A Historic Win for the K-pop Music Industry

Maria Cifuentes, Reporter

On Sunday November 23, the South Korean boy band BTS made history by becoming the first Asian group to win the top award at the American Music Awards. The boys won in all three categories they were nominated for: Best Pop Group, Best Pop Song, and Artist of the Year. They delivered two show-stopping performances, including their upbeat performance with Coldplay and ending the night with their jaw-dropping dance routines to the tune of their hit single “Butter.” 

The group formed in 2010, when Bang Si-hyuk, the founder of Big Hit Entertainment, recruited RM, Kim Namjoon whose stage name is Rap Monster.  He had discovered RM’s talents from his music in the underground rap genre. Bang Si-hyuk later invited Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, and Jung Kook to join the group. These members had worked for years as trainees, hoping to be chosen by entertainment companies that dominated the K-pop world, such as JYP and YG. Achieving fame as a K-pop star involves years of intensive training. Most stars begin training from the age of fourteen and are forced to move away from their homes into dorms. The training includes long hours of strenuous dancing, singing, and few hours of sleep. These trainees work very hard to achieve their dreams and eventually many make it to the big screen. 

The members of BTS were selected based on their dancing, rapping, and singing skills. K-pop stars must also maintain an “image.” Each member of the group is known for having a unique quality, such as being the most handsome or the most fit. 

In 2013 BTS debuted their first single “No More Dream.” The Korean public had little faith in them and their first single was not a hit. The group was laughed at and ridiculed for their “bad boy” personas. Their first performance only had 100 people in the audience. Today, they perform in sold-out stadiums such as the MetLife, Rose Bowl, and Wembley stadiums. No one would have thought that a small-town boy band would become the mega superstars they are today. 

BTS did not gain their popularity until late 2016, when their single “Blood Sweat and Tears” became the number one hit in South Korea selling more than 1.5 million copies in South Korea and reaching the number one spot on the Billboard World Digital Songs Chart. From that moment on BTS became an unstoppable force and went on to have multiple tours including the Love Yourself World Tour with show dates in the United States.

In 2017, BTS made their breakthrough into the western music scene with their hit single “DNA”, which became the group’s first entry on the Billboard Hot 100. This was also the first of many historic achievements BTS made. With “DNA” they became the first K-pop boy band to make into the Hot 100 list. Their album Love Yourself: Her was also charting number 7 on the Billboard Hot 200 list around the same time. 

BTS has grown to become one of the biggest groups, selling out stadiums all over the world and becoming multimillion selling artists. BTS was able to achieve four US number-one records in just under two years and they have sold over 20 million albums. They have not only broken records but they have also broken down barriers for future Asian artists in the western music industry. They have become cultural icons and have even given speeches at the UN General Assembly since 2018. BTS partnered with UNICEF to raise awareness of mental health issues, bullying, and violence that young people face. They created the #ENDviolence campaign that has been heard all over the world. 

The group’s popularity not only stems from their unbelievable talent and entertaining charisma, but also the messages their music contains. BTS has consistently spread  messages of kindness, love, and self-acceptance. The members are able to connect with their fans and have established a community with them because their music highlights important issues such as mental health. What helps the band stand out is that they have built a true community of hope and acceptance through their music.

South Korean philosopher and author Dr. Jiyoung Lee describes the passion of BTS’ fandom as a phenomenon called “horizontality,” which is a mutual exchange between artists and their fans. 

From what has been seen, BTS will continue to break records and make history. But most importantly they will never stop inspiring young people to love themselves and to always have hope that tomorrow will be a better day. 

We must learn to embrace who we are and to never give up in the face of adversity. Like RM said, “I have many faults and I have many fears, but I am going to embrace myself as hard as I can, and I’m starting to love myself, little by little. What is your name? Speak Yourself!” We must be true to ourselves and follow our dreams!