Sometimes I wonder if BTS and their label Big Hit have in their possession a crystal ball, or some kind of magical instrument, that helps them manipulate time and space to their advantage. Because their timing is a total mindf-ck, as they build upon their successes, one after another, with perpetual forward motion. But then again, attributing their achievements to the supernatural would be to discount and disrespect the incredible work goes into BTS production. Their wins are 100% a result of strategy and planning and intelligence and not just access to resources but the clever and sophisticated ways they mobilise those resources – their most valuable resource, of course, being their fanbase, aka ARMY, which is why the New York Times yesterday called ARMY the “secret weapon behind a $4 billion IPO”. When the New York Times is dedicating ink space to the fans of a band, you know this is some bomb ass swagger. BTS has helped build a company that isn’t just about music. The NYT is comparing Big Hit to Disney. Disney! A Disney-style conglomerate formed out of the popularity of a BOY BAND. So the next time you hear some moron on the radio not taking BTS seriously? Tell them they’re a f-cking idiot, like actually.
That piece was published ahead of BTS’s company, Big Hit Entertainment, going public today in South Korea. Shares surged upon debut, with Bloomberg reporting that Big Hit “opened at 270,000 won (US$236) in Seoul from its initial public offering price of 135,000 won per share, and rose as much as 30%, the upper daily limit. That pushed Big Hit’s market value to 8.7 trillion won, more than the other three major K-pop agencies combined”. With shares closing “up 91% for the day”, each member of the band became that much richer, since they were all given 68,385 shares in August, at that time amounting to about US$7-8 million. So RM, Jin, Suga, j-hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook just almost doubled their money. They’re proper moguls now.
But let’s go back to the timing. I’ve already covered the last few weeks leading up to this past week with release of “Dynamite” and their push to take it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Over the last seven days though, there have been even more layers to their marketing genius.
As I wrote earlier this week in Monday’s site open, BTS currently owns the #1 and #2 songs on the Hot 100 with “Savage Love” and “Dynamite”. Remember, “Savage Love” had already peaked at #8 on the chart before BTS hopped on the remix and now we know why they chose to participate – it was a confident demonstration of their power, what they can do, what their fans will do for them, and how reliably their fans will show up for them. And when.
Because Monday’s news about “Savage Love” hitting #1 came after a weekend that saw BTS pull off two back-to-back live virtual concerts. Big Hit has confirmed that Map of the Soul ON:E brought in 993,000 viewers over two days from 191 countries and regions around the world. Ticket prices were around US$50 for a single day or US$85 or so for both days so you do the math. The fact that Map of the Soul ON:E happened less than a week before Big Hit’s debut on the Korea Exchange is not an accident. This is exactly how they wanted to go public, on the heels of major demonstration of their earning potential. And coordinating all of these elements together, rolling them out at deliberately timed intervals, designing the schedule to allow for peak moments in service of billions? That’s no crystal ball, but it is definitely creative and entrepreneurial vision – and an investment in the relationship with their fans over seven years that has paid off enormously. To the point where ARMY isn’t just here to take a BTS song to the top of the charts but they’re now surging their stocks to the top of the stock market. The fans have become investors themselves. It’s a fascinatingly unique synergy between the band and its followers that’s inspired so much academia specifically focused on how this happened and how it’s been maintained. I’m not sure though that you need to read an entire case study to understand. All you need to do is watch their shows. To put it in business terms, if a fan is a customer and you want that customer to keep coming back, the quality of your product has to be consistently fulfilling. BTS doesn’t half ass anything. For their two Map of the Soul ON:E concerts last weekend, they still performed in a proper ass arena, with multiple moving stages and massive screens, using the latest in augmented reality tech, and pyro. PYRO! F-cking PYRO for a concert in an empty arena, for people watching from home! For two and a half hours each night.
But it wasn’t just AV and explosions either. All that technology only served as a complement to the music and the choreo and the costuming, their personalities, of course, and the commitment to giving people the most variety and value for the variety. That’s why show two was different from show one. They changed outfits, knowing how ARMY feels about their aesthetic. They tweaked the setlist, making sure that people (like me) who paid for both nights walked away (or went to bed) with as much BTS music as possible. And it’s not a simple flip of a switch. Changing songs in less than 24 hours for a major production when there are seven members on the mic requires more work. ARMY would have been satisfied if they had just did the same songs – but there’s a difference between satisfaction and reward, especially when you’ve built a billion dollar brand. This is the kind of attention BTS applies to their output that has resulted in so much loyalty. People who consume BTS content never feel like they’ve just been ripped by a cash grab. In fact, most of the time, you get more than what you paid for.
For me both shows were great, obviously, although the band was stronger on night two than night one, mostly because the members seemed tight for the first concert which is pretty standard, for any artist. It might have been a virtual concert but it was still live – there are things that happen when you go live, even without an audience, that you can’t account for in rehearsal. It happens to athletes too. You often hear about pro players getting nervous for the finals, in whatever sport, and it takes a few games or plays or shifts or strokes to get loose. And as is the case for any tour, things become smoother the more times you do it. They were much more relaxed on night two, having likely made a few notes and also, with experience, things naturally become less intimidating. Which is what makes it all kinda bittersweet. Because if they had the audience there, if they really were on tour, they’d be soaring by now. I can’t imagine how much better this moment would be by the time they had a month of performance under the belt.
I mean, they’re all great all the time but Jimin just had a little something extra for Map of the Soul ON:E that was undeniable. And his hair right now is probably the best it’s ever been.
And finally, because we are never done where BTS is concerned, last night for the Billboard Music Awards, where they won Top Social Artist for the fourth year in a row, and since they are reigning kings of the Billboard Hot 100, they decided to once again do the most…and take over the f-cking airport. This performance happened at Incheon Airport in Seoul, meant to symbolise their hopes that one day soon they’ll be able to reconnect with the world. Note the gradual reveal of their location as the song progresses and then the airplane that flies overhead at the end. This standard of production value is now starting to piss me off. Because I’m telling you, we are not getting anywhere near this in the west.