The biggest boyband in the world, K-Pop group BTS, has been consistently breaking records: the first Korean artist to perform at the Billboard Music Awards, the first Korean artist to hit #1 at Billboard 200, with their album Love Yourself: Tear; and the first K-Pop group to hit the top 10 at Billboard 100, with their title track Fake Love. Their album also hit #1 on iTunes in 82 regions, while their title track reached #14 on Spotify’s Global 50, the highest for a Korean artist. In their home country, their recent album has the highest first month sales in Gaon chart history, selling 1.66 million physical copies. They’ve reached another level of stardom that’s unheard of for a Korean artist, that even President Moon Jae In wrote them a letter to congratulate them for a job well done and to thank them for representing the country on a global scale.
It’s a surprise that they’ve come this far in a short amount of time, considering that they are under the management of Big Hit Entertainment, a small entertainment company in Korea. In their earlier years, the group was mocked for their looks and their music, edited out or humiliated in variety shows and was even accused of plagiarism. Lesser artists would have cracked and called it a day, but they kept their heads down and kept pushing and working hard at their craft.
Perhaps the turning point was in late 2016, when they were finally recognized as major artists in Korea. For years, they had a bigger fanbase and a more solid support outside of their home country, but winning a couple of daesang trophies, Album of the Year in Melon Music Awards 2016 and Artist of the Year in MNET Asian Music Awards 2016, encouraged the general public to finally take notice of them.
What happened next was a whirlwind of accomplishments that nobody, not even them, expected to happen in 2017: a world tour of 40 shows in 19 cities; an invite to Billboard Music Awards, where they took home the Top Social Artist Award; appearances in American TV talk shows such as Ellen and The Late, Late Show with James Corden; a collaboration with Steve Aoki, a performance in American Music Awards and a performance in New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.
Today marks their fifth anniversary in the industry and seeing as I haven’t written anything since April, I thought it would be nice to open this space with something that’s near and dear to my heart.
I would be the first to admit that the word fangirl seems to be a shallow expression of how I feel about them – yes, I fawn and gush over them (hello, have you seen them?!), but more often than not, I feel affection and admiration for these guys who tirelessly create and share themselves to the world. On dark days when there’s a huge cloud over my head and everything feels a little too heavy (aka most of my days), BTS provides me comfort through their music, their words and their existence.
BTS is short for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which, when translated into English, means bulletproof boy scouts. The name pertains to their desire to protect and support the youth through their music. As they branched out globally last year, they introduced a new brand identity, adding Behind the Scene as their rebranded English name and unveiling new logos both for the group and the fandom.
The group is made up of seven members, with three rappers and four vocals:
Jin / Kim Seokjin, 27
- Vocalist and visual of the group
- Most likely to be the member you know as the car door guy, third guy from the left or Worldwide Handsome
- Good at cooking, loves eating and doing mukbang
- Go to move: throwing a hand kiss or doing dad jokes
Suga / Min Yoongi, 26
- Rapper, producer and songwriter
- Most likely the quiet, gummy smiled one in interviews
- Has a lot of depth and perspective, but he’s also savage and sarcastic
- Plays the piano
J-Hope / Jung Hoseok, 25
- Rapper, dancer, sub-vocalist, songwriter and producer
- Most likely the member wearing the loudest clothes or the craziest shoes
- Has the biggest amount of swag and sunshine
- Moodmaker and king of sound effects
RM / Kim Namjoon, 24
- Rapper, songwriter and producer; also the leader of the group
- Most likely to be that tall one smiling with the most endearing dimples
- Reportedly has an IQ of 148 – he actually taught himself English by watching Friends
- Nicknamed God of Destruction because he’s clumsy and he breaks a ton of stuff
Jimin / Park Jimin, 23
- Vocalist and dancer
- Most likely to be the guy going from cute to sexy in a hot second
- The most affectionate and charming member
- Social media king and memory squirrel, always documenting everything with his phone
V / Kim Taehyung, 23
- Vocalist and dancer
- Most likely to be the member with the most piercing stare
- Loves art (Van Gogh), photography (he carries a Leica) and jazz
- Starred in the Korean drama Hwarang
Jungkook / Jeon Jungkook, 21
- Vocalist, dancer, sub-rapper and center. Recently got into producing too.
- Most likely the doe eyed one with a bunny smile
- Enjoys shooting and editing videos
- Nicknamed the Golden Maknae because he excels in everything and Muscle Pig because he likes working out
*I went with their Korean age instead of their international age. Korean age works in a different way, you turn a year older on New Year and another year older on your birthday. So if I were Korean, I’d be considered 29 instead of 28.
*A quick rundown on K-Pop terminology: visual, meaning he’s the best looking member according to Korean beauty standards and center, meaning he’s usually the one in the center of choreography.
*This is the only time in their career where they all have black or brown hair, but do note that they frequently change it up in a variety of colors.
With their popularity these days, you’ve probably read about their countless musical achievements or you’ve seen them as brand ambassadors of LG’s new flagship phone, their collaboration with Puma, the characters they developed for LINE, or fronting Coca Cola’s FIFA campaign. They’re also working with UNICEF by lending their voice and donating a part of their earnings in a campaign against violence and promoting a safer, healthier space for children and teens to grow.
My taste in music has always geared towards artists that tell stories, those that speak something between the lines. I guess it’s only natural for me to be drawn to a Korean group that made music this way, with songs that are stories within stories and with music videos linked together in an alternate universe that is years in the making.
This might be off putting for some – it takes awhile to grasp what’s going on and even then, you won’t even be sure which fan theory is right or wrong. The good thing is the stories and theories are just another facet of their artistry and creativity. You can still very much get into their music even if you don’t pay attention to the alternate universe and the theories that come with it, as these are just bonuses that you can choose to consume or set aside.
From my perspective though, I find that it adds more to my experience. As stories and theories, it may seem complex and multi-layered, but as songs they are very much familiar. There are experiences and emotions that will seem similar: toeing the line between having no purpose vs feeling hopeful anyway (Tomorrow, Lost, 낙원 / Paradise), having friends you can count on (2!3!, You Never Walk Alone), standing up to oppression or societal expectations (No More Dream, Not Today), falling in love (DNA, Best of Me) and falling out of it (I Need U, House of Cards, 134340). They also don’t shy away from singing about mental health (Reflection, Whalien 52) and socio-political issues (뱁새 / Silver Spoon, Am I Wrong), an admirable feat considering the potential stigma that might come out of it.
Their lyrics are often insightful and intimate, their videos artistic and well-produced. What’s even more impressive is that the group has always been involved in writing and producing their own music, so they’re crafting stories that are meaningful and relatable for their fans who are more like their peers. Their music is far from the usual bubblegum K-Pop, far from everything manufactured and perfectly shiny. BTS is sincere, authentic and raw in sharing their truths.
I could go on all day about their music, so let’s go through some of my favorite BTS songs:
These two songs are sexy title tracks that have multiple layers. I’d categorize them on the same level but on opposite ends. Blood, Sweat & Tears sings about how something (or someone) is dangerous to you but you crave for it anyway, while Fake Love is recognizing that you’ve put your real self away for somebody else’s expectations. The thing I love the most about these two is that you can spin the songs in your own way – most people would go for the typical route of a love song and how it reminds them of someone, but it can also go the way of you singing the song to another version of yourself. I go for the latter.
Aside from doing songs as a group, BTS will usually do one song consisting of the vocal line and another featuring the rap line; the perfect way to highlight their individual strengths as artists while working together as a group. In their recent album Love Yourself: Tear, the vocal line did the Steve Aoki-produced ballad The Truth Untold, while the rap line did Outro: Tear. Again, they seem to be speaking on the same level of heartbreak but on the opposite side of delivery: The Truth Untold is subtle, slowly gripping your heart before reaching an emotional climax, while Outro: Tear throws in the punches and rips your heart out viciously from the get go.
BTS also has a tradition of some sort where each member gets the chance to do the album intro. These three are all coming from a place of vulnerability: Boy Meets Evil, where J-Hope sings about temptation; Serendipity, where Jimin sings about love; and Singularity, where V sings about losing one’s self.
The song is mostly about missing an old friend or someone you lost along the way. It’s beautifully bittersweet and melancholic, but somewhat strong and hopeful in the end.
This is a hidden track from last year’s mini album Love Yourself: Her, so you won’t get this on streaming platforms. I cheated a bit and found it on Soundcloud last year, probably a month after getting into BTS and months before I bought a physical copy of the album. I remember sitting inside the hospital room, listening to it while my mom slept and the song hit me so hard, I ended up crying despite not knowing initially what the lyrics were saying. Turns out the song is about how hope and despair go hand in hand and that you need to go through the desert to get to the sea. How sometimes they almost seem like the same thing, but you survive somehow. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and just what I need(ed).
On another personal note, these two solo tracks from Wings also hit me hard in the heart, with how they’re singing about their inner struggles. I’ll only say this once because I know there’s a good chance I’ll regret it later: I put on a brave, solid front 9 times out of 10 and most of you will never know how much effort it takes for me to get myself there. The grief, self-doubt and anxiety that came after my mom passed away… I will never be able to put those into words, nor will I ever be able to fully express them. These two songs are meaningful to me in the way they speak to me and about me.
Open the door and go inside the Magic Shop
After getting over my pre-conceived notions of K-Pop, I ended up becoming a fan through my sister sometime after BTS dropped their mini album Love Yourself: Her but before their first performance on American TV. It’s been a whirlwind of content for me since then but I will never get tired of being thankful that I found them right when I needed to listen and to know someone like them. On the day of their fifth anniversary, I hope to be the one to turn YOU into a fan! 😁
If you’re curious and you want to check them out, you can find them on these platforms:
Most of their discography is there, barring their earlier Japanese albums and hidden tracks. They’re also on Apple Music, if that’s where you’re subscribed.
BangtanTV is where they post a wide array of content such as behind the scenes footage of their music videos, dance practices, birthday celebrations and even member logs. Big Hit’s channel, on the other hand, is where their official music videos and visual content such as highlight reels get posted. Make sure you turn on the closed captions to see the English translations of their songs.
If you have extra money to spare, watching their Youtube Red series Burn the Stage will show you a glimpse of their world tour last year and the members’ growth from being unsure and worried to being more confident and happy.
Their VLive account is a treasure trove of their own variety show content: running away from “zombies”, playing with dogs, learning how to make coffee, pottery and kimchi, shooting their own music video for fun, styling each other and doing a mini fashion show.
VLive is also where they do their album previews and where the leader RM takes us through the album. They also do sudden live content, such as when the members come together to thank the fans after winning an award, or when one of them drops by to just talk about what they’re doing or how they’re feeling. Sometimes they also take us on special events, like live celebrations of a member’s birthday or even a graduation!
My favorite type of VLive content though would have to be their Bon Voyage series, where they travel out of the country without their managers and staff and basically get thrown out of their element. Season 1 took them around Northern Europe, where they kept losing their things and each other (lol); while Season 2 took them to Hawaii, where they showed more of their personalities and their dynamics as friends.
This is where you can find covers and free tracks that the group has released throughout the years. Check out the rap line’s mixtapes (RM’s RM, Suga’s Agust D and J-Hope’s Hope World), the vocal line’s covers (s/o to Jin’s 난너를사랑해 and Jungkook’s 그때헤어지면돼) and various special songs they shared for anniversary celebrations (RM and V’s 네시, rap line’s 땡, other versions of Spring Day and Young Forever).
BTS runs their own Twitter account, so expect some crazy shenanigans like the members exposing each other’s worst photos on birthdays, sharing music recommendations, OOTDs and selfies and tweeting short personal or professional updates from wherever they are in the world. Their Facebook and official Twitter is where you’ll find group photos and official updates approved and posted by their management, while their Instagram barely gets updated (also run by BigHit).
It’s pretty extensive, so if you’re new into the fandom you might want to check out the drop down menu on the right side of the website. The categories will lead you to dedicated pages that highlight the tracks, photos and videos of all their official releases.
Fans also make up the strong backbone of BTS and contrary to popular belief, it actually consists more of older fans than teenage fans (the latter is probably louder though). I still don’t know much of the Korean language so I’m forever thankful for the fans who do a bunch of translation work for free. These are some of the resources I go to when I need to look up something BTS-related:
- BTS Content Index, which runs down a list of English-subbed videos on BTS.
- doyou_bangtan, doolsetbangtan, glitter_jk, and cafe_army for live translations.
- The r/bangtan community for news, updates and anything else you might need in terms of BTS
- There’s also a fan putting together intros on BTS and the members up on Youtube. It’s still a work in progress, with three more members to go, but I like what I’ve seen so far!
And that’s about it! Let me know how long before you got dragged down the rabbit hole (it probably took me a week), which song/s initially grabbed your attention (mine’s Mic Drop, Spring Day and Blood, Sweat & Tears) and which member you fancy (I love all seven of them in their own individual way but if I’m pressed to pick, I have a little more love for the ‘95 guys Jimin and V). 😁