Arts & Entertainment

Spotlight on K-pop’s BTS ahead of record anticipation and controversy

By Andrés Sánchez Braun

Seoul, Oct 14 (efe-epa).- K-pop band BTS is garnering attention ahead of their production company’s stock market debut after two online concerts that attracted more than 100 million people, though it also raises suspicions and controversy over South Korean military service or fans in China.

Expectations will loom Thursday over producer Big Entertainment when shares begin to be listed on the Seoul Stock Exchange, which many believe could skyrocket upon its premiere.

Its initial public offering (IPO) attracted the second-highest amount of subscriptions from retail investors this year in South Korea, some 58 trillion won ($56 billion), and many brokerages provide excellent insights on the company’s securities.

This not only reflects the group’s ability to smash all kinds of records globally but also to the intense online interaction – an asset in the midst of a pandemic – that BTS has maintained since its inception with its fans (mostly female known as the ARMY).

“They have uploaded a huge amount of content on the network since their debut. In fact, they started uploading it before even debuting in 2013,” Lee Ji-young, PhD and author of the book “BTS, Art Revolution: BTS Meets Deleuze” told EFE.

Lee said in her work that BTS and the ARMY cannot be seen as separate entities in the face of this continuous exchange in networks that, she added, increased with the launch in 2019 of Weverse, a social network created by Big Hit for its artists.

“Their online communication infrastructure is on another level compared to other artists, even though most pop or K-Pop artists use social media,” Lee said.

The latest example of this ability to gather the masses through Weverse, the YouTube channel or the accounts on Instagram, TikTok or Twitter, was the reception of the concerts the group offered last weekend: they drew an estimated 100 million viewers around the world.

Lee said these recitals can be considered “an advanced standard of what an ‘online’ concert should be in this era marked by the pandemic” thanks to the use of technologies that seem ideal for a non-face-to-face event, such as “an interactive platform in real-time, augmented reality and video mapping.

The South Korean doctor also said the response to the cancellation of this year’s world tour has helped the group to keep the bond with its followers very much alive or even to strengthen it, since it has multiplied promotional events or television appearances in the United States.

BTS also participated in the virtual graduation ceremony YouTube hosted in June and delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly for the second time.

“In a way, I think BTS has added new fans during the pandemic,” Lee said.

This week, the band was also at the center of two episodes that generate uncertainty and bitterness in their followers.

On the one hand, the South Korean government announced it is preparing a plan to allow artists such as BTS to delay the fulfillment of military service – compulsory for men in the country – until they are 30, instead of 28.

The plan originated after the call of various politicians to create exceptions (such as those enjoyed by South Korean athletes who win medals and enhance the country’s image abroad) for artists such as BTS, at a time when the oldest of its members, Jin, 27, must be called up at the end of the year.

Few South Koreans question BTS’ role as country ambassadors or its contribution to the national economy, but the fact that the legal reform must be consensual and approved against the clock and can even be protested by certain sectors promises to generate anxiety for the group and the ARMY.

More controversial still was what happened after a speech delivered Oct. 7 by the leader of the group, RM, when BTS received an award from an association that promotes exchanges between the US and South Korea.

RM mentioned the “history of pain” and the “sacrifices of countless men and women” shared by both countries in relation to the Korean War (1950-53.)

Days later, Chinese Internet users were angry at the fact that he did not mention their country (which participated on the North Korean side in the conflict), an anger that the official Global Times newspaper picked up in an editorial, which gave the reason to the aggrieved.

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