From BTS to Blackpink: How K-pop took over the world
Selling out Wembley is no mean feat.
But selling out Wembley in 90 minutes? Well, the Spice Girls unsurprisingly managed snapped-up-in-minutes sales with their comeback announcement last year. The Oasis reunion, should the Gallaghers ever kiss and make up, would no doubt break records.
And as anyone who has suffered the agonising five-second-loop screen refresh for Glastonbury tickets can attest, it happens there.
But there aren’t many acts who can get bums on 70,000-plus seats, let alone have them signed up within an hour and a half of going on sale.
Step forward BTS, the K-pop super stars who are breaking records and seemingly taking over the world.
Also known as the Bangtan Boys, they are a seven-member group – Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook – formed in 2013.
Last week, they became the first ever Korean act to score a UK number one album with Map Of The Soul: Persona. It also became their third Billboard number one album in less than a year.
The last group to achieve this? The Beatles.
BTS have also been named among Time’s 100 most influential people of 2019, alongside Rami Malek, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.
And despite adding a second Wembley date due to the popularity of the first, if you want to see them there in June it’s going to be tricky (or quite expensive).
But do they live up to the hype?
In her review of Map Of The Soul: Persona, NME’s Rhian Daly praised the band for setting the bar “intimidatingly high”.
“As they continue to break records and defy expectations, BTS’ metaphorical (and already palatial) home is only going to get bigger. Map Of The Soul: Persona is proof of that, and finds them setting the bar intimidatingly high – for fellow K-pop artists, ones across the globe, and themselves.”
The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis wasn’t as convinced by the album, saying that “anyone outside of the BTS Army might struggle to grasp what differentiates them from the rest of 2019’s pop landscape”.
While modern K-pop (Korean pop) grew in the 1990s, the genre’s popularity has grown exponentially in the past few years, no doubt helped by social media and the online presence it has afforded its stars. (BTS have in excess of 17 million followers on Instagram, and were apparently the most tweeted-about celebrities in the world in 2018).
It is now a $5 billion industry. While the English language has always dominated chart hits, it seems now that when it comes to lyrics, the barriers are coming down.
In fact, K-pop has been cited for in turn boosting interest in the Korean language; according to the Modern Language Association, the number of students learning Korean in US universities rose by almost 14% between 2013 and 2016 – despite an overall decline in most other languages.
Thanks to some serious earworm hits, killer dance moves and rainbow-bright videos, K-pop has become a global phenomenon, riding the wave, known as hallyu, of South Korea’s booming cultural economy.
And BTS are not the only stars making headlines.
Earlier this month, South Korean girl group Blackpink became the first Korean group to perform at Coachella (watched by Kendall Jenner and Hailey Baldwin/ Bieber, no less) and also broke the YouTube record for the fastest music video to reach 100 million views.
Not only did their single, Kill This Love, reach the milestone in under three days, it took the record from fellow Korean pop star Psy. Gangnam Style, anyone?
Plus, Blackpink’s video reached 56.7 million views in its first 24 hours alone, which meant it also broke the record for the highest number of views in the first day of release – taking the title from one Ms Ariana Grande.
But this record was swiftly broken by the song, Boy With Luv, by – yes, you’ve guessed it – BTS, which reached 74.6m views in 24 hours last week.
Another day, another K-pop record smashed. It’s hard to keep up.
Both bands have an army of loyal fans – the BTS fanbase is actually known as the BTS Army, while Blackpink’s supporters are known as Blinks – and numerous celeb admirers.
Blackpink have collaborated with Dua Lipa, and count Harry Styles and Grande herself among their fans, while BTS have worked with Ed Sheeran and Halsey, and have been hailed by everyone from Tyra Banks to Shawn Mendes.
If you’ve developed a taste for K-pop, other acts to check out include Monster X, Twice, Exo and Chung Ha.
Billboard’s website says the rise in K-pop’s popularity in part stems from a change in strategy by K-pop record label bosses to target Western markets after China banned South Korean music in the wake of a US-South Korea missile-system agreement in 2016.
The songs are seriously catchy. And groups such as BTS are filling a gap in the market; with One Direction out of the picture, they are the world’s biggest boyband, attracting the adoring fans and screaming crowds.
Whatever the K-poppers are doing, it’s definitely working.
With three albums in a year, BTS must arguably be the most prolific and hardest-working band in pop – so if you missed out on those Wembley tickets this time round, no doubt you’ll get the chance again soon.