It was late on a regular Thursday night, and my friends and I were hanging out in the floor lounge, doing just about nothing. I had a date scheduled for that night, but they canceled on me at the last minute, so I was stewing in my seat when I overheard two of my friends joking about some video they were watching on a laptop. I had known from last semester that they were big BTS fans, but I had always brushed it off as them just doing their thing. I tolerated the music videos and memes they made us watch on the TV screen when we scrolled through YouTube. That Thursday night, I decided to engage, and I was introduced to the world of the boy band BTS, or "Beyond the Scene.". I was forever changed.
Unequivocally the most popular boyband in the world, BTS started 7 years ago as a K–Pop (or Korean Pop) idol group created by Bang Si-hyuk, the CEO of the juggernaut South Korean entertainment company Big Hit. Its members are RM, j–hope, SUGA, Jin, Jimin, Jung Kook, and V. Although all members dance and sing onstage, in their music videos, and on record, they play different roles. RM— the only member fluent in English—acts as the leader of the group, as well as one of the lead rappers, along with j-hope and SUGA. Jungkook serves as the center or "face" of the group, in addition to being a main vocalist, sub–rapper, and lead dancer with Jimin. Jin and V also sing and provide the group with "visuals," or good looks.
The latest entry in their extensive discography, MAP OF THE SOUL: 7, is the group's seventh studio album, and their 18th album overall. The BTS universe expands far beyond their musical output, including a mobile game and a Mattel toy collection, not to mention the irresistibly cute characters of BT21, who were created in collaboration with each of BTS' members. The rabid and obsessively loyal fans of BTS, who flood Instagram and Twitter fan accounts with memes and fan-cams, are known as Army, an almost tongue–in–cheek reference to how global and expansive the brand of BTS has become.
My friend showed me a series of music videos and memes, some of which I had already seen before, but now with fresh eyes, drawing me deeper into the byzantine universe of BTS. She pulled up a picture from an awards ceremony and quizzed me on the names and faces until I got them right.
Among a K–Pop supergroup, there is always a member who is a fan's "bias" or preferred member of the group. It is not uncommon, however, for someone to have more than one "bias" within a group. Almost immediately, I had mine: Jin (of course), although I was also deferential to RM and V—the latter of whom always gives me Timothée Chalamet vibes.
Watching the videos for "Blood, Sweat, and Tears," "Boy with Luv (feat. Halsey)," and "Epiphany," I felt my mind racing and expanding as I felt the glow of friendship light up within me. My brain was firing off short bursts of serotonin, numbing me to the stress of schoolwork and rejection like an anesthetic. Everything fell away to the joyous, evergreen spectacle of BTS.
For the uninitiated, BTS can seem like another world. BTS is global in a way most other K–Pop bands only dream of. Instead of presenting highly manicured versions of themselves as individuals and a band, BTS prides itself on authenticity—both in their music and their offstage presence (it feels like their lives are constantly on camera). Although this inherent realness differentiates them from most other K–Pop bands, BTS still has to work within the strict constraints of the Korean music industry, with stars constantly being held to abusive CEOs and managers, who have extreme control over their personal lives, not to mention the 10-year "boot camps" stars attend once they sign a contract with their record label. The K-Pop industry is notoriously competitive, difficult, and grueling, especially for those who have been in the business for a long time.
My friend's bias is (primarily) SUGA. That fateful Thursday night, she said something about him never smiling and always looking sad. When I questioned her further, she said that he never really speaks, and that on the night BTS slept in one room as a band (a common practice in K–Pop), he had dislocated his shoulder in a car accident and didn't tell anybody for fear of being cut from the band because he wouldn't be able to perform their dance routines.
However, when all is said and done, even with the dark side of the K–Pop industry, BTS rises to the cream of the crop to provide the world with a one–of–a–kind experience and brand unmatched in the global entertainment industry.