When K-pop band BTS announced that it would include two Fort Worth dates on its world tour, it was kind of a surprise — not because BTS couldn’t fill up two nights at the Fort Worth Convention Center, but because it could have played much larger venues in Dallas or Arlington — and because Fort Worth is only one of five U.S. cities on the tour.
And it probably surprised a lot of people who had never heard of BTS, or possibly even K-pop (including a few Star-Telegram staffers). If you have a child who’s a K-pop or BTS fan, you’ve probably learned something by now, but for the uninitiated, here’s a primer.
What is BTS, and how popular is it?
BTS is a K-pop boy band featuring seven members (as listed in a Billboard photo caption): V, Suga, Jin, Jungkook, RM, Jimin and J-Hope. BTS is short for “Bangtan Sonyeondan,” which translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts,” although the band is known by other names, most commonly Bangtan Boys.
The group was founded in 2013, and has released three albums in Korean and three in Japanese..
The group has had two recordings hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, including their current one, “Love Yourself: Answer,” which followed “Love Yourself: Tear,” released earlier in 2018. The albums are part of a “Love Yourself” trilogy, which began with “Love Yourself: Her,” which debuted and peaked at No. 7 on the Oct. 7, 2017, Billboard 200 chart, according to, well, Billboard, which adds that the week ending Sept. 8 was not just BTS’ biggest week ever — it was also K-pop’s biggest week.
BTS is also the first pop act since 2014 with two No. 1 albums in less than a year, a feat last accomplished by One Direction, which took longer to do it, with a No. 1 on Dec. 14, 2013, and another on Dec. 6, 2014. And BTS’ albums are mostly in Korean. The last mostly non-English-language album to go No. 1 was operatic group Il Divo’s “Ancora” in 2006.
Billboard has a long history of singles and album charts, but these days it’s probably at its most chart-crazy, and BTS is also at the top of the current Artist 100, Social 50, World Albums, Digital Song Sales and World Digital Song Sales charts. Every one of those charts features at least one song from “Love Yourself: Answer.” The “World Digital Song Sales” chart has 25 positions; 22 of them are held by BTS songs. The single “IDOL,” featuring Nicki Minaj, debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for the week ending Sept. 8.
How and when did K-pop become such a big deal?
From its South Korean origins, K-pop has become popular in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, South America and certain Asian markets, according to a Grammy.com story that tries to answer the K-pop question.
Although that story is from 2017, it seems almost quaint now: It mentions K-pop concerts selling out in Chicago, Atlanta and Houston venues seating 1,700 to 2,500 fans and doesn’t even mentioned BTS, which sold out two shows 11,000-seat shows at the convention center.
But Los Angeles has had a Korean Music Festival for more than a decade, and it usually sells out the 17,000-plus capacity Hollywood Bowl. Christine Ha, a reporter for The Korea Times, which puts on the festival, told Grammy.com that the festival now attracts about 30 percent non-Koreans.
According to an executive from Korea’s CJ Entertainment & Media cited in the Grammy.com story, K-pop first emerged in the ‘90s with ballad singers, then new stars such as Girls’ Generation, Big Bang, Super Junior and others began to emerge in the new millennium. And then they started working with U.S. acts: Wonder Girls opened for the Jonas Brothers on a 2009 tour, and rappers Snoop Dogg and Kanye West have appeared on K-pop songs.
The genre has grown from its crooner origins to feature hip-hop, rock and techno influences.
Much of the growth has occurred without the help of U.S. radio, although “Idol” is on the current playlist at DFW contemporary-hits station KHKS/106.1 “KISS-FM”: YouTube has been a big outlet for K-pop stars.
The video for BTS’ “Idol” (sung in English) was published Aug. 24 on YouTube; by Sept. 10, it had 148 million views (45 million of those were in the first 24 hours, breaking a record set in 2017 by Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do”). The “Idol” video has the kind of dance moves you’d expect from a boy band or, really, from almost any modern pop act, but they’re accompanied by candy-colored art direction and some surreal touches (like that shark that almost makes a snack of BTS).
Other digital-music services as well as social media have played big roles in K-pop’s spread.
The website Kpop College lists more than 100 K-pop artists in a directory at https://www.kpopcollege.com/apps/links (to be honest, our eyes started blurring a bit every time we tried to count), and the directory doesn’t even include Monsta X, which reportedly sold out Verizon Theatre (now just the Theatre) at Grand Prairie in July), or Hyukoh (described as a Korean indie band), which sold out a Sept. 13 show at the smaller Trees in Dallas, according to the Trees Facebook page.
Wanna One, which was scheduled to play the convention center in June, moved to Verizon Theatre, a smaller venue; the band made similar shifts in other cities, with its label saying that the changes were due to production matters, according to the Allkpop website.
Why is BTS playing Fort Worth?
We started asking that question back in May, when the shows were announced. We probably wouldn’t have asked it if Fort Worth weren’t one of only five U.S, cities on BTS’ tour schedule, and the only one in what even comes close to being considered the South.
We still haven’t received a satisfactory answer, although timing may have something to do with the Sept. 15-16 dates being in Fort Worth: The night of Sept. 16, American Airlines Center is sewn up with the “Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience,” and the Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium. Nothing is scheduled that weekend at the Theatre in Grand Prairie (where BTS played a sold-out show in 2015) or at Dos Equis Pavilion in Dallas.
BTS fans have been known to camp out for two days before a concert, and there was a bit of a frenzy last week when a tweet surfaced saying that fans could face a $500 fine for camping out at the convention center. That rumor originated in a fan asking the Fort Worth police department via Facebook Messenger about fines, but the police department said later on Twitter that the response about the fine did not come from its PR office.
(According to an online FAQ, overnight camping will not be allowed, and fans can begin lining up for general-admission seating at 8 a.m. each concert day; fines are not mentioned on the FAQ.)
That wasn’t the only tweet to cause a stir:A death threat against group member Park Jimin surfaced on Twitter after the concert was announced.