BTS is Bang Si-hyuk’s greatest strength and biggest vulnerability.
The seven-member community from South Korea has succeeded to a ancient degree, far beyond anyone’s creativeness – even Bang’s. His business, huge Hit entertainment, these days went public on the stock market, making chairman Bang, its largest shareholder, a billionaire. When BTS recently grew to be the primary Korean act to properly Billboard’s scorching a hundred, with the only “Dynamite,” the Korean president congratulated the band. “BTS wrote a brand new ok-pop history,” President Moon Jae-in tweeted. “it is a terrifi fulfillment, elevating the pride of okay-pop. This should be a superb comfort to our individuals, suffering from the COVID-19 national disaster.” at the side of his group, Bang Si-hyuk, a brief, bespectacled man nearing his fifties, has made “k-pop” a global family name, notably within the U.S. but now, they are confronted with having to recreate the BTS “miracle.”
“he will go down in music heritage, and not just in South Korean song history,” says Dr. Colette Balmain, a BTS fan and a senior lecturer in film and media at Kingston tuition in London, of Bang.
“he’s bold, confident and has a imaginative and prescient,” says Mark Mulligan, a music-business analyst and managing director of MIDiA analysis.
massive Hit’s achievements are a lot of, and sometimes groundbreaking: from a debut single that peaked at 124th in the Korean charts, BTS grew to become the first Korean artist to win at the Billboard song Awards in 2017, launched the first Korean album to move gold in the U.S., and holds the world list for probably the most Twitter engagements ever, together with a lot of other achievements. because of BTS, huge Hit grew astronomically in parallel, and become named the fourth-most creative enterprise on the planet in 2020 through quick company.
In South Korea, BTS is never just a music neighborhood. for many right here, BTS’s success within the West is the most appropriate expression and culmination of Korean delicate vigour, or the “Korean Wave” – the world export of Korean culture generates billions of dollars in earnings annually. Its most profitable player is the gaming business, followed (far at the back of, it must be spoke of) by means of music – predominantly, k-pop idol track.
When BTS first debuted in 2013, only a few in Korea expected them to be the subsequent huge element. “no one paid attention to BTS or huge Hit,” remembers Kim Youngdae, a music critic for the reason that the late 1990s and writer of BTS The assessment. In 2013, large Hit changed into a small fish in a music market dominated with the aid of three corporations: SM, YG and JYP (each an acronym for the identify of its founder – Lee Soo-man, Yang Hyun-suk and Park Jin-young, respectively). countless idol acts came and went. besides the fact that children Bang himself become a respected producer for JYP, his personal enterprise hadn’t produced any memorable hits considering the fact that its introduction in 2005. Failure was the norm.
fantastic, even though, became Glam, the first lady group Bang ever produced, which debuted a 12 months earlier than BTS. Already, Bang changed into all for the intersection of song and know-how: Glam carried out with a laptop-generated vocaloid, which generated some buzz in Korean media. “That turned into a captivating attempt,” says Kim. “Bang became ahead of his time.” regrettably, what gave Glam extra mainstream repute turned into a blackmailing scandal involving a member and a popular actor, leading the community to disband in 2015.
before BTS, Bang turned into favourite as a producer and composer, however now not tons is known about his private lifestyles. Bang has said he is an incredible fan of Duran Duran, reads anime every evening, and cries comfortably all over corny film scenes. “i would bawl my eyes out, this forty-anything man in only his undies. I felt greater ashamed when i used to be eating jajangmyeon on the same time,” he mentioned in a 2011 interview.
Bang became born in Seoul in 1972, in the middle of a armed forces dictatorship that censored free expression, together with tune. but American lifestyle seeped in through channels like AFKN (American Forces Korean community), in a rustic that nonetheless hosts tens of heaps of U.S. troops. “He examine books all day as a toddler,” Bang’s father remembered. “He had an amazing potential to focus. He study Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans before he entered fundamental school… alas, this reading habit has made him benefit too an awful lot weight.”
Bang changed into raised by elite, trained parents: his father, Bang Geuk-yoon, became the chairman of a executive firm on labor rights. His mother, Choi Myeong-ja, received a level in English lit at Seoul countrywide institution (SNU) — a rare feat for a girl of that era. Bang followed in her footsteps to SNU, a dream school to many Koreans. however, lots to his parents’ disappointment, he majored in aesthetics, now not legislation.
“i used to be sort of a prick,” he remembered jokingly of his formative years. “My friends from core and high faculties can attest to that. i might say, ‘isn’t researching something you just breeze through and get suitable grades for?’ “
by the time Bang all started his track career within the mid-to-late Nineteen Nineties, Korea had changed into a younger democracy. typical track changed into altering directly, led by means of the likes of Kim Wan-sun and search engine optimization Taiji and Boys, atmosphere the groundwork for the up to date ok-pop idol industry, which would eventually domesticate studio-proficient stars and arranged fandoms.
“after I all started, I did not have a good deal skill in tune,” Bang pointed out humbly. “Of path, I had sufficient skill to do whatever. but i was surrounded via the gold standard, like Park Jin-young, Shin Seung-hun … I cried plenty again then. I needed to work actually, basically challenging.” He taught himself to play the piano, and referred to he’d observe except his thighs broke out in a warmth rash.
“Si-hyuk is a genius,” referred to singer Baek Jiyoung, who worked with Bang in the 2000s. “but he rejects the label. I think he’s an excessive perfectionist.”
“There changed into no crucial moment at which I decided to do music,” Bang referred to at an SNU graduation ceremony in 2019. “I saved floating on, and located myself doing it … i am no longer an bold man portray big photos and grand goals.”
extra currently, Bang gifts himself as exactly that man: “we are able to turn into the highest quality enjoyment and culture platform enterprise on the earth,” he declared on Oct. 15 this year, when big Hit debuted on the stock market at double its initial expense, South Korea’s greatest debut in three years.
Bang situated large Hit, serendipitously in hindsight, the identical yr that YouTube, which would later be so vital to BTS’ success, was launched. “on the time  that I began my business, actual album revenue have been all at once taking place and digital earnings had been not arising to compensate,” Bang informed Time in 2019. but he noticed opportunity in k-pop idols, who, armed with passionate fanatics, perceived to have greater distinctive revenue streams, certainly online.
BTS took a long time to take shape: initially, the neighborhood changed into conceived as a hip-hop crew, scheduled to debut in 2011. A year prior, in 2010, Bang had signed RM (Rap Monster) as the putative chief of the community. “however after I regarded the company context, i thought a ok-pop idol mannequin made extra feel,” Bang talked about of the pivot. After a whole lot reshuffling, the group’s lineup was finalized in 2012: RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook. on the time of BTS’ debut in 2013, k-pop’s idol tune changed into already regularly occurring in lots of non-Western markets, primarily Asia. however sustained success in the U.S. tune market, the area’s largest and most influential, became nevertheless elusive.
Bang changed into intimately customary with okay-pop’s aspirations in the U.S., above all as a detailed pal of JYP amusement founder and CEO Park Jin-young, whose business is greatly viewed as a pioneer of the trade’s initial ventures, and failures, in the U.S. “because of the name, every person thinks JYP turned into created by Park by myself. however musically, the business changed into a collaboration between Park and Bang,” says critic Kim.
JYP’s first artist turned into singer Jinju. She debuted in 1997, when the time period “k-pop” had yet to be wholly defined, or a lot used. “JYP didn’t even have an organization sign at the time. I worked in Si-hyuk’s studio. It became simply an oblong office in an alleyway. we might observe for hours and order jajangmyeon for lunch,” she tells NPR. “He was a whole lot skinnier back then.” They met at the least twice every week to work on Jinju’s first album, on which Bang helped create eight of its 10 songs.
“song production wasn’t like today, the place each and every a part of a [pop] track is written through distinctive specialists. nowadays, there are different people for the melody correct line, the hook, the verse; a different professional for association and sampling,” Jinju says. “back then, Si-hyuk had to do every little thing. He composed, organized, recorded and even acted as the sound supervisor.”
Bang is notorious for being strict with his artists. He himself admitted in a 2011 interview, “I don’t consistently raise my voice and talk harshly. but when i am working with artists on the enterprise, I talk more strongly than on television. I’ve shouted angrily, ‘and you name yourself a singer?’ every singer I’ve labored with should’ve heard this.”
“He listens very intently,” says Jinju. “in case you make a tiny squeak, he would call you out.”
Then-19-12 months-historical Jinju’s output marked the starting of JYP’s string of k-pop hits, which would consist of “first-generation idol” g.o.d. (“groove overdose”), ballad group 2AM, the seminal ask yourself women and, greater lately, globally a success idols like TWICE and ITZY. Bang was regularly on the heart of those tasks, producing with Park. in the 2000s, Bang would profit the nickname he still makes use of today, “Hitman Bang,” for his successes within the Korean market.
From very early on both, like many okay-pop players, shared a dream of spreading Korean song to the U.S., smartly past Bang’s former office in Gangnam. The U.S. mainstream changed into a big a part of Bang’s childhood: “I used to memorize Billboard’s top 100. I even looked up all of the producers, who they have been, their historical past, etc. Billboard became the barometer of regular music,” Bang noted in 2011.
As early as 2003, Bang and Park have been making an attempt to damage into the U.S. – Park recalled how elaborate it had been. “We did not have money and [we] had been sharing a room in a chum’s residence. After an entire year in the U.S., we hadn’t offered a single track. We have been lonely and missing Korea.”
someday, after another round of rejections, a fight erupted over laundry, which Bang became in cost of. Park had, as soon as again, crumpled up his socks. Bang Si-hyuk had had enough.
“severely, the socks once again?” Bang yelled, in response to Park’s recollection. “What the hell is that tone? i am older than you!” Park yelled again.
Jinju remembers these fights (despite the fact none about socks). “They’d be friendly one second, and sharply vital to each and every different the next. at the time i was young, and concept, how might they say that? I bought scared. however now, I see they knew the way to draw boundaries. individuals consider producing is set musical knowledge and sensibilities, however’s so a great deal greater than that. You need to manage all these relationships, be important, say no. They had been so respectable at that.”
Bang and Park’s collaborative efforts persisted with wonder women, arguably the largest idol lady neighborhood of the mid-to-late 2000s. (ask yourself girls didn’t make an impression within the U.S., youngsters they in short made it onto Billboard’s scorching a hundred in 2009.)
there have been different one-off hits from elsewhere within the trade: girls era (produced through SM) carried out on Late nighttime with David Letterman in 2012. The same year, Psy’s “Gangnam style” (released on YG) went viral on YouTube, leading many sought after U.S. publications to put in writing about ok-pop critically for the first time. “ok-pop became fitting more and more everyday on YouTube given that the late 2000s. something become brewing in the atmosphere, for okay-pop to explode backyard of Korea,” says track critic Kim of the U.S. market.
Then got here BTS.
There are a large number of theories as to how BTS grew to become what it has develop into. Bang himself has many times expressed shock, attributing the success to success. “It wasn’t my striking approach or BTS being such an ideal healthy for the U.S. market,” he advised Time. “It turned into rather that their message resonated with a certain demand, and thru digital media it spread at once.”
“What BTS revolutionized is precisely realizing and using social media,” says Kim. Social media advertising and marketing came partly out of necessity. peculiarly in early days, large Hit could not compete in mainstream media like SM, YG and JYP. however massive Hit also showed a savvy — and looseness — that different labels gave the impression to lack.
Even earlier than debuting, BTS participants have been importing vlogs and personal posts on social media, which are nevertheless key to their relationships with fanatics. through the years, the boys would build an brilliant archive of mundane moments: petting a dog (for 4 minutes), painting (for 36 minutes), talking about insecurities, resolving conflicts, or just staring at the digital camera while ingesting an apple. A seeming lack of editing heightened the sense of authenticity.
“Most different k-pop idols’ social media bills were managed by the labels,” says Lee Jiyoung, professor at Sejong tuition, military and author of BTS, art Revolution. “BTS contributors had their personal bills, in which they talked freely with enthusiasts.”
— 방탄소년단 (@BTS_twt) September 18, 2014
One memorable moment became a barrage of drunk Twitter posts from V and Jungkook in 2014, when V turned into finally of felony drinking age. “BTS’s tweets had been hilarious,” recollects Kim. “massive Hit knew the way to reveal BTS individuals’ personalities, and make individuals become enthusiasts of the americans, before their music.”
“In our business, we invest a lot of time teaching trainees about life as an artist, including social media,” Bang instructed Time. “They communicate out after they are looking to and i don’t say what they should or should not do.”
fanatics say it be not basically personality advertising, which isn’t enjoyable to BTS. lots of pop stars global, though possibly not as conveniently as BTS, appear on range suggests, documentaries, social media, and many others., growing an image of intimacy and accessibility.
music, enthusiasts say, is what distinguishes BTS. “each first rate content has a pretty good commentary,” says Kim Youngmi, a veteran marketer, army and organizer of the BTS insight discussion board. “BTS’s observation is set growing to be up collectively and asking questions concerning the self.”
The evolution of BTS’s albums, through which individuals actively make a contribution to most songs, reflects the nuances of growing up. Suga raps concerning the “grey hairs of greed and ambition” all over his three years as a trainee. J-Hope sings about his mom, who had to work overseas to assist his music. There are love letters to a piano, every different, even their first dormitory, where “the wallpaper, bathroom and veranda have been all blue,” and where the boys would battle, even physically. “This location smells like us. Let’s now not overlook this scent, anywhere we are.”
“after I believe about BTS, I feel about the proven fact that they share so tons of their existence with us, as a choice,” one fan instructed NBC. “Their interactions with us not ever believe pressured, and they proceed over time. this is why they believe so human to us.”
over the years, Bang has emphasised many times that BTS’s own storytelling is at the coronary heart of the community. “I consider the most crucial part of being a singer is the desire to speak whatever,” he mentioned. BTS can also have to be able to, however americans do not need heard them — at least, now not to this scale — devoid of Bang’s angle towards the fandom and his ability for capitalizing on it.
Bang is deeply aware about the fandom’s powers. “it’s no longer an exaggeration to assert, whereas enthusiasts of the previous were passive recipients, the fanatics of nowadays are lively collaborators, helping the artist’s boom,” he mentioned all the way through a 2018 presentation, “BTS and the way forward for ok-pop.”
“big Hit monetizes fandom,” says Mark Mulligan. “In some ways, or not it’s not even the artist it’s the product; it’s the fan which is the product. it be nearly like a crop: you preserve harvesting and put in additional fertilizer to look how a good deal more that you can develop.”
indeed, BTS ARMYs, or “lovely consultant MC for adolescence,” were fundamental. thousands and thousands of fans mobilize worldwide to vote all over awards seasons, or to elevate $1 million for Black Lives matter. As a tiny tip of the social-media iceberg, BTS’s legit YouTube account has almost 40 million subscribers and over 6 billion views. BTS become probably the most-tweeted-about musical act within the u.s.a.all over the primary 6 months of quarantine this year.
Even before BTS was BTS, enthusiasts were campaigning as volunteer marketers. terrific is BTSx50States, a 2017 crusade within the U.S. to “educate” native radio stations, introduce BTS to the market and, ultimately, reach Billboard’s hot one hundred.
“fanatics called stations like telemarketers,” remembers professor Lee. “They’d hear things like, ‘Request a true track. Who’d listen to Korean song?’ So enthusiasts created manuals to steer clear of callers from responding angrily.” When San Francisco’s KYLD WiLD 94.9 performed “no longer today” for the first time, fans despatched the station plant life, donuts and handwritten letters. fanatics are the “core and purpose” of the “big Hit successful system,” says world CEO Lenzo Yoon, who has been instrumental within the enterprise’s enterprise tendencies given that 2010.
“BTS has a continuous story, which creates a universe,” says critic Kim. “enthusiasts rejoice exploring that world. huge Hit is declaring to them, ‘you are all part of this world.’ “
The BTS universe is tricky and significant: it be no longer just the albums, whose experiences are related. There are multiple channels, including video games, animated characters, novels and “Easter eggs” (hidden clues) in track movies, that emphasize intertextuality and motivate fan participation.
large Hit’s fandom-building innovations, though, are not enjoyable. “They’ve developed upon what became already occurring for years before,” says Mulligan, principally in gaming fandoms. “but it feels to me there may be a greater constant strategy and methodology to how you construct a okay-pop fanbase.”
“I think Bang Si-hyuk perceives the army as a partner in intellectual enjoyment,” says professor Lee. “for example, there are all these literary, philosophical, inventive symbols in song video clips. He’d plan meticulously for years, planting seeds one after the other. When enthusiasts ultimately connect the dots, they suppose electrified. They additionally imagine how a great deal enjoyable this core-aged man is having, creating these riddles.”
Lumpens, a longtime music video director for BTS, says Bang makes use of references from his personal life to inform BTS content. as an example, he’d study those Who walk far from Omelas, a sci-fi novel about a reputedly idyllic metropolis that sustains its prosperity by way of abusing a baby. The identify “Omelas” grew to be a critical motif in BTS’s “Spring Day.” when you consider that the video become posted, numerous devoted enthusiasts have created spin-off content examining the connection.
not all of big Hit’s engagement ventures are immediately universal with BTS lovers. these days, a group of lovers have threatened massive Hit with prison action, protesting towards a BTS tv sequence at the moment in the works. fanatics say the plot is sensational and unrelated to the genuine lives of BTS members. Over ninety seven% of 14,000 objected to the characters being named after the boys, according to a fan survey. proper to army style, some have begun a social media crusade urging large Hit to stop creation.”
The richest land within the BTS world, notwithstanding, is Weverse, a “one-cease carrier for huge Hit’s music business,” in accordance with Steve website positioning, CEO of beNX, the huge Hit subsidiary which developed the online social networking platform.
On Weverse, lovers pay membership prices to speak without delay with artists, watch Guinness-listing-breaking live shows during COVID, study Korean with BTS and open their wallets on the Weverse store, which sells each conceivable type of merchandise, together with overpriced ingesting water. As of March 2020, Weverse had 1.4 million day by day users. these days, the platform comprises A-listing k-pop artists outdoor the massive Hit label.
“i would say they’ve industrialized fandom,” says Mulligan, relating to how systematically big Hit builds and monetizes its army — a vogue visible now not simply in ok-pop, however also Japan and China’s pop industries. “Western record labels don’t seem to be even starting the race of monetizing fandom yet, because they’re so enthusiastic about building streaming numbers.”
“Bang is aware of how enthusiasts consider, as a result of he’s been a maniacal fan himself,” says Kim Youngmi, marketer and military. “that is what makes him a good marketer. however you can not just attribute BTS’s success to media techniques, messaging, and so forth. BTS is ready people doing things, no longer machines. I do not suppose we are able to simplistically judge their success; a lot of different things in some way equipped miraculously together.”
these days, massive Hit is value more than SM, YG and JYP combined. It comprises 4 song labels, seven family unit agencies, and round 1,000 employees. Its most fresh hires encompass vigor avid gamers like CEO Park Jiwon, a key determine within the Korean IT industry, and Chief company Officer Min Heejin, previously the artistic director at SM leisure.
“big Hit’s competitors isn’t SM. it’s Naver,” Korea financial day by day commented, relating to Korea’s greatest search engine, often known as the “Google of Korea.” in keeping with business sources mentioned in that article, over one hundred employees in a variety of IT companies have transferred to huge Hit, together with knowledge from Naver and Kakao.
no longer every person is so positive. “Having a fanbase predominantly around one artist and asserting it’s a groundwork for fitting the subsequent Google — there is a massive bounce between saying that and getting there,” says Mulligan.
it be genuine: BTS makes up the overwhelming majority of huge Hit’s income. In 2019, the boy band, all of whom are due for Korea’s mandatory defense force conscription in the following few years, generated 97% of the enterprise’s revenue in 2019.
“The lifecycle of successful pop corporations averages about 5-7 years, with height income averaging a duration of no more than five years,” tweeted Nathan Hubbard, previously of Ticketmaster and Twitter and now CEO of Rival, a tech platform for reside movements. “That capacity you’ll be highly speculative as an investor to cost a pop community at an revenue dissimilar of more than 5 instances. The BTS IPO values them at fifty times!”
Already, that cost appears to be deflating. when you consider that Oct. 15, the business’s stocks have dropped toward their original rate of one hundred thirty five,000 received, or around $one hundred fifteen, per share. huge Hit is hurrying to diversify its artist pool however, thus far, no other acts have come even close to BTS’s success.
“It should be very complicated to be BTS; to be these role models, to have to be so cautious about what you do, and to have this massive accountability,” says Dr. Balmain. “it’s sort of like dwelling in a fishbowl, like The Truman demonstrate. How do you do this? I simply do not know. however they do. I suppose they settle for here’s the expense they pay.”
as a minimum publicly, Bang and BTS seem to be aware of that fee. BTS members were distinctly open about their mental fitness and the traces of success. Suga raps in the 2020 album Map of the Soul: 7, “i’m afraid; flying excessive is terrifying. nobody told me how lonely it is up right here. Now i know, my flight can be a fall…. individuals say, there’s elegance in that vibrant mild. but my becoming shadow swallows me and turns into a monster.”
in a single documentary, Bang asks the boys, after their Billboard win in 2017, “should not you seem to be for methods to be happy? i’m worried that if you continue dwelling like this, you may be unhappy. and also you began all this, as a result of track made you happy.”
Is Bang Si-hyuk chuffed?
On the one hand, Bang stresses, “music is not the Olympics. Let’s now not obsess in regards to the outcomes and breaking facts.” Yet, he finds himself stuck in a hamster wheel of recreating an surprising success into a ‘winning system.’ At a contemporary company briefing, commonly seen as a crucial platform for buyers, he said, “We should be in a position to reproduce success.”
Is Bang Si-hyuk trapped in his personal success story?
“I firmly believe that a 2d and third BTS have to and may come into being,” he said after receiving a presidential award in 2017.
“The risk would be, you don’t wish to make a further BTS,” says Mulligan. “You wish to make one more artist that is as successful as BTS, but is different. have they got satisfactory institutional competencies and adventure to be capable of say, how will we do what now we have completed but do it fully in a different way? The temptation can be, let’s simply do it once more.”
“large Hit’s power and weak point are clear. Its strength is BTS; its weakness is BTS,” says track critic Kim.
it be no longer clear how Bang would answer these questions; large Hit declined NPR’s interview requests, citing scheduling difficulties.
huge Hit is at the forefront of new track, changing the way artists are produced, and more importantly, how they communicate with their audience. in the years to come back, the manner BTS uses social media and platform know-how to have interaction with fans can have some distance-achieving results past okay-pop. “music may not live to tell the tale by itself,” says Dr. Balmain. “americans pirate and circulation track. So there needs to be added value for fans to have interaction with one community over the other.”
BTS is now officially seven years old, making the group probably the most older boy bands round. With yet another album coming out on Friday, Bang and BTS are still on accurate of the world. despite the fact Bang has publicly professed his faith that BTS will stay collectively for a very long time — their contract ends in 2024 — nobody can predict how the band will evolve. The business is beneath excessive power to succeed. Can Bang stay as open-minded and versatile toward different huge Hit artists, as he claims to had been towards BTS?
“at the moment I regularly feel, what makes an individual’s mind close?” Bang stated at his alma mater’s commencement ceremony closing yr; essentially three a long time after his personal. “I see it shut in many people, after a definite age. i’m at that age now, so I view myself with dazzling concern … I need to reside self-conscious.”
Bang says that music continues to be at the coronary heart of large Hit. “never neglect the love you’ve got for tune, and the gratitude you believe on your enthusiasts,” he instructed BTS in 2017. At a corporate briefing just a few years later, he reiterated, “No be counted how the market alterations, our core values continue to be ‘content material’ and ‘fanatics.’ We focal point on the basics.” however his company empire is unrecognizably more complicated than when he begun in 2005. it’s not always easy to center of attention on the fundamentals, when there are so many greater people, so an awful lot extra noise. possibly it truly is Bang’s largest problem in the end: to maintain his feet on the ground, and bear in mind what sounds decent.