BTS, the seven boys who revolutionized K-Pop: Their story of blood, sweat and tears

In 2016, BTS were taken by surprise when their name was announced at the Melon Awards. In an often-shared video, the band looks on in disbelief, with BTS leader RM uncertainly standing up. It’s their first Daesang (Grand Prize), infusing hope in them again as they had come close to disbanding. BTS leader RM (born Kim Nam-joon) who is usually the most composed and eloquent, is bewildered in the video, while the youngest, Jungkook remains seated as if to say that he isn’t getting up to accept the award till he receives a personal text message. Finally, the band walks towards the stage, and an emotional RM can’t find words to elucidate his feelings. He manages to shout into the microphone, “Thank you ARMY, thank you, we love you.” Behind him, J-Hope, Jin and the usually-reserved Suga fight their tears and the group shares a quick hug before hurrying off stage.

It’s 2022, and the boys have just released their latest album Proof, a nostalgic throwback to the past nine years. Proof is already breaking records, and has sold over million 3 million physical copies. It’s another feat for the Princes Of Pop, as they’re often dubbed, apart from sweeping Billboard Awards, getting Grammy nods, being named as ambassadors for the UNICEF. How did they reach here from being the boys who were handing out pamphlets in the US in 2014 for free concerts? Are these the global superstars really the same boys, once sporting unusual haircuts and chains, who were once sleeping in the same dormitory and were almost unable to make a music video because they didn’t have the money for it?

The BTS story isn’t one of overnight success; They’ve been climbing a ‘mountain’ as RM once said, and their faithful ARMY has been their companion throughout and saved them from breaking apart. It’s often a question that many non-armies would ask—how did seven boys of South Korea transform the K-Pop scene with such relentless vigour that they became synonymous with the genre? What was it about this band in particular that found such a strong, powerful and protective fan-base?

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Beginnings, near disbandment and the rise to fame

Big Hit chairman Bang Si-hyuk signed RM on the spot, and they slowly gathered the crew that would grow to become to BTS — Min Yoongi, rapper who became Suga; Jung Hoseok (J-Hope), a rapper and lead dancer. Others include college student Kim Seokjin (Jin), who is essentially meant to be the band’s face but emerged as a powerful vocalist, along with Kim Taehyung (V), a teenager with husky tones. His friend from school Park Jimin joined too, with the golden Maknae, called Jeon Jungkook. They became Bangtan Sonyeondan or BTS (bullet-proof boy scouts), a name which means to block out stereotypes, criticisms and expectations that target adolescents like bullets.” They were a group of boys with contrasting personalities, and yet, a septet who created a dynamic synergy that slowly spread to different corners of the world. Each member is irreplaceable — J-Hope with his fluid dance moves, Suga and RM with their hard-hitting raps, Jungkook’s high notes, Jimin’s vocals, with Jin and V rounding it all of with vocals and screen presence.

It wasn’t instantaneous. There was much angst after their debut in 2013, and the band wondered why none of their songs were able to create any sort of buzz. The company was almost going under and Bang was running out of funds. In these nerve-wracking stressful conditions, they are trained from dawn to dawn sometimes, and yet they weren’t seeing the success they dreamed of. They knew they were doing something different, by focusing on the tales of troubled youth, a wide range of social issues, instead of songs of love and heartbreak. Yet, the results were disappointing. Their lead single No More Dream hit the charts and quickly faded away. They didn’t know that one day their fans would be thriving on these very songs and making compilations.

Their broadcasts were cut short, and they were beginning to be labeled as failures, as competition rose. They faced attacks on their makeup and the way they looked. Yet, they persevered and continued to expound on depression and mental health, breaking stereotypes surrounding K-Pop idols who normally shied away from such topics.

Finally it shone through with their song I Need U from the album, The Most Beautiful Moment Of Life. The song saved the group from actually disbanding.

Keeping in line with their themes of anguished youths, the song broke language barriers and brought the anxieties to the fore, yet with a different and reinvented style. Regardless of language, the message for the listeners was loud and clear and laid the groundwork for the band’s future astronomical success. In what was almost a last ditch-effort, the band reinvented their musical styles and made a partial shift from their classic hip-hop singles. The song has an emotionally charged atmosphere, packed with whistling synths and R& B riffs that set the tone for the despondent, yet powerful chorus of the song. The fierce, yet strangely hopeful energy intended to capture the internal traumas of disturbed youths, and later ARMY understood the pathos behind the song — as the members were not sure that they would even have a band. The music video reached over one million views within 16 hours — the fastest record for any BTS music video at the time. In the hard-hitting and rather chilling video, the members struggle with their demons, interspersed with brief moments of joyous brotherhood.

I Need U created the Bangtan universe and they blended it seamlessly with the Most Beautiful Moment In Life trilogy and seeped into their music videos or rather ‘concepts’. While other K-Pop bands had created concept albums, there was something raw and organic about BTS’s method; which invariably would lead to the intense engagement with fans. Their manner of story-writing, was thought so unique and unusual, that it almost seemed at the time. Success was achieved, but the trolling continued as they were accused of buying albums in bulk to bolster stales and manipulate charts. They were finally cleared after months of much harassment.

‘In the eye of the hurricane’

One needs to just glance through Twitter hashtags after their V-Lives. It’s almost like eating dinner with them, a fan once wrote. You forget that they’re stars—-they’re just the cool boys that you would want to hang out with. From wherever they are, they’ll just take you into their world, as if you too are a part of their group.

A look through each and every official music video of theirs, you spot innumerable emotional comments like, “You changed my life BTS. This song gave me hope at a time when I didn’t believe in anything. You taught me to love myself.” Others would echo this sentiment, “I’ll never be as emotionally invested in another band as I’ve been in BTS.” Another writes, “Thank you, you have worked hard on that day. Please know that your hard work paid off and now you have millions of ARMYs around the world who roots for you and will continue to walk with you and to fight off any negativity for you. Keep going, keep doing what you love, keep spreading positivity and love to the world. We need you forever more. Bless you always and stay safe.” It’s this dedication, relentless flow of love, assurance and encouragement that has been conducive to strengthening BTS’s star power today—as RM once said, it’s what brought them from South Korea to the Grammys, along with their own talent and hard work.

BTS (Photo: Big Hit)

RM once referred to the fan-base as the eye of hurricane. “Everyone asks us why do we have such a diverse fandom? When you are in the eye of a hurricane, you can’t find out. When the hurricane goes away, we’ll find out.” But the hurricane has been raging consistently for more than seven years now and seems to be picking up more than velocity than ever.

Apart from their discography that sees different blend of genres packed with creative concepts, their effervescent, charismatic, down-to-earth and cheerful personalities despite their trying times had something to do with this supreme popularity; There is something always so incredibly personal about the band that one doesn’t feel they’re K-Pop idols. Their personalities are so clearly etched out for all, that ARMY knows each one’s habits better than they do. Their numerous V-Lives, variety shows like Run BTS shows the boys as they want us to see—just boys, fighting over food, trying to cook, winning and cheating at games, laughing and crying together over inside jokes.

A lot has to do their ability to break stereotypes and their role in redefining gender constructs. Ignoring brutal attacks from people who said they ‘look like girls’—-they sported gender-neutral outfits, and opted for chokers, bracelets, corsets and wore clothes from the women’s collection of popular brands. In an interview with Jaeki Cho for Amazon Music, RM talked about the band’s role in redefining gender constructs. He said, “We didn’t have the intention to redefine masculinity or the manly, but it feels good that we can have this positive effect or influence any categories.” He added, “We are living in a time where labels that we call ‘masculinity’ or ‘manly’ are vanishing.”

There’s often talk about the term ‘the next BTS’ — but that terminology does this band of boys an injustice. BTS reached where they were with their talent, unfailing hard work, through their own blood sweat and tears. Of course, there will be other bands who’ll make history, but there will be only one BTS, with their empowering success story—regardless of whether the hurricane passes or not.

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