In light of recent events, my closing statement is rather tangential to my response.
Initially, this conversation seemed to be unique to BTS — I failed to find a similar debate relating to any other artist in the past. However, the recent death of Irrfan Khan, a beloved Indian actor, resulted in a surprisingly similar community debate that reminded me of this BTS discussion. Irrfan Khan was a Bollywood actor (Bollywood being India’s most well-known film industry), yet he had done significant work in many Hollywood films as well, such as Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi, and Jurassic World. Many Western media outlets headlined Khan’s death by prefacing his name with “Bollywood star.” It was fascinating to see a number of comments by people criticizing that phrasing, saying that Irrfan Khan was much more than simply a “Bollywood” actor. Many people believed he should not be restricted to that tag. These people seemed to be Indian and were proud of his Indian identity, but they didn’t feel that “Bollywood” did justice to his global influence.
This was an interesting situation — it suggested that culture-specific labels fail to describe any artist who transcends genres and industries. There’s a natural discomfort that fans might feel when the media limits an artist to a certain label that the artist has clearly surpassed. There is no doubt that Khan has done incredible work in Bollywood, but he has done much more. There is no doubt that BTS are rooted in the K-pop industry, but they have also transcended it. BTS, therefore, are not alone in this debate — and as entertainment becomes more globalized, it is quite likely that such a debate will occur again for different artists as well.