- BTS is a seven-member K-pop group that has become a global sensation.
- They were originally discovered in 2010 and released their first album in 2013.
- BTS fans call themselves A.R.M.Y., which stands for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth.”
- From their thoughtful lyrics to fans’ digital activism, Insider chronicled BTS’s meteoric rise with insight from K-pop and music industry experts.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
BTS might be the most popular boy group the world has ever seen.
With record-setting views for their YouTube music videos and album purchases along with their money-making star power – the group brought in $US130 million in 2019 sales from merchandising alone, according to The Hollywood Reporter – the seven-member K-pop group has become a worldwide sensation.
Insider took a look at BTS’s meteoric rise to stardom and how the members have transformed the music industry with insight from K-pop and music industry experts as well as a recently published Harvard Business School case study that analysed the band’s success.
The BTS members were first discovered in the fall of 2010.
BTS members were first discovered in 2010 by their current management company Big Hit Entertainment, a South Korean entertainment company.
Entertainment companies like Big Hit have a few different ways to recruit talent whether it’s online or in real life, according to a recent Harvard Business School case study that analysed the global success of BTS.
For example, BTS member Suga was discovered through an online audition in the fall of 2010 while Jungkook told a Korean talk show that he was discovered by talent agencies after auditioning for “Superstar K,” a Korean show similar to “American Idol.”
Before they became a band, they started as trainees for Big Hit Entertainment.
After being discovered, the new recruits become trainees who received coaching to prepare them to be superstars. This includes dancing and singing lessons as well as acting and media training.
“Think of it like college,” Bang Si-Hyuk, the founder and Co-CEO of Big Hit, said in the HBS case study.
Many of these trainees are young teenagers between the ages of 13 to 15, according to the study. The boy group’s youngest member, JungKook, now 22, was 14 when he first started as a trainee for Big Hit before debuting a few months before turning 16. He shared his journey dating back to his beginnings as a trainee in his single “My Time” that was released in BTS’ album “Map of the Soul: 7” this past February.
Training to become a K-pop band can take up to three years, according to the case study.
Trainees prepare to debut as K-pop artists after about three years of training, according to the case study.
It’s a pretty cut-throat process – according to the Harvard case study, there are around a dozen trainees for every person that makes it. That means upwards of 80 people may have auditioned for BTS, but RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are the ones who made it.
As for this rigid process of talent development, Bang told scholars of the study that the concerns of “manufacturing” groups, at the cost of individuality, is valid. He says the company strives to “strike an ideal balance between the efficiency of the system and respect for each artist’s individuality,” according to the study.
BTS was originally envisioned as a hip-hop group, but the band pivoted to the “idol model.”
Initially, BTS was going to be a hip-hop crew focused on rappers. In the HBS case study, Bang said that the company shifted away from this pure focus on hip-hop and eventually pivoted to the “idol model.”
Youngdae Kim, a Korean music critic best known for his book “BTS The Review: A Comprehensive Look at the Music of BTS,” told Insider that idols usually refer to K-pop artists who combine singing and dancing in their performances.
BTS debuted the band’s first album in 2013.
BTS officially debuted as a seven-member K-pop idol group in the summer of 2013.
Their first album “2 COOL 4 SKOOL” saw a fair amount of success, placing tenth on a monthly Korean music chart a month after release. The album’s title song, “No more dream” can be interpreted as a commentary on the pressures of growing up as a teenager in Korea.
Their music often carries messages around social issues, which has become part of the group’s musical identity.
BTS music typically includes a message about social issues for fans.
“The whole company’s philosophy is to make music that matters,” Tamar Herman, a Billboard K-pop correspondent, told Insider. Herman said that she believed BTS’s music delved into K-pop’s “early roots” where idol groups like H.O.T. grappled with social issues in Korea.
Around the time BTS debuted, however, Herman said it was “pretty rare” that groups used their music for explicit social commentary.
One fan told Insider that she was drawn to the group’s music that consistently shares messages that collectively come together as an “overarching storyline” that follows the group’s growth as well as her own.
“A lot of their songs are interlinked with each other, so their lyrics aren’t in a vacuum,” Jiye Kim, a fan of BTS who is well known in the BTS fandom community for her English translations of BTS content, told Insider. “I’m able to grow alongside them.”
BTS also strongly embraces their identity as Korean artists in their music.
Youngdae Kim told Insider that BTS’s music is centered around their identity as Korean artists, which he says was rarely seen in the industry previously.
The group incorporates social commentary on issues local to Korea, includes Korean dialects in their music (their song “Paldogangsan” is literally a rap about Korean regional dialects, dubbed “Saturi”), and wears traditional Korean Hanbok clothing (Suga dressed in Hanbok for the music video of his latest single “Daechwita”).
“In the beginning, BTS embraced their Korean identity, because they wanted to share narratives that were authentic to them, as Korean citizens,” Youngdae Kim told Insider. “Now, I think they see it as a responsibility – they’re the largest K-pop group right now, and they’re not going to hide their Korean identity… because that’s who they are.”
While Korean heritage is an important part of the group’s musical identity, Jiye Kim told Insider that for fans, it’s been an “uphill battle” to see coverage from people who understand Asian and Korean culture.
Around a year after their debut, fans formed an official fan club called “A.R.M.Y.” to support BTS.
Around a year after BTS debuted in 2013, their official fan club came together. The fan club, called “A.R.M.Y.,” is short for “Adorable M.C. for Youth.”
Jiye Kim teaches at a high school in Sydney, Australia, during the day but volunteers her time – sometimes up to 15 hours a day around an album release – to translate BTS content in English for fans around the world. She says she’s forged many friendships from interacting with other fans through social media and feels that volunteering her time to translate content is a way of giving back to the community.
“I translate not for BTS, but my fellow fans who through BTS find a sense of comfort or joy,” Kim told Insider.
“A strong alliance between the artists and the fans is a fundamental part of K-pop fandom culture,” Ju Oak Kim, an Assistant Professor of Communication at Texas A&M International University, told Insider. Many other K-pop groups such as BLACKPINK also have official fan clubs that support them.
BTS fans have grown their presence in the age of social media.
BTS and other K-pop fans have become a movement unto themselves online.
Most recently, BTS fans have received national attention for their viral digital activism such as matching the K-pop group’s $US1 million donation to the Black Lives Matter movement.K-pop fans also said they reserved thousands of tickets for President Donald Trump’s rally in Oklahoma before not showing up (rows of seats remained empty at the rally though it’s unclear if the viral campaign by K-pop fans was the reason why).
Ju Oak Kim told Insider that fans are no longer passive consumers of their artists’ work. Kim says that today, fans are able to see the tangible impact they can make as consumers and are “empowered” to be proactive about using their social capital as a collective fandom.
For example, Jiye Kim said that she had already made several contributions to organisations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement after seeing many of her fellow BTS fans share messages of solidarity and support. She told Insider she also commissioned some BTS fan artists who used proceeds for their art to donate to the movement.
“The moment that we heard (where BTS stood), we were able to use BTS’s name explicitly to muster the forces,” Kim said.
BTS has set numerous records since 2013.
A few years after their debut in 2015, BTS came in first place on a weekly music performance show on one of Korea’s three major television broadcast networks with their first single with “I NEED U” from their third mini-album, “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 1.”
Since then, the group has continued to shatter records. This past March, BTS’ “Map of the Soul: 7” album marked the group’s fourth No.1 album on the Billboard 200 chart. The album recorded 347,000 album sales and over 74 million on-demand streams, making it the “largest week for any album in 2020,” Billboard reported at the time.
For the music video for “ON,” the album’s lead single, the Head of Culture and Trends at YouTube confirmed that they “set a new record for peak viewers for a premiere.”
Most recently, BTS topped a Guinness World Record for most viewed concert livestream in a virtual concert that was viewed by over 700,000 fans globally.
BTS became the first K-pop artist to present at the Grammy Awards in 2019. The year after, the group became the first K-pop artist to perform at the award show.
In 2019, BTS became the first K-pop artist to present at the Grammy Awards. The following year, they became the first K-pop artist to perform at the award show.
However, fans on social media criticised the music show for not including the group’s music in any of their nominations. Halsey, who collaborated with the group for their single “Boy with Luv,” supported the group by saying that the “US is so far behind.”
deleting and ignoring all negativity. BTS deserved many nominations. I am however, unsurprised that they weren’t acknowledged. the US is so far behind on the whole movement. the time will come.
— h (@halsey) November 20, 2019
The sky’s the limit for BTS.
BTS will likely continue to dominate the music industry into the 2020s.
Their latest album “Map of the Soul: Journey” was released in Japanese in July. The new album includes Japanese versions of a number of their latest songs like “Boy with Luv” and “IDOL,” in addition to four new Japanese songs. Upon release, it dominated Japan’s Oricon chart, opening up yet another region in the world for BTS to shine.
Meanwhile, “Map of the Soul: 7” became the only album released this year that sold over half-million copies, according to Nielsen Music and MRC Data’s midyear report. The report also places BTS as the second most consumed genre artist, following Billie Eilish and ahead of Taylor Swift.