If you’ve been down this road with K-pop before, then you already know the deal. BTS are being discovered by Western journalists, who are quickly finding out they can monetize their rabid fandom to profit off them and advance themselves on the backs of BTS. To an extent, it only makes sense that they would do this when it comes to K-pop, as it’s the right move for views, doesn’t hurt anybody, and allows fans of the group (whether it’s BTS now or 2NE1/SNSD/Big Bang/CL before, whatever) to enjoy seeing their faves get gassed up to outlets they recognize.
The problem is that inevitably people have to take it a step further and denigrate the rest of K-pop or Korean music in general in order to do the said gassing up, thus netting them extra attention and career advancement, and then stans inevitably believe it and make a mess because everybody wants to feel like they’re a part of something truly special or unique. It’s not the best of looks from the West, especially when it’s in, say, Rolling Stone.
1. BTS write and produce socially conscious K-pop.
One look at Psy is proof enough that K-pop acts tend to focus on crafting crazy-catchy tracks with an eye toward the Western mainstream, but BTS (an acronym for the Korean term “Bangtan Songyeondan” or “bulletproof boy scouts” in English) stand out as an anomaly among their peers. While other K-pop acts focus on songs about heartbreak and partying, BTS have connected with audiences by touching on topics such as mental health (2015 album track “Whalien 52” tackles loneliness), politics (see member Rap Monster’s collaboration with Wale titled “Change”) and even female empowerment (“21st Century Girl” has been performed on Korean television). All the while, the members have writing credits on nearly all their songs and are taking on more production roles with later releases – also a rarity in K-pop. The 2016 single “Save Me” has members Rap Monster, Suga and J-Hope all credited as lyricists and producers.
People have already been mocking this passage as ridiculous online, and it’s clearly a rather silly take that was maybe rushed or something (cause BuzzFeed-esque lists), so I don’t want to harp on it and I’ll try to keep my criticisms brief (or more than I could).
But I’ll be honest, what got me to write this was the stereotypical reliance on citing PSY as some kind of CRAZY ASIAN dumbfuck clown that proves K-pop is just stupid shit compared to the great socially conscious and wise masters of BTS. Like I get that his dance tracks are what people know and he definitely loves to make people happy with his music, but even a cursory glance at his past would reveal his protest actions and songs like “Father” and “We Are The One“. Discrediting PSY cause of his dance tracks would be as silly as discrediting BTS because their mainstream successes are owed to tracks like “I Need U” and “Fire“, ironically two songs that match well with why the article says the rest of K-pop is apparently worthy to be dismissed as sameness.
And there are many others aside from PSY, perhaps maybe rappers like MC Sniper or bands like Nell and others aren’t “K-pop”, but if Psy is then surely Tablo and Epik High are as well, and they certainly fit the socially conscious bill. Even in the out-and-out idol world, there’s BAP, Brown Eyed Girls, and IU just to list a few, and many others who aren’t known or are dead already (GLAM/Sunny Hill).
“But they are a superstar group doing it, so it’s different!”
Ah, therein lies the rub, right? They are a superstar group, but be honest, the primary mover in their popularity is not socially conscious lyrics. If people truly cared that much about the issues in music, the other socially conscious songs and artists in K-pop would’ve also blown up, right? But they didn’t, and many of the idol groups who tried that route are dead, with many of the rappers and bands going anonymous. Don’t get me wrong, it’s part of BTS’s appeal, for sure — and I would know since I’ve enjoyed analyzing their music videos and lyrics myself — but they’re an idol group and BTS are popular for much the same reason other idol groups are popular (catchy songs, superior visuals, fun personas), and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But glossing it up like they’re doing some shit nobody else does in terms of social message is just a disservice to Korean music, in general.
This whole situation now is funny, because shit like this is exactly why I called out Billboard (and that’s who I was targeting, don’t get it twisted) by saying nobody looks for the site or awards in the West and that they and others will use your fandom and faves, and thus got labelled a BTS anti. But the whole point was always that BTS don’t need to be gassed up by the West with this type of bullshit for them to matter, because with or without them they’re still globally popular and dominating, and the fact that they can be used like this by journalists is testament to that. They need them and you, not the other way around.
Billboard low-key trying to take credit for shit BTS were accomplishing anyway is exactly what I meant but whatever.
— Asian Junkie (@asianjunkiecom) May 23, 2017
Also, because unless it’s explicitly stated my mentions get ruined for a few days, I do like BTS themselves quite a bit, and you can go back in their tag on this site for evidence of that. But this isn’t about them or a criticism of them, it’s a criticism of Western outlets and them being used, and how being a fan of BTS’s work doesn’t mean one has to be deluded about denigrating the rest of K-pop as a whole, or worse, Korean music.