K-pop is nothing new.
The modern era of South Korea’s popular music scene began taking root in the early ’90s after decades of influence from the Western world, and it slowly became something of an industrial complex, with agencies popping up to take underdeveloped talent and morph them into stars—or idols, as they’re referred to in Korea. But there has never been anything quite like BTS, the seven-member boy band formed in 2010 who, if you haven’t heard, are taking over the freaking world.
Now, the idea of a boy band taking over pop culture is nothing new, either. From The Beatles to NSYNC to One Direction, they’ve been doing it for years. But for one to do so while singing almost exclusively in a language foreign to the whole of the Western world? That doesn’t just feel revolutionary. It is. Period, end of story.
Since their inception—but especially in the last two years—the boys-turned-men of BTS have been breaking boundaries with each and every step, challenging not only what it means to be an idol in their native Korea, but also the limits of what a non-English-speaking can achieve on the international level.
When South Korean producer Bang Si-hyuk, who’d written for successful K-pop groups like g.o.d. and Wonder Girls as a part of JYP Entertainment, struck out on his own in 2005 to form Big Hit Entertainment, he wanted to do things a bit differently from the studio culture that was de rigueur at the time. Rather than exerting the massive amount of control over his signees—not only in the songs they sing, but how they express themselves and live their lives—the visionary nicknamed “Hitman” began to cook up a group that would eschew the industry’s rigid grooming and blank slate presentation in favor of sincerity and personality and freedom.