The South Korean boy band BTS is at the very heart of the country's pop music phenomenon. Since their debut in 2013, the seven-memberK-pop bandhas generated tunes that have made them known around the world, too.
So, what's the secret to their success? It's simply the K-pop recipe: professionally produced music, synchronized dance moves, a fresh look and a loyal fan base.
BTS is considered the most successful boy band in the world. Their latest three-album anthology, "Proof," takes a look back at their musical oeuvre. Only three of the tunes are new, while the rest are well-known BTS hits and demo versions of old songs.
In any case, the fans are happy. The newly released song "Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment)" already reached No. 1 in YouTube music trends.
What's behind the band's runaway success? Here are nine facts about BTS, one for each year of the band's history:
1. They sing in three languages
BTS may seem like a classic boy band at first glance — after all, they sing well and have the look, while dancing effortlessly. Few can claim that J-Hope, Jimin, Jin, Jungkook, V, RM and Suga lack talent. Yet BTS is unique, since it's one of the few K-pop bands that have made it big internationally.
In fact, the band doesn't make music only for the Korean audience, they also sing in Japanese and English. Their first English-language single, "Dynamite," took the world by storm in 2020 and was an international breakthrough for the band. They've since collaborated with top artists like Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion, Coldplay, Troye Sivan and Ed Sheeran.
2. They went through years of training
Like most Korean pop bands, BTS members did not come together on their own accord. Instead, they were hand picked by a talent agency, Big Hit Music (previously known as Big Hit Entertainment).
Korean entertainment conglomerates, led by SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment and JYP Entertainment, play an important role in creating K-pop.
They specifically train young people to become K-pop "idols" in programs that are strenuous and have also come under criticism. There, aspiring pop stars take English lessons, dance lessons and train their vocal chords.
The lucky ones will get placed in a group. The youngest BTS member, Jungkook, for example, started training at the age of 13.
3. Social media has fueled their success
BTS knows how to use social media to their advantage. The group was active on Twitter and engaged their fans there from the very start. They have almost 65 million followers on Instagram, making it the group with the most followers on the platform.
4. Fans love their videos
BTS come across as being both approachable and authentic. Countless YouTube videos show their supposedly normal everyday lives. Fans love it and give the videos millions of clicks.
Their fan base, which has christened itself the ARMY, is one of the largest in the K-pop industry. And even in the age of music streaming, BTS have sold over 32 million albums.
5. South Korea changed the military service law for BTS
Given the ongoing tension with North Korea, all South Korean men are required to serve in the military at some point before their 28th birthday. The South Korean government passed a law that gave certain artists who excel in popular culture a reprieve — BTS now have until their 30th birthday. Jin, the band's oldest member, turns 30 at the end of the. year. It's unclear when he or his bandmates might have to do military service. Most recently, the South Korea's Minister of Culture hinted that "outstanding artists" might be exempted from military service altogether.
6. They don't shy away from wearing dresses or nail polish
Contrary to widespread notions of masculinity, BTS regularly wear dresses, necklaces, makeup and nail polish during their appearances. They are not averse to changing their hair color every few months — sometimes to dazzling shades. In doing so, they've redefined what it means to be masculine.
7. Private matters are taboo
The contracts that the idols sign with agencies have a great impact on their private lives.
A K-pop idol's image should be squeaky clean: no scandals, no drugs … and no relationships.
As a result, none of the BTS members has ever made a romantic relationship public. Officially, they say they are too busy for romance.
Whatever truth there is to that is unclear, yet no one can doubt the band members have a lot to do. They are typically involved in the production of new music, and write many of the lyrics. Songs deal with topics like self-love, identity and mental health.
8. BTS position themselves on political issues
Expressing one's own opinion on political topics has typically been taboo for K-pop stars — until BTS came around. The group repeatedly shares positions on social issues.
For example, the group and their management company showed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, making a donation of $1 million.
BTS has also spoken before the United Nations General Assembly two times. In his 2021 speech, rapper RM focused on the topic of self-love and acceptance, saying, "No matter who you are, where you're from, your skin color,your gender identity, just speak yourself." This relatively innocuous statement resonated in South Korea, a country where former President Moon Jae-in previously said he was against homosexuality.
In early June, the group met with US President Joe Biden to discuss diversity, Asian integration, representation and hatred targeting Asian people.
9. K-pop has become a major cultural export
BTS-related sales account for 0.3% of South Korea's gross domestic product. The K-pop industry as a whole brings the country several million euros annually. It has also fueled a tourism boom, since many visitors come to South Korea just for its music culture.
This article was originally written in German.