BTS, Like Elvis, Has Left the Building. But for How Long?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because 503 million music video viewers can’t be wrong.
By Eugene S. Robinson
OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.
If you were in the middle of a hurricane, you’d probably not need to be told that you were in the middle of a hurricane; the violent hysteria whipped up by the weather system would be enough. But when you suddenly find yourself in the midst of K-Pop craziness, specifically a South Korean boy band by the name of BTS — alternatively the Bangtan Boys, Bangtan Sonyeondan, Beyond the Scene or the Bulletproof Boy Scouts — some explaining might be in order.
For starters, their recent single “Boy With Luv” not only debuted at No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but the video for it drew nearly 75 million viewers in the first 24 hours of going live, making it the most viewed online video. Like, ever. In the history of civilization.
Current tally? As of this writing, 503,168,889 views.
So yeah, if you hadn’t heard of them before, that’s probably a credit to the cave you live in. But strangely, at the height of all this every-dream-you-ever-had-is-fulfilled thing, the seven members of BTS suddenly decided that what they most needed to do was not do BTS.
Should you have a chance encounter with a member of BTS while they are on vacation, we ask that you show consideration for their need to rest and enjoy their private time off.
Official BTS statement
The hiatus could well be self-directed, a product of the breakout stars finally having the cachet to say no to a grueling work schedule that has seen them do three Korean-language studio albums, three Japanese-language studio albums, nine television shows, three concert films, five tours and more than 268 shows since forming in 2012. Or … it could be a PR stunt to ultimately ramp up and continue driving a work schedule that’s paid off the Korean pop business machine since “Boy With Luv” went gold in Australia, silver in the U.K., and platinum in the U.S. These achievements, incidentally, are the highest ever for a Korean group.
“Any time Korean acts break out onto a global stage,” says Angela Seo, a star in her own right in the band Xiu Xiu, “people care and may have some pride. But that’s different from whether they personally like them.”
The band’s strange statement on Sunday declared, “We would like to announce that for the first time since their debut, BTS will be going on an official and extended period of rest and relaxation. … Should you have a chance encounter with a member of BTS while they are on vacation, we ask that you show consideration for their need to rest and enjoy their private time off.” But maybe it’s not so strange since the break, as pitched, “will also provide them with a chance to enjoy the ordinary lives of young people in their 20s, albeit briefly. During this time, the members will rest and recharge in their own personal ways.”
That’s industry speak for any number of different things. “I’d expect to see a few solo records out of this ‘break,’ ” says former record industry executive Mark Thompson. “Side projects, bones thrown to members that might be chafing under having to stick to a format that works. Any of those things. And maybe at the bottom of the list? Hanging out on a beach.”
The top BTS contenders to pull a Justin Timberlake and break out as solo smashes are Jungkook, the youngest at 21, whose new long hair was the top trending topic on Twitter on Sunday … in the U.S.; and Jin, 26, who carries the modest nickname “Worldwide Handsome.”
The band’s hiatus is all the more bold as the group runs up against a short boy band life cycle — consider New Edition, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and the Jonas Brothers, just to mention a dizzying few. BTS, bolstered by the release of their third No. 1 album in a year, are going to roll the bones up against outrageous fortune and see what comes up. The result could be transformational in realms beyond pop charts.
“There’s something to the idea that a pop group of all Asian men, and a kind of non-Western ideal of ‘men’ — effeminate, dressed up, dandy and Asian men — are gaining global popularity in the West,” Seo says. “It’s interesting to think about what it means for Asian soft power for them to be able to do it.”
Maybe by the time they make it back to the stage we’ll have figured out what it means. Until then? Well, we still have their collaborations with Charli XCX, Halsey and Lil Nas X to mull over along with other benchmarks of breaking big in the U.S. like The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live and Good Morning America. And did we mention their Grammy nom? In the music industry, that’s the best kind of hurricane you’re likely to get, and probably nature’s sign that sitting back and taking it easy for a bit is totally the right thing to do.