Why is the argument “BTS isn’t K-pop” being raised and who is raising it? To what degree is this argument “Western” in origin? What is the role of the media in this discussion?
BTS fans, as well as the group themselves, have long struggled with K-pop — particularly with the other artists surrounding them and their fan bases at times being quite unwelcoming towards them. That’s my understanding of history, anyway. Plus, journalists have often used BTS’s success as some sort of anchor for the success of other K-pop groups that simply don’t do what BTS does, which BTS fans perceive as unfair — they feel they only should be concerned with the success of BTS. I don’t know, truthfully, if that’s possible. Everything BTS does has an impact on the generations of K-pop artists to follow them, whether we like it or not.
As far as “who” is raising it, I don’t know. There’s a Korean article titled “Not K-pop, BTS-pop” from a while back that I remember people often citing. These conversations are happening globally among people cognizant of BTS’s impact.
Given the existence of that article, it’s arguably not Western. But then again, much of the argument has been hijacked by people who already have negative connotations of idol music, which they label “K-pop,” as is typical in the West — the argument then being that because BTS does not carry these negative features they see as typical of idol music, BTS are therefore not idol artists or K-pop artists. But if (1) these features are in fact not typical of idol music overall but merely negative generalizations and (2) K-pop is inclusive of more genres than merely idol music and its industry, then BTS can still be K-pop.
Because Western journalists are often hasty to generalize about K-pop and its “dark side,” often using BTS as clickbait for such negative articles, then often label BTS as K-pop with every chance they get, despite BTS’s ascendance from the low glass ceiling we place on K-pop globally, the hostility of the argument is really based on the gravitational pull of the media. It’s the media’s fault for not educating people about K-pop, and it’s the media’s fault for not educating people about BTS. In fact, I think much of the “BTS are not K-pop” issue revolves around people’s attempts at re-educating those who are new to BTS and K-pop — an attempt at moving around the stigmas in place because of these media tendencies.