Prelude: I first heard about BTS when I was looking for a fun question for a Zoom pop quiz I was conducting in early May 2020. Out of curiosity, I started watching their interviews on American Talk shows. That led me to read about them (news items, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit — they are everywhere). That led me to their ongoing weekly show called “Run BTS” on Youtube (and other fan made stuff) and it was then that I finally started listening to their music (and their dancing, oh their dancing!) — which matched all the hype. Yes, they are a boy band — but they are so much more, and I am hooked!
Keeping up with the anatomy of every successful “Success Story” ever written, I have divided this longish post (a tribute possibly — from a fan & a business student) in 2 volumes.
- Part 1: For all those who don’t know about BTS or know about them but are wondering why is this story even worth reading — I will start with the $$$ amounts, the accolades, the sky-high engagement rates, the usual shiz around success metrics & KPIs
- Part 2: If you are convinced that BTS’s success is worth deep-diving into, you can move on to the “Who is BTS” section
Volume 2 (to go live on 24th July):
- The story behind BTS’s success: BTS has won over the world so beautifully, that it is difficult to notice & breakdown the brilliant strategy & the wonderful execution that goes behind running this powerhouse.The value system they have developed and professed over years, the usage of media formats, the ultimate embodiment of what “I will be there for you” truly means in a digital age are a few things that have resonated so well with the collective identity called “Gen Z”. BTS is a fantastic case study on “how to cater to what Gen Z needs & and what it ships” (TL;DR: Brands trying to win this generation — take cues from BTS).
Side note: Be prepared for a spate of purple.
(I) BTS: Breaking records — one at a time (and sometimes many at a time)
Before I present the numbers to you — bear in mind, that unlike other artists or bands which have seen sustained global success (from Beatles to Beyonce), BTS members are not as well-versed in English. Most of their lyrics are in Korean (which is like the 22nd most popular language by total number of speakers, against English, which is #1). And BTS is not a one-time hit like Psy’s Gangnam Style. As I said, sustained global success.
Okay, proof is in the pudding — here we go. BTS, which made it’s debut in 2013, is estimated to contribute USD 4.65 Bn to South Korea’s GDP.
And here is the growth trajectory of Big Hit, the label which manages BTS:
Now, let’s come to brand equity — look no far than Samsung’s Twitter account — their most viral tweet (in fact the top 37 tweets by engagement rate) is, you guessed it right, BTS related. And no points for guessing, the Samsung Galaxy S20+ BTS edition recently sold out in a matter of hours in the midst of a pandemic.
BTS’s success at being best-in-class when it comes to social media engagement is well-documented. Here is BTS member Jungkook breaking yet another record on most retweets. And here is Justin Bieber having fun with the BTS phenomenon. And this engagement sustains, tweet after tweet.
And we are just getting started. The K-pop fandom has an entire wiki on records BTS has set or broken, I have included the top records & achievements below:
TL;DR: Multiple first appearances at top Global Music shows, multiple top spots on global music charts, multiple highest grossing shows. Oh, and before we move on to the next section, here is some food for thought for you — BTS did a virtual show amidst the pandemic, which generated USD 20 Million (in a single show), an amount much higher than what most pre-pandemic live concerts in the world made. Who knew? A VIRTUAL SHOW!
(II) Who is BTS?
Formed in 2013, BTS is a 7-member boy band from South Korea. The band was brought together by Big Hit Entertainment. The story of how BTS changed Big Hit’s fortune is a tale worth learning from, but what is more interesting is the man behind all of this — Bang Si-Hyuk. Bang is a K-pop veteran and his own experiences, insecurities & anxieties led him to create a fresh idol group — one that was “bulletproof” from worldly pressures (Vox has done a brilliant piece on this) and what is traditionally expected from pop-stars. Bang started assembling a group of teenagers in 2010 and conceptualizing what would BTS represent:
I recently came across a company document from  the year before BTS debuted, in which we were debating what kind of idol group to create. It said, ‘What kind of hero is the youth of today looking for? Not someone who dogmatically preaches from above. Rather, it seems like they need a hero who can lend them a shoulder to lean on, even without speaking a single word. I didn’t want them to be false idols, I wanted to create a BTS that could become a close friend. [Source: Soompi.com]
So with this vision in mind, the idol training began in 2010 (yes, you don’t just suddenly become a K-Pop star, sometimes the training goes up to 11 years). After multiple iterations (from Hip-hop driven to a K-pop idol driven to now what is a hybrid model where artists decide the way not the label), the current BTS was created, making its debut in 2013.
Volume 2 coming up on 24th July!
You can do your catching up on BTS in the meantime :D