The Bangtan Boys, also known as BTS, have arguably had the best U.S. television and stage debut in K-pop history during a whirlwind week in November. But, the trip really shouldn’t matter.
During the second week of November, BTS took Los Angeles by storm. They appeared on daily news, Jimmy Kimmel Live and the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Further, they also performed their most recent title song “DNA” at the American Music Awards. Their trip to the U.S. was heavily covered by fans, Korean-American media outlets, and the Korean media as well. Overall, the trip and the media exposure were a success on both sides – but to fans, it lacked the level of vigor they wanted.
You see, BTS is currently one of the biggest groups in K-pop. Since BTS’ debut in 2013, they have gained an army (pun intended) of fans due to their insightful and well-written music, good looks, genuine personalities, bold dance moves, and desire to be real and authentic artists. Yet, in their U.S. interviews, they were asked rudimentary and superficial questions. Moreover, only a couple of interviewers appeared to have properly researched the group before sitting down with them. Altogether, they were treated as a novelty – a hip but ephemeral fad.
On one hand, you have a historic event in the K-pop world coupled with a huge amount of exposure. On the other hand, the result was a swath of pandering interviews done for ratings and a sense that BTS was used for their popularity. In short, the group did not get the reception nor level of respect that fans hoped for.
But honestly, although troubling, why does it matter if BTS’ interviews were unfulfilling or that they were treated as a fad? Why was it such a big deal that they had come to the U.S.? Was it to prove their popularity? Or that somehow the U.S. would finally wake up and embrace K-pop? All of the above reasons connect to one thing: validation. And if you think that k-pop groups need to come to the U.S. to really make an impact I have this to say: BTS and all other K-pop artists do not need their artistry and hard work validated by the trips to the U.S or appearances in western media. They are already significant.
Validated & Significant
Time and time again K-pop groups have sold out auditoriums and arena tours all over the world in minutes. Fans love the music they produce, buying albums and merchandise as soon that they are released – and this has been happening for years. Furthermore, continuing with BTS as an example, their most recent album, Love Yourself 承 ‘Her’, is certified platinum with over 1.4 million albums sold. K-pop groups such as BIGBANG, BTS, EXO, Girls’ Generation, GOT7, 2NE1 (2017), Wonder Girls (2017), and TWICE are not small fish in a big pond. These K-pop groups, and the ones that came before them or not listed, forever changed the music industry in Asia. Let that sink in: they changed a whole industry.
Additionally, K-pop music has been acknowledged in the west for years. Billboard, a music industry publishing giant, has diligently documented when a K-pop song ranks on the Billboard 200. Furthermore, it regularly reviews K-pop albums and song releases. This year they recounted and ranked the best American Music Award performances to date, with Psy’s “Gangnam Style” remix with MC Hammer taking the no. 7 spot beating performances by Beyoncé, Whitney Houston, Miley Cyrus, Britany Spears and more.
The introduction of more diversity into the U.S. music market (though it is already saturated with diverse music and artists) is great. However, K-pop fans should make sure that their desire for their faves to enter the western market is not motivated by an insecurity. A possible insecurity that their favorite groups and artists aren’t getting the recognition they feel they deserve. Being in the U.S. market does not prove they are better than other artists or that they have finally “made it”. Afterall, if sold-out world tours, global fanbases, and record album sales and streams do not indicate success, I don’t know what does.
The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.