In K-pop today, there are two boy bands that are considered the best of the best: EXO and BTS. Starting with the former, EXO is both a Korean and Chinese boy band originally consisting of 12 members: Xiumin, Suho, Lay, Baekhyun, Chen, Chanyeol, D.O., Kai, Sehun, Luhan, Kris, and Tao. Half of the members, EXO-K, would perform in Korean, the other half, EXO-M, would perform in Mandarin. Needless to say, the fact they not only targeted the K-pop audience but the Chinese music scene was genius on SM Entertainment’s behalf.
BTS, also known as Bangtan Boys, Bangtan Sonyeondan, and the Bulletproof Boy Scouts, are more of a “self-made millionaire” K-pop boy band as they debuted under a small entertainment label and agency, Big Hit Entertainment. What makes them so popular is the relationship they formed with their fans, spending over a year on social media building their presence. Eventually, the move worked as their music was well-received to the point they are constantly on par with EXO just four years after their debut.
Many K-pop fans, especially those who are EXO-L (official fan club of EXO) and A.R.M.Y. (official fan club of BTS), back up why both boy bands are very popular. They may have different paths of obtaining their tantamount fandom along with environmental factors that worked for or against their favor, but both of them are now on top of the K-pop mountain.
However, there is one boy band K-pop fans who have heard of believe should actually be as popular as EXO and BTS. That boy band is Best Absolute Perfect, better known as B.A.P.
Now I know what you are thinking. Out of all the K-pop boy bands out there, why do I think B.A.P. would be the one who should be just as big as EXO and BTS? I could pick any K-pop comeback they had and further analyze why, but I’ll go with a specific year: 2016. Last year, B.A.P. had two major Korean releases and a major Japanese release. Starting with the Korean releases, they released their fifth extended play (EP) or mini-album, Carnival, featuring their title track song “Feel So Good.” Later on, they released their second long play (LP) or full-length studio album, Noir, featuring the title track song “Skydive.” As for the Japanese releases, B.A.P. released their first LP or full-length studio album for Japan, Best. Absolute. Perfect. followed by their sixth Japanese single Fly High.
Reading what B.A.P. did as a list doesn’t look like anything special, but it is the content that really matters. You see, Carnival was a very “feel good” album with some smooth jazz and bubblegum elements that really catered to K-pop fans’ positive side. On the other hand, Noir was darker, more serious. The title track song”Skydive,” is probably the best K-pop M/V pertaining to cinematography. It literally is like watching a blockbuster movie complete with intrigue, mystery, and action.
What this shows is that B.A.P. is able to change and adjust to more than one dramatic style. True fandoms can say that about anyone, but it is rare to see a boy band do something more bubblegum pop with “Feel So Good” to something more intense and serious as “Skydive” and still be just as popular.
International fans seem to get it more as shown by the major awards they won in 2016 outside of South Korea. These include the Best Entertainer Award (Male Group Category) for the Asia Artist Awards and the Best Korean Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards. Also, Noir peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Music World Albums. That is a huge accomplishment too.
Now B.A.P. has made their first K-pop comeback for 2017 with Rose featuring “Wake Me Up,” a title track song that is far more sociologically driven than any other song I have ever heard in K-pop. They are unafraid to perform about topics and issues that would be “unpopular” in K-pop but once again, it reaches out to a more international fan base as it touches their hearts and their minds.
So what happened that prevented B.A.P. from becoming as big as EXO and BTS? I believe it is TS Entertainment. For the longest time in K-pop, slave contracts have been an issue, wherein entertainment label and company has more power than the musical acts. In the case of B.A.P., TS Entertainment had “clauses that violate civil rights and go against what is outlined in the Fair Trade Commission,” as reported by DramaFever. Not only that, the distribution of profit was unfair as it was stated that since their debut, B.A.P. made over $9 million, but only gave each member a measly $16,000. That is not even minimum wage!
B.A.P. would file a lawsuit to nullify their contract with TS Entertainment citing the aforementioned issues as reasons. Originally, TS Entertainment refuted the accusations that B.A.P. was working under them, as reported by Kpop Herald.
“There have been neither such maltreatments to the artists nor unfair clauses in the contract.”
Eventually, B.A.P. and TS Entertainment came to terms and the lawsuit was dropped, as reported by AllKpop. TS Entertainment released a statement to the media and K-pop fans, especially Babyz (official fan club of B.A.P.), on the matter.
“Hello, this is TS Entertainment.”
“Firstly, we would like to apologize again for causing concern to everyone due to the unexpected occurrences within the past few months.”
“Since the problem occurred on November 11th 2014, we have prioritized solving the issue and made our best effort to recover the trust with B.A.P. Through our series of numerous communication trials and heartfelt efforts, we finally recovered the trust of each other and B.A.P returned to TS Entertainment on August 1st 2015.”
“No matter what the reason is, we fully recognize that this long process has been a painful one for the B.A.P members, their parents, and the fans who have always been the main source of unwavering support to the group, and promise that we will make our earnest effort to create B.A.P’s bright future.”
“We highly thank the fans, who have patiently waited for B.A.P’s return, and those who have supported us with your unwavering trust. TS Entertainment will continue to create a better environment for all of our artists and focus on bringing better music to you all.”
Sadly, a whole year of no promotions, no music, no fan interaction hurt B.A.P. As for their reconciliation with TS Entertainment, K-pop fans were happy but cautious. It is possible that TS Entertainment would backstab B.A.P. and go back to their old ways that drove the wedge between musical artists and agency in the first place.
It has now been a year and a half since B.A.P. and TS Entertainment buried the hatchet and moved on. K-pop fans got to listen to some of the most entertaining and innovative music they have ever made. With Rose recently releasing and “Wake Me Up” touching on subjects with a deeper meaning, we can only wonder how B.A.P. will continue to grow. For me, I will say just one to two more years. Give B.A.P. just that amount of time and they’ll be as big as EXO and BTS… if TS Entertainment doesn’t screw them over again.
[Featured Image by TS Entertainment/B.A.P.’s Official Daum Cafe]