BTS: K-Pop in America

01 June, 2018

In English, the full name of BTS, the hugely popular Korean pop group, means "Bulletproof Boy Scouts." And the group calls its growing base of love-struck fans its "army."

If the past week of record-breaking moments is any sign, BTS may just be leading the most powerful army from the Korean peninsula.

The South Korean boy band on Monday reached the number-one position on the Billboard Top 200 music list, with the album "Love Yourself: Tear." It became the first K-pop group in history to top the U.S. music list.

"Love Yourself: Tear" is also the first mostly foreign-language album to reach the top of the list in 12 years.

BTS performs
BTS performs "Fake Love" at the Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 20, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

On Wednesday, their single "Fake Love" was among the top 10 songs in Billboard's Hot 100 list, making BTS the first K-pop group to debut a song in the top 10.

The group performed "Fake Love" last week at the Billboard Music Awards, where BTS took home the award for Top Social Artist -- for the second straight year.

BTS, also known as the Bangtan Boys, was formed in 2013. Its seven members -- Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V and Jungkook -- are all in their 20s. They each have their own hairstyles, clothing choices -- and their own fans.

The reaction the band members receive on the road from mostly female fans has been compared to "Beatlemania" in the early 1960s. That was when the English rock band "The Beatles" became known around the world.

The BTS "army" has never been stronger.

K-pop in America

Of course, BTS is not the first or only K-pop group to see success in the United States.

In 2009, the girl group Wonder Girls was the first K-pop act to make the Billboard Hot 100.

The music genre started gaining wider popularity in America in 2012. That February, the girl group Girls' Generation appeared on the popular late-night television program "The David Letterman Show." K-pop had made its prime time American television debut.

Then came Gangnam Style.

The 2012 international megahit by Korean rapper Psy reached as high as number three on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

Psy even performed during Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin Eve in New York City to ring in 2013. He was the first K-pop act to do so.

The second? BTS, on December 31, 2017.

Today, the Gangnam Style music video has been viewed over 3 billion times on YouTube.

Other K-pop groups have also made their mark in the United States. Exo, G-Dragon, 2NE1 and BoA all have made it on the Billboard Top 200 albums list.

But none have seen success quite like BTS.

Their success matters to South Korea. They are now among the leaders of Hallyu, or "Korean Wave." The term, which is Chinese, refers to the fast rise in popularity of Korean culture around the world, from television shows to movies to music and food.

Popular culture is a key part of South Korea's "soft power" efforts. Former President Park Geun-hye listed developing Korea's cultural industry among her main goals.

After BTS reached Billboard's number-one spot, South Korean President Moon Jae-In wrote about BTS on social media.

"Their melody and lyrics transcend regional borders, language, culture and institutions," the president wrote on Facebook. "Thank you to BTS for spreading joy across Korea and the world with your great performances."

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Ashley Thompson wrote this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

peninsula - n. a piece of land that is almost entirely surrounded by water and is attached to a larger land area

debut - n. the first time a musician, actor, group ... does something in public

megahit - n. something (such as a song) that is extremely successful

melody - n. a series of musical notes

lyrics - n. the words of a song

transcend - v. rise above or go beyond the limits