BTS, the boundary-breaking K-pop band
If ‘2 COOL 4 SKOOL’ is your debut album, then you better bank on it to take you to ‘cooler’ places, else the principal may just show you the door on account of missing school time! The seven members of the South Korean Pop (widely known as K-Pop) band, BTS, were between the ages of 15 and 22 in 2013 when they took their chances with the album.
Year after year since then, the Bangtan Boys (the Korean full form for BTS) have held records ranging from their 2019 album Map Of The Soul:Persona becoming the best-selling album in Korea of all time, to topping the Billboard Top 200 charts in the US this year with three #1 albums in less than a year (putting them at par with the Beatles and The Monkees). Social media hasn’t been left behind either: they have the Guinness World Record for the ‘most twitter engagements for a music group’.
Their global fan following is nothing short of an army; it’s actually called The BTS Army, and it celebrates each member’s birthday and recently bombarded social media platforms with their celebration of ‘a thousand days’ since band member Kim Taehyung said, “I purple you,” at the end of a performance. Later explained as an expression of his ‘trust and love’ for the fans, the words echo a consistent undercurrent found in the band’s lyrics that have brought to the surface struggles with a harsh education system, anxiety, dreams (and how it is okay not to have a dream), despair, self-love and a critique of government and traditionally imposed restrictions on the youth.
The song, Dope is about the clash between the elder generation’s views coming in the way of the younger. The last has the band’s rapper Suga opening up about his own mental lows. And Spine breaker mocks rich kids who “break their parents’ back” for expensive indulgences (something that previous Korean pop export PSY also sort of punned on in the global hit, Gangnam Style). It is this frank social commentary neatly placed over the sound of hip-hop, R&B, Dance and EDM, that has found common ground in a following that cuts across nationalities and embraces the band’s message — love yourself, we are with you.
In fact, against the backdrop of their ‘love yourself’ world tour, has come Bring The Soul: The Movie, released worldwide (including in India) on August 7. Directed by Jun Soo Park, who also directed their previous film, Burn The Stage, last year, it brings together epic concert footage with sound bites of fans emotionally crediting the band for pushing them towards self-love and acceptance. In sequences on a candid rooftop in Paris, each of the seven members drops their filters in a ‘bare-all’ about their personal coping mechanisms that resonate further with their following.
The visual aspect of K- Pop (as a genre and culture) is at par with song-writing and vocals. Hence, synchronised dance moves start from the first beat of each music video (and their sold-out stadium performances). Each member of BTS is splashed across the screen (or stage) from start to end, getting independent time and coming together with the others in well-practised twists, turns and body shakes. The dance moves open the lid on the rigid training system the K- Pop industry puts artists through, BTS being no exception.
They trained hard with a K-Pop company before their debut and still follow a strict regimen. Their spotless skin and flawless attire, courteous conduct and overall polite package are a far cry from the brash, controversy-ridden British and American boy bands of not so long ago. They’re not womanisers either, which has ironically given rise to speculation about their sexual orientation. BTS hasn’t bothered to enter the debate.
But the real boundary-breaking impact of BTS is felt when one hears the young 15-year-old Harini Nittala from Hyderabad, singing (in Korean) a cover of the BTS song Euphoria at the ‘K-Pop Contest India’ in front of a packed stadium in Delhi, full of K-Pop fans. The Korean Culture Centre in Delhi holds auditions each year for their K-Pop Academy where Indians are taught to dance and sing (in Korean), with a chance to further train with a Korean company and possibly make their debut as K-Pop artists. There are also K-Pop communities (across India) and meet-ups. Not sure if BTS is aware of their bit towards boosting Indo-Korean relations.