Photo/IllutrationBTS in action (Provided by Universal Music LLC)

BTS may not be a household name, but to the millions of fans of the seven-member boy band from South Korea that is beside the point.

As far as fans are concerned, there is no bigger musical act in the world today. And they may not be far wrong.

BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which roughly translates as Bangtan Boys. The average age of the idols is 22.

The band that debuted in 2013 is revered for its catchy pop-rap, electronic beat and video choreography, augmented by savvy social networking. What the singing/dancing septet has accomplished in its reasonably short existence is nothing short of astonishing.

Such has been the band's impact on the global music scene that Time magazine featured the group in its list of "25 Most Influential People on the Internet," alongside U.S. President Donald Trump and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

BTS's latest album, "Love Yourself: Her," ranked No. 7 on Billboard's chart listing in September, setting a record for a South Korean artist or group. No. 14 is the closest a Japanese artist has reached, and that was in 1963 with Kyu Sakamoto's album, "Sukiyaki and Other Japanese Hits."

The band's fan base is far from limited to South Korea, however. In the United States, the world’s premier music market, the group found fame that is without precedent for an act from Asia.

BTS is also big in Japan, and across the region.

Its success is due not only to the packaging of performances but also a finely tuned promotion strategy that involves aggressive use of social networking sites.

Last November when BTS appeared on popular U.S. TV talk show "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," scenes reminiscent of Beatlemania erupted from the mainly teenaged female audience.

Last year, BTS played in North and South America and Taiwan as part of a tour of 10 countries and regions that attracted 400,000 fans. It has also performed at major U.S. music festivals.

“We started from scratch, and we have simply been trying to do our best as our reputation grew," BTS member Jimin told The Asahi Shimbun. “We never imagined for a second that we would be able to perform so extensively overseas.”

Toshiyuki Ohwada, a Keio University professor of American studies and expert on the history of U.S. music, traces the band's success in the United States to a perception that Asian males are “cool.”

In the United States, long the world's melting pot of cultures, Asians have featured more prominently in the entertainment world since the 1980s.

“A number of Asian male acts have made a name for themselves in TV dance audition programs, which are more popular than ever,” Ohwada said. “There is a perception that Asian males are great dancers.”


South Korea's music market is only one-10th the size of Japan's, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

BTS is not the first South Korean act that has found fame outside of the country, however.

Girls’ Generation, Kara, TVXQ (Tohoshinki) and Wonder Girls are among idol groups that made a name for themselves across Asia after “K-pop” fever caught hold in the late 2000s.

But none has been as successful as BTS in the United States, according to Osamu Takahashi, editor in chief of Music Magazine and a specialist in South Korea’s music scene.

Arisa Ito, a junior at a university in Tokyo, has been a hardcore fan of BTS since the group started.

A big part of the appeal is seeing messages, photos and videos posted by BTS members on Twitter, YouTube and other platforms.

“Their posts give us a glimpse into private aspects of their lives, such as what they are eating and where they are staying,” said Ito, 21.

“They even provide live broadcasts on a (smartphone) video streaming app and talk with fans. I really like that sense of closeness, which is hard to find with Japanese pop stars," she added. "There is no language barrier because fans in different countries translate what the members are saying.”

One of the driving forces behind the group's global success is the way it uses social media for self-promotion and stay in touch with fans.

“I'm so grateful we were able to make our debut in an age when people around the world can turn to YouTube and other sites to see us and use music apps (such as on-demand music streaming services) to hear us,” BTS member J-Hope said.

“You could say we are a group that has benefited from, and drawn on, available media. We plan to continue sharing aspects of our daily lives with fans via social networking services.”

Even Canadian singer Justin Bieber is no match for BTS, which won the Top Social Artist title in the 2017 Billboard Music Awards. The prize is given to an artist or group of artists that attracted the most attention on social media in the corresponding year.

“The emergence of video-sharing websites has spread the culture of listening to music while watching dance at the same time, which is working to the benefit of groups that have strong dance moves,” Takahashi explained.

He said the lowering of barriers to cross-border information means "we now live in an age when something that is hot in South Korea can be accepted in no time at all elsewhere in the world.”