It’s close to impossible to not know about BTS. The Korean septet has achieved remarkable things in a relatively short career. But their journey was not easy.
As seven individuals hailing from South Korea, BTS began their career from Bighit Entertainment. Seven years later, they’ve whirred in billions of dollars into the Korean economy and are held responsible for the influx of cultures across borders.
BTS have performed remarkable feats that even their Western peers struggle to fathom. Their latest single Dynamite spent three weeks being number one on the Billboard Top 100 and still hasn’t left the Top 20 despite it being months since its release.
It’s no surprise, however, that despite these remarkable feats, many have scrambled to question just how BTS have turned successful. Many have questioned whether a formula exists and companies have tried to replicate it. It should be obvious that BTS’ success is mainly due to their perseverance, hard work, and sheer talent.
BTS continues to remain a phenomenon and subject of strange fascination in the Western industry. That is clear. When BTS accumulated interest in the West in 2017, after their release of Love Yourself: Her, many dubbed them as the “next One Direction” or the “next Jonas Brothers”. Years later, the Korean boyband has surpassed both these groups and accomplished so much more that we see another comparison start to rise — the Beatles.
In 2019, BTS even paid homage to the popular band in the Stephen Colbert show. With a black and white filter, the boys performed their latest singles with a live band, replicating the stage the Beatles had performed almost fifty years ago and changed history.
The beginning of this comparison startled mostly when Map of the Soul: Persona went number 1 on the Billboard 200 at its release in 2019. BTS became the first group along with the Beatles to chart three number ones in a single year. It’s important to note that the Beatles’ record was for eleven months and a week but BTS broke the record in just under 11 months.
Many have dubbed the Korean septet as the next Beatles. The members of the band have recognized this as an honor. But they have also shared thoughts on how they’re nothing like the Beatles — like RM did in their recent interview for WSJ Magazine where they won the award for 2020 Music Innovator.
“We’ve never ever been like the Beatles or even like, more than them,” RM says. “We’re seven normal kids who love music and performance who have a dream to give hope and love.”
Something interesting to understand is how the Beatles and BTS virtually hold no similarities to each other. Apart from the fact they’re both boy groups who were innovators of their own time — their similarities are non-existent.
Their form of expression, their language, their medium, creative process, and fandom demographic are entirely different from each other as well. So why exactly are they continued to be hailed as the next Beatles?
Something most people have deluded themselves into thinking is how BTS’ success turned overnight. That they debuted one day and were hailed as the biggest boy group in the world the next. This could not be more further than the truth.
In a global pandemic that has ruined the lives of millions all over the world, we’ve seen steady waves of xenophobia and racism be hurled at East Asians. BTS have been subjected to such cruelty as well with hundreds of tweets going viral. And the coronavirus jokes aren’t even the worst bit.
BTS have been subjected to racism and xenophobia even from the early rise of their career. RM had even openly admitted they felt like aliens during a recent Reuters interview to which many fans felt taken back by his honesty but not surprised.
BTS have been continuously treated like they’re outsiders in an industry that monetizes off their presence and music. They have been treated like they’re visiting artists and not as they’ve already created a tremendous impact in the West. They’ve been denied awards and performance stages despite achieving more than their Western peers ever will.
Their impact is undeniable. They have changed lives and continue to do so while altering the course of history forever. They have made more voices be heard while stressing the importance of the arts.
In their last album release, BTS launched exhibitions across five countries that celebrated twenty-two artists around the world, to “redefine the relationship between art and music”. Their next album ‘BE’ that releases on the 20th of November is self-directed by the group themselves. The group members already play incredibly crucial roles in the process behind every album and yet, they seem to be more absorbed in ‘BE’.
BTS’ impact across the world has resonated deeply. They are not simply creating history — they are tearing down barriers and creating an environment where people feel wholly understood. Despite the differences between their fandom demographic and even themselves, BTS have successfully enabled a platform and environment where people are made to feel understood.
To say they are the next One Direction, the next Jonas Brothers, the next Beatles is an insult to all of the artists involved. It is insulting to pretend BTS walk and journey is the same as their white peers. It is insulting to pretend like BTS were not subjected to waves of racism, xenophobia, and prejudice. Like they still aren’t.
It is insulting to pretend like white artists don’t owe some of their success to their white privilege. It is insulting to pretend like their artistry absolves their whiteness. It is insulting to pretend like artists of color are given the respect and credit they deserve for creating music as we know it. It is insulting to pretend like Black artists and LGBTQ artists haven’t defined music as we know it. It is insulting to pretend like white artists are the saviors and pioneers in the music industry when they’re anything but.
The comparison of BTS to the Beatles is mostly harmless and complimentary. But you must question and understand just exactly why they’re compared to, despite holding virtually no similarity. BTS has never been the next One Direction or the next Beatles — they’ve always been BTS.