BTS (Korean: 방탄소년단; RR: Bangtan Sonyeondan) are a seven-member K-pop group that debuted in June 13, 2013 under the small label BigHit Entertainment based in Seoul, South Korea. Unlike many of their counterparts, BTS primarily writes and produces their own music alongside a small team of trusted in-house producers.
The group's name, BTS, stands for the Korean expression Bangtan Sonyeondan (Korean: 방탄소년단), literally meaning "Bulletproof Boy Scouts". According to member J-Hope, the name signifies the group's desire "to block out stereotypes, criticisms, and expectations that are aimed on adolescents like bullets".
Originally a hip hop group, their musical style has evolved to include a wide range of genres. Their lyrics, often focused on personal and social commentary, touch on the themes of mental health, troubles of school-age youth, loss, the journey towards loving oneself, and individualism. Their work features references to literature and psychological concepts and includes an alternative universe storyline.
Although their sucess began in Korea, they entered the Westen music market in an unintentional breakthrough. Even though their music is written nearly entirely in Korean and only one of the members speaks fluent English, their love, passion, and sincerity has touched the hearts of people all across the world, regardless of age, gender, or language.
Their beginnings were humble. At the time their label was virtually unknown. The members shared a tiny dorm and slept in one, very cramped room. Their first concert had a meager attendance of 200 people, and in order to find concert-goers BTS stood out on the streets passing out flyers.
Now they are easily the biggest band across the globe and a household name, with sixteen million albums domestically in physical sales and is the best-selling artist to debut in the 2010s according to Geon music charts. They have had three best-selling world tours, with a fourth one beginning in April. They hold the best-selling album in Korean history with Map of the Soul: Persona. Featured on Time's international cover as "Next Generation Leaders", BTS has appeared in the magazine's 25 most influential people on the internet (2017–2019) and Time's 100 most influential people in the world (2019), with the outlet giving them the nickname "Princes of Pop".
During their Love Yourself World Tour, BTS became the first Asian and first non-English speaking act to headline and sell out Wembley Stadium; and broke the record for the single highest-grossing engagement in Rose Bowl Stadium history. As of 2019, BTS are purportedly worth more than $4.65 billion to South Korea's economy each year, or 0.3 percent of the country's GDP. BTS attracted one in every 13 foreign tourists that visited South Korea and were cited as one of the key acts boosting global music sales to $19 billion in 2018.
BTS are influenced by many literary, psychological, artistic, and philosophical mediums. Their album Wings (2016) was inspired by Hermann Hesse's coming of age novel, Demian. Their song "Blood Sweat and Tears" references Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zurathustra, Herbert James Draper's The Lament for Icarus, Pieter Bruegel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, and Pieter Bruegel's The Fall of the Rebel Angels by quoting Nietzsche and featuring the three aforementioned paintings in the music video. Their 2019 album Map of the Soul: Persona gains its name from Murray Stein's Jung's Map of the Soul: An Introduction.
BTS' lyrics include social commentary, often incorporating criticism of South Korean society. Songs such as "No More Dream" and "N.O" from their "school trilogy" were motivated by their experiences with South Korea's emphasis on education and called for change to the education system and societal expectations.
Their youth series of albums discusses generational disparity and the millennial's giving up of romantic relationships, marriage, children, proper employment, homes, and social life in the face of economic difficulties and societal ills while facing condemnation from the media and older generations.
RM and Suga's personal struggles with mental health inspired songs like "Tomorrow", "Intro: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life", "So Far Away", "The Last", and "Forever Rain."Not Today" from You Never Walk Alone (2017) is an anti-establishment anthem, with messages advocating for minority groups, while "Spring Day" was created to memorialize the victims of the Sewol Ferry tragedy.
BTS' albums have recurring themes that fall under the overarching theme of "reflection of youth." Their "school trilogy" explored "the troubles and anxieties of school-age youth." Their "youth series" "tackled a subject that the vast majority of youth experience, but few pop musicians articulate well: mental health and the desire to belong in society. The "Love Yourself" series utilized a narrative form to illustrate the excitement of love, the pains of farewell, and the enlightenment of self-love.
Writing over 90 percent of their lyrics, BTS try to include experiences everyone has felt in life, such as sadness and loneliness, and turn them to something more light and manageable. In regards to their lyricism, RM states he tries to not sound as if they're preaching or reprimanding people in their songs as everyone has different lives and different destinies. When asked if it is difficult to write about things like mental health, Suga responded,
"We feel that people who have the platform to talk about those things really should talk more, because they say depression is something where you go to the hospital and you’re diagnosed, but you can’t really know until the doctor talks to you. More and more, I think artists or celebrities who have a voice should talk about these problems and bring it up to the surface.
BTS has been praised for "speaking honestly about topics they deem important, even in a conservative society" by Jeff Benjamin in Fuse magazine. South Korean president Moon Jae-in, in a letter to BTS, recognized their sincerity and inclusion of diversity as key to their success, writing, "Each of the seven members sings in a way that is true to himself and the life he wants to live. Their melody and lyrics transcend regional borders, language, culture, and institutions."
Although their music is incredible, they are also incredibly skilled performers. Out of a total of seven members, BTS have a line breakdown of three rappers (RM, SUGA, j-hope) and four vocalists (Jin, Jimin, Jung Kook, and V). J-hope and Jimin are professionally trained dancers. RM and SUGA were well-known rappers in Korea’s underground hip-hop scene during their adolescent years. Jin studied acting in college and graduated with degress in theatre. Jungkook is the golden maknae (youngest members) and has an incredibly wide variety of talents from singing, rapping, dancing, playing a variety of instruments, and boxing. In addition to their talents as artists, BTS also have personalilites that are endearing enough to translate across language barriers. They are a goofy, charasmatic group of guys who also are respectful, polite, and sincere.
Their sincere music, charasmatic personalities, and endearing silliness have resulted in a behemoth fanbase, aptly titled A.R.M.Y which stands for Adorable Representative MC for Youth. It is clear that BTS are ARMY and wouldn't exist without each other. They communicate regulaily on social media platforms, such as twitter, weverse, and v-lives. Members periodacally live stream to interact with their fans, especially after concerts or big achievements. The BTS ARMY spans every age group, evey country, and every gender. Stay-at-home dads, high-schoolers, nuclear physicists, professors, doctors, college students, elementary-school teachers, and people of every other imaginable profession are part of the ARMY.
ARMY themselves are dedicated. There are concentrated fansbase groups for every single corner of the world. Since BTS primarily speak Korean, there are a variety of fan-translators who translate BTS’s words to every language fathomable, all on their own time and without any compensation besides heartfelt thank-yous from appreciative ARMYs. ARMYs have also come together for fan projects in concerts, specially planning to sing certain songs or unite the crowd in a variety of ways. See the purple ocean project or Young Forever at Wembly stadium.
OneInAnARMY is a group of fans that run charity projects for ARMYs to donate in BTS’s name. In one of their earliest projects, the group raised money for non-governmental organization Thirst Relief that provides clean water for families in Tanzania. Erika Overton, one of the founders of OIAA said fans raised enough to buy 30 water filters to provide clean water to about 300 people for the next 25 years. One of the most recent projects resulted in several hundred ARMYs collecting in a park in Seoul to plant trees for Namjoon’s (RM) birthday, as he is an avid nature lover and his nickname ‘Namu’ means tree in Korean. Supporting projects to help those in need is a natural extension of being a BTS fan according to Overton. "BTS put a lot of effort into giving us of themselves and their music and their sincerity ... the ARMY really wants to give back in their name."
BTS have been described as "easily the biggest and most successful name in K-pop in the world" that can "do things no other name in their genre can", with Time giving them the nickname "Princes of Pop". Billboard Senior Vice President Silvio Pietroluongo said that BTS are comparable and as influential to the Beatles. As the first non-English speaking artist to make the Global Artist Chart in 2018, BTS had the second and third best-selling albums worldwide and were the second best-selling artists worldwide in terms of physical, digital, and streaming platforms. BTS has received many awards and honors, including 24 Mnet Asian Music Awards, 23 Melon Music Awards, 20 Golden Disc Awards, 14 Seoul Music Awards, 13 Gaon Chart Music Awards, 4 Billboard Music Awards, 4 Korean Music Awards, 4 American Music Awards, and 2 MTV Video Music Awards. In 2019, members of BTS were invited to become members of the Recording Academy in honor of their contributions to music and as part of a push to help diversify Grammy Award voters.
The members of BTS are the youngest ever recipients of the Order of Cultural Merit from the President of South Korea due to their contributions in spreading Korean culture and language. They have also been recognized by the United Nations for the work in the foundation of their Love Myself anti-violence campaign, an initiative dedicated to funding several social programs to prevent violence against children and teens and to provide support for victims of violence in partnership with UNICEF. Each member is individually charitible, as they have quietly donated hundreds of thoustands of dollars to orphanages, schools, and other charitible causes.
BTS has brought about a paradigm shift in the often-demeaning label of what it means to be a “boy band.” This term has been coined as a term to degrade these sort of groups and reduce them to simply vapid objects of teenage heartthrob fantasies.
Unlike many other groups, BTS are socially-conscious individuals, who have remained humble despite their exponential success. In a behind the scenes clip taken during their most recent world tour, member j-hope queried his members as to if their fanbase (ARMY) would be in attendance for the concert given it was taking place on a weeknight. Despite their global fame, they have remained thankful for ARMY who are often the first people they thank during award speeches. They don’t relish in their fame, flaunt their money, or demean others, despite being targeted by bullies even to this day.
Another profound difference that sets BTS apart is their lack of fear in showing vulnerability publicly, which challenges the notion of toxic masculinity and shatters the wall that many celebrities put between themselves and their fans. Their music is an honest reflection of the struggles that come with living in a society that only increases in pace. Their music has prosaic and profound lyrics, sung with raw emotion. They touch topics like politics, mental illness, failures of the education system that wouldn’t be touched by other artists with a 10-foot-pole and not nearly as gracefully.
They worked their way up from the very bottom to become the biggest band in the world, very deservedly so. 136 million dedicated fans can’t be wrong.