It started out as a joke — A twitter user asked Niall Horan, of the former One Direction, if he had listened to “Dynamite” by South Korean based boyband BTS. Niall answered simply — “No, I haven’t.” Little did he know the reaction he would cause.
The BTS Army, an affectionate name for the loyal fandom, immediately began to tease Niall for his negligence. While the teasing got too far, leading all the way up to a large volume of fans calling Niall racist, there is truth to every joke. Fans were quick to point out how easy it is to listen to new music nowadays, combined with the popularity of BTS, and the fact that they grew from the same culture Niall owes his platform to — boybands. ARMY argued that the only thing stopping Niall from listening to “Dynamite” was arrogance of multicultural music.
This is a silly and exaggerated version of an issue that is all too common in music today. Some of the biggest bands in the world are irrelevant to pop culture, aside from minor cameos on the charts, all because they aren’t speaking in English.
“Dynamite” became BTS’s first US chart topper after its release in August. This makes music history as the first South Korean group to reach #1 in the US. While BTS has had chart appearances, this is undoubtedly the most notable. At the time of me writing this, BTS’s “Dynamite” is at #15 on the US charts.
It’s a common misconception that “pop music” means the upbeat, bubblegum stylings of Britney Spears or Ke$ha. The extended version of the term defines itself — “popular music.” Hence, BTS just came out with a pop song. The song, with disco flare, has the tones of a lot of our popular music today. Think “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars or “Say So” by Doja Cat. While “Say So” didn’t spend too long in its number one spot, “Uptown Funk” managed to stay there for fourteen weeks.
Now. I don’t want to come off as any of the “toxic ARMYs” calling Niall racist for not listening to a song that happened to be produced by a South Korean group. But it is curious that a group could be making the type of music we are consuming, and still not have a big grip on our pop culture the way someone like Bruno Mars does.
It starts at the top. Radio play is still a huge motivator of chart performance as well as pop culture relevance, and BTS has had trouble getting radio play. In a quote given to Now This Media, chart analyst Chris Molanphy points out “A radio programmer wants songs that the listener is going to sing along or rap along with. They want engagement from the listener. Call it xenophobia, that’s certainly part of it.” Without radio, the only way that you are hearing about these artists are by social media or word of mouth. It’s definitely easy to think social media is the biggest driver of what’s the new must-listen-to song, but radio still triumphs as our dominant source.
This isn’t me preaching — and chances are, if you’re this far in the article, you may be a fellow ARMY (or ONCE, or Blink…). But if you’re down here, and you’re still thinking to yourself “just who is this BTS group?” or “I’ve only seen the name on Twitter, what’s the big deal?” I hope that I can convince you to give their music a shot. Not just the explosive (no pun intended) Dynamite, but songs in Korean, where you rely on the music and the tone of voice to interpret the meaning. It’s a different listening experience, and it may be harder to put your favorite part of a song in your Instagram bio or tattooed on your forearm — but without it, you’re missing out on an entire world of music. And when you’re ready, there’s a whole culture of South Korean music — pop, rap, R&B, alternative, metal, and more — waiting and eager for more support from the States.
Join our ARMY today.
Hannah is an accidental internet meme, drummer, loud talker, and proud owner of a purse that functions as a working analog clock. She got the media writer gene from her dad, PF Wilson, another writer for Pop Culture Beast. Her favorite bands come and go on a seasonal rotation, but Marina & The Diamonds and Say Anything are here to say. She’s probably watching The Grand Budapest Hotel right now, but if she isn’t, she’s out photographing rock concerts.