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Are South Korea’s BTS the world’s biggest band

Tim Newton

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Are South Korea’s BTS the world’s biggest band | The Thaiger

Who the hell are BTS? They’re THE music group of the moment. Whilst there’s been Beatlemania, the stand-out genius of Michael Jackson, the charm of Elvis, the YouTube-discovery Justin Bieber and the half-century run of The Rolling Stones, there’s never been anything quite like the South Korean band BTS. Here’s why.

Whilst difficult to compare musically, statistically BTS are up there with the greatest, and they are still on the rise. By the way, BTS is short for their full Korean name Bangtan Sonyeondan.

They sing mostly in Korean. Just consider that for a moment. They’ve crossed through the musical bamboo curtain to have #1 hits in the UK and the US (and plenty of other countries too). Indeed they’ve scored three number one albums in the US on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart, in one year – a feat only achieved once before by The Beatles, a situation that hasn’t been lost on the humble septet.

Are South Korea's BTS the world's biggest band | News by The Thaiger

At their sellout concerts (their current Wembley Stadium dates sold out in less than 90 minutes each), the audience sings along with all their hits, in Korean. At their recent concert in Bangkok I witnessed 40,000 (mostly) Thais singing along in Korean whereas most Thais battle to speak much English, a language they’ve been partly taught at school and been exposed to for half a century. (By the way on one side of me at the concert was a 40-something husband and wife who had flown from Sydney to see the concert, on the other a mother and three kids (8 – 15ish) – I think the mother enjoyed it more than the kids.)

The group, comprised of Kim Tae-hyung (V), Jung Ho-seok (J-Hope), Kim Nam-joon (RM), Kim Seok-jin (Jin), Park Ji-min (Jimin), Jeon Jung-kook (Jungkook), and Min Yoon-gi (Suga), are hardly ‘overnight successes’. They debuted six years ago in the cut-throat K-Pop scene and they were hardly an instant success. Working with an almost unknown production company (Big Hit), the seven members started crafting their sound with long nights and weekends, living in the one dorm room, using their managers cars and homes as props and sets and fitting in their schooling as well. They produced and wrote most of their material, and still do.

Are South Korea's BTS the world's biggest band | News by The Thaiger

Eventually they clawed their way to a position of recognition in the K-Pop world, meanwhile garnering growing support in the west, well, everywhere around the world.

Whilst it’s difficult, probably not even appropriate, to measure their success against others, there are a few important keys to their success which has music executives scratching their heads.

Their big weapon is their ARMY, the name they’ve given to their loyal fanbase around the world. Whenever the group speaks they ALWAYS acknowledge their success to the legion of loyal fans. ARMY have meanwhile weaponised social media – you could say that BTS came along at the right time – reaching beyond Korea’s borders in a way that had been impossible even ten years ago.

Their YouTube music videos (there are hundreds) have broken several records on YouTube, their Twitter followers were the world’s most dedicated in 2018 and one member, J-Hope, had the most tweeted video last year. Their recent release Boy With Luv hit Number One in the US Chart (and was in the top 5 in 12 other countries).

The band members shared the minutiae of their lives with thousands of uploaded photos and videos and also relentlessly shared their core message – that life isn’t always easy as a teenager and young adulthood, you need to love yourself before you can love someone else and your mistakes will make you stronger in the long-run.

They shared videos showing themselves fighting, crying, arguing, laughing, eating, shopping and backstage – just being seven young men battling their way through the music industry labyrinth as underdogs.

The difficult-to-measure X Factor is also strong in these seven talented guys. There is a genuine bond of friendship between the Bangtan boys and it shines through whenever they appear in public, or video – it’s not fake. And, after working their act for six years, there’s a comfort and ease on the stage, some describe it as ‘swag’, where their performances appear effortless whilst pulling off breath-taking dance routines. This is a bit of run-through their earlier-to-later choreography and dance practices…

Within their six years of ensemble work there are also generous sprinklings of solo projects, fully supported by the rest of the team. Whilst ‘doing a solo project’ from within a group is usually code for ‘I’m leaving’, with BTS it’s been a core part of the band’s raison d’être. At every BTS concert, including the two Wemberly dates this weekend, each member have their solo moments to shine.

Another part of their strength is that they’re all remarkably talented – they sing, they dance, they write, they produce, they rap. They also have great hair and looks (or ‘visual’ in K-Pop speak) presenting an all-Asian look to a white-washed western pop industry. There are no weak members along for an easy ride.

They keep collecting legions of adoring fans and celebrity fanboys and fangirls and, in 2019, have launched on another sold-out stadium tour around the world. If their career was a porn movie, they’ve scarcely got their pants down.

Their music, whilst often sung with Korean lyrics, is immediately catchy, has plenty of pop influences yet shines through with something unique that continues to set them apart and keep amassing new fanbases around the world. In their concerts you’ll here pure pop, hip-hop, rap, power ballads and other songs that simply show-off their voices. Much of the music is accompanied by jaw-dropping dance routines and epic stages. That they keep it up, at full throttle, for their two and a half hour live concerts is one of the modern wonders of the music world.

Are South Korea's BTS the world's biggest band | News by The Thaiger

Yet, amongst the hype, the YouTube records, the sell-out concerts and music sales, are seven young men who have allowed their true personalities to shine through.

RM, the mature group leader (the only member to speak fluent English) with an IQ of 148, V is the quirky one and unnaturally handsome, Jimin the ‘flirty’ one who shares his up & down journey with fans, Jungkook the supernaturally talented youngest member (or ‘maknae’ in K-Pop speak). J-Hope is hyper-energy and perennially cheerful, Suga the brooding musician with the sharp tongue, and Jin the ‘world-wide handsome one’ (a self-mocking moniker he gave himself after the media attention to his looks over the years) who loves cooking for the band and telling dad-jokes.

There are thousands of videos on YouTube recording the bands rise from very bottom of the K-Pop world to international stardom. Whilst you can check out any number of their music videos or live performances (there are thousands of videos!) I would urge BTS-newbies to start with this address by leader RM (Kim Namjoon) at the United Nations in September 2018. It provides an insight into the intellect and feeling behind the pop sensation and a small part of what sets BTS apart from just about every other musician in the world today.

Whilst they are obviously riding high on a wave of fame right now most music pundits think they’ve got plenty of room, musically, to extend their fandom and fame. Perhaps, even to become one of the greatest music bands of all time.

As a footnote, looming over BTS is the Korean government’s insistence that all it’s young men must enter two years of national army service by the time they reach the age of 28. The oldest member, Jin, is already 26 and the band members have already stated they are happy and proud to serve their time of conscription. In the meantime they have two years left before that moment arrives and they’re not wasting anytime as they continue to plunge head-long into a grilling schedule they’ve been keeping up now for six years.

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Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,900 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and is now CEO and writer for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He presented for CNN, Deutsche Welle TV, CBC, Australia's ABC TV and Australian radio during the 2018 Cave Rescue and provides stories for Feature Story News as the south east Asian correspondent.

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Chiang Rai

Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO

The Thaiger

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Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller on site during the filming of The Cave – AFP

Determined divers racing against time. Rising waters threatening lives. 12 teenagers and their soccer coach trapped inside for two weeks. A remote cave that most had never heard of.

The stuff of a Hollywood drama, except that it’s all true and happened in Chiang Rai last year. Now the first of several re-tellings of the story comes to the big screen in The Cave.

The ordeal in late June and early July last year had barely ended when filmmakers began their own race to get the nail-biting drama onto cinema screens. The first of those projects premiered at the start of October, when director Tom Waller’s The Cave showed at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.

The film was shot over three months earlier this year and has been in post-production since then. The 45 year old Thai-British filmmaker says the epic tale of the Wild Boars (Mu Pa) football team was a story he simply had to tell.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet.”

The 13 young men entered the Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice and were quickly trapped inside by rising floodwater. The boys were forced to spend nine nights lost in the cave, whilst Navy Seal and other diver searched frantically, before they were spotted by a British diver.

It would take another eight days before they were all safe, against all odds, in a risky mission.

Waller was visiting his father in Ireland when he saw television news accounts of the drama.

“I thought this would be an amazing story to tell on screen.”

But putting the parts together after their dramatic rescue proved to be a challenge. Thailand’s government, led by the military NCPO, became very protective of the story, barring unauthorised access to the Mu Pa team or their parents. Waller often feared his production might be shut down.

His good fortune was that the events at the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province had multiple angles and interesting characters. Especially compelling were the stories of the rescuers, particularly the expert divers who rallied from around the world. He decided to make a film “about the volunteer spirit of the rescue.”

Other people proposed telling the story from the point of view of the boys, and Netflix nailed down those rights in a deal brokered by the Thai government.

“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet. They literally dropped everything to go and help, and I just felt that that was more of an exciting story to tell, to find out how these boys were brought out and what they did to get them out.”

Waller even had more than a dozen key rescue personnel play themselves.

Waller said they were natural actors, blending in almost seamlessly with the professionals around them, and helped by the accuracy of the settings and the production’s close attention to detail.

“What you are really doing is asking them to remember what they did and to show us what they were doing and what they were feeling like at the time. That was really very emotional for some of them because it was absolutely real.”

Waller says his film is likely to have a visceral effect on some viewers, evoking a measure of claustrophobia.

“It’s a sort of immersive experience with the sound of the environment, you know, the fact that is very dark and murky, that the water is not clear.”

“In Hollywood films, when they do underwater scenes, everything is crystal clear. But in this film it’s murky and I think that’s the big difference. This film lends itself to being more of a realistic portrayal of what happened.”

Some scenes were filmed on location at the entrance to the actual Tham Luang cave, but most of the action was shot elsewhere.

“We filmed in real water caves that were flooded, all year-round. It is very authentic in terms of real caves, real flooded tunnels, real divers and real creepy-crawlies in there. So it was no mean feat trying to get a crew to go and film in these caves.”

The Cave goes on general release in Thailand on November 28.

ORIGINAL ARTICE: Associated Press | Time.com

Journey back to Tham Luang in 'The Cave' - VIDEO | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Tom Waller – Associated Press/Sakchai Lalit

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BTS first foreign artists to perform solo concert in Saudi Arabia tonight

The Thaiger

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BTS first foreign artists to perform solo concert in Saudi Arabia tonight | The Thaiger

PHOTO: BTS performing in front of 60,000 fans during their “Love Yourself” tour in Hong Kong – SCMP

No band has ever commanded a concert stage, alone, in Saudi Arabia. Remarkable but true. But South Korea’s BTS is breaking down yet another barrier with tonight’s stadium concert in the Kingdom.

Aside from being their first ever concert in Saudi Arabia, it will be Saudi Arabia’s first ever solo stadium concert by a foreign act. BTS, debuting in South Korea in 2013, have since been breaking records and the ‘Bamboo Ceiling’ to become the biggest band in the world.

In Nam-sik, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy who specialises in the Middle East says that Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country and it is trying to open up more in recent years.

“Until recently, concerts were forbidden, but the country started to acknowledge that people want cultural events. Saudi Arabia wants to show the world that it is changing. Allowing BTS to perform in the country is a significant step in its reform endeavour.”

The leader of South Korean boy band BTS has spoken out about their upcoming concert in Saudi Arabia, saying it wasn’t an easy decision to play in the kingdom which has been criticised over its human rights abuses.

BTS first foreign artists to perform solo concert in Saudi Arabia tonight | News by The Thaiger

“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” said 25 year old group leader and rapper RM, who also speaks perfect English he said he learned watching the sitcom ‘Friends’.

“But we were officially invited. It’s been a while since we’ve performed in the Middle East.”

“If there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there. That’s really how we feel,” added 23 year old singer Jimin.

Industry pundits see this as an important milestone that signifies BTS’ phenomenal world popularity. And if successful, it could open up many more opportunities for K-pop and Korean culture as a whole.

In Saudi Arabia, which still enforces gender segregation based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, it was only in the past two years that women were given the right to drive, as well as enter stadiums to watch sports games and concerts. BTS’ concert venue King Fahd International Stadium only allowed women to enter for the first time in September 2017.

In July, BTS attracted criticism after they announced tonight’s show in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Some fans pointed out the apparent contradiction between BTS’s tour message,”Love Yourself”, and Saudi Arabia’s criminalisation of same-sex relationships.

Though none of BTS’s members are openly LGBTQ, the group has been seen as sympathetic towards the LGBTQ community, especially compared with other K-pop groups who tend to stay silent on controversial topics.

“BTS will be the first foreign artist to have a solo stadium concert in Saudi Arabia. Things are changing in the Kingdom. The success of this show could open doors to endless opportunities and possibilities,” said film producer Tanuj Garg on his Twitter.

But there’s also been social media backlash against the septet’s concert tour in the Kingdom.

“Artists have been boycotting Saudi Arabia due to flagrant human rights abuses against women activists and the LGBTQ+ community,” one Twitter user said.

“BTS are UN representatives and everyone involved here should have known better.”

BTS has sold out stadiums around the world in a record breaking “Love Yourself” tour in the US, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Korea during their sold-out world tour, to a total live audience of over a million (1,044,320 to be precise).

BTS first foreign artists to perform solo concert in Saudi Arabia tonight | News by The Thaiger BTS first foreign artists to perform solo concert in Saudi Arabia tonight | News by The Thaiger

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BTS will have to break up, whether they like it or not, and fans are not happy

The Thaiger

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BTS will have to break up, whether they like it or not, and fans are not happy | The Thaiger

Even though they’ve been making music since their debut back in 2013, it’s the last two years BTS, aka Bangtan Boys (or Bangtan Sonyeondan for Korean pronunciation), have gone from zero to hero in the pop music world. Now they’re riding their success on the crest of a wave that has defied conventional pop marketing and ‘western’ white-washed music standards.

Despite mostly singing in Korean, the BTS fanbase ‘Army’ is heavily weighted in western countries where Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5 and Selena Gomez et al reign.

Breaking records in all sorts of unexpected places, the seven member band are making heads turn as they’ve re-invented the modern band genre (they won Best Music Group at this year’s Billboard Music Awards). Many pop groups just burn out, their sales drop or one member leaves for a ‘solo’ project leading to an inevitable disbandment.

In BTS’s case none of those situations exist. They’re still on their way up in popularity, their sales for music and social media reach blossoms, and the members all do solo projects within the broader band framework.

But all this is going to end soon and there’s nothing RM, Suga, J-hope, Jin, Jimin, V and Jungkook can do about. Well, almost nothing.

“Not Today” – Just one of many BTS music clips to have breached the 300 million viewer mark

In South Korea, still technically at war with its northern counterpart, all young men have to enlist for 18 – 24 months with the South Korean Army.

You’d think that being part of the biggest band on the planet would mean BTS could pull a few strings to avoid taking part in military service in South Korea, but you’d be wrong. Despite being awarded the country’s Order of Cultural Merit and hundreds of other music awards, matching The Beatles’ record by having three albums reach #1 on the Billboard Album Chart in one year, and being shown to have had a measurable impact on their country’s economy, they will have to serve.

And that means the most world’s most successful pop group will have to break up, for around 2 years at least. Will they decide to serve together, or stagger their military hiatus according to their age?

Whilst elite athletes and some non-K-pop musicians have scored exemptions in recent years, BTS have neither sought nor been offered any such exemption from their national service.

None of the band, which consists of Jungkook, Jimin, V, J-Hope, RM, Jin and Suga, have yet to serve, but Jin is likely to be called up soon as he will turn 27 in December

“Blood Sweat & Tears” – When pop music starts to become high art. Many of BTS songs are based on serious western literature giving the band and their music a gravitas beyond their years.

The BTS Army – the fandom, not the real one – have been pleading with the South Korean government to let the boys off having to serve so they can fulfil their band commitments instead. BTS have the largest Twitter fanbase of any music group in the world and have nine of their highly-produced music clips reaching more than 300 million views on YouTube.

Jin previously told CBS that BTS were fully prepared to be called up.

“As a Korean, it’s natural, and someday, when duty calls we’ll be ready to respond and do our best.”

The youngest, Jungkook, responded.

“I don’t want to think about it at this point. We have something really good going.”

And they do, smashing music records and re-writing the world music “how to” handbook.

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