As mentioned in yesterday’s open and over the years on this site, it’s a holiday week for those of us of East Asian descent. On Thursday October 1 it’s Tet Trung Thu in Vietnamese culture. The Japanese call it Tsukimi. For Chinese people it’s our Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival. As Asians follow the lunar calendar, the Harvest Moon, when the moon is closest to the autumnal equinox, is a special occasion, marked by festivity and family gathering and lots and lots of food. This is our Thanksgiving. In Korea they call it Chuseok. BTS is celebrating Chuseok by being #1 again.
A short while after I posted about BTS yesterday Billboard updated the Hot 100. BTS’s “Dynamite” topped the Hot 100 for two weeks in a row earlier this month and then spent the next two weeks at #2. They have now returned to the #1 position, making it, so far, three total weeks – and it’s not like it’s been quiet either. There’s been new music from several big name acts, like Drake and Justin Bieber, and BTS has been able to maintain their position. Which means… they’re mainstream now, right? With their success, they should have been considered mainstream well before this but, sure, putting the pettiness aside, mainstream means hanging with the names that are always getting prime placement. They’ve earned it.
And they’re pushing for more. BTS covers the new issue of Variety which drops tomorrow – and the key here is that it’s the Grammys preview issue.
The Grammy nomination process is well underway. First round voting begins tomorrow, the same day Variety’s new issue comes out, and goes until October 12. Featuring the world’s biggest band means that, for sure, Variety certainly doesn’t mind the extra eyeballs from BTS’s fanbase aka ARMY but also it would suggest that they could be finally being taken seriously as contenders. And again, with their sales stats and their social media impressions and, most importantly, their musicality, this is long overdue. I say “could be” because you don’t want to give these people any advance credit. Not until they’ve earned it.
So all of this, for sure, is a strategic push from the band, given the timeline and the Grammys timetable. Which is why it’s also perfect that it’s also BTS Week on The Tonight Starring Jimmy Fallon. Last night was their first appearance and they performed two songs – “Dynamite” with Jimmy and The Roots and also a previous hit from their now increasingly-expanding-but-already-extensive catalogue, “Idol”.
And this is a great example of why I’m so into this group: because they are always, always, always showing their work. On so many levels. First, if you’re a producer booking BTS for your show, there is never any doubt that the band will bring it. As in super f-cking extra. Which is what you want when you’re running a broadcast. I’m telling you as someone who works in TV, not every guest shows up with the magic. Half the time you can tell they’re approaching it like they’re doing you the favour, so why should they put in the extra effort? This is not BTS.
If BTS says yes to The Tonight Show, BTS is going to make The Tonight Show better. But that doesn’t mean BTS is going to let western television producers tell them how to make good TV. Which brings me to my second point: they’re not here to cater to what a western audience might want to see if it means compromising their brand. And that’s why the choice to kick off their Tonight Show takeover with “Idol” last night had to have been deliberate. “Idol” was released in 2018. At that point, BTS was already enjoying major international success and had topped the Billboard 200 (the album chart). Instead of muting their Korean heritage though, which is what so many non-western artists are encouraged to do, as T.K. Park and Youngdae Kim wrote in Vulture,
“they doubled down on their Korean-ness” with “Idol”. The song is layered with Korean instruments and sounds, like “chuimsae [추임새], which means using an extra exclamation between lyrics to draw out audience reaction”. The music video for “Idol” featured RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook dancing in front of a Korean temple and wearing traditional Korean clothing.
This is what they brought to The Tonight Show. The members are wearing hanbok-inspired jackets and they’re singing and dancing at Gyeongbokgung Palace…under the Harvest Moon! Look at this spectacle. Look at how they’ve set up the stage. And the lighting. Watch how they line up the shots and edit the performance so that it highlights their choreography, the styling, but also the building, the architecture…and the city! BTS are ambassadors for Seoul – and the city’s tourism board is getting all their money’s worth as this band proudly shows off their home country whenever they have the chance.
But like I said earlier, when BTS commits to an engagement, they f-cking deliver. Would The Tonight Show have been happy with seeing BTS sing from any generic set? Of course. Their fans would have shown up anyway. What does BTS do? Oh just causally take over a royal palace – literally – as a demonstration of cultural pride during a week of holiday celebrations. And also to reinforce that just because they have a megahit song that’s in English, it doesn’t mean they’re going to shower themselves in whitewash. Of course not. They’re using their success to emphatically declare their Korean-ness.
And, um, their hotness.
These fits are ridiculously fresh, Jungkook in particular. The gold on his jacket, the yellow tips on the pant-legs, the ponytail, the open collar – JK is never the flashiest dresser of the seven. But when he flexes a little on the steeze, it’s always a moment.