Bangtan Boys: the K-Pop group more tweet-worthy than Donald Trump | Digital Culture | DW | 04.04.2018
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Bangtan Boys: the K-Pop group more tweet-worthy than Donald Trump

Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook are not only topping worldwide album charts, but also social media trends with their latest album, "Face Yourself." What's behind this latest K-Pop craze?

The Bangtan Boys, or "BTS" for short, have been trending on Twitter for the last few days.

This isn't surprising considering the band's army of almost 30 million rabid Twitter followers — actually known as the "ARMY" — who obsessively focus on the minutiae of the BTS phenomenon by sharing concert videos, snapshot from a rehearsal or recording, or a celebrated band selfie.

In January, social media monitor Google Facts noted that that the boy band's Twitter account drives more traffic on the social network than all of Donald Trump's tweets via his various handles. According to Bloomberg, the K-pop sensation has been tweeted more than Justin Bieber or Ellen DeGeneres, who are also social media powerhouses.

So all eyes are on again on Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook as their latest record and third Japanese-language album, "Face Yourself," hit the stores in April. 

The boy band are not only topping charts in Japan and South East Asia, however, with the album taking top spot on the iTunes Album Chart in 45 different countries including Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany.

From schoolboys to the international stage

It all might seem pretty impressive, but this has actually been a relatively uneventful week for the K-pop phenomenon. In February 2017, the lead single "Spring Day" from their album "You Never Walk Alone" received such a massive response that the Korean online music streaming service Melon crashed due to high user traffic.

And just a year later, the singles "Mic Drop Remix" and "DNA" were certified gold in the US, the first Koreans to achieve the sales landmark. This signaled the growing global power of K-pop.

Read more: Spotify makes NYSE market debut with a bang

The band was formed in 2013 by Big Hit Entertainment, a little-known South Korea label. BTS initially catered to hip-hop fans and their rise to mega success was not immediate. Without mass marketing, the band's first three school-themed albums, "2 Cool 4 Skool," "O!RUL8,2?" and "Skool Love Affair," did not garner the kind of obsessive response that has marked their later releases. 

But after polishing their sound, BTS were ready for international fame with "Wings" (2016), which was the highest-ranking K-pop album in US chart history. "Love Yourself: Her," which came out the following year, peaked at number 7 on the Billboard 200.

Gangnam effect

Although contemporary Korean pop culture dates back to the early 1990s, it first had mass appeal in the West in 2012 when rapper Psy released the global hit "Gangnam Style." The stunning video with unmistakably Korean aesthetics has since become a global YouTube hit with more than 3 billion views on the official channel.

Meanwhile, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his wife made a surprise appearance in the audience at a recent K-Pop concert in Pyongyang, part of a thawing in relations between the two Koreas over the North's nuclear program.

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South Korean K-Pop artists perform in Pyongyang

South Korea, already a global player in the electronics and cosmetics industries, is using its homegrown pop music to help define itself as a leading cultural power. K-Pop is a major part of what's globally known as the "Korean Wave," or "Hallyu," an international cultural phenomenon that's become so influential that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has used K-pop celebrities at official events, including a state dinner in China last year. 

Read more: 'Gangnam Style' no longer most-viewed on YouTube

South Korean police doing the Gangnam Style dance in 2012 (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korean police doing the "Gangnam Style" dance in 2012

Break the internet

Not even the 2016 US presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton escaped the influence of K-pop fans. 

Just a few days before the election campaign wrapped up, a screenshot of Donald Trump's Twitter account from 2016 surfaced online that read: "Just listened to Fire by Bangtan Boys. Amazing! Love the Chinese.” Even though the tweet followed Trump's string of politically incorrect statements in 140 characters, it was fake, a viral joke conceived by one of the band's passionate devotees.

Read more: Facebook: 'The truth has been lost'

Bangtan Boys fans are currently trying to get over a "scandal" whereby the seven members unexpectedly appeared with dyed jet black hair for LG — the Korean electronics company hired them to promote their smartphones, including a new device expected to be unveiled in June.

The "triggered" fans are losing their minds over the campaign on social media, creating memes and gifs that are being retweeted across the world.

That's exactly what LG was looking for. Since only a portion of the BTS "army" actually understands what their idols are singing about, changing their look is the most shocking thing they can do.

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