Why BTS is the most beloved band on the planet

March 05, 2023


In Greek mythology, the Sirens were mythical creatures with beautiful voices who lured sailors to their doom with their enchanting songs. The sailors, unable to resist the allure of the Sirens’ voices, would steer their ships towards the rocks, causing themselves to be shipwrecked and sometimes killed.

Just as the mythological Sirens’ song lured sailors to their doom, the non-stop scrolling of social media can consume people’s time and attention, distracting them from more productive pursuits. Sometime back, an Instagram Reel featuring a group of Korean boys sporting neon blue, candy pink, purple and blond hair expertly executing a synchronised dance routine to the nineties Bollywood song Chunari Chunari, appeared on my social media feed. I was amused to see how well the Bollywood track worked with the group’s choreography.

The video was none other than that of the South Korean boy band BTS, featuring the seven members RM, J-Hope, Jimin, Suga, V, Jin and Jungkook. The original song featuring Salman Khan and Sushmita Sen had been edited and perfectly synced onto a section of BTS’ choreography video for their 2019 hit single “Boy With Luv” video by an Instagram user ‘FilmForFare’. Unbeknownst to me that Bollywood x BTS mashup video on Instagram was my Siren’s call.

Social media platforms are designed to be addictive. They operate on a set of algorithms designed to find what you like and keep sending it. Their bite-sized content offerings make it easy to quickly consume several videos or posts in a row. Users are often suggested similar content, and in many cases similar videos automatically start playing, reducing the potential for interruptions.

And just like that my Instagram feed and attention span was hijacked by endless BTS music videos and clips of concerts, award shows, dance challenges, RUN BTS Web series, BTS: In the Soop, Bon Voyage and so on. Each time I opened Instagram, I would find myself free falling into the rabbit hole of catchy tunes, high-energy performances, clips of band members hanging out, and fan edits. Yes, scrolling through Instagram Reels is addictive; the exquisite powers of internet and social media algorithms have made it so.

For the most part, the tenacious grip of K-pop, short for Korean pop, on audiences is attributed to a distinctive blend of melodies, slick choreography and attractive South Korean performers who spend years in gruelling studio systems learning to sing and dance in synchronised perfection. The artist’s entire persona is carefully crafted to the tee, under the guidance of record labels. Critics have dubbed K-pop to be an all-inclusive performance that goes beyond the music genre. It puts an artist’s singing, dancing, rapping, fashion, personality, and digital presence to test.

K-pop industry is a multibillion-dollar business. Its dexterity at harnessing technological advancements and social media platforms has not only helped develop a viable business model but also expanded the fanbase in the Global market. Platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are utilised to regularly update fans on concerts, music releases, scheduled activities, and merchandise of their favourite K-pop idols.

BTS is one of the biggest names in K-Pop music. Part of the band’s journey to success is attributed to their savvy use of social media to create a content ecosystem and a special relationship with fans. A testament to this claim is BTS’s accrual of several milestones in the Guinness World Records, including the World record for most engaged fanbase on social media platforms Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.

BTS’ connection with its fans became evident when it first earned the Billboard Music Award for Top Social Artist in 2017. This is one of three fan-voted categories in the award show and is awarded based on major fan interactions with music including streaming and social engagement, in addition to Global online voting. BTS has been holding on to the title for the last five years.

Not all media entities can lay claim to a customer base as loyal and engaged as BTS fans and its use of social media has fostered the growth of a multi-language fanbase like nothing that has been seen before. The K-pop band debuted in 2013, a time when social media was slowly and steadily gaining traction among the masses. BTS are seen as the early adopters of social media sites within the K-Pop industry. Their Twitter account was created in 2011 and youtube channel in 2012. BTS’s official youtube channel, BangtanTV, includes Vlogs, choreography practices, recordings of live performances, interviews, covers, and behind-the-scenes footage from big shoots and events.

Aside from their singing, dancing, and composition talents, the band’s powerful social media presence has had a major role in BTS’ commercial success. A catchy combination of melody, lyrics and rhythm that stays in the listener’s head, paired with signature dance moves provide the foundation to going viral on social media. This is often followed by the ever-popular dance challenges. Case in point; “Dreamers” the official soundtrack of 2022 FIFA World Cup sung by Jeon Jungkook of BTS at the opening ceremony in Qatar held on November 20, 2022. The song was recorded as a part of a promotional album for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It is the first ever FIFA song to debut at the top spot on the Billboards charts and went on to bag the top spoton Apple’s music platform iTunes in less than 13 hours after the song’s release.

On December 30, 2022, Allkpop reported that BTS star soundtrack Dreamers had surpassed one million reels on Instagram and become the ‘most used audio’ on Instagram. It is the first song in K-pop history to do so and goes on to show the popularity of the song among BTS fans even after the end of the international tournament.

BTS online content garners millions of views from loyal fans, also known as ARMY which stands for Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth. Despite producing content in Korean, the Global impact of BTS music and online presence is unique. The BTS ARMY often act as a network of unpaid translators, producing English subtitles and texts of their content. They translate lyrics, social posts and much of the group’s video content, connecting BTS with their non-Korean speaking audience. Fan translation social media accounts — which tackle everything from song lyrics and video content to the members’ social media posts — are a prime example of the symbiotic relationship between BTS and ARMY. BTS too attributes fans to be the major reason behind their success. As a result, hardly a concert or awards ceremony goes by without BTS thanking ARMY for helping them get where they are.

However, industry experts ascribe BTS’s success for gathering legions of devoted fans, to a well-thought-out strategy by South Korean media conglomerate Hybe. The company was founded as a record label in 2005 called Big Hit Entertainment. Big Hit launched BTS in 2013. The band’s popularity has been in tandem to the media company’s growth, which has consistently found new ways to release content, reach listeners, and cultivate BTS’s fandom at home and abroad.

According to a research paper published by Harvard business School, Hybe too acknowledges that BTS ARMY has turned fandom into the future of entertainment “Fans used to be passive receivers, but now they have grown to be active supporters that contribute to the artist’s growth”.

Hybe has been meticulous in developing these fan engagements. Weverse is a Korean mobile app and web platform focusing on hosting multimedia content, official updates and artist-to-fan interactions. It is complemented by an e-commerce app Weverse Shop, which sells subscriptions for content on Weverse and exclusive artist merchandise. Both these digital products are owned by Hybe corporation. Through Weverse, BTS offers pay-for-play content to supplement what was already on YouTube. The online content engages subscribers by giving them access to exclusive content and participate in live streams, where fans will be able to ask questions in real-time and receive answers. Live streaming is highly interactive since it allows members to see and respond to comments from fans in real time. On Weverse, all interactions between artists and fans (and among fans) can be translated into nearly a dozen languages.

“We are a fandom business,” Weverse President Joon Choi told Reuters. “There are bigger Global services offering functions we offer, but Weverse’s users are superfans characterised by passionate engagement.”

Before Weverse launched in 2019, HYBE artists’ fans were scattered across multiple platforms, said Choi.

“They bought merch here, watched videos there, communicated elsewhere … We didn’t have a database of our customers. So we began developing each service in-house.”

BTS is skilled at the craft of storytelling across social media platforms. Accordingly, the K-Pop blog Lost K-Pop Fangirl, “BTS seems to have mastered the art of creating and cultivating their parasocial [sic] relationships with their fans” through “passionately and regularly interacting with them through social media.”

The term ‘para-social relationships,’ refers to a feeling of closeness, usually between a fan and a celebrity. The fan observes the celebrity through entertainment, social media, and so on, and feels as if they know them, despite seeing only a distorted fragment which is never the same as knowing someone personally. The celebrity, of course, usually has no idea they even exist.

The Lost K-Pop Fangirl blog goes on to say, “Hence, it is unsurprising that there is a plethora of BTS shows produced by Big Hit entertainment for the ARMY to consume. Watching episodes of BTS cooking, seeing their rooms and even attending their graduations, all contributes to building a para-social relationship and the ARMY believing that they have something ‘truly special’ with BTS. Therefore, fans are willing to break records for them and ensure their music’s popularity.”

Social media sites are essential avenues for any fan. For these are the platforms where they can both consume media regarding their favourite K-pop artist and share their fan-made content. This shared content can range from fan-art, fanfiction, youtube compilations, Instagram edits and even memes. This fan-made content when spread through social media networks contribute to a band’s popularity as more fans are ‘made’ through discovering fan-made content; as opposed to becoming a fan by just enjoying their music.

Reba Shahid is a technical writer and editor who enjoys reading and writing about information technology, internet and social media trends. All facts and information are the sole responsibility of the writer.

Originally published at tribune.com.pk

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