"The Soul of Seoul"
A Profile of BTS
When looking through the lens of pop-culture, one must keep in mind context. Context being who and where you were… and at what moment in time you were at.
Long, long ago… before the internet… when the world was still young… I car-pooled with kids from the neighborhood to high school. One day my mom was driving and The Beatles “All you need is love” played on the radio. She proceeded to wax misty-eyed about the 60’s, John Lennon, Charles Manson, and how that era greatly impacted her life. She said and I quote “We will never see anything like The Beatles again. Not in our lifetime.”
See what I mean about context…?
Here we are post-Covid, in a completely different world. To some of you, The Beatles are ancient history, like Camelot or the Kennedy Presidency. What I do know is that during Covid, a good friend of mine divorced his wife, grew his hair long, died it blond, and became a faithful, fervent member of the BTS Army. There are over 40 million strong. Ten times the size of NATO. Around the same time McDonalds created a meal in honor of the band, and distributed it in over 53 countries.
I cannot say I didn’t see this coming… because I did. Age simply caused me to become jaded.
I was around for Milli Vanilli… I was at Star Strip on La Cienega Boulevard sitting across the aisle from Tupac Shakur three nights before he was gunned down in Las Vegas. And I was around for the power that was Kurt Cobain. I always say… “Beware of christening geniuses. Sometimes lightning in a bottle just happens.”
The first time I heard of BTS was when they were breaking sales records with “Wings” (back in 2016), their second studio album. My assistant pulled up the music video for “Boy Meets Evil.” The concept reminded me of the Mickey Rourke classic “Angel Heart”, their combined dance styles made me recall NSYNC. But I vividly remember telling my assistant , “they remind me of seven samurai (ronin) moving like a pack through a futuristic amusement park ruled by technocrats.”
They were that striking to me.
By 2018, BTS had tied The Beatles by becoming the only bands to have four number one US albums in less than two years… the power of the single “DNA” still rippling through the months… weeks…years. By then, a few members of our staff thought we should profile them, or at the very least, try to interview them. I waved them off and said “they’re just a band.” Dr. Hwang, our publisher, looked up from his paperwork and said “No, no, Alex. Something much different about them. Much more than K-Pop. You were in Seoul, remember?”
My thoughts drifted back to 2016 when the streets of Gangnam, Seoul were full of cattle-calls – casting calls where hundreds of attractive males and females would be auditioning to become members of K-Pop Bands. On top of that, was a burgeoning gaming sub-culture full of thousands of kids. I felt like I was getting a daily glimpse into the future… not five years from now, ten years from now. There was nothing like this in Hollywood or New York. Nothing. It seemed like a youth quake was happening.
A few weeks later BTS debuted on the American Music Awards. That same year, they did Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Amazing feats for a non-English speaking act. In 2019 Time magazine named BTS on their “100 Most Influential People of the year” list, and gave them the nickname “Princes of Pop.” Their impact was so great, they addressed the 73rd United Nations General Assembly.
Then Covid happened…
I can navel-gaze all day, but the power of BTS has only grown. Where we are headed… only they know. They are the start of something… something huge.