BTS’s Billboard Breakthrough

Published in the June 2017 print issue of The Kraze

The Billboard Music Awards, held on May 21, was a proud moment in K-Pop history for all fans of the genre, but it was especially memorable for fans of BTS. After weeks of feverish voting on Billboard’s website and on Twitter via #BTSBBMAs, BTS became the first K-Pop group to take home an award from the show. Though they are not the first Korean act to win at the American awards ceremony, as PSY took home the award for “Top Streaming Song” back in 2013, it’s still a first for an idol group. With the group’s insane popularity on social media and growing interest from both Korea and abroad, it’s no wonder BTS became Billboard’s “Top Social Artist” for 2017.

The Surprise Nomination

Though BTS is no stranger to Billboard coverage, as they regularly enter several charts such as the Billboard Top 200 and the World Albums Chart, many fans were still surprised to see them listed as a contender for an actual award. The West is notorious for not paying attention to music outside its own sphere, so the fact that a Korean group was even nominated stood out as an achievement to fans and the Korean media. The members of BTS themselves took to various social medias to thank their fans for the nomination, as it wasn’t something they ever expected to achieve.

Perhaps the nomination shouldn’t be a surprise, as BTS’s social media presence is no joke. They recently broke six million followers on their joint Twitter account, and their following on Korea’s V LIVE app has hit five million. Their YouTube channel has 3.3 million subscribers and 675 million views. They clearly know how to use social media to their advantage and have proven their prowess with new media.

Though it’s unlikely that Billboard planned to invite the group to the awards from the start, after their fans (known as ARMY) flooded official Billboard accounts with requests for BTS, an employee confirmed that the invitation had been sent. On May 8, BigHit Entertainment confirmed that BTS would be attending the awards ceremony by posting a picture of their invitation, stylized as a flight ticket.

From there, some fans began to tweet about having BTS perform at the awards, rather than just attending. The movement gained popularity, despite there being almost no chance of the group actually performing. Though having BTS represent K-Pop on a Western stage would have been great in theory, there were fans who were not comfortable with the idea—at least not yet. These fans rightly pointed out that North America (and the Western music scene in general) is simply not ready for K-Pop to edge into the mainstream. It’s a bit too soon, and BTS would likely have faced quite a bit of negative backlash from some of the American public. In the end, the group was not on the list of performers, so there was no cause for worry. Hopefully one day, BTS (and other groups) will be able to perform their music on a larger stage in the West, without having to shoulder too many negative after effects.

Voting Frenzy

Billboard’s “Top Social Artist” award is one of the two categories that is decided by fan votes, so once voting opened, ARMYs began to vote ferociously. Fans could easily vote 200+ times a day, via Billboard’s website and the Twitter hashtag. It quickly became obvious that BTS would have a huge lead over the competition. As the stats began to roll in, the margin between BTS and second place (Justin Bieber) continued to grow wider and wider. Not only that, but BTS became the first artist to exceed 300 million votes for a fan-voted category, and the hashtag used to vote for them on Twitter trended at #1 worldwide. In the days leading up to the awards ceremony, it looked like BTS had an excellent shot at taking home the trophy.

Taking Home the Gold

On the day of the ceremony, BTS arrived on the magenta carpet to a loud chorus of screaming fans, many of whom had been waiting at the venue since early in the morning. They were one of the first artists to walk the carpet, and they stopped to take interviews with quite a few different media outlets. Once they entered the venue, the members held a quick V LIVE broadcast to thank their fans again for the nomination and express their disbelief at actually being at the ceremony. Before the start of the ceremony, BTS entered the venue to take their seats near the main stage. Fans could be heard screaming at random intervals, and they were so loud that several of the members heard them, turning to look and wave when they heard their name called.

As the announcement for “Top Social Artist” grew nearer, the group became more nervous, something leader Rapmonster (Kim Namjoon) noted in a later interview. The presenters took the stage while fans held their collective breath as they waited for the announcement. But the nervousness of fans and BTS themselves turned out to be unwarranted, as the presenters opened the name card to reveal BTS had won the award (in a landslide victory, nonetheless).

The members reacted with happy shock and surprise as their name was called, rising from their seats for a quick group hug before they made their way to the main stage. Though some of the members looked close to tears, they held it together as Rapmonster expressed their gratitude and honor in fluent English, adding a short bit of Korean at the end of the speech. ARMY around the world immediately began flooding Twitter with messages of support, gratitude, and pride.

The American media coverage for BTS’s win (and nomination) was insane. They were interviewed by many major outlets, including but not limited to Yahoo Music, ELLE, Good Morning America, MYfm, and KIIS FM. Various other outlets also took notice, even if they weren’t interviewing the boys. Vogue named BTS as some of the best-dressed artists in attendance, singling out V (Kim Taehyung) in particular for his trendy outfit. Member Jin went viral on Twitter as “the third one on the left” for his good looks, something which was brought up multiple times during interviews. V and Jungkook were also hot topics on Twitter for the same reason. Additionally, Apple Music congratulated the group on Twitter, and several other outlets such as CNN, The Guardian, and Time Magazine all wrote pieces on the boys’ success.

Throughout all of their American interviews, Rapmonster carried the group by translating questions and responding in English. Fans were proud of his ability to handle the added strain of translation and effective communication on top of the nerves. Other members made efforts to communicate in English, but no matter what language was used, BTS made sure to demonstrate their gratitude and humbleness throughout each interview.

Upon their return to Korea, BTS held a large press conference for the Korean media, which put to rest the rumors of a blackout on Korean mainstream sites. During the press conference, the members noted that they are waiting for good news in terms of possible collaborations, so fans have something else to look forward to.

The fact that a K-Pop group from a small company could win an award at a Western mainstream music show is just further proof that music knows no barriers of language, culture, or ethnicities. The accomplishment is BTS’s, but it stands as a great feat for K-Pop as a genre. It’s clear that the award meant so much to the members of the group, and their fans feel the same way. Though there will be negative outcomes (such as the “BTS Bandwagon”), fans will not let that detract from the honor of receiving this award.