The K-pop group BTS is everywhere these days. On American award shows, in charts all over the world and recently also on the stock exchange. The immense popularity of the seven sets to the imagination and as a result the group is often confronted with hatred. But that is just as often unjustified. Because BTS is more, so much more than a group of manufactured pop robots.
You read it often, comments like “BTS is a manufactured boy band”, “the members are robots” and “there is no heart and soul in K-pop songs”. It is, of course, easy to look down on a phenomenon that you do not understand and that you have never studied. But if you look a little further than your western nose, it is by no means difficult to understand why BTS, and no other group, could become the biggest boy band in the world.
Myth 1: “BTS are robots and puppets”
This is perhaps the most persistent myth about the K-pop industry. The artists are drilled and transformed into perfect robots without emotions and without soul. It’s easy to think of the seven guys from BTS as “robots”. They sing every performance almost flawlessly, perform their difficult choreographies in perfect sync and always look impeccable. These are things we don’t get to see very often in the West. And thus, it may feel unnatural and even inhumane to us.
But the perfection that BTS brings to every performance is the result of years of training. That training started years before the boys were on stage for the first time. They received dance lessons, singing lessons and lessons in rapping and were thus prepared for a career as an idol. And even today the boys are busy refining their talents day after day. For example, the boys announced in a recent interview that they are preparing for the release of their latest song Dynamite spent up to 18 hours a day in the dance hall to work out their choreography to perfection. It’s a kind of determination rarely seen from artists in the West.
South Korean performance culture
You see this determination in South Korea not only in the K-pop industry. There is a real performance culture in the Asian country. For example, young children are pushed to get good grades at school and for this they spend all their free hours studying even during their teenage years. High school students so often spend 16 hours a day on their studies.
They do this to prepare for the famous CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test). That exam, at the end of secondary school, determines at which university the young people can start. In addition, everyone tries to get into the three best universities in the country, the so-called SKY universities (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University). And you need the highest scores for that. The day of the exam, life in South Korea comes to a halt. Planes do not take off because these could disturb students and companies start the workday later so that students do not get stuck in rush hour.
Children live up to this exam from an early age. Parents arrange tutoring for their children and all their free hours go to their studies. There is even a Korean saying that says, “If you sleep three hours a night, you can get into one of the SKY universities. If you sleep four hours a night, you can start in another university. If you sleep five hours or more a night, you can write university studies on your stomach. ”
To describe the members of BTS as robots also implies that they have no personality of their own. And that too is anything but true. The members of BTS interact with their fans almost daily through social media, as well as through live streams and their own reality series.
In those series you can clearly see that the members one by one have a strong personality and that they also support and complement each other. In English-language interviews, the boys can of course seem a bit uncomfortable and rehearsed. This is of course because only leader RM speaks fluent English. The other members do their best to also speak a word of English, so it is logical that this may already come across as practiced.
Myth 2: “The members of BTS are exploited by their management”
The first myth is of course also related to the second. That the members of BTS are exploited by their management. The misunderstanding of exploitation is due to the reputation of some other management firms and some past scandals. However, the situation is different for the most popular group of BTS and the members have much more autonomy. As a result, they can also work on solo projects, such as solo songs, solo albums or even an acting career.
In the early years of their careers, the seven members lived together in a small apartment in Seoul, but their success has enabled them to upgrade it to a luxurious home in Hannam The Hill. That is a protected community in the center of Seoul. Big Hit Entertainment reportedly paid $ 6.5 million (5.55 million euros) for the apartment so that the seven members can live together in a luxurious and safe way when they have many rehearsals.
When BTS goes on tour, they do so with their own private plane and stay in the most luxurious hotels. Big Hit Entertainment therefore spares no expense or effort to make the lives of the members of BTS as comfortable as possible.
17 million euros per member
BTS’s first seven-year contract expired in 2018. At that time, the seven guys sat with their management Big Hit Entertainment to draft a new contract. And that contract is anything but a slave contract. For example, it is known that every member of BTS earns a significant portion of the profits from albums, concerts and merchandise. BTS still accounts for 90 percent of Big Hit Entertainment’s profits, making them indispensable to the company, and management knows that too. The most recent example is that each member of BTS received 68,385 shares from their management Big Hit Entertainment as a gift. A gift that made every member 13 million euros richer. We see few slave traders do this for their slaves.
With that $ 13 million gift, the net worth of each member of BTS is now estimated at $ 20 million, or $ 17 million. They have all already invested several million in real estate.
Myth 3: “All BTS music is written by western producers”
Another persistent myth is that all music in the K-pop world is written by Western producers and that the artists themselves are simply offered ready-made songs that they have to perform. If only it were that simple you would think. Because BTS does contribute to the music they release. It is no secret that BTS sometimes enlists the help of Western producers and songwriters, but there is hardly a single song from the group that did not include at least one of the members.
RM, rapper and leader of BTS, has written or co-written more than 160 songs. It is not only about songs from BTS or his own solo songs, but also about the songs of other K-pop groups. Rapper SUGA has also written (co-written) more than 100 songs. He recently had collaborations with Halsey and MAX himself, where he co-wrote the lyrics twice and was also responsible for the composition. And also the third rapper from BTS, j-hope, has over 100 already writing credits in his name.
The rappers of BTS have by far the most influence in making the songs. But the group’s singers, Jin, Jimin, V and Jung Kook, have also contributed to the writing and production of BTS songs.
Myth 4: “The lyrics of the songs of BTS are meaningless”
The fourth misconception about BTS is about the lyrics of the group’s songs. According to many, these would be “meaningless” and “generic”. But where you would think at first sight that the cheerful sounding songs of BTS are about love and happiness, that is often not the case. On the contrary, a lot of songs are about serious matters, such as mental health, loneliness and insecurity.
BTS even dedicated a full album series and accompanying world tour to the theme “Love Yourself”. They wanted to encourage their fans to learn to love themselves. Also the last two albums of the MAP OF THE SOULseries have a deeper psychological meaning. They were inspired by the theories of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.
But also outside of their lyrics, the seven guys from BTS are not afraid to express their insecurities and fears. The best example of this is the speech that RM, the leader of BTS, gave to the United Nations. 24-year-old Kim Namjoon spoke openly about how he no longer saw himself through the eyes of himself, but through those of others. How he tried to adapt to what others expected of him and that he had lost his own voice that way. It’s something that feels very recognizable to a lot of teens and something the guys at BTS have never made a taboo of.
Recently the members of BTS were also guests at the General Assembly of the United Nations. There they shared their experiences during the corona crisis. Because they too ended up in isolation from one day to the next so that they could no longer perform in front of a live audience. RM, Jin, SUGA, j-hope, Jimin, V and Jung Kook talked about how, like many other people, they felt lonely and no longer dared to think about the future.
Myth 5: “BTS fans are just hysterical teenage girls”
Another persistent myth is that the fans of BTS, the so-called ARMY, are all hysterical teenage girls. But that is also absolutely not true.
Figures from Melon, one of South Korea’s most popular streaming services, showed that BTS has 76 percent female listeners and 24 percent male. One in four listeners of the boy band is therefore a man. But other figures are perhaps even more striking. The ages of the listeners of BTS were also looked at. It showed that BTS scores in every age category. For example, 24 percent of BTS listeners are 10 to 19 years old, 26 percent 20 to 29 years old, 19 percent 30 to 39 years old, 27 percent 40 to 49 years old and 4 percent even over 50. The largest age group of So BTS are not teenagers, but they are in their forties.
This is also evident from large communities such as BTS Moms & Noonas on Twitter. A page dedicated entirely to BTS fans who are mothers. That profile has nearly 4,000 followers. But it doesn’t just stay with mothers. For example, journalist and YouTuber Brian Patrick Byrne went looking for testimonials from older members of the ARMY. The most notable of these was probably that of 73-year-old retired businessman and Marine Skip Conover.
So if the immense popularity of BTS shows one thing, it’s that the seven members more than deserve all the success they have. They have now been in the music world for more than seven years and managed to turn their small management into a company worth more than 6.5 billion euros.
To dismiss BTS as just any boy band to screaming teenage girls is therefore unfounded and is primarily evidence of a lack of knowledge about the group. RM, Jin, SUGA, j-hope, Jimin, V and Jung Kook also each have their own uniqueness that emerges in interviews and their own reality shows. BTS is a group of seven talented musicians with a great deal of passion and love for their profession, from which many Western artists can learn something.