BTS would have also taken their world tour to Berlin in the summer of 2020. The Olympic Stadium was booked for two days and full seats were guaranteed. In 2019, the South Korean band sold out London’s Wembley Stadium within 90 minutes on two days – with songs sung almost exclusively in Korean. The Corona crisis put the seven musicians and the entire industry in a row. Nevertheless, BTS 2020 sold around 1.75 million tickets with three online concerts, thereby underscoring their market power even in times of corona.
BTS: digital dominance
BTS are not just a musical phenomenon. In the current crisis, she and her label Big Hit Entertainment demonstrate how a digital strategy that has been carefully built up over years keeps a company flexible and binds fans even closer to the brand. Ironically, during the pandemic, BTS was the first Korean band to ever conquer the top of the US charts. After the single “Dynamite”, this succeeded again shortly afterwards with the remix of Jason Derulo’s “Savage Love”.
On this week’s # Hot100, #BTS earns their first No. 1 with “Dynamite.” ???? https://t.co/V9SUvtHK4D
– billboard (@billboard) September 1, 2020
All of which helped make the IPO in October the largest in South Korea in three years. Even before the IPO, the influence of BTS on the country’s economy was often compared to that of Samsung and Hyundai. It is true that Big Hit’s sales are negligible compared to these corporations. But hardly anyone is likely to travel to South Korea because of Hyundai or take a Korean course because of Samsung. BTS have exactly this effect on the image of their home country.
More than a K-pop phenomenon
The band also represents South Korea on the world stage, for example when addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations as a partner in a UNICEF campaign.
The success of BTS is the subject of lectures at Harvard Business School, and Big Hit has just been named Innovator of the Year by Wall Street Journal Magazine in the music field.
. @ bts_bighit is our 2020 Music Innovator! Watch the 10th Annual Innovator Awards: https://t.co/aEnEKwrFsR #wsjinnovators pic.twitter.com/0dHhQpCsc2
– WSJ. Magazine (@WSJMag) November 12, 2020
On November 20th, the new BTS album “BE” will be released with the first single “Life Goes On”. A good time to ask: what exactly is the secret of BTS ‘success?
@imago images / ZUMA Wire
BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, bulletproof boy scouts – an allusion to the outsider image of the young musicians in the K-pop industry when they debuted on June 12, 2013. The group includes three rappers: RM (real name: Kim Nam-joon, 3rd from right), Suga (Min Yoon-gi, 2nd from left) and J-Hope (Jung Ho-seok, left). Four singers complete the band: Jin (Kim Seok-jin, r.), V (Kim Tae-hyung, 2nd from right) and (Park) Jimin (middle) and (Jeon) Jungkook (3rd from left), who are below appear in their own first name. The members were born between 1992 and 1997, so the term “boy band” is increasingly out of place. The musicians lived together for years, initially even sharing a small bedroom. Their relationship is considered very close. All the more surprising was the confession during an award ceremony in 2018 that the band almost split up at the beginning of the year. The exact background was never made public. In the same year, however, the musicians extended their contract with Big Hit for another seven years. Big Hits Global CEO Yoon Seok-Jun said in a lecture for Harvard Business School: BTS are unique, the personality and chemistry of the members cannot be reproduced.
The BTS founder
Bang Si-hyuk, known as “Hitman” Bang (his last name is in the Korean name of BTS), is the mastermind behind the group. The music producer is a companion of Park Jin-young, the founder of one of the biggest K-pop labels, JYP Entertainment. In 2005, Bang left JYP to start his own entertainment company. At the beginning, Bang appeared publicly as a kind of father figure of the band, but withdrew into the background with increasing success. He still produces hits for BTS today and is known for giving his musicians more freedom than other label bosses. Apparently, Bang knows how to retain talent from other areas as well. Producers and choreographers from the early days of BTS have been promoted to management positions and continue to be part of the band’s success. The group owes its success to the perseverance of its boss. Because the big breakthrough was a long time coming. It wasn’t until 2016, three years after their debut, that the band won their first grand prize at one of the major music shows. Bang has also managed to protect its musicians from one of the scandals that often shake the industry, despite their enormous popularity. Big Hit takes offensive legal action against intrusive fans, stalkers, as well as defamation and threats.
@imago images / UPI Photo
Fans are basically the pound with which musicians proliferate. BTS supporters – assigned the acronym ARMYs by the band – fall into their own category. The often digitally affine fans positioned themselves as the unofficial marketing department of Big Hit from the start. While the label was reluctant to translate content for years, fans translated videos and songs into English and made the band’s early international reach possible in this form. Fan accounts on YouTube or Twitter can have over a million followers and generate corresponding income on the video platform. The range is used confidently by the ARMYs. With every new release, there are sophisticated streaming strategies to get the most out of YouTube and Spotify’s algorithms. Fans donate money so that other fans can buy BTS content and thus push the chart positions. BTS have long ceased to be a Korean phenomenon: 90 percent of the clicks on YouTube came from outside the country, according to the Wall Street Journal Magazine.
@imago images / ZUMA Press
The power of BTS fans is evident in some digital milestones. According to the Wikipedia analysis, 9 of the 20 tweets with the most likes of all time come from BTS members (as of November 2020). The same goes for 10 of the 20 most shared Twitter posts of all time. BTS topped the US Billboard Hot 100 charts for the first time with their first English-language single “Dynamite” at the end of August 2020 and achieved the highest digital sales for almost three years. The music video for “Dynamite” was viewed 101.1 million times on YouTube in the first 24 hours. With this, BTS set the platform’s one-day record. Her South Korean colleagues from Blackpink had last held it with “How You Like That” (86.3 million).
(from left to right Jimin (Park Jimin), Jungkook (Jeon Jeongguk), Rap Monster (Kim Nanjoon), J-Hope (Jung Hoseok), V (Kim Taehyung), Jin (Kim Seokjin) and SUGA (Min Yoongi))
@imago images / Levine-Roberts
Wealthy BTS fans
A host of Twitter subscribers is of little use if they only listen to music with a Spotify subscription. Big Hit, on the other hand, succeeds in converting follower power into face value. The paid fan club is just the beginning. For the online concert “Bang Bang Con: The Live” on June 14, 2020, the company said it sold 756,000 tickets. BTS thus hold the Guinness world record for a live streamed music concert. According to Big Hit, a total of 993,000 tickets were sold in 191 countries or regions at two other online concerts in October. The tickets cost at least 35 euros. In purely arithmetical terms, this would result in income of at least 60 million euros, without the enormous logistics costs that a world tour would otherwise entail.
How financially strong BTS supporters are can also be seen in the quickly sold out merchandising, which also incurs customs and sales tax for international fans because Big Hit usually only ships directly from South Korea. But items of clothing from luxury brands such as Prada or Gucci tend to sell out quickly worldwide if a BTS member has worn them. Thanks to its huge fan base, the band is also a sought-after advertising medium for brands such as Samsung and Hyundai. The German sporting goods manufacturer Puma relied on BTS early on, but has since been replaced by its competitor Fila. The band only advertises together – in contrast to Blackpink, for example, where each of the four singers appears as an individual brand ambassador for a different French fashion house (Chanel, Dior, Saint Laurent, Celine).
@imago images / imaginechina
Music as a source of income
In times of streaming subscriptions, lucrative tours and merchandising items have become increasingly important sources of income. While other musicians are selling fewer and fewer CDs, the business with physical music carriers is also booming at BTS. Even singles on cassette are selling well. CDs are still very important in Korea and the important Japanese music market. BTS release their albums in four versions. They differ slightly in design and in the included extras such as photo cards and posters. CDs become collector’s items. Glowing fans like to buy all issues and thereby push profits. In return, BTS were not dependent, unlike other industry giants, on artificially increasing the sales figures of their albums as a free addition to concert tickets or merchandising. As of July 2020, these CDs are no longer taken into account by Billboard when calculating the US charts. But BTS also give away their music. RM, Suga and J-Hope have released successful solo albums that were uploaded to Soundcloud for free.
@imago images / Eibner
BTS made their breakthrough on existing platforms like Twitter, YouTube and V Live. But Bang Si-hyuk realized how important and lucrative it is to have control over the digital business. The Weverse app has been bundling the label’s artists’ activities for some time. When it comes to merchandising, Big Hit bypasses the model of the traditional online shop and offers the exclusive products exclusively via the separate Weverse Shopping app. The paid live stream for the concerts at Wembley Stadium in 2019 was still running on V Live. The technical infrastructure of the online shows 2020 was implemented by a dedicated service provider.
@imago images / AFLO
BTS: proximity and distance
Hardly any other band is as close to their fans as BTS. Even before the 2013 debut, the members introduced themselves to their future followers with private videos. Live streams with one or more members, in which fans can speak via chat, are still part of maintaining contacts today. There is also a weekly game show on Weverse and regular insights behind the scenes on YouTube. All of this is free, in contrast to the annual reality TV series “Bon Voyage”, for which BTS travel for a week, or documentaries on world tours. For fans, BTS are more than musicians, they are more of a hybrid of pop, YouTube and TV stars. But proximity has its limits. Little is known about the singers’ private lives. Relatives and friends are largely kept out of the public eye, questions about love life are averted. The upcoming two-year military service for the musicians was also rarely discussed in public for a long time. That is changing now. Suga (photo) recently had a shoulder operation and is therefore unable to do part of the promotion for the new album. Big Hit justified the timing of the intervention with the rapper’s imminent military service.
@imago images / ZUMA Wire
The Big Hit Entertainment motto can still be found at the beginning of every BTS music video: “Music & Artist for Healing”. The band made this claim to do something for the mental well-being of the audience early on. In the self-written songs, depression, self-doubt and fear of the future are discussed. BTS have publicly advocated against racism and for the LGBTQ community – issues that are still considered sensitive in South Korean society. When Big Hit donated $ 1 million to the Black Lives Matter movement, fans followed suit within a day with donations of the same amount. The fundraising campaign launched by Unicef with BTS against violence against children in 2018 is still ongoing. The members used the appearance at the virtual university graduation party on YouTube, where they were invited to speak alongside ex-US President Barack Obama to report on their personal experiences with the corona pandemic. The increasingly politically tinged commitment can, however, cause international turmoil. In October, BTS were recognized for their services to Korea-US relations. In his speech, RM recalled the victims of the Korean War. Because he did not explicitly mention the Chinese victims, the People’s Republic called for a BTS boycott on social networks. Advertising partners took BTS collaborations from their Chinese sides. In the end, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry intervened soothingly.
@imago images / UPI Photo
The K-Pop system
BTS are inconceivable without the K-Pop system. Big Hit was an outsider in the early years, but it has adopted and perfected the basics of the powerful industry. It started with the nationwide casting of members, none of the musicians come from Seoul. Some of the stars couldn’t even sing or dance at first – not uncommon for the labels, who often drill their contenders for years before debuting in carefully selected groups. The huge PR machinery ensures that some singers are superstars even before their premiere. The most prominent example are Blackpink from YG Entertainment, who were immediately successful in the West with their first singles. However, fans had to wait around four years for the first album, it was only released in October 2020. A general increase in interest in Korean culture also contributed to the success of BTS. Korean restaurants can be found more and more frequently in large cities, and romantic films and series, so-called K-Dramas, also fill the Netflix library in the West.