Yesterday in my post about BTS and its youngest member, Jungkook, I called him the Simone Biles of BTS because he’s the band’s all-rounder, talented in all performing disciplines, and also athletic, which is an asset in the South Korean idol system because sports, like entertainment, is a big part of the country’s culture.
Social media engagement is one of the keys to BTS’s success. Not the only key, and not the most important key, but one of the keys, on top of their hard work and their talent and their overall creativity. They’ve been able to make use of social media more effectively than most artists in the world. Jungkook in particular is probably their most successful member on social media… because he seems to be UN-thirsty about social media attention which, being 22 years old (23 in Korea as in their culture, you are already 1 when you are born), kinda makes him an anomaly in his generation. But this is also why he’s so popular on social media. Since he doesn’t show up very often he, regardless of whether or not it’s intentional, builds the anticipation so that when he finally appears, it makes that much more of an impact. Which is what happened today.
He popped in briefly for a livestream that RM and j-hope were doing on the VLive app and then, shortly after, on BTS’s Twitter account, this:
ì›íˆ¬! pic.twitter.com/ufEL90ULVg— ë°©íƒ„ì†Œë…„ë‹¨ (@BTS_twt) April 23, 2020
And I was juuuuuust saying he’s athletic.
That video generated a million views in 15 minutes, which is some kind of record for the year so far even though you can barely see his face. You’ll note that the likes keep climbing too. This is the kind of engagement that’s very much desired in the entertainment industry. Social media following is now one of the factors behind casting decisions. Studios and agents are encouraging stars to make use of social media during promotional campaigns. Celebrity social media posts are now part of marketing strategy for film and television releases. I don’t think you can be a musician these days without social media. Models build careers out of social media now as opposed to how it used to be back in the day of go-sees and headshots. Writers have gotten book deals out of clever tweets. No matter the art form, social media is the showcase platform. Being good at social media is a professional asset.
But not every celebrity is good at social media. By nature, especially in Hollywood, restraint is hard for celebrities. So many of them suck at hiding their desperation to be seen, to be cared about. Nobody is as thirsty as a celebrity – even though one the simplest but most effective things a celebrity can do is to go away for a while and create anticipation through absence (ahem, Harry and Meghan). But attention is addictive and also, there’s so much insecurity inherent in celebrity. It’s hard to silence the fear that nobody will bother with you anymore if you don’t give them something to bother about, and it takes a while, and some maturity, to learn how to manage those doubts.
To go back to Jungkook, though, and these records he keeps breaking – you know, if it was Justin Bieber or Shawn Mendes, or Taylor Swift, or other western pop stars, you’d see these stats reported in the media. Remember, when Jennifer Aniston joined Instagram and became the fastest account to a million followers or whatever, breaking Harry and Meghan’s record at the time, that itself was a headline everywhere. That kind of reporting adds to those celebrities’ power and status. It counts as an achievement to bolster their reputation. But this isn’t happening for Jungkook and BTS whenever they do their thing on social media and match or even exceed the engagement of their western counterparts. The omission of these facts, however, only adds to the fallacy that western stars are the biggest stars, upholding a certain status quo about celebrity and hierarchy that elevates stars from certain parts of the world over others. That’s the celebrity version of confirmation bias. I wonder whether or not BTS can change that.