“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs,” Paul McCartney sang in 1976. “I look around me and I see it isn’t so.” 45 years on, the world still needs silly love songs. BTS meet that need.
BTS and their rise to fame
In fact, it was the absence of fun, lightweight, and broadly appealing love songs in modern pop that paved the path to BTS’s fame. The Korean pop act entered the international arena with the hit album Wings in 2016. It was no coincidence One Direction had parted ways the year before. In hindsight, it is obvious the world needed another era-defining boy band.
It is also startlingly obvious in retrospect that such a band was not going to come from the US. Here pop’s focus was elsewhere. Beyonce, Rihanna, and Taylor Swift were leading a new generation of acts to reject the fake, phony, and camp elements of traditional pop. Instead, they laid their lives bare in confessional and autobiographical songs.
In short, things were getting real. And K-pop was the solution. BTS seized the very things US pop acts were rejecting with both hands. 5 years after breaking into the mainstream, they are megastars. Yes, they can be criticized as being distant, doll-like, and one-dimensional. But who are the critics kidding? This is what pop music has, for the most part, always been about.
BTS led the way for greater visibility of Asian acts
To millions of fans, BTS are a pure and uncomplicated expression of joy. What is more, they point the pathway to a greater cultural acceptance. Their songs may be simple but the success of BTS carries with it a very powerful idea. They demonstrate Asian acts can be something more than cartoon novelties.
Ten years ago Asian performers in Western pop were all but invisible. When LA’s Far East Movement topped charts across the world with ‘Like a G6’ in 2010 they the first Asian act to top pop charts in 50 years. Then they disappeared. PSY‘s ‘Gangman Style’ followed a similar trajectory in 2012. In contrast to these forerunners, BTS and girl band contemporaries Blackpink express a noticeably greater degree of seriousness and ambition. Unlike PSY and Far East Movement, they are also objects of desire.
BTS member J-hope poses for a promotional photo.
Life can often be complicated, contradictory, and painful. BTS is not. They project a warm, safe and uncomplicated image for people to hang their fantasies upon. This may not be a matter of choice. Black American recording artists were forced for decades to flash forced showbiz smiles and pander to stereotypes in order to avoid the career-ending prejudices of the white establishment. (Many still do.) It seems Asian acts in Western pop are also expected to do the same. While BTS can sing, rap and dance they have yet to be given the privilege of truly having a voice.
BTS and ‘Butter’
‘Butter’ is the latest chart-breaking single from BTS. With the most opening day streams in Spotify history, it will likely follow the success of the explosive 2020 single ‘Dynamite’ in becoming a mega-hit. The song’s sentiment is crystal clear. Each member of BTS wants to be the one to love you and be loved by you. Which do you choose? Given the horror of 2020, there is a need for this kind of escapism in the collective unconsciousness. BTS are more than ready to fill it.
With The Beatles, the world’s first boy band, it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy which preceded their enormous global success. More than 50 years later, it is the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a tragedy that has left 3 million dead, which has left the public in need of pop’s escapism.
The power of love songs
The world needs a pick me up. And when it comes to lifting spirits the power of a simple and silly love song is not to be underestimated. In 1963 The Beatles pulled the world out of a funk with silly love songs ‘She Loves You’, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Twist and Shout’. In 2021, BTS do the same.
Call when they record a Sgt. Pepper's