This is a post about the artists who’ve just achieved their THIRD #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Which means this is a post that anyone who consumes pop culture should care about – because how many other artists, like in HISTORY, can say they’ve been able to do what BTS has done…in the last few years, in the last year....
IN THE LAST THREE MONTHS!
IN THE LAST WEEK!
What a week it’s been. Last Wednesday BTS was nominated for their first Grammy. On Sunday, Billboard confirmed that their new album, BE, topped the Billboard 200. It is the second BTS album to get to the top of the album chart this year, after Map of the Soul: 7 in February. Then yesterday this happened:
“Life Goes On” is the band’s THIRD #1 hit in the last three months, after “Dynamite” and “Savage Love”. It is also the first song primarily in Korean to reach this milestone in the history of the Billboard 100. And, once again, BTS finds itself in the company of The Beatles because there hasn’t been a band to do all that they’ve done since then.
As they say, BTS has the range.
Consider what these three hits represent. “Dynamite” is their first English single, a song performed by a South Korean group not entirely fluent in the language. They sing with accents – and I have written already that this is one of the STRENGTHS of the song. “Savage Love” is a remix, with BTS’s Jungkook singing alongside Jason Derulo and Suga and j-hope contributing rap verses… in Korean. The song would not have gotten to #1 without their collaboration. And finally, “Life Goes On” is mostly in Korean, a song co-written by three BTS members, RM, Suga, and j-hope. You can imagine what this means for all seven of these artists who have always stayed true to who they are, where they come from, using their platform to encourage a more inclusive pop culture environment, and refusing to compromise on their personal and collective identities. So to get to this moment, on this track, singing and rapping in Korean, and to have that top the Billboard Hot 100, dominate the western music industry, run by gatekeepers who have traditionally not been welcoming to any music that doesn’t come out of the houses that they built…
You cannot overstate the significance of this accomplishment – or explain it through the lens of how the western entertainment industry has represented how this sh-t works. Because BTS has disrupted all models of success that we previously thought were the way to winning. On their terms.
As Bryan Rolli wrote at Forbes, “Life Goes On” went to #1 with “virtually no radio play” in North America. Since the song is in Korean, radio programmers have avoided it, thinking that they would alienate their audience. But “Life Goes On” rose to the top because of pure sales. And that in itself is radical, especially now.
Radio and sales were how the old guard used to standardise success, especially in the early rise of digital platforms. Eventually the gatekeepers had to concede to the influence of streaming services and social media. BTS however somehow has been able to develop its own algorithm, its own formula that straddles both the old world and new way. Their fans showed up to support them traditionally – by spending money on them…but they mobilised on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, which is making radio look stupid as f-ck right now because somehow they’ve found themselves not part of this conversation.
Radio is supposed to be about music. If your whole sh-t is music, and they somehow have nothing to do with the music that people, lots of people, are listening to (and buying!), how far behind are you?! Are you really about the music?
To bring it back to RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook, these young men gamed the system not by playing the game, but by developing their own f-cking iOS. The BTS iOS just beat the old software – THREE TIMES STRAIGHT.
So of course they’re celebrating:
And there may be even more reason to celebrate. It was announced in South Korea today, per the New York Times:
“South Korea’s National Assembly, enamored of BTS’s global success, [passed] a revision of the country’s Military Service Act.
Under the revised law, K-pop entertainers who have received government medals for helping spread or elevate the country’s cultural influence around the world can apply for deferment of their military service. All seven members of BTS meet that requirement. They were awarded the medal in 2018.
The announcement of the so-called BTS law is a long sought-after victory for fans of male K-pop stars. Under South Korea’s conscription system, military duty has been billed as a sacred rite of passage for all young men. The government has allowed some exceptions, but its criteria have come under scrutiny in recent years.”
The exceptions typically used to apply to Olympians or other athletes but never to the country’s popular entertainers and their fans argued that given their worldwide popularity, BTS in particular is bringing the same kind of prestige to South Korea that Olympic athletes have done (perhaps more) and should be granted the same exemptions.
Should BTS choose to take advantage of the revision, this means their oldest member, Jin, has two more years to go before he has to enlist. He may decide not to wait that long. He may decide to go soon after all. But the point is, they now have options – which is especially critical considering they’ve been grounded for most of this year due to the pandemic.
You know what shocked me the most though?
This news about BTS made it onto…
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a post about BTS on TMZ. And I’m not trying to say that TMZ is the sh-t. (Their content and many of their commenters are pretty toxically male.) The point here is reach and influence. That not even TMZ can ignore BTS now … and how about them apples? For BTS and their soft masculinity to get coverage from an outlet that often upholds the most traditional form of maleness, and almost NEVER covers Asian content…?
Well, it means that BTS IS the culture now, right?