The Rise of K–pop Boyband BTS in the U.S.: Race, Identity, and Shifting Paradigms

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Jones, Eden Julia
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Houghton University
This paper considers South Korean K–pop boyband BTS and their notable successes in the United States in recent years as a part of the continuing transnational cultural phenomenon known as the Korean Wave which first began its surge across the globe in the 1990s. Recently, BTS has been making huge splashes on the U.S. popular music scene with regular appearances on U.S. television shows, selling out concert arenas, topping the Billboard charts, and winning numerous prestigious American music awards. Additionally, the group has accomplished several historical feats such as becoming the first South Korean group to perform at the Grammys. Despite these impressive developments the Korean Wave and BTS are two phenomena about which the general U.S. population seems to know relatively little. While most Americans are likely to have heard of the Academy Award–winning, Korean–produced film, Parasite, are probably familiar with or have watched the Korean Netflix series Squid Game and might have even caught glimpses of BTS performances in the media, the greater picture of the Korean Wave and its incredible socio–cultural significance seems to be vastly unknown to a large portion of the population outside of academia, Korean culture, or “K–culture” fandom. This paper seeks to address this lack of familiarity while examining possible causes leading to the fascinating and in many instances unprecedented level of success by a primarily non–English–speaking, non–Western band in a music industry that has long been dominated by Anglo–Western artists. The possible reasons for BTS’s rise in the U.S. popular music scene lead to important considerations about changing perspectives of 21st century Americans within the context of an increasingly digital and globalized world. This paper demonstrates how the success of BTS provides evidence for an American society that is becoming more culturally inclusive, potentially paving the way for a paradigm shift toward a more diverse music industry that has long been dominated by the Anglocentric West.
Popular music--Korea (South) , BTS (Musical group)
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