Many Americans unfamiliar with South Korean group BTS have likely wondered how a septet from a country across the world have become global superstars. In a new cover story with Entertainment Weekly, the band, their management, and some close collaborators shed some light on what makes them unique, and not simply a fleeting phenomenon.
In the interview, the band stressed how important authenticity is to them. Even in their 2013 debut single “No More Dream,” they addressed the pressures and anxieties that face young people. “I think it’s an endless dilemma for every artist, how much we should be frank and honest," RM told EW. "But we try to reveal ourselves as much as we can.”
Bang Si-Hyuk, the CEO and founder of Big Hit, their label/management company, further emphasized how BTS would have a heavy hand in the music they created. "I promised the members from the very beginning that BTS’ music must come from their own stories,” said Bang.
There seems to be an expectation that if you're a foreign group looking to find success in the States, you need to play by American rules: release songs in English and diminish your own culture in favour of a more Western aesthetic. It makes BTS special, and is likely a cause for their meteoric rise in global popularity, that they do the opposite.
"I don’t want to compare [to a Latin song like "Despacito" making it to No. 1], but I think it’s even harder as an Asian group," he said. "A Hot 100 and a Grammy nomination, these are our goals. But they’re just goals — we don’t want to change our identity or our genuineness to get the number one. Like if we sing suddenly in full English, and change all these other things, then that’s not BTS. We’ll do everything, we’ll try. But if we couldn’t get No. 1 or No. 5, that’s okay.”
Grammy-nominated DJ and producer Steve Aoki, who collaborated with the group on a remix of their song "Mic Drop" (their first Top 40 song on the Hot 100), believed that they could top the charts singing in their native tongue. “I think it’s 100% possible that a song sung entirely in Korean could crack the top of the Hot 100," said Aoki. "I firmly believe that, and I really firmly believe that BTS can be the group that can do that. It’s going to pave the way for a lot of other groups, which they’ve already been doing — and when that happens, we’re all gonna celebrate.”