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K-Pop Phenomenon BTS Takes a Break

Who can replace the K-pop group that experienced six years of nonstop success?

Layne Vandenberg
K-Pop Phenomenon BTS Takes a Break

South Korean boy band BTS perform on ABC’s “Good Morning America at Rumsey Playfield/SummerStage in Central Park on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in New York.

Credit: Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP

On August 11, BigHit Entertainment, one of South Korea’s most successful entertainment companies, announced via Twitter that BTS, one of the world’s most popular musical acts, would be taking an “official and extended period of rest and relaxation.” BTS, otherwise known as the Bangtan Boys (방탄소년단), needs no extensive introduction, but the amount of popularity BTS has accumulated in the six years since its debut in 2013 deserves recognition.  

As noted by Forbes, BTS sold more tickets to their most recent tour than Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and the Rolling Stones. Nominated for Best Recording Packaging at the 61st Grammys in February, BTW was the first K-pop group to present a Grammy at the same edition. They’ve appeared on the cover of TIME magazine and on the TIME 100 List, and even spoken at the United Nations.

As one of the first Korean groups to succeed beyond Asia, BTS has collaborated with a range of popular Western artists. BTS first collaborated with American DJ Steve Aoki in November 2017 to produce a remix of BTS’ “MIC Drop” on the “Love Yourself: Answer” album. In addition to the stronger EDM track throughout the song, the “MIC Drop” remix also features more English lyrics. As a result, the “MIC Drop” remix was the first song by a K-pop group to hit No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes chart. One year later, BTS and Aoki teamed up again for Aoki’s “Waste It On Me,” BTS’ first English-only track. 

BTS has also collaborated with female artists, including Charli XCX, Zara Larsson, Nicki Minaj  (for a remix of the global hit “Idol”), and most recently and famously, Halsey with “Boy With Luv.” “Boy With Luv” has surpassed 525 million views on YouTube, with BTS performing a tribute of the song in true Beatles fashion on “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert. Each of BTS’ last three albums earned a No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, with “Love Yourself: Tear” peaking in June 2018, “Love Yourself: Answer” in September 2018, and “Map Of The Soul: PERSONA” in April 2019.

While BTS’ breakout success can be attributed to a variety of factors, one convincing argument lies with BTS’ label, BigHit Entertainment. Unlike competing K-pop entertainment powerhouses who simultaneously manage multiple groups, such as SM Entertainment (EXO’s label) and YG Entertainment (Blackpink’s label), BigHit solely focused on producing and curating for one idol group over the past six years. This extreme specialization was only interrupted earlier this year, when BigHit debuted another K-pop boy band called Tomorrow x Together, or TXT. Following in BTS’ footsteps, TXT toured in six U.S. cities only two months after their debut in March 2019, and TXT’s first music video for the song “Crown” has already received over 83 million views. BTS’ break thus comes at an opportune time for BigHit as it temporarily shifts its attention away from the relatively mature, globally loved group that is BTS to the budding TXT.

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Although BTS has dominated music beyond the K-pop landscape, the artists rushing to fill the gap left by BTS will most likely continue to hail from the K-pop scene. The elements that comprise K-pop — including elaborate music videos, perfected dance choreography, bilingual and even trilingual lyrics, a mixture of rap and pop beats, and fashionable and relatable “idols” — simply aren’t produced with the same consistency in any other genre of music. The reality remains that the market for K-pop fans is rather fluid and is willing to share fans across groups. Fans or groupies of particular K-pop groups, for example BTS’ Army, are not exclusively loyal to their favorite groups as much as they are loyal to their favorite member, or “idol,” in a given group. While BTS takes a backseat, other K-pop groups will no doubt rush at the opportunity to steal the attention of K-pop fans, even if only temporarily. 

Considering international media and K-pop fans heavily discuss the harsh conditions of the K-pop industry and the notion of “slave contracts,” BTS’ announcement was warmly received by BTS fans. Despite potential losses in revenue, allowing its prized possession to take a break might actually prove to benefit BigHit’s reputation in the long run. BTS’ break further signifies BitHit’s confidence that the group can step away without damaging its comeback later on, evidence of its permanence in popular culture. Only time will tell how long BigHit envisions this grace period will last, but in the meantime, BigHit will hope to redirect the BTS Army and generate new followers for TXT, its next project.