As most people know by now, BTS were the winners of the ‘Best Social Artist‘ award at the 2017 Billboard Music Awards about a week ago. Relevancy or not this was seen as a major milestone for a K-pop group and likewise, people were curious to know what what BTS’s next plans for the Western market were, if they any have any plans at all. Their answers were pleasantly surprising in terms of awareness and realism.
Rap Monster basically said they’re not gonna focus on the American market and just do the things that got them all this attention from America to begin with.
“We’re really happy that we were so well received in America. However, instead of focusing on entering the US market, which is a huge dream for any artist, we want to continue to make songs for our fans. We will continue to rap and sing in Korean because this is the best way we know how to communicate…Through receiving the award, we’ve built confidence that we can continue to make music that’s unique to BTS.”
Thrilled to see them embrace this attitude. In the past, whenever one of the groups or artists from the Big 3 got popular in the West, they’d always jump ship and promote them in the US, spending time there, which in return neglected their Asian audiences to an extent. It’s nothing you can really blame them for, they saw an opportunity, went for it and things didn’t work out the way they expected, but there are some common mistakes that have been made that newer companies can take notes on in order to avoid.
Hopefully they made this choice after seeing what happened to other marquee groups who ventured overseas. The most famous example is JYP Entertainment with the Wonder Girls, which is always used as a means to point out how NOT to promote a K-pop group in the West, and rightly so as it had drastic consequences on their domestic popularity. SNSD were saved by the fact that they were loved in Korea and Japan and weren’t gone so long that their fanbases fell off, but once SM Entertainment started getting mainstream hints of SNSD’s popularity from the West, they changed their sound on tracks like “The Boys” and “I Got A Boy” for little purpose. Then you have YG Entertainment, which currently has CL festering in pop purgatory in America as 2NE1 have disbanded.
Quibble if you must with those summations, but my main point is while I may not be savvy in music industry knowledge, one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that marketing and image matters. A lot. And the thing that was very alluring about K-pop to a lot of Westerners was how differently they were marketed and how different their images were, and when you basically take what made them unique and transform that into a generic version of the stuff Western K-pop fans were trying to branch away from, then it becomes harder to really make yourself marketable because there’s already hundreds of Western artists that do what they’re doing. That’s especially true for Asians in America, where they have to fight tooth and nail to gain any sort of proper representation in any form of media.
This isn’t to say that previous efforts were 100% failures, far from it, and even BTS themselves have admitted this.
However, in the end, while it’s good and necessary to admire the progress they’ve made, it’s also good to learn from their mistakes, which is something that Big Hit & BTS thankfully appear to be doing quite well.