Bang Si-hyuk Explained BTS’s Success, So Western Media Can Stop With the Misconceptions Now

It’s been over a week since the now-infamous BTS profile on The Hollywood Reporter haunted ARMY with its culturally insensitive commentary and lack of research, leading to misconceptions about the group’s success and the K-pop industry as a whole. By now, most fans are accustomed to Western media covering BTS through an overwhelmingly white lens. However, the backlash sparked by the article proved fans are have finally had enough of all the assumptions surrounding the band. And they’re willing to fight back.

A few days after THR dropped the controversial article and the fan reaction wave subsided, Bang Si-hyuk — the founder and co-CEO of Big Hit Entertainment — gave an interview with Time Magazine. In the piece, the mastermind behind BTS didn’t respond to the notions implicated by the THR article. But, the man known to fans as Bang PD or Hitman Bang did manage to clear up a few misconceptions about the world’s reigning boy band. So, maybe now the boys will stop being treated like foreign spectacles in the music industry.

Members of BTS at 2019 Grammy Awards
Members of BTS | Steve Granitz/WireImage

Why ARMY is sick of the media trying to analyze the success of BTS

Following the THR article, many fans aired out their grievances online. On Reddit, a fan expressed their issue with Western media and their portrayal of BTS.

“90% of the time, they go in with preconceived notions and will go out [of] their way to spin things to fit their assumptions,” the Reddit user wrote. “Or, at best, only glaze over the surface of things. Or go the shallow route, ‘Oooh! The boys are so DREAMY!'”

The user then noted that despite the constant spectacle on the K-pop group, the industry still manages to get it wrong. “It’s like, OK, let’s go ham on social media and watch the money and loyal fans roll in! Seriously, you can’t manufacture their talent, their personal life experiences, their individual personalities or their group dynamic,” the fan pointed out. “It’s all just a beautiful, happy accident. Or a minor miracle if you are so inclined.”

Meanwhile, other fans tried to explain why this happens so often. And it looks like most seem to think it comes down to two things — racism and misogyny.

“It’s the double whammy of BTS being both a boy band and Asian. They get hit with the misogyny of people assuming that anything young women like is automatically terrible and shallow so OF COURSE there must be some gimmick right?” a Redditor hypothesized. “And then simultaneously they have to be ‘manufactured’ and fake because those are the negative stereotypes associated with Asian [entertainers]. As a result, almost no one is willing to seriously examine their success on its own terms.”

Bang Si-hyuk explains BTS success to Time Magazine

When speaking with Time’s Raisa Bruner, Bang opened up about the success of BTS in the U.S. And quite frankly, his insightful answer is something fans have understood for years.

“I fundamentally believe BTS’ success in the U.S. had a lot to do with luck. It wasn’t my brilliant strategy or BTS being such a perfect fit for the U.S. market,” Bang told the publication. “It was rather that their message resonated with a certain demand, and through digital media, it spread quickly. And BTS touched something that wasn’t being addressed in the U.S. at the time, so American youths reacted, and that was proven through numbers.”

Bang also touched on how BTS set itself apart from the start. And to no one’s surprise, it seems the members — RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V, and Jungkook — all played an important role.

“It was their sincerity, consistency, and ability to embody the spirit of the times,” Bang explained, adding that when the band formed as an idol group, they wanted to include hip-hop, and the company encouraged them.

“Because it was hip-hop, they could express their thoughts and we wouldn’t touch that,” Bang continued. “If in turn, the company felt they weren’t being genuine, then we would comment. I kept that promise, and believe that had an impact. I personally feel it’s not always necessary for an artist to speak their mind. But I believe at the time, BTS touched something that young people from all over the world were seeking.”

The music mogul then delved deeper into BTS’s connection with fans. “They don’t shy away from speaking about the pain felt by today’s generation,” he said. “They respect diversity and justice, the rights of youths and marginalized people. I think all of these factors worked in their favor.”

Bang clears up misconceptions about K-pop

Aside from BTS’s success, Bang also shared a bit of insight into the K-pop industry, which is often brushed aside as manufactured or robotic.

“I believe in the West there is this deeply embedded fantasy of the rock star — a rock star acts true to their soul and everyone must accept it as part of their individuality, and only through that does good music come,” Bang said. “But in reality, devoting a long time to honing and training music-related skills is a tactic used in many professional art worlds. Ballerinas spend a long time in isolation focused only on ballet, but you don’t hear people say ballet lacks soul or isn’t art. So I think it’s a matter of perspective.”

Bang then briefly addressed the trainee programs used by the K-pop industry and compared it to what happens in the West. “In the U.S., an artist will work in the underground scene for many years before signing with a major label. In Korea, that time is spent as a trainee. I think it’s debatable which system produces the better artist,” Bang told Time.

“In addition, I believe the statement that an artist must sing their own songs to have good results cannot possibly be true,” he continued. “A singer is foremost a performer, and a good performance can convince audiences. I do think when a trainee spends too much time just focusing on skills and not life experiences, it becomes a concern as to whether they can become a musician with a complex understanding of the world.”

Bang addresses misconceptions about BTS

Bang also attended to a common misconception in regards to the BTS members and their freedom as individuals. When asked about the importance of having a meaningful message, Bang made it clear everything is up to the artist.

“Whether you want to speak out on a social issue or not is the individual’s choice,” he stated. “What I want is for them to be sincere. To make up something, I can’t accept that. But neither the company nor I can force an artist to speak or not speak about any social issue. Personally, I believe art is one of the strongest mediums for revolution, and I want the artist to speak out on social issues.”

The Big Hit founder then confirmed his artists have control over what they reveal to the world. “They speak out when they want to and I don’t say what they should or shouldn’t do. I think that’s one of the misconceptions people have about the K-pop industry: that a producer could have that level of control over their artists. We can’t,” Bang said. “When the artist wants to express something, I believe my role is to refine the message in a way that expresses their sincerity and has commercial value.”

The cultural differences between East and West might be great. But, it’s no excuse to dismiss one of the world’s biggest boy bands — and potential Grammy nominee — as a foreign spectacle who is still in need of an introduction. Fortunately, Bang is always there to give his insight.

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