BTS, a seven-man K-Pop hip hop group, has been a creative inspiration to me in ways that I didn’t believe would be possible for my cynical-of-mainstream heart and mind. With their recent win of Mnet’s Asian Music Awards (MAMA)’s Artist of the Year Daesang, they have literally started from the bottom to win the most prestigious award for Korean musical acts. Thus I found myself writing about why this phenomenal group resonates with me and my creative development, and why I think it transcends borders for so may fans.
BTS is the English name based on their Korean name, Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts”. It’s quite a high-flown title and reminded me of something like “Fullmetal Alchemist” at first. As they’ve explained in a few interviews, they chose this name because their music is meant to reflect the issues that teenagers and youth in their 20s in society, and use their songs as a shield against prejudice.
And I’ve been delighted to find BTS’s name and motto remains true, in their musical production as well as their visual direction that engage with social consciousness themes for a youth age group. They have done this in an unpretentious way that allows young fans to have open conversations about difficult topics on family, mental health, inequality, sexuality, and more. As someone who has enjoyed Cinema Studies in university, some have called my cultural media interests esoteric and niche and out of touch with what’s “popular”, but BTS has shown that you can have it both ways; Their strength lies in their simultaneous presentation that is both accessible and self-reflexive, with both breadth and depth.
Throughout the rest of this winding article, I will present what ingredients in their oeuvre makes them such a creative and commercial success, and key points that I believe any commercial artists of any medium who strive to talk about social consciousness in their work can learn from.