BTS scripts history at AMA 2021: 5 secrets behind K-pop winning US over
K-pop boy band BTS became the first Asian act to win the Artist of the Year award at AMA 2021.
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“And they said that we can't be together… Because, because we come from different sides…,” BTS’s RM and Jimin sang live at the AMAs along with Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
BTS and Coldplay’s My Universe maybe a romantic song, but this line cannot be truer than for the relationship between BTS and America. Everyone initially thought BTS would never make it big in the US. They were from different sides (geographically, culturally, and linguistically). But, hell no...
K-pop boy band BTS made history (again!) by clinching the Artist of the Year award at the American Music Awards (AMA) 2021, beating the likes of Taylor Swift, Drake and the Weeknd. The Bangtan Boys also took home two other awards.
Globally, Korean pop music is almost synonymous with BTS now. But why is America crazy about BTS? And how did this one K-pop group, backed by a little-known company, become so big in the US?
It’s food for thought considering how niche the international Korean pop fanbase is and how most of them cannot complete a sentence in Korean language.
Well here are our 5 points trying to decode the magic of BTS:
1. AMERICA WAS ALWAYS ON THE MIND
The Korean pop industry or the Hallyu wave (going as far back as the 90s) always had its eyes set on conquering not just the domestic Korean or Asian markets, but the highly competitive American market too. BTS and their company Big Hit were no different.
BTS at AMA 2021. Photo: Twitter/bts_bighit
By the time BTS had debuted in 2013, the US was already grooving to quirky and weird moves of Psy’s Gangnam Style. In 2014, BTS tried and failed to make an impression on the American audience when they hosted a free gig at a Los Angeles club. Barely 400 people showed up for the gig. Wonder what a FREE BTS concert will look like now!
2. FOCUSED ON FOREIGN TOURS
There are a number of K-pop girl and boy groups. But we don’t see them all at the AMAs. Other K-pop groups also want to make it big in the US, but not all of them risked it all like BTS did. BTS’s peers did not want to risk losing out on TV screen time at home, important for domestic popularity.
BTS and ARMY? pic.twitter.com/y8m76sy0ci— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) November 22, 2021
However, BTS was focused on their foreign tours and did not believe in domestic TV appearances.
3. THE BREAK-UP OF OTHER BIG K-POP GROUPS AT THE TIME OF BTS’S RISE
K-pop bands such as Big Bang were already cultivating a sizeable western fanbase before BTS made it to the playing field. However, by 2017, major K-pop groups who were a competition to BTS on the international stage such as 2NE1, Super Junior and Big Bang suffered some setbacks in terms of group split up, mandatory military service and scandals.
BTS at the AMA 2021. Photo: Twitter/bts_bighit
Isabella Steger wrote in the Quartz that this paved way for BTS to make it big without worrying about rivals or a split K-pop fanbase.
4. BTS FIGURED OUT WHAT MAKES K-POP FANS TICK
Jakob Dorof in an article for the Vulture credits Big Hit founder Bang Si-hyuk for nailing what the international K-pop lovers wanted. According to Dorof, Bang kept thinking about America and about ‘what weren’t these fans getting from other K-pop groups at the time? What else, beyond K-pop, did they like?’
And he nailed it with BTS’s The Most Beautiful Moment in Life series of albums and music videos which struck a chord with the audience in 2016.
The theme of youth and growing up appealed to both the domestic Korean market and the international fans. The managing editor of Seoulbeats, a website dedicated to K-pop, Chelsea Proctor, told Quartz that it is perhaps the group’s socially conscious lyrics that transcended the cultural and linguistic barriers.
5. USING SOCIAL MEDIA
K-pop website Allkpop says that social media was key to BTS's success. The group used social media as a method of self-promotion. To this date, the group engages live with fans and promotes behind-the-scenes work.
Now, with the enormous and intimidating fanbase of BTS called the AMRYs, the promotion for the boy band has taken a life of itself. If you ever wondered why your Twitter trends always show something related to BTS, no matter where you live, it's because of the ARMYs.
BTS has come a long way since Gangnam Style took the world and the US by storm. Gone are the times when an unfamiliar Asian guy was doing a funny horse dance. BTS defied stereotypes and became famous for what they always did.
By the way, the full form of BTS is Bangtan Sonyeondan. That means Bangtan Boys. Which, in turn, means 'bulletproof boy scouts'. (That's probably your biggest question about BTS answered, in case you're not one from the ARMY.)