I wrote a piece covering the start of K-Pop supergroup BTS’ stadium tour for the online magazine BLENDED back in May. You can find the article here: https://blendednyc.com/music/2019/5/7/bts-world-tour-rose-bowl
The Rise of BTS and K-Pop in Western Media
The sun was beating down hard on the red carpet when sisters Kimberly and Taylor McGuire arrived at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to take their places as seat fillers at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards. After buying last-minute plane tickets the day before, the 19 and 23-year-old sisters scrambled onto a line of around 200 people trying to get into one of the biggest music awards ceremonies in America. The McGuire sisters did not care much for other celebrities – they were there to see their favorite group, BTS.
“We got to the end of the line, and they tell us they can’t put us anywhere, because we have bags,” chimes Taylor. After stripping off her heels and running into the MGM Grand hotel, Taylor begged for the woman at the front desk to keep their bags for the day. “I’m standing there, crying in front of MGM. All the celebs are walking past me – I had a mental breakdown,” Kimberly adds.
BTS is the hot K-Pop boy group that announced it would be attending the Billboard Music Awards for a second time in 2018. Once the McGuire sisters found out, their minds were set on attending right along with them – even if it meant flying nearly 3,000 miles to get there.
Once inside, it was evident that the McGuire sisters were not the only members of the BTS ARMY to attend the BBMAs. According to BuzzAngle’s 2018 Year-End Report on U.S. music industry consumption, 2018 was the year of BTS. Both of BTS’ albums released in 2018 – Love Yourself: Tear and Love Yourself: Answer, hit the top of the Billboard 200. On the Top Artist By Album Sales chart, BTS’ 603,307 cumulative album sales in the U.S. were second to Eminem.
BTS have been the leaders of the Korean invasion, otherwise known as the Hallyu, since the release of their 2016 album Wings, which peaked at #26 on the Billboard hot 100. Since then, BTS and other K-Pop groups such as boy groups NCT 127 and EXO, along with girl groups BLACKPINK and Red Velvet have made their way onto the Western hemisphere’s premier music chart. “K-Pop is making a difference. It’s breaking boundaries by letting more Asians into the Western music scene” says Korean-American student Juliana Kim.
BTS, however, has proved to be the most successful worldwide. As of March 2019, the boy group sold out their first ever worldwide stadium tour, which hit famous venues like New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, California’s Rose Bowl, and London’s Wembley Stadium. The group sold out their initial dates so fast that each city was given a second show.
The defining factor in BTS’ success? To their fans, otherwise known as ARMY (an acronym for “Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth”), it’s the music. BTS is one of very few K-Pop groups that write and produce many of their own songs. The group consists of seven members – four singers and three rappers. Each member is influenced by different genres of music, but as BTS they come together to produce music anywhere from R&B and Hip-Hop to EDM. Nearly every member of the group has released some type of solo project – with each member of BTS’s rap line releasing a mixtape, and two of four vocalists releasing solo songs on SoundCloud. BTS is also the first K-Pop group to feature solo songs on an album – in fact, their first attempt at this was with Wings in 2016, their first album on the Billboard Hot 100.
“This is pretty singular to BTS… The Korean music industry runs like a giant machine. Most artists don’t really like their songs, but they’re made for them so that’s what they sing,” Says Kim. In the Korean music industry, there are three music labels known for producing some of K-Pop’s most successful artists; SM, JYP, and YG entertainment – commonly known as the Big Three. BTS, on the other hand, is from a small label called BigHit Entertainment. BTS was the company’s first boy group when it debuted in 2013.
While BTS is the best-known group, K-Pop groups have been popular in America since the early 2000s, when solo artist Rain held his first-ever sold-out show at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Since then, hundreds of K-Pop artists have performed in the U.S. on tour or at Korean music festivals like K-CON, which has been held annually in New York and Los Angeles since 2012. K-CON lasts two days and nearly always sells out. Festival activities include performances from up to 20 artists as well as a Korean culture convention, where vendors sell street food and K-Pop merchandise.
Despite K-Pop and BTS’ growing popularity, however, there is a date growing ever-closer that ARMYs and K-Pop fans dread.
“Enlistment is probably the worst time for any K-Pop fan, and pretty much when a boy group’s popularity begins to decline.”
In accordance with South Korean law, all men are required to enlist in the military at some point between the ages of 18 and 28, as long as they pass physical and mental eligibility tests. In boy groups with nearly 20 members, this can bench important members of a group for what to many fans seems like forever. And with BTS’ eldest member Jin turning 27 at the end of this year, enlistment is bound to happen soon.
“With BigBang and Super Junior, these groups were the biggest stars in all of Korea – they probably could have gotten to BTS’ level had they not needed to enlist. Fans grow up and get jobs and families while their favorite groups are on hiatus.”
Despite this, ARMYs are hopeful that BTS will come back from enlistment more popular than ever. Its members have already signed an eight-year extension on their contracts with BigHit Entertainment, so the group is bound to remain together until all seven members are discharged from the military.
But a contract isn’t everything. In the case of big Western boy groups like One Direction, its extended hiatus was announced in 2015, leaving fans expecting the quartet to return to the stage in 2017. It did not.
“Groups fade out every five or six years. It’s inevitable,” says Taylor, who ran a One Direction update account for nearly six years. “[BTS] is different because One Direction didn’t make their own stuff… The only reason why everyone else faded out was because they felt boxed inside their own career. [BTS] already figured out how to be a group without being trapped.”
Hunter College Music Professor Mark Spicer believes that BTS’ ability to expand its music stylistically will make the group last. “Artists get stale. Groups with staying power tend to be more eclectic.” Spicer draws the example of Taylor Swift, who was able to almost seamlessly transition from country music to pop.
Spicer also believes that the power of the internet will ensure K-Pop and BTS’ future. “Pop music has become more global. As long as there is an audience and Korea is making music, [K-Pop] will stay relevant.”
Another challenge is that fans feel Korean artists are not being popularized in western media because of their music, but rather because their popularity is an anomaly. At both the Billboard Music Awards and the American Music Awards, BTS won awards not for their music, but rather for their popularity. At the Grammy Awards, they were nominated for Best Recording Package, which is for their albums art director instead of the group themselves.
“From what I have observed, being Asian-American – it’s like, ‘We’re inviting the cute Asians! Let’s pretend to nominate them so we can get better ratings,” says Alexa Yang, a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology
Yang is not the only person to notice the way Western media has treated K-Pop acts like BTS. “I don’t see reviews saying ‘You should listen to this new K-Pop album.’ The mainstream is not recognizing Korean music to be good or anything. It’s just – this is popular, we need to be relevant,” says Kim.
Regardless of what lies in BTS’ future, the McGuire sisters still have a packed BTS-related travel itinerary for the month of May. They plan on attending the Billboard Awards again in Las Vegas, then flying out to Los Angeles and Chicago for four concerts before returning to New York for BTS’ Metlife Stadium shows.
“At the end of the day, I love them. If I had the money, we’d be going to Wembley,” says Kimberly.
Your Run-Down on Baptiste, Overwatch’s Newest Hero.
After starting out with only 21 heroes in its arsenal, “Overwatch” has finally released hero 30, Baptiste. But how does he fit into the overall story and current META of the game?
According to Blizzard, Baptiste is from Haiti and was orphaned at a young age in the midst of the Omnic crisis. When he grew older, he became a combat medic in the Caribbean Coalition. During his time in the Coalition, he learned to be a good soldier and teammate, which eventually landed him a role in the special forces. However, when Overwatch ended the Omnic Crisis and the current era of peace began, he was left without work.
Soon, Baptiste became a member of Talon, a mercenary group aimed at profiting off of the Omnic Crisis and which brought about the end of Overwatch as an organization. After he realized the true nature of the group, Baptiste split from Talon and began traveling all around the world, aiding in humanitarian efforts.
While Baptiste’s backstory is definitely interesting, it does nothing to effect his playstyle. Baptiste is the first support hero to carry a hitscan weapon – his biotic launcher. His primary fire is a three-burst-hitscan weapon similar to that of Soldier: 76, while his secondary is a grenade launcher which has the ability to heal teammates.
Baptiste’s abilities are by far some of the most interesting in his kit. His Regenerative Burst releases a self-heal and heals any allies within range. Of particular interest is his Immortality Field, which does not allow the health of all allies within a six-meter radius drop beneath 20% of their total health. This allows Baptiste’s teammates to live through ultimate abilities like D.vA bombs, Junkrat tires or Soldier: 76’s attack visor. His ultimate ability, the Amplification Matrix, is a window which doubles the healing and damage shot through it.
As for how he fits into the META, it’s hard to say whether or not Baptiste will cause any significant change or ability to counter the G.O.A.T.S. team composition. G.O.A.T.S. consists of heroes Reinhardt, Zarya, D.Va, Moira, Lucio and Brigitte. G.O.A.T.S. has been ruling over the professional Overwatch League, with nearly every team running and winning with it. One idea would be to replace Brigette with Baptiste, as Baptiste’s abilities could be a good substitute for Brigette. However, Baptiste does not have the same power to stay alive that Brigette’s shield gives her.
The Disturbing World of Doki Doki Literature Club
It starts out innocent enough. The home page plays cheery music with four cutely-drawn anime schoolgirls in short skirts frozen in the act of turning toward the player against a pink and white polka-dotted background. Nothing seems out of place as the game starts. It’s just like any dating simulator, right?
Indie horror game “Doki Doki Literature Club” has gathered a cult following since its 2017 release. With an endless stream of mods, patches, and DLCs added to the game, along with a surplus of fan-generated content available for consumption on the internet, the hype around “DDLC” has yet to die out.
The gameplay style is simple. Taking after Japanese visual-novel style games, characters appear on the screen with dialogue running across the bottom. The player will be prompted to choose between two or three responses every so often. In traditional dating simulators (which is what DDLC markets itself as despite the warning to those who are easily disturbed at the bottom of the game’s download page), the player’s decisions take them along a plot-line catered towards building a relationship with the character of their favorite character. This is where “Doki Doki Literature Club” works much differently.
The player takes on the character of a high-school aged boy looking to join a club at his school. Childhood friend Sayori invites him to join the literature club, where he is introduced to the other girls; Yuri, Natsuki, and Monika.
Soon after the player joins the club, the girls ask him to read their original poems. Each poem foreshadows the events soon to come, with mentions of depression and domestic abuse sprinkled between the lines.
This is where things start to get much darker. Sayori reveals to the protagonist that she is depressed, and her poems thereafter consist of her begging someone to get out of her head.
Eventually, after the protagonist grows increasingly concerned about Sayori not answering his text messages, he runs to her house. The player opens Sayori’s bedroom door, only to find the peach-haired girl hanging from a noose in her bedroom. The player wonders if he could have saved her by making different decisions. The game restarts.
When the game is re-opened, all previous save files are gone. Instead, the game starts right from the beginning, but every scene where Sayori originally appeared is replaced with glitches. The protagonist comments about feeling as if something is missing.
Disturbing scenes begin popping up far more frequently from here on out. The game rewinds after the player finds Yuri cutting herself, Natsuki’s face appears with X’s over her eyes and a block over her mouth, and the player is unable to make decisions which do not favor the club president, Monika. After another restart of the game, these glitches appear less, but the behavior of the characters takes over as the game’s main scare-factor.
Yuri becomes increasingly obsessive, giving the player an unintelligible poem stained with her “essence” and telling the protagonist that she wants to climb inside his skin. After confessing her feelings to the player, she asks if he will be with her. It doesn’t matter whether the protagonist picks yes or no. Yuri begins laughing maniacally, pulls out a knife, and begins stabbing herself to death. The player is left on the screen with Yuri’s dead body for nearly ten minutes afterwards. With the sun rising and setting from the classroom window, it is evident that two full days pass in the game.
Finally, it’s Monday. Natsuki enters the room, but promptly vomits and runs out after seeing Yuri’s dead body. When Monika arrives on the other hand, she is unfazed. The game restarts. All traces of the other girls are gone and the previously cheery background music instead sounds sinister. The player is placed in the classroom with Monika sitting across a desk from him.
Monika confesses to the protagonist that she is aware that she is a character inside a game, and that even though she knows she isn’t a real person, she wants to be with the protagonist.
Monika will continue speaking to the player about various topics until her character file is manually deleted from the game. The game restarts, all the other characters are restored besides Monika. Multiple endings are available to the player depending on actions that are not related to the plot; like whether the game was played continuously without exiting.
Finally, the player’s actions begin to have an effect on the plot. Needless to say, the idea of a murderous anime schoolgirl monitoring the player’s computer activity, combined with the terrifying imagery of DDLC is nightmare inducing.
“Spider-Verse” is added to the growing list of achievements for representation in Hollywood
In the never-ending stream of superhero movies, the colorful, vibrantly animated film Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, has officially left its mark.
At the 91st annual Academy Awards on Sunday, the silver-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ newest web-slinger Miles Morales won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
The Oscar was added to the film’s growing list of awards, including the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, and BAFTA awards in the animated film categories.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse made waves with its release in December 2018, reeling in $360 million at the box office, nearly four times its budget. Following in the footsteps of early 2018’s Black Panther, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse threw a wrench into the decades-old tradition of white superheroes being portrayed on the big screen.
The character of Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn, first took on the mantle of Spider-Man in 2011, shortly after the events of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Spider-Man’s “Death of Spider-Man” story arc, in which the original web-slinging superhero Peter Parker was killed off.
“There’s 800 filmmakers who pushed boundaries and took risks to make people feel powerful and seen,” said producer Christopher Miller while making his acceptance speech.
“So when we hear that somebody’s kid was watching the movie and turned to them and said ‘He looks like me,’ or ‘They speak Spanish like us,” added Phil Lord, one the film’s three directors, “we feel like we already won.”
The film was not only revolutionary for its representation, but for its animation as well. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s team of around 800 animators and artists employed a brand-spanking-new animation technique in their work. This style of animation makes the colorful cast of characters (including a web-slinging pig, mecha-bot piloting schoolgirl, and Nicholas Cage) look like a comic book sprung to life.
The technique, which combines classic 2-D animation with newer CGI animation creates a sense of movement and fluidity fitting for a character like Miles, who gets in trouble with his father for slapping his graffiti-covered stickers anywhere and everywhere, and who bonds with his uncle over art while tagging up a wall in a hidden alcove of a Brooklyn subway tunnel (with early Hip-Hop classics blasting out of a boombox in the background). His love for street culture is one of the many ways in which the filmmakers do justice to Miles’ identity as an Afro-Latino kid from Brooklyn.
“Miles had a lot of backup. He had a lot of people who really loved him as a character, believed in his story, and knew how important it was gonna be to Black kids, Latino kids, kids who just wanna be their best selves no matter who they are,” said director Peter Ramsay, who is the first Black director to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
“To our audience; we see you. You’re powerful,” said Ramsay during his acceptance speech. “This world needs you. So please, we’re all counting on you.”
When will BTS win a real award?
In an upscale hotel in Los Angeles, seven boys dressed in black tie attire huddle around a live streaming phone held up by a selfie stick. Some of them have gotten rid of their suit jackets and ties, leaving them in thousand-dollar untucked dress shirts and pants. “Hello, we are… BTS!” they say in unison, smiling at the camera. They are smiling for reasons obvious to those watching their live stream – they just got back from their first-ever appearance at the Grammys.
Korean superstars BTS made history on Sunday as the first ever Korean act to both present and be nominated for a Grammy award. What do they do right after? Skip any and all afterparties, opting to head back to their hotel and start up a live stream to tell their fans all about their experience.
“We finally made it here,” Namjoon, the group’s leader, says to the camera. “I was so surprised by how many staff members recognized us,” adds Jin, the eldest. “And then they say hello in Korean! And to hurry up,” he finishes. Jungkook, the youngest, follows up with his imitation of the Recording Academy staff’s attempt at Korean pronunciation. The rest of the members erupt into laughter. They have communicating with their fans through frequent live streams down pat.
Though being recognized at an event as prestigious as the Grammys is a novelty to the group members themselves, it’s not much of a surprise to their fans, nor to the reporters stopping them at every corner on the red carpet.
BTS’ fans are a hot topic in each interview featuring the group both on and off on the red carpet. For good reason – BTS have over 18 million followers on Twitter – and while that is a fraction compared to some western celebrities, it is still nothing to sneeze at.
At every airport, official appearance, and concert, BTS’ ARMY comes out in droves to support them. The screams accompanying BTS as they step out of their black SUVs notify every red carpet reporter of their arrival.
Despite their global success and appearances at western award ceremonies, BTS has yet to achieve a serious nomination in any of the major American award ceremonies.
At both the Billboard Music Awards and the American Music Awards, BTS were nominated for Top Social Artist and Favorite Social Artist, respectively. Both these categories were decided through voting and were not actually awarded to BTS for their music, but rather for their global reach.
The Grammys were the first ceremony to disrupt this pattern, with BTS’ 2017 album Love Yourself: Tear receiving a nomination for Best Recording Package. Even this nomination wasn’t for BTS’ actual music. The award would instead have gone to the album’s artistic director.
With BTS’ upcoming album to be released sometime this year, there has yet to be an expert opinion on towards whether or not the group can achieve a western award for their music for next awards season, but the members have high hopes.