Three letters: BTS. “Bulletproof Boy Scouts” a.k.a. “Bangtan Boys” (방탄소년단). It’s quite improbable that you’ve never heard of the K-pop sensation that has slowly but steadily taken over the world. Since their debut in 2013, the seven members of the band (RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, Taehyung, and Jungkook) have managed to become living legends through their work. Comparable to famous groups such as One Direction and The Beatles, in 2019 BTS had No. 1 hits in a year on Billboard’s top 200, a record previously achieved by The Beatles (The Washington Post).

Among other accomplishments, the South Korean group has the first K-pop album to appear on the Billboard 200 top 10 chart (Britannica). They made history by being the first K-pop group to perform at the iconic Wembley stadium, and by selling 60.000 tickets in only 90 minutes (The Korean Herald). Yet BTS wouldn’t have become BTS without their large and dedicated fandom known as ARMY. Its power can be seen through the multiple YouTube records for the most views of a music video within 24 hours of its release. As an example, “Boy in Luv” MV has a total of 74.6 views (Britannica).

“NOT scripted! NOT staged!”: 9th debut anniversary announcement

On June 14, 2022, the hearts of millions of ARMYs almost stopped beating. BTS members made an unexpected announcement: they are taking a break from group projects for an indefinite period of time (Billboard).

To better understand the situation, on June 14 the seven members celebrated together with ARMYs their 9th debut anniversary through a one-hour long Festa live, later uploaded on their official YouTube channel, Bangtan TV, containing the following disclaimer: “NOT scripted! NOT staged! It’s all BTS sincerity of ARMY, by ARMY, for ARMY.” (Billboard). As defined by BTS Wiki, BTS Festa “includes many gifts, like pictures, funny profiles, video content, special songs, radio programs, and more.” Yet as we can tell from Suga’s question, addressed to the other members, “Should we talk about why we’re not doing the Festa or making content?”, the 9th Festa edition was different. It was Suga, the second oldest member of the group, who also brought up the “break” topic, around 20 minutes into the dinner: “We’re going on hiatus now.”

BTS Festa 2022

Given the situation, RM, the leader of the group, went on saying “I started music and became BTS because I had a message for the world”, yet after the release of the “ON” single in 2020, things seemed to have changed: “For me, it was like the group was within my grasp until ‘ON’ and ‘Dynamite’, but after ‘Butter’ and ‘Permission to Dance’ (performed in English) I didn’t know what kind of group we were anymore.” The latter-mentioned singles were produced during the massive popularization of the band in the United States, starting in 2020 with Dynamite, singles for which Dazed says BTS “ditched their mother tongue”, singing in English. With this in mind, RM said that writing about important stories and messages was no longer the case: “It was like that was gone. I don’t know what kind of story I should tell now.”

After the other members stated their opinions as well, positively talking about the break as a healthy thing (yet with obviously more serious and even sad face expressions), RM affirmed: “Starting with J-Hope we’ll officially be showing our individual colors” explaining that “with our group name people think ‘Wow, BTS!’, but when it comes down to each member people don’t know who each one of us is.” J-Hope also added: “It’s important for BTS to start our second chapter” and directly addressed fans saying, “I hope you don’t see this as a negative thing and see it as a healthy plan.” “I think BTS will become stronger this way,” he lastly said reassuring fans that it was not a disbanding (Festa 2022).

Causes of the unexpected decision

There are multiple reasons, but they are all linked to each other. As the BTS leader underlined multiple times during the Festa dinner party, the choice of taking a break from group projects was taken on grounds that each one of the members needed time and space to grow individually as an artist (Billboard). RM explained that because BTS continuously produced content for fans since its debut, the members became more and more exhausted: “Right now we’ve lost our direction and I just want to take some time to think.” Of course, this is a general problem of K-pop itself: “They don’t give you time to mature. You have to keep producing music and keep doing something”, RM added (Festa 2022).

The need to focus on solo projects comes also from the fact that, as human beings, each member is unique and needs space to focus on personal passions. Of course, together they are BTS, but each one of them is more than just a member of the group, and after nine years on stage, the need to focus on themselves became stronger. As a fan stated on Quora, referring to BTS members, “Young people grow and their tastes change […] These boys have other talents and interests and may wanna pursue other stuff.”

The “hiatus” controversy

The 14th of June announcement started quite a big controversy. There’s no way to tell what version of the story is true, yet it’s worthy to be aware of everything that happened. With that in mind, in the one-hour-long Festa dinner, English subtitles referred to the band’s indefinite break from group projects with the term “hiatus”. But after the party was over, a BTS spokesperson clarified the meaning of the previously announced break in a statement for Billboard: “To be clear, they are not on hiatus, but will take time to explore some solo projects at this time and remain active in various different formats. In another article, while underlying the way HYBE (BTS’ management and production company) insisted on the translation issues related to the term “hiatus”, Billboard added in parenthesis: “It’s also nothing that HYBE stock dropped 28% in South Korea following BTS’ Festa dinner party video, causing the company to lose 1.7 billion in market value”, an obvious insinuation.

How did ARMYs react?

ARMYs were by far the most affected. Most of them say they didn’t take the group’s announcement as a disbanding, being reassured of that not only by the boys’ company officials but also by the members themselves: “It’s not like we’re breaking up” – Suga (The Washington Post).

Maraly has been a fan of BTS since 2019. She has known about the band since 2017 but didn’t get the chance to know them better back then mainly because of the K-pop stigma “back then I was too afraid of judgment”. Yet when she “started listening to them as a casual fan and stopped fearing judgment about liking K-pop”, BTS became “a source of comfort”. “Now my life is surrounded by them, and they are my source of happiness and love” Maraly adds. Because of her great passion for the group, the news about the break was not easy to hear. Maraly says that on June 14 she woke up early (at 5 a.m. – the time in her country) to watch the Festa party live and that’s when she first heard about the announcement. “What I initially understood was that it was going to be a break […] for them to do individual things but with no definite timeline,” states Maraly. When it comes to the use of the word “hiatus”, she says that it did confuse and scare her, yet “if someone watches their whole video and the words that come directly from the members themselves, you can see that they weren’t going on hiatus. I mean Yoongi (Suga) even said himself in the video that they weren’t breaking up and were just taking more time for individual projects.”

Jolene, an ARMY fan since June 2018, says about the break announcement: “I really understand their reasons and it was so brave for them to communicate so openly about this.” She also feels sad because she wanted to see the boys performing together on a world tour but adds that “this whole comeback felt different as if they were preparing us for this direction.”

Francesca, a BTS fan since 2020, also says that the announcement wasn’t that unexpected for her: “I was already expecting them to focus more on themselves as individuals and working more on developing their own true style since they created their separate Instagram accounts.” She also shares a more positive attitude towards the break, saying that: “I was extremely happy about it knowing that we will finally see their true selves, style, likes, and dislikes.”

Yet on the Internet, people share other opinions as well: “I honestly feel sorry for BTS they poured their hearts out honestly during that dinner to have the company dilute their message for damage control and insufferable fans not taking it seriously because they’re in denial over the term hiatus” (Twitter).

What about BTS as a component of Hallyu?

As a huge component of South Korea’s soft power (according to Cambridge Dictionary, “the use of a country’s cultural and economic influence to persuade other countries to do something, rather than the use of military power”), ARMYs are not the only ones to have shared opinions over the group break announcement. A week after the Festa dinner, Lee Ja Yeon, the president of the Korea Singers Association asked BTS to reconsider its “hiatus”: “The decision to publish this statement was not an easy one. Please, will you reconsider the decision to go on a group hiatus, for the future of South Korea’s music industry?” (Allkpop). She also openly asked for special laws on mandatory military service to be applied to the country’s popular culture, “so that the Hallyu boom can continue to spread, and BTS can continue to promote actively as a group” (Allkpop). Currently, in South Korea, K-pop idols have to participate in mandatory military service, just like the rest of the netizens, for about 18 months. This deeply affects the K-pop industry and, automatically, the country’s economy, since “BTS alone has been cited as bringing in $5 billion a year for South Korea, which is roughly 0.5% of its entire economy” (Study Breaks).

Having said that, BTS Festa 2022 announcement did create quite a popular discussion topic, and with all its different interpretations, the news took over international media outlets. The huge interest manifested towards the boy band is just another proof that BTS is one of a kind and will forever be remembered in history as a legendary K-pop group.

Leave A Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.