They’ve broken records. They’ve sold out stadiums. They’ve unexpectedly and repeatedly topped the charts. They’ve won countless awards. They’ve performed for massive audiences across the globe. And they’ve done it all while still being underestimated practically every step of the way. Now, they have become one of the most famous and celebrated groups in the world.
I’m talking about BTS.
RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook.
Made up of 7 talented young men from South Korea, what began as a hip hop group signed with a new and untested company, is now essentially the most well-known K-pop group in the world. And they’re bringing Korean music and artistry into the west in a way that has never been done before.
Still, despite their wild success, if you had told me only a year ago -hell, even six months ago!- that I would become obsessed (and I really do mean obsessed) with this K-pop group I had barely even heard of, I would’ve told you that you had absolutely lost your mind.
I was never this kind of person! I never went through a boy band phase or had posters of celebrity crushes on my wall. I never bought all of the albums or collected the merchandise or tried to get autographs. My taste in music has always been an eclectic mix and match of indie and musical theatre. In all honesty, I’ve always been the kind of person who avoided the Top 40 altogether.
But BTS got me. And it wasn’t just because of their music or their dancing or any one thing. It was everything about them. Just one video of a performance of “Dynamite”, and I understood why the world had fallen for this Korean septet.
And now I am totally and utterly hooked. Possibly for life.
There are a million and one things I could talk about here when it comes to BTS: their overwhelming talent, their songwriting, their dashing good looks, the over-the-top production value that supports every performance, their massive fan base, that they were totally snubbed by the Grammy Awards… But I want to focus on who they are as performers.
What is it about this group that is so magnetizing? Why does it feel as though every time I watch a performance, I’m seeing a perfectly crafted theatrical production? Why are they able to engage with a kind of theatricality that you just don’t see with other musical groups?
Let’s start with the obvious. BTS is made up of 7 of the most hardworking artists I have ever seen. They are constantly rehearsing, writing, producing, dancing, singing, filming, and interviewing… It makes me wonder whether they’ll ever be able to take a vacation or have a real day off without a camera following them around!
When this group was formed, there was a reason each member was chosen. Each performer had a level of natural talent and ability that perfectly suited the group’s dynamic. Or, in the case of Jin, a level of handsomeness that got him literally scouted on the street… After years of training and hard work, they were able to not only hone and finesse their talents but also to learn entirely new skills and abilities.
J-Hope is not only the group’s best dancer but an accomplished rapper and songwriter with his own massively successful solo work. Jungkook is not only the main singer of the group and one of the strongest dancers, but has written songs, directed music videos, and has shown off his talents as a visual artist and an athlete. Jin literally came to the group as a pretty face with a bit of an acting background and is now a singer and dancer who can more than keep up with the rest of the group.
These guys have worked their butts off to become the synchronized, polished performers you see onstage. And that hard work has paid off in ways that they never could have dreamed of.
Take a look at these rehearsal videos to see their hard work in action.
But it’s more than just hard work and talent. There’s something else about this group of 7 that has their audience hooked. Let’s talk about their charm and charisma onstage.
What really sets this group apart is the way that they interact with each other. They’re not just a band, they consider themselves a family. After all, they’ve lived and worked with each other for over seven years. The chemistry they have with each other is beautiful, it’s funny, it’s endearing, and frankly, it’s infectious. It’s hard to watch them perform together without smiling.
And they take that energy they have with each other and share it with their audiences. Their joy and their love for what they do are impossible to miss, and the natural rapport they have with each other becomes rapport with the crowd.
It also doesn’t hurt that they’re all incredibly handsome and that they definitely know how to flirt with the crowd…
For example, take this video of BTS performing their song “Anpanman”. While normally the song has intense, synchronized choreography, in this version, they’ve just got an inflatable slide and each other. They’re able to have fun on stage with each other, and then share that joy with those watching.
It’s important to note just how frequently the members of BTS write their own music. RM, Suga, and J-Hope, the three rappers of BTS, are the members of the group who are most frequently attributed as songwriters on their discography, but every single member has had a hand in at least a few songs. Their music is their own, and they bring with that a level of honesty to their work.
Take their 2016 masterpiece of an album, Wings. Each of the 7 members has a solo track on the album to which they were each able to contribute as a writer. Both in lyrics and style, each solo piece is unique to the performer.
RM wrote about his struggle to love himself in “Reflection”. Jungkook wrote about the love that he feels for the other members of BTS in “Begin”. Suga wrote about his childhood piano and the meaning of music in his life in “First Love.”
Just take a look at J-Hope’s performance of “MAMA”. This beautiful song is written for his mother, and in it, he thanks her for everything she sacrificed so that he could pursue his dreams. He then promises her that she can lean on him now, just as he leaned on her. Not only in writing, but in the way he delivers this emotional performance, J-Hope shares with us something deeply personal and heartfelt. I can’t even tell you how many times this performance has made me cry!
Finally, their performances really are pieces of theatre. Each album tells a story. Each song tells a story. Each dance, outfit, set, facial expression, and minuscule detail tells a story. And that attention to storytelling adds an incredible level of artistry to their work.
When BTS puts together an album, there’s always some sort of arc to it. They take their listeners on a journey with their music, and they then take that story and put it into every performance that they do.
At no place is this more apparent than at the Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA) and the Melon Music Awards (MMA). BTS consistently takes award show performances and turns them into fully crafted stories. When you’re an American audience member used to watching shows like the Grammy Awards, these performances put together by BTS are overwhelming. You’re not just watching a performance of their latest top song. You’re watching a production.
When it comes down to it, BTS simply is a group of brilliant performers. They’re comfortable and open on stage, they’re storytellers, and their talent and performance level are unmatched. Give them a try, even if you don’t expect to like them. There is so much more to BTS than the K-pop label they’ve been given, and you may find yourself with a new favorite band.