A New Breed of International Superstars


BTS: A New Breed of International Superstars
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I. BTS Today

BTS is a world famous boy band comprised of seven musicians with a massive following in Korea, Asia, Europe, South America, and the United States.

  • In 2017, BTS performed at the American Music Awards, one of the top three music award shows in the United States. BTS was the only Asian act invited to the show and performed 16th out of a total of 17 performances.
  • BTS was selected as the “Top Social Artist” in the 2017 Billboard Music Awards over top artists such as Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber, who had dominated the category since 2011.
  • BTS has appeared on premier American talk shows such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC) and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (NBC).
  • BTS has over 10 videos with over 100 million views on YouTube (11 videos as of November 2017).
  • BTS has sold out all 40 shows of their 19-city world tour. Most shows sold out as soon as tickets went on sale. An extra show had to be scheduled to accommodate American fans.
  • Their Twitter account was the first Korean account to amass over 10 million followers.
  • BTS is a group with a massive global fan following that produces content to be distributed all over the world in a variety of languages.

However, BTS was not a group that was popular from the beginning.

  • BTS is a part of Big Hit Entertainment, a midsized entertainment agency created by Korean producer and composer Bang Si Hyuk. BTS did not receive the kind of massive corporate support that idol groups from Korea’s big three agencies (YG, JYP, SM) typically get.
  • BTS also did not receive the enormous initial attention that groups which make their debut through audition TV programs, such as IOI and Wanna One, enjoy from the outset.
  • Although their debut song “Boy in Luv” did relatively well, contending for the number one spot in Korean music programs, their debut was clearly not as explosive as those of groups such as Big Bang, EXO, Twice, and Red Velvet.

So how was BTS able to become a top boy band not only in Korea, but all over the world?
Or rather, why did people around the world choose to become fans of BTS?

II. BTS’ [1]Points of Difference

According to the media, BTS was able to succeed due to the following factors:

  • Hip Hop and the Power of Social Media: “Whereas many K-Pop groups move in on the global market only after becoming successful in Korea, BTS had their sights set on the global market from their debut. BTS specialized in hip hop, a genre with global appeal, and actively communicated with international fans through Twitter and Youtube.”
  • Riding the Korean Wave: “BTS is a group on the apex of the Korean Wave. K-Pop has been steadily growing as a global genre and has been garnering worldwide attention for the past ten years through the influence of social media. BTS was able to take advantage of this to become successful as a global artist.”
  • Lyrics with a Message: “BTS’ lyrics, which contain deeply personal and socially conscious themes that both teenagers and young adults in their 20s can relate to, are a unique selling point in K-Pop, where simple lyrics and catchy love songs are the norm. BTS is filling the role that Seo Taiji played for Korean music in the 1990s.”

The reason why we changed the focus of the question in Part I of this article from “How did BTS succeed?” to “Why did people choose to follow BTS?” is because of what those questions imply about the nature of BTS’ success. BTS succeeded not because they made strategic, calculated choices to amass a global following, but because fans around the world [2]bought into what BTS wanted to do as artists.

  • BTS did not come from a privileged environment as artists. When they made their debut, they did not receive massive investments aimed at building them into global stars. (Their initial goal was to succeed in the Korean market by making the music they wanted to make.)
  • From their debut to the present, BTS has remained stylistically consistent. This genuine and passionate insistence on [3] staying true to their roots has been one of the biggest reasons for their worldwide success.
  • BTS’ choice to focus on hip hop was not a calculated decision targeted at the global audience. BTS simply wanted to make the music that they enjoyed most, which happened to be hip hop. For example, BTS members Rap Monster and Suga were underground rappers who made mixtapes and participated in rap battles before debuting with BTS.
  • In conclusion, BTS became globally successful by doing what they enjoyed most instead of making a calculated effort at becoming a world famous act. As they were doing what they genuinely wanted to do, they were able to stay committed to their goals without giving up. They genuinely wanted to entertain others, and the success and fame simply followed. Their philosophy has much in common with those of famous entrepreneurs who succeeded in starting the world’s most successful companies.

The fans feel a strong emotional connection to BTS because BTS is a musically talented band with real musical skill, something that is important for the modern audience of 2017.

  • Musically talented bands offer the following: 1) Great music and musical talent; 2) Fantastic on-stage performances; 3) The chance to watch the members grow as artists.
  • 1) Bands with mediocre music and skill cannot become popular at a global level: A defining characteristic of BTS’ music is that the lyrics contain messages that the BTS members want to tell. Another is that their melodies and rhythms reflect the latest in worldwide trends in pop music. BTS is able to do this because all seven members are skilled enough to write lyrics, produce music, and direct on-stage performances. All of BTS’ albums contain lyrics based on experiences that teenagers and young adults can relate to. Their albums are released as a part of a multi-part series based on overarching themes, such as the life of a student. BTS members cease all promotion when making their albums in order to focus on production. They collaborate with various musicians in creating their music in order to ensure that their next album both stays on the cutting edge of global trends while remaining true to their original style. BTS members are able to give extremely natural and confident performances because they are so actively involved in production. Suga is able to describe to fans what inspired each song in an album, and J-Hope is able to explain every part of a particular dance routine because of how involved they are in every step of the production process. The fans are enamored by the fact that the members themselves produce their own music and performances.
  • 2) A successful boy band must appeal to the fans both on and off the stage: BTS’ on-stage performances are another major strength of the boy band. Many consider their shows to be perfectly produced, not only in terms of the actual performance such as the dance routine, but also in terms of the stage production elements. All of the components of the show, such as the stage lighting, choreography, styling, gestures, and the facial expressions of the members, are said to be perfectly aligned together. The behind-the-scenes preparation for their shows is filmed and released on social media for fans to enjoy, allowing them to appreciate the entire show as a complete package. BTS-related media is not just limited to their shows. They also extend into the daily lives of the members, who regularly document their thoughts and messages on Twitter and Youtube. The fans enjoy learning about the members and their daily lives as much as they enjoy their shows. The willingness of BTS to share the minute details of their daily lives is in direct contrast to many other idol groups who have elected to completely separate their performances and daily lives and reveal as little about themselves as possible. The reaction of BTS fans at the group’s rare willingness to open up so much about themselves to the public has been extremely positive and has advanced the group’s popularity even further.
  • 3) The fans want to see their boy band grow along with the fandom: Young people want idols and role models and hope to grow as individuals along with them. Such idols and role models are commonly seen as perfect people who are to be admired and respected. However, BTS is a group whose journey of growth as artists is transparent for anyone to see and are therefore easily approachable. Since BTS members are heavily involved in producing their own music, their growth as musicians is easily visible through their albums and performances. Their active presence on social media and the honest, unfiltered nature of their posts allow fans to see in detail how they live their lives, deal with various problems, and mature as individuals. BTS members grow as artists and individuals thanks to the love and attention that their fans give them. In turn, BTS members give back to their fans by sharing with them their music and thoughts, which help the fans grow as individuals. The fans then help BTS to grow further, creating a positive cycle where the artist and fan grow together.

III. What drives BTS?

“Consistency, sincerity, effort, teamwork, and sharing” are the values that drive BTS’ success.

  • Consistency: BTS has been extremely consistent with their output so far, tweeting over 10,000 times and releasing over 100 songs. One of the unique parts about BTS’ Twitter account is that fans retweet their tweets in exceptionally large numbers, which is possible because BTS members tweet especially frequently. BTS’ Youtube channel is well known for having an extremely large number of shares, which is possible because BTS members consistently post many videos documenting their daily lives. (Websites and blogs with many followers have one thing in common – they consistently post good content.) The fact that BTS members continue to stay active on social media and diligently produce their own music, even after reaching worldwide stardom, demonstrates to the fans that the members are genuine people who are not in it simply for the fame.
  • Sincerity: BTS members have been able to stay so consistent because they are sincere in their actions. As one philosopher once said, the secret of being consistent is to truly enjoy what you do. You cannot do something consistently without wanting to do it. BTS is able to continue to stay true to their roots because they sincerely value their fans as well as making music and writing lyrics. BTS’ sincere commitment to staying consistent to their roots is the biggest reason why they were able to amass a worldwide following of fans.
  • Effort: BTS has worked tirelessly to give their fans the most passionate and [4] authentic performances. They have continuously strived to impart their philosophy into their music and have consulted experts in various fields (for example, working with a professor of Women’s Studies to review their lyrics) to improve the quality of their music. They have worked hard to communicate with their fans on a truly meaningful level by reaching out to their fans through various channels. This concerted effort on the part of BTS to communicate with their fans is a key component of the unique way in which BTS-related content is spread across the fandom.
  • Synergy: BTS is well known for communicating with their fans on a single, unified social media account instead of individual accounts for each member. Since all seven members communicate through a single account, BTS’ social media platforms are more active and frequently updated than they would be otherwise. As each member consistently produces his own unique social media content on a unified channel, no member lags behind in terms of fandom and exposure. In other groups, there is usually one “ace” who is the most attractive and well-known, and this specific individual drives the bulk of the group’s popularity. If this “ace” ever leaves the group, the group naturally faces huge problems and typically disintegrates. BTS, on the other hand, is very uniform in the size of fandoms for each member. This in turn results in greater teamwork, which in turn translates to better, more tightknit performances on the stage and a higher level of fan service off of it. This synergy between members acts to spur the growth of each individual member and helps to bring in even more fans.
  • Sharing Stories: Sharing is the core of BTS. BTS members create new stories through sharing. The music that each member creates evolves every year, and the albums themselves become a part of a story that details the artistic development of BTS. BTS’ Youtube channel is recording the story of BTS’ development as artists and individuals. BTS’ storytelling philosophy entails the following: 1. Recording a story through music and videos; 2. Sharing little day-to-day details; 3. Sharing continuously to the point where a story is created; 4. Documenting a story of success.

In conclusion, BTS is a case study of how a group’s honest efforts at realizing their dream of creating an authentic product won over a group of fans which continued to grow in size until it eventually began to grow exponentially, ultimately propelling BTS into worldwide stardom. BTS’ success is essentially identical to that of companies such as Facebook, which also began to grow at an exponential level after it had reached a certain level of success.

Because success begets even more success, BTS will likely have an even brighter future ahead of them.

  • BTS has doubled their Twitter followers in the past six months and continues to receive invitations from TV stations from around the world. This will motivate BTS to grow even faster.
  • Similar to how more data results in increased accuracy and efficiency of data analysis, the quality of BTS’ music and BTS related contents will only get better with the more fans they have.
  • Although too much success too fast can sometimes have negative consequences for a group, the strong teamwork of BTS (owing in part to the balance in the popularity of each member) and the fact that BTS has worked for years to get to this point suggest that BTS will likely avoid such consequences.

IV. Lessons learned

We deliberately refrained from overusing the terms “idol group” and “K-Pop” to describe BTS and the music that they make, as neither term is appropriate in describing the extent and nature of BTS’ popularity.

  • BTS is too musically talented, artistically unique, and socially conscious to label them as an idol group.
  • The fact that BTS is popular in areas such as the United States, where the popularity of K-Pop is minimal, suggests that the popularity of BTS has moved past the boundaries of K-Pop. BTS has been recognized not as a K-Pop group but rather as a band of musicians.

We conclude that BTS was able to become so popular because people around the world have recognized them as a band comprised of talented musicians.

And lastly, the lessons startups can learn from BTS are as follows:

  • Stay true to your essence: Just as music is the most important thing for a musician, service is the most important thing to a startup. Startups must constantly strive to deliver a better service to their customers.
  • Market your services: BTS reaches out to the public through multiple mediums and constantly puts out a variety of content in order to build their fandom. Similarly, startups must continuously reach out to customers to explain and educate them on why they made this service, what they created, and how it should be used. Instead of hiring celebrities to do the promotion, startups should market by explaining how the service works.
  • Share content: Similar to how BTS shares a variety of content with their fans, startups should create and share interesting content which will help customers in using their services more effectively. Content designed for customers will lead to customers sharing said content, which will in turn benefit the startup.
  • Build a perfect team: Foster individuality and maximize individual strengths, while also making sure those individuals can work seamlessly as a team.

Please discuss BTS’ rise to worldwide stardom with your tutor.

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