Interlude: BTS, Pressure, and the Measure of the Self

Heidi S.
9 min readAug 27, 2021

This is a small interlude in my series on fame. (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Postlude)

I’ve written about BTS before, about how I think we should take seriously their message of self-love and how music critics undervalue joyful music. But this Billboard article written by Jeyup S. Kwaak just came out that touches on a couple things I’ve been thinking about in this series of my musings on celebrity, and I want to reflect on it directly. Particularly, I want to talk about pressure.

(I’m setting aside the chart stuff from the article, because, frankly, I don’t care about Billboard charts. I think they’re archaic and don’t make sense in the streaming era. Plus, I feel like there’s always unmentioned xenophobia lurking whenever BTS’s popularity in the US comes up and that would be worth its own essay.)

Economic Pressure

BTS is the biggest artist in their company, formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment, renamed HYBE earlier this year. Like by far. From the Billboard article, they “[brought] in about 85% of its 796.3 billion won ($680 million) in total 2020 revenue.”

HYBE is also clearly trying to break into US markets. The article implies that because their stadium tour was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic (a massive loss of revenue), BTS released three English-language songs, which all went on to top the Billboard charts, specifically for the US market.

It’s here you see a tension between company and entertainer, because the members’ primary interest is clearly in performing, not exclusively in making money. In terms of releasing songs in English, president of Big Hit Music (BTS’s label, a subsidiary of HYBE) Shin Young-Jae is quoted as saying they came “to a friendly resolution” that was “mindful of the company’s needs.” Meanwhile, group leader RM has said elsewhere (see also here) that he wants to keep their music predominantly in Korean. And here in the Billboard article, “I don’t think we could ever be part of the mainstream in the U.S., and I don’t want that either. Our ultimate goal is to do a massive stadium tour there. That’s it.”

(I suspect that RM is more acutely aware of being othered by American xenophobia than someone who mostly deals with the business side of things and sees the US for its buying power. In a November 2020 Weverse Magazine interview, RM said: “There’s something Whanki Kim said…

Heidi S.

PhD in philosophy | Feminist | Anarchist | Pop culture junkie | Kpop listener | Actually Autistic


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