Haasch: South Korean boy band BTS’ commercial success represents new breakthrough

A recent advertising campaign hints at the size of bands’ U.S. fan bases and international influences.

by Palmer Haasch

The 2018 Billboard Music Awards featured star-studded performances ranging from Shawn Mendes to Demi Lovato. I’m not usually one to pay attention to music shows. I tend to trust the important moments will find their way onto my social media feeds, and I’ll be caught up without having to watch in the moment. This year, however, I watched the show all the way through waiting for one act — BTS.

BTS, a seven-member Korean pop group also known as Bangtan Boys, debuted in 2013 with a predominately hip-hop focused style. They’re now considered one of the most successful K-pop acts currently in the game. I started following BTS around 16 months ago; back then they hadn’t quite made their explosive debut on the American market. But at that point, they had performed concerts in the U.S. and were in the midst of their “Wings” concert tour that included several stops in the U.S. 

It was around the 2017 BBMAs when BTS truly broke into the American spotlight. Winning the fan-voted Top Social Artist award by a landslide (and breaking Justin Bieber’s six-year streak), BTS made their first appearance at an American music awards show. Things only went up from that point, with their performances of title tracks “DNA” and “Fake Love” at the American Music Awards 2017 and 2018 BBMAs, respectively. BTS has spent a fair amount of time in the U.S. limelight. In addition to maintaining their place at the top of Billboard’s Social 50 chart, they’ve charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts. Their upcoming U.S. leg of the “Love Yourself” tour this upcoming fall is already sold out. In addition to their success in South Korea, it’s clear that BTS has made a dent in the U.S. and internationally as well.

BTS’ American success extends past concerts and charts. A recent advertising campaign for the L6 G7 ThinQ smartphone has been circulating online. While the advertising campaign was originally recorded in Korean, it was dubbed over in English in a clip that made the rounds on Twitter for it’s humorous value to fans. Soon after the advertisement was released, I started seeing it embedded in my social media and before YouTube videos. 

This advertisement represents a new kind of breakthrough for BTS in the international market. While I definitely spent my fair share of time making fun of the awkward English voice dubs, I also watched the advertisement every single time that I encountered it. BTS is seen as a commercial asset, and their fanbase is large enough to be a demographic of consumers that are worth targeting.

As a fan, I’m incredibly proud of everything that BTS has achieved up to this point. While their success extends far past the commercial sphere, I can’t help but feel like this represents a new break into international markets. Having an act that hasn’t strayed from their Korean roots be seen as a representative of a major brand in the U.S. market is huge. And most importantly, it means that we’re going to see a whole lot more of BTS (and hopefully other international music acts) in the future.