As many of my faithful readers know, there are only a select few K-pop boy bands that I really like. I will admit that one of them is BTS. Also known as Bangtan Sonyeondan, Bangtan Boys, or the Bulletproof Boy Scouts, the seven-member boy band — Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Rap Monster, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — is one of the most popular K-pop acts in general in the industry today.
What makes them so appealing to me is that by all accounts, they shouldn’t be as big as they are simply because they are signed under a small entertainment label and agency, Big Hit Entertainment. To give you an idea just how small Big Hit is, BTS is currently one of two musical acts they have signed to them. Overall, said two musical acts are also the only two signed under them too. They have no actors, no actresses, and no stand-alone soloists. Why, they don’t even have a girl group under them either.
Nevertheless, BTS has become so popular that in a recent survey this year, they were recognized as the most popular K-pop boy band in the industry even by the “Big Three” (SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, and JYP Entertainment). That alone is an accomplishment worth noting.
However, being a member of the A.R.M.Y., I am talking with my fellow A.R.M.Y. members in chat groups and fan clubs, and I am realizing something debilitating: BTS is starting to fade. I know a lot of K-pop fans especially the newer members of the A.R.M.Y. won’t believe me when I make such a claim, but the ones who have stuck with BTS can see the writing on the wall. So why do we think BTS is starting to fade? Let me break it down for you.
Popularity Brings More Opportunities That Cut Into Fan Interaction — Any seasoned A.R.M.Y. member who stuck with the boy band since their debut back in 2013 will tell you one of their reasons for loving BTS is their fan interaction. For a whole year, BTS did not release an official album. Instead, they heavily communicated and interacted with the K-pop community via social media. The boy band members would talk about themselves, show interest in their fans with one-on-one chats, and every now and then, they would release a song to show off their skills more so than to earn a huge hit.
The year of interaction meant that when BTS officially debuted, they already had an established fan base to help them on their way. Such a tactic was so successful, a lot of newer K-pop acts are now doing it. K.A.R.D. and Loona are good examples as they are constantly interacting with fans, releasing a song here and there, yet both have yet to “officially debut” as they are slowly revealing new members (K.A.R.D. is actually seven members while Loona is 12 members). Crazy right?
However, BTS being able to interact with the A.R.M.Y. has gone down simply because their current activities have increased. This is definitely true for both Rap Monster and V in which the former is pursuing a solo career and the latter is pursuing an acting career in which his first official K-drama role was Seok Han Sung in Hwarang. True the increase in group and solo promotions results in more exposure, but the decrease of social interaction decreases the formation of fully-vested A.R.M.Y. members.
K-Pop Industry Is Heavily Saturated And Exposed — If there is any time considered the best to be in K-pop, it is now. Thanks to the full integration of social media and digital V.O.D. sites that stream Korean content, it is easier for boy bands and girl groups to get their name out into the domestic and international K-pop fan pool.
However, there is a downside, and that is every K-pop act — big or small, popular or unpopular — have the same chance now. Ergo, the K-pop industry is heavily saturated and exposed. This means that BTS is competing with other K-pop boy bands let alone other K-pop acts who are getting more exposure by the day if not by the hour. Unless a K-pop act was part of a big agency or label, they would go unheard of for quite some time. Now even the K-pop acts lacking in overall popularity such as CLC, Dreamcatcher, and Varsity are getting recognition.
In summary, BTS has more competition now than ever before. It is not because there are more K-pop acts to compete with, but they have more exposure.
BTS’ Featured Title Tracks Lack Diversity — If there is one BTS album I think that can be considered their “breakthrough,” it is easily their third extended play (EP) or mini-album The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1. With this album, we got “Dope” and “Run” but more importantly their breakout hit “I Need U.” Among both A.R.M.Y. and general K-pop fans, these songs are probably the ones BTS is most recognized for more than two years. As a testament to the songs’ popularity, “Dope” was played during an NFL game.
Despite their popularity, not one of these songs hit number one on the Korean Gaon chart nor did the album it was from sell over one million copies. Consider that an accomplishment because it means that BTS doesn’t need the chart rating or the high sales numbers for their popularity (though both being high are good as it equates to sponsors and pay).
Another thing “I Need U,” “Dope,” and “Run” did was establish a style for BTS, one they would generally stick with for future releases. “Fire,” “Spring Day,” and “Not Today” can be equated to styles from previous songs and maybe that is why they did not last long high on the charts. The issue is that technically BTS’ featured songs lack in style diversity even before The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Part 1. They need to change-up, or they risk fully being pigeon-holed in a style which in turn will result in losing interest. EXID is a great example of this as their last four featured title track songs, “Up & Down,” Ah Yeah,” “Hot Pink,” and “L.I.E.” sound stylistically the same. The popularity of each song along with its time on music charts or being featured on music show competitions grew shorter with each song. That is what is happening with BTS now with “Spring Day” and “Not Today” getting some of the shortest times on both the Korean charts and music show competition promotions.
To be frank, the one song that sounded different from their other songs was “Blood, Sweat & Tears” as it utilized a Calypso beat. It was unique and from what I remember, never used before. The song also appealed to reggaeton fans as the Calypso beat sounds similar to the Dem Bow beat.
There Is Only One Direction To Go When You Are On Top — And if you don’t know what direction that is, it is down. K-pop acts sitting on top of the K-pop mountain have to work hard to maintain their position or risk going down it. Given the fact that BTS is considered the best K-pop boy band in the industry today with the highest brand value, they are on top of the mountain. That is both a good and bad thing.
It is evident why being on top is good, but the big reason why it is also bad is that the other K-pop acts are gunning for that position too. Consider it a “friendly war” with consequences. Anyways, if BTS wants to keep their mantle, they have to go back to what made them popular: fan interaction. They are a prime example of a K-pop act who is popular because of their fans as compared to being popular, or at least well-known, because of their label (4Minute), controversy (BP Rania), or strictly on their music (B.A.P. and CNBlue).
Ultimately, history dictates that no K-pop act will remain on top forever. There was a time when Super Junior was the top boy band, then B2ST, then EXO. It just happens that right now it is BTS. At this time, all they can do is add longevity to their reign.
If BTS is unable to establish longevity, they’ll need to work on something more important than a reign at the top of the K-pop mountain: a legacy. Take Girls’ Generation for example. They are no longer number one among girl groups as Twice now holds that honor, but they are universally recognized among K-pop fans as the one girl group that innovated the K-pop girl group. Being on top will help BTS establish a legacy, but it will be harder for them to do so given K-pop’s saturation presently. It is necessary though if they want to be remembered decades from now as, from the detailing above, they are starting to fade. And as you can see, fade doesn’t mean becoming unpopular but blending back into the mass of K-pop acts.
[Featured Image by Big Hit Entertainment/BTS’ Official Daum Cafe]