America, prepare yourself: K-pop is coming! K-pop is the name of a musical style originating South Korea in the late 1980’s. Over the last decade, k-pop has become increasingly popular all over the world. K-pop act BTS has now broken the vinyl ceiling, becoming the first k-pop group to top the Billboard 200 chart.
South Korean culture has been sweeping the globe, a phenomenon that has been called Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. BTS’s album Love Yourself: Tear, opened at number one. It sold 135,000 copies in its first week. This includes 100,000 traditional (not-digital) copies. BTS is about to take over America.
It is not random luck that put BTS at the top of the charts. The seven-member group entered the year with serious momentum. BTS has been gaining popularity in America for awhile. It’s prior release is Love Yourself: Her, which debuted at number seven back in October, according to Billboard. Although k-pop is popular with the younger set, BTS is a standout. Their two albums are the only other k-pop releases to crack the Billboard 200’s Top 10. The group also smashed another record: Love Yourself: Tear is the first album that is primarily in a language other than English to top the Billboard 200 in more than 12 years.
Super producer Steve Aoki crafted an infectious remix of the group’s “Mic Drop” in 2017. It became BTS’ first Top 40 hit in the U.S. The love for BTS was evident at the Billboard Music Awards earlier this month. Introducing BTS, Kelly Clarkson could barely be heard through a microphone over the ensemble’s screaming fans. BTS won the Billboard Music Awards’ Top Social Artist honor for the second straight year, where they performed their new single “Fake Love.”
BTS owes some of its mystique to the tight leash imposed by its label, Big Hit Entertainment, which keeps the guys on lockdown. Avoiding giving lots of interviews keeps the group mysterious to fans. DJ Swivel, who worked for Beyonce, told Rolling Stone that the group has a crazier fandom than Beyonce. He produced a single for BTS, “Euphoria” and also has two co-writing credits on the Tear album.
DJ Swivel and Aoki are only two of the big hitters BTS has teamed up with Tricky Stewart (who worked behind the scenes with Beyoncé, Rihanna), Sam Klempner (producer for Emeli Sande and Niall Horan) and Tony Esterley. Their latest album includes more songwriting credits from Westerners than ever before, creating the perfect fusion of East and West for the moment.
Despite the collaborations, BTS remains elusive even to their collaborators. Most of the work takes place remotely, with producers and editors sending sounds back and forth with BTS members. To achieve the perfect mix, they often send detailed notes across the Atlantic about what they want. Observers say this is unusual, since much k-pop is label-driven music that lacks a strong artistic statement from the group or singers. BTS, in contrast, have taken control over their musical destiny, preferring to craft highly layered musical statements. The world is now waiting to see if BTS can achieve even more.