BTS, or 방탄소년단, is a seven-member musical act from South Korea. The group was established under the management of BigHit Music (now under HYBE Corporation), a South Korean entertainment company founded by songwriter and producer Bang Shi Hyuk. Despite the company’s initial setbacks and limited resources, BigHit believed in their motto, “music and artist for healing,” and fostered an environment that allowed artists to develop their talents and to advance on their own authority.
The members of BTS include Kim Namjoon (the leader), Kim Seokjin, Min Yoongi, Jung Hoseok, Park Jimin, Kim Taehyung, and Jeon Jungkook. More officially, each member is referred to by his stage name (in the same order): RM, Jin, Suga, J-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook.
BTS debuted on June 13, 2013, as a hip-hop-based group. Tackling the issues of generational divide, mental health, education, and materialism, the band used rap and hip-hop as mediums to express their displeasure with society and connect with youth around the globe. This artistic vision was reflected in their name “BTS,” which stands for the Korean phrase “Bangtan Sonyeondan,” translated as “Bulletproof Boy Scouts.” Through their music, BTS sought to repel negativity and “protect” their generation from societal pressures. BTS’s music has since transitioned to adopt a more genre-bending, conceptual style within the framework of hip-hop — one that consists of diverse instrumentation, dense lyricism, cinematic music videos, and precise choreography — all of which engage audiences through multiple senses and challenge the notion that music is limited to only the sonic space.
Despite early struggles and delayed popularity in South Korea, BTS’s international breakthrough was near – in 2018 BTS became the first non-English act in over a decade to top the Billboard 200. Over time, they have won four Billboard Music Awards, four American Music Awards, presented at the GRAMMY awards, and broken a multitude of records, including those set by celebrated bands such as The Beatles. Their achievements have not only defied the Western industry’s expectations of non-English acts, but they have also helped confront stereotypes associated with East Asian musicians. Along with their global endeavors, BTS continues to thrive in the South Korean music industry — the group has now won a record-breaking 37 Daesangs (grand prizes) and was the first act in history to win all of the Daesangs at both the 2019 Melon Music Awards and 2019 Mnet Asian Music Awards. In addition to these successes, the members of BTS continue to embody their own ideas of inclusivity — they make frequent donations to charities, participate in UNICEF campaigns to end violence against children, and promote lesser-known artists on social media.
As expected, this incredible legacy has attracted millions of followers. BTS’s diverse fan base, known as ARMY, strives to promote BTS’s positive message of self-love and share the group’s artistic vision with the world. The fan base is also a social justice force of its own, fighting against the prejudice and xenophobia that surrounds non-English-speaking, non-Western artists.
Such organic, fan-driven growth is indicative of BTS’s influence in today’s era of popular culture — one that is diverse, global, and participatory. Hence, scholars from all academic disciplines and cultural backgrounds wish to study BTS, understand their artistry, and partake in this unparalleled period of globalization.
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