To some extent, BTS fits into the industry definition of K-pop. There is no doubt that the way BTS operates and the way they’ve come to create and distribute music is all based on how the K-pop industry works.
Music consumption by the audience — streaming for YouTube views as soon as the song drops, buying music extensively during the first week, trending hashtags on Twitter to promote new music — is also all rooted in how fans of various groups from the K-pop industry consume music (however, this is also becoming common in most music industries, although it remains dominant among K-pop audiences). But there is clear tension between BTS and other groups associated with K-pop, not simply by the fans but also in style of music and performance. Something is heard and felt that has allowed for this debate, and that is largely based in BTS’s music — BTS do not satisfy the idea behind what K-pop is meant to do. Today’s K-pop is about escapism, distancing oneself from the present, both physically and mentally. Most K-pop videos, particularly those produced by SM, YG, and JYP (the “big three” musical production companies in South Korea), use ambiguous but glamorous settings that create an ideal landscape for the artists to perform in. These physical settings are almost entirely out of context, yet that is exactly what helps dislocate the viewer from any connection to reality. This is also reflected in the lyrics of the songs, which tend to address mostly superficial aspects of love and occasionally self-motivation, yet these lyrics hesitate to delve deeper in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible as well as to avoid any potential censorship. This distancing helps convey the sense of idealism and perfection that K-pop strives for.
BTS, however, do not deliver the same message. Their lyrics do not shy away from speaking about dark, honest subject matter, and their music videos are often in places where context is present — these settings either allude to past MVs (such as in “Fake Love”), or they are in recognizable and/or outdoor locations (“Save Me,” “ON”). Even in MVs layered with effects (“IDOL”), the context is driven by the expression of Korean identity and the use of Korean symbols to bring back the element of realism rather than idealism. BTS, therefore, are quite at odds with what the K-pop industry (or those companies that predominantly run the K-pop industry) wants of them and wants of artists in general — it’s the inherent purpose of K-pop (to help the viewer escape) that does not match the purpose of BTS (to help the viewer cope with reality). This very difference makes BTS both part of the K-pop industry as well as outliers within it.