grow, cry, being vulnerable, getting carried away, and learning from their mistakes. An important example of this last point is that BTS began as a commercial band, and as such, released songs that had male-chauvinistic messages, like “War of Hormone” or “Danger”. Later on, as they went learning and growing up, they apologized for said songs and became fully hearted feminists and supporters of many other social movements. This is extremely alluring, at least for occidental people, since it shows the influences they managed to overcome and the good persons they are today, accepting their mistakes and moving on.
But leaving their personalities and stereotype-breaking aspects aside, it’s necessary to mention that the world has fallen in love with the many talents for music that BTS has proven to have. Through their deep and stylish lyrics, unforgettable melodies, moving dance skills, meaningful videos and hidden stories and references, the group manages to touch, hold and support people from anywhere in the world, making them feel safe, loved and valued. Their songs about love, death, depression, anxiety, social pressure, prejudice, hate and many other topics that young people try harder every day to talk about keep pushing their audience to speak up. With the speech they gave at the UN, BTS explicitly continued spreading their message of self-love and remaining loyal to oneself that they’ve been trying to communicate and express through their music and content.
In the occidental culture, celebrities and famous people give speeches and concede interviews about all kinds of topics, but without a doubt, the most popular of these topics are those related to the sexuality, private life and love interest of the person. In Korea, however, these kinds of topics are completely vanished from television and media. Being a culture widely opened to some things, is strictly closed to others, like sexuality, ethnic diversity and strong demonstrations of love, hence that k-pop idols are not supposed to date or to talk about sex or any type of love feeling that isn’t friendship or family. This cultural barrier is one of the main things that make occidental people feel so perplexed towards BTS. These seven guys are very well trained to avoid questions related to their love and sex life, making them a mystery for young and curious people. Nevertheless, they’re also rebellious to these types of Korean restrictions, since their lyrics have the courage to speak about these sorts of matters. BTS shows mannerisms and styles that are accepted by kids, teenagers, adults and old people, since they handle a perfect balance between a respectful and well educated vibe and a casual, informal and careless nature.
These are only some of the reasons why people love BTS so much, but how does one go from “people like it” to “this is important”? How is BTS important?
As already said, BTS became national treasure for Korea, since they promoted the culture and the learning of the language, brought millions of dollars to the Korean economy, stepped further than K-Pop proving that they’re not only here to sell and appeal to teenagers, and were the first Korean group to win awards and do things in a worldwide scale that excepted them from their nationality and put them up just as artists. In a nutshell, speaking only of Korea, they are important.
How about in the rest of the world? Yes, BTS gave a speech at the UN, equalled The Beatles in sales, makes Trending Topic in Twitter every week and has lots of crazy fans, but why are they important? In six years of career BTS has released 6 studio albums, 11 Compilation albums, 3 single albums and has more than 150 songs. This talks a lot about their working process. In august 2019 they took their first holidays to rest since their debut in 2013, meaning they worked without rest for six years. During those years they went through many phases and styles, showing off how chameleonic and adaptable they can be. From 2015 on, however, it’s true that their content began to have deeper meaning and interpretations. For their lyrics, songs and musical videos they began to create stories of their own and get inspired by many things, including philosophy, psychology and books like Demian, by Hermann Hesse, so they could create chronological lines to follow different stories through their songs and albums, making use of many international tools and references from many different cultures. When their message began to define itself and their style got a sharper shape, they started realising the potential and influence they could have, and the example they could spread all over the world. This means that BTS started to aim higher than just making good music, and started to think about making people’s lives better. Even their saddest and most heart-breaking songs end up with a slight message of reason and/or hope. All it takes is a few clicks in google to read some of the stories many people have to tell about how BTS helped them overcome certain obstacles in their lives. The stories go from helping someone achieve a goal, fixing relationships, supporting through sickness, grief or difficult times and even, without being completely aware of it, stopping people from committing suicide. Then again, in a nutshell, internationally and culturally they are important.
In conclusion, why is it important that BTS exists?
BTS is a group filled with nuances. For many people they mean one thing, for many people they mean another. Thanks to their lyrics, their melodies, their songs that can be peaceful, lovely, aggressive, thoughtful, meaningful, sad, sassy and hopeful, people from different cultures, environments and countries have learned many things about the world and about themselves. Thanks to their honesty, wit and personality, their audience has learned more values than most schools could’ve taught them. They make people smile, dance and laugh, whilst they can understand complex feelings and make one feel identified and understood. For many, BTS means peace, harmony, balance. For many, BTS means hope, happiness and help. For many, BTS means strength, courage, self-respect. BTS comes to deliver many messages and amongst them, probably the most important message any artist has tried to communicate in the last years: True love comes first by loving yourself.
STORYTIME, THANKYOUS AND EVERYTHING ELSE:
Well that was difficult.
Hello everyone, I’m Cath. I’ve wanted to write this essay for some time now, since I’ve been investigating BTS a lot. I don’t want to make this very long so I’ll cut straight to it.
I had a huge prejudice with BTS since I first heard their name. I thought what most people I know think: That they were only a commercial tool of K-pop, the new One Direction, that they weren’t going to last and people only liked them because they were pretty.
It wasn’t until I found out that they gave a speech at the UN that I wondered “wait who the hell are these guys?” and from then on I started to hear things from them even more often than before.
I’m a person who’s deeply interested in culture from all over the world, so, gathering all the strength I could to put my prejudices aside, I asked a friend of mine to recommend me five songs. I thought “ok if these guys get to me in five songs… I’m in”. She recommended me five songs, gave me some context… And I was so in.
BTS came to me in a very unexpected moment of my life and helped me realise the sad, pressured, unhappy life I was pretending to live, opened my eyes to a completely different type of music and made most of my preconceptions for musical tastes disappear. Not to mention that they inspire me, little by little, to become a more active artist than I already am, every day.
I grew to love them and respect them and as soon as I did, I found myself being judged by people as misinformed on the subject as I was, and I decided to attempt to share a little of the things I know about them and how they changed me and keep surprising me.
Anyway, I hoped you liked this essay. Thank you for reading.