Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably already heard of the South Korean boy band: BTS. For those unfamiliar, they are currently the biggest boy band in the world. Since debuting in 2013, BTS have in many ways, revolutionized the entire music industry. Whether they are selling out stadiums or winning various awards, BTS have continually found ways to push boundaries and attain new heights. Throughout their meteoric rise to success, the band has been able to break through many conventions as well as challenge the status quo. Here are 5 examples of how BTS have challenged the status quo.
1. Surpassing K-Pop’s “Big 3”
JYP, YG, and SM Entertainment were known as the “Big 3” in South Korea. They held this status because these entertainment companies maintained an oligopoly on the K-Pop industry within South Korea for quite some time. Each of these companies have a history of debuting successful K-Pop groups and artists under their labels. Additionally, the Big 3 had connections that much smaller companies did not have — such as ease of access to TV appearances and music shows.
BTS, on the other hand, signed to a smaller agency known as Big Hit Entertainment. Since BTS and Big Hit had less resources and knew they couldn’t compete using traditional channels, they utilized tools like social media and the Internet to market themselves instead. In doing so, BTS took advantage of a changing market, broke through the oligopoly of the Big 3, and were able to build their fanbase through organic and less traditional means.
2. Honoring the Sewol Ferry Victims
For years, BTS fans have often speculated if their famed song: ‘Spring Day’ had any connection to the South Korean Sewol Ferry tragedy. In 2013, a maritime incident took place, where 305 passengers passed away — mostly comprised of school children. At the time, the now-impeached President Park Geun-hye blacklisted over 9,000 artists for voicing any criticism in regards to the government’s response or lack-thereof.
In a recent interview with Esquire, the eldest member Jin, was asked if the song was about a specific event. Jin replied, “It is about a sad event, as you said, but it is also about longing.” According to this report, BTS visited many of the grieving families on October 2014. The group also donated 100 million won to the family council. To put this into perspective, BTS were only two years into their careers. They risked a government blacklist to stand in support for the families involved.
3. Gaining Equity in Their Own Company
Big Hit Entertainment, BTS’ label, went public on the KOSPI (Korea Composite Stock Price Index) in October 2020. However, amidst the excitement of the company’s IPO, an interesting tidbit was brought to light. It was reported that each member of BTS earned some equity within their label. To be precise, each member owns 68,385 shares. At issuance, that equated to $7.9 million per group member.
When comparing BTS to any of their musical peers, this idea is unprecedented and even considered a “rarity.” In an era where disputes between artists and its labels have somewhat become an industry norm, seeing artists like BTS take some ownership with their company almost seems too good to be true. Who knows? Maybe this will lead to a shift in the music industry going forward.
4. Selling Music Without Bundles
Prior to Billboard changing its rules regarding bundles, nearly every major artist and music label took part in this industry practice. You may be asking, “What are bundles?” Essentially, bundles are the practice of pairing items such as merchandise or tickets to the purchase of a music sale. These bundles would inflate the total number of sales allowing artists to easily rise in the charts.
Contrary to the rest of the music industry, BTS did not bundle any of their music. Yet, BTS still managed to dominate the music charts. Just this year, BTS landed three #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. In comparison to BTS’ contemporaries, I think Bryan Rolli, a Forbes Senior Contributor, said it best in his article:
Each achievement on this non-exhaustive list is remarkable in its own right, but the true marvel of “Life Goes On” is this: A largely Korean-language song debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with virtually no radio play, no remixes and no bundles. The song’s stratospheric debut offers unimpeachable proof of BTS’s popularity and the dedication of their fans. Together, they have subverted a Western music industry whose archaic practices are often rooted in racism and xenophobia and redefined what a Korean pop act can achieve on the U.S. charts.
5. Releasing Socially-Conscious Music
Throughout BTS’ discography, many of their songs have either directly challenged or questioned the status quo. Their song “N.O.” is a critique on South Korea’s school system and defying high expectations towards students. Whereas, their song “Spine-breaker” comments on the country’s tendencies towards consumerism. Meanwhile, the song Baepsae might appear as a surface-level hip-hop banger, but the song also provides some socially-conscious lyrics regarding class inequality within Korean society:
Yes, we’ve all seen those powerful hip thrusts, but did you know that Baepsae is a song criticizing the status quo of the society against the millennials? 🧐 It’s also one of the least sensible when read out of context, so I really tried to break down every part! pic.twitter.com/ih85MHof7j
— 🐔🍜 hopekidoki🥤 (@hopekidoki) March 24, 2018
Speaking out against these issues is perhaps one of the reasons why BTS seem to resonate with so many people.
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