Tue, 26 September 2023
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10 years of K-pop megastars BTS: Five things to know

Update : 12 Jun 2023, 09:08

Seoul this week marks 10 years of megastars BTS, the supergroup credited with bringing K-pop into the global mainstream and generating billions of dollars for the South Korean economy.

They've been called "icons of progressive globalism", were once South Korean presidential envoys, and have done everything from Korean Air in-flight safety videos to campaigning for UNICEF.

At heart, however, they're entertainers.

Here, AFP breaks down what you need to know about BTS:

1) After debuting on June 13, 2013, the septet went on to become the first all-South Korean act to dominate the US and UK charts, raking in billions of dollars and building a global fandom, known as ARMY, in the process.

Their embrace of social media meant they barely missed a beat during the pandemic, using direct engagement with fans online to cement their position as the world's biggest and most influential boy band.

Despite earlier breakthrough Korean hits like Psy's "Gangnam Style", BTS are widely credited with bringing K-pop into the mainstream in the US.

"As a South Korean idol group, BTS have smashed so many preconceived notions and industry odds to become chart-topping, Grammy-nominated musicians," Jeff Benjamin, Billboard's K-pop columnist, told AFP.

"Crucially, they did it not by adjusting their viewpoints, perspectives or languages to cater to the larger market but by firmly establishing themselves as the K-pop musicians they are."

2) Aside from music, the band has long championed global progressive causes, from the Black Lives Matter protests to fighting anti-Asian racism in the United States.

They've spoken at the United Nations and appeared at the White House, while still remaining one of the most popular bands in the world on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

Prior to BTS, K-pop "was treated as a niche interest, separate from global culture", Sarah Keith, a senior lecturer in media and music at Australia's Macquarie University, told AFP.

"BTS's global popularity has led to a change in this perspective. BTS has arguably changed how the world perceives South Korea."

3) Ironically, the band is currently on a hiatus, with two members performing their mandatory South Korean military service.

All able-bodied South Korean men must serve at least 18 months in the military, and after a years-long debate about whether BTS deserved an exemption, Jin, the oldest member of the group, began his service in December. J-Hope started his service in April.

But the septet released a new digital single last week to celebrate the anniversary: "Take Two", purportedly a nod to the band's second chapter after a decade as musicians.

"All seven members participated in 'Take Two'", their agency Hybe said. "The song conveys their appreciation for ARMY, for all the love you shower them with."

A number of important tourist spots across Seoul, including the Namsan Seoul Tower and Dongdaemun Design Plaza, will be lit up in purple -- ARMY's colour -- in celebration of the anniversary.

Band leader RM will attend the main event of the celebration in Seoul at the Han River Park on June 17.

4) The band, who are known to be extremely hard-working and have maintained a relentless pace of new releases in their nine years at the top, said last year they were "exhausted" and would take a break.

RM said at the time that the K-pop industry -- known for its cut-throat competition -- was not allowing him to mature as an artist, saying he felt like a "rapping machine".

Since the announcement, BTS members who are still obliged to join the military have focused on their solo careers.

Jimin released his six-track solo album "Face" in March, with the single "Like Crazy" earning him a place in the record books as the first South Korean solo artist to land the number one spot on the top US songs chart.

Band member Suga is currently on his first solo worldwide tour.

5) Local media says the ongoing break may last as long as seven years if the septet decides to wait until all members complete their military duties before resuming group activities.

In March, Bang Si-hyuk, chairman of Hybe and the mastermind behind BTS, said industry figures -- including global ratings and album sales -- showed a declining demand for K-pop, blaming the BTS hiatus.

"It remains to be seen how the group can re-integrate as a seven-member group once they have finished their military service, as this is usually a difficult time for male artist groups," Keith said.

But the ongoing break could be "a growth period for BTS overall as members pursue solo interests and add more diversity to BTS's output", she added. 

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