1. For the second time this year, BTS has both the No. 1 album and song in the country. Does this cement them, in your mind, as the biggest pop act of 2020?
Gab Ginsberg: They’re definitely up there with Taylor Swift -- who we have to credit for pulling off the No.1/No.1 feat first with "Cardigan" and Folklore -- in my mind, but I have love for all of my pop peeps (Ari! Gaga! Harry! Dua!), and simply could not pick one. However, are they the biggest pop group of 2020? HELL YES.
Jason Lipshutz: When you consider everything they’ve accomplished in 2020 -- multiple No. 1 singles, multiple No. 1 albums, a breakthrough at top 40 radio and a historic Grammy nomination for a K-pop act -- BTS has a pretty convincing case as the year’s biggest pop act. They’re not just empty stats propping them up, either: “Dynamite” is a legitimate smash destined to soundtrack wedding receptions for years to come, while “Savage Love” will live on as a TikTok best-case scenario. Now we’ll get to see how much of a cultural impact “Life Goes On” makes in North America in the coming weeks, but it’s obviously off to a strong start to cap off a transcendent year.
Joe Lynch: Words like "biggest" and "pop" always drudge up semantics issues, but as far as I see things, I don't see how you could argue that anyone else was a bigger pop act for the year of 2020. I'm not saying you couldn't argue others are bigger stars overall who also happen to make pop music, but if we're talking about a pop act's measurable impact in 2020, BTS is king.
Mia Nazareno: No question about it -- yes! I was convinced a long time ago. They’ve toured the American media circuit by making appearances on James Corden, Jimmy Fallon, NPR’s Tiny Desk and every major awards show. They’ve put out two successful albums in the same year. They’ve reached the top of the charts in two languages. And beyond the numbers, there’s not another artist who can claim the same enthusiasm.
Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, I think the title is basically theirs. Harry Styles and Taylor Swift certainly have claims, as does even a Grammy-snubbed The Weeknd, but the volume of output for BTS this year has been overwhelming, as has their omnipresence at pretty close to any televised music-related event worth watching. (Calling it now -- get ready for Kane Brown feat. BTS at the CMA Awards next year.) They've put in the work, they've certainly got the intangibles, and now they've got the stats, too.
2. "Life Goes On" also becomes the group's third overall Hot 100 No. 1 this year, in conjunction with "Dynamite" and their appearance on Jason Derulo & Jawsh 365's "Savage Love." Those other two have endured as sizable stateside pop hits on radio and streaming -- do you think "Life Goes On" will as well?
Gab Ginsberg: I think it would be a mistake for anyone to underestimate the power of the ARMY, who have proven to be more than the average fanbase at every opportunity. With that in mind, I can see “Life Goes On” prevailing on streaming for sure -- at least until BTS top themselves once again with a new release.
Jason Lipshutz: “Life Goes On” does not have the gargantuan chorus of “Dynamite” or the sticky, viral-friendly instrumental hook of “Savage Love,” but it may be the most complete song of the three, bouncing between sounds and perspectives before the group’s members come together for a melancholy refrain. “Life Goes On” might not have “Dynamite”-sized legs at U.S. pop radio and streaming, but its appeal sneaks up on the listener, and if I were to guess, it will endure for a good while after its huge debut chart week.
Joe Lynch: I have a hard time seeing this one having the same shelf life as "Dynamite" or "Savage Love," partly because it's just not an earworm on par with those two, but also because it's primarily sung in Korean: notably, their other two No. 1s are primarily in English. It's a massive achievement to get a non-English, non-Spanish language song to No. 1 on the Hot 100, but to keep it in regular rotation on radio – not the most progressive format – seems an unlikely hurdle to clear.
Mia Nazareno: As much as I would much rather listen to “Life Goes On,” I don’t think the track will be as commercially popular as their first two No. 1s. “Dynamite” and “Savage Love” both follow the formula for a Hot 100 chart topper: they’re flashy, catchy, and are palatable for casual radio listeners. Just how Taylor Swift released “Cardigan” in the midst of the pandemic, “Life Goes On” sounds like the act’s own quarantine single, which means it’s more of a soothing listen for fans rather than a contender for the race to No. 1. And just like my girl Taylor, BTS really don’t need to prove anything.
Andrew Unterberger: I don't think it'll have the same radio or commercial presence, but I could see it taking over another just-as-important medium -- TikTok. The song it most reminds me most of with its shuffling acoustic melancholy is Powfu and beabadoobee's ultra-viral "Death Bed (Coffee For Your Head)," and if it can capture even half of that single's video-soundtracking momentum, it could hang around pop culture (and the Hot 100) for a long time still.
3. Meanwhile, in the last week, BTS also celebrated their first Grammy nomination as performers, in best pop duo/group performance for "Dynamite" -- though they were shut out of the general categories. If you were an ARMY lieutenant, would you be more pleased with the achievement of the one nomination, or disappointed by the lack of Big Four recognition?
Gab Ginsberg: First of all, how dare this question assume I’m not an ARMY? I traveled all the way to NEW FREAKING JERSEY for their show last year, and when those talented boys lit up MetLife stadium, I took a moment to mutter to myself about the injustice of “Fake Love” not getting Grammys recognition. So I am very stoked that “Dynamite” is getting its just rewards, and I expect they will be visiting the Big Four in the near future! MIC DROP!
Jason Lipshutz: Probably someplace in between: “Dynamite” should have been a record of the year contender, but BTS had to start somewhere when it comes to Recording Academy recognition, right? The group breaking through with its first career nomination -- when no other modern K-pop group has ever scored a Grammy nod -- should not be downplayed or dismissed as insignificant. And now that the dam has been broken, they could be in for more noms in future years... like with “Life Goes On,” which will be eligible for the 2022 ceremony.
Joe Lynch: I'd be pleased as punch, busting at the seams, tickled pink, even. With the Grammys, it seems like they either like you from the start or you've got quite an uphill climb to nab that first nomination. BTS (and fellow first-time nominee Harry Styles) fall into the latter category, so to even get a nomination is reason for a 21-gun salute from ARMY. Breaking past enemy lines into the Big Four is an offensive for another day.
Mia Nazareno: Disappointed, for sure. “Dynamite” sounds like the K-pop group’s answer to “What do Americans want?” Both fans and critics would probably agree that “Dynamite” isn’t their best song ever, but I think BTS played the game and put out a song in English to show that they can overcome the language barrier and be No. 1 and a Grammy contender. The lack of a Grammy nod in the Big Four categories is more telling about the Academy than it is about the act’s talent as musicians. If anything, this shows that the academy still has work to do in terms of diversity, cultural understanding, and decentering American/Western art as the standard for excellence.
Andrew Unterberger: I wouldn't blame them for being a little disappointed -- especially considering some of the left-field picks that did score Big Four nominations -- but for better and often for worse, the Grammys can be very slow-moving when it comes to giving pop heavy hitters their proper recognition. Even Harry Styles, with a throwback sound that practically panders to median-aged Grammy voters, can't yet break out of his boy-bander box to score a Big Four nod. Pop nominations (well, nomination) will have to do for now, and I'm confident the group will keep their eyes on the prize until general-category recognition becomes a reality.
4. Outside of "Life Goes On," what's the standout track on Be to you?
Gab Ginsberg: I absolutely adore “Telepathy,” which is a disco-funk delight. I hope it’s the next single.
Jason Lipshutz: The way that “Blue & Grey” evolves from a stripped-bare acoustic track into moody pop-rap has had me returning to it since the release of Be. BTS has always been skilled at stuffing different genres into one track and making the pairings sound natural, but this is one is especially impressive to me.
Joe Lynch: I love "Telepathy" – it starts out with moody '80s synths not dissimilar to what the Weeknd has been working with this year before shifting to a bright, colorful bounce. I sense that this is the ESP bop of 2020. It's not just kinetic, it's telekinetic. Okay, I'm done.
Mia Nazareno: “Fly to My Room” is so, so good!
Andrew Unterberger: Love me some "Stay," which joins one of the proudest traditions of shared Hot 100 hit titles, with a glorious EDM-era big room throwback jam that shows how the group could've potentially been (or at least sounded) even more massive had they come around a half-decade earlier.
5. Having essentially already reached the top of the mountain in the U.S. and beyond, what's something new you'd like to see BTS do in the oncoming years?
Gab Ginsberg: The pandemic has opened a bunch of new doors when it comes to content. I’d love to see a studio sessions-type film, a la Taylor Swift’s Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions on Disney+. Also, a Christmas special!
Jason Lipshutz: BTS has already worked with artists like Nicki Minaj and Lil Nas X, but I’d love to see them take on more hip-hop collaborations in the future, especially considering how integral rapping is to their appeal -- multiple BTS songs sound primed to have another MC barge in and contribute between pop hooks. Can 2021 give us the globe-conquering BTS-Drake team-up that we need?
Joe Lynch: I think a BTS scripted movie akin to what the Spice Girls did with Spice World would be an absolute delight. Naturally, you'd have different versions to maximize streaming, including BTS: The Movie: Laxed – Siren Beat [Instrumental]. But in all seriousness, something campy and cameo-stuffed, heavy on music and style and light on plot (akin to A Hard Day's Night) would be money in the bank.
Mia Nazareno: Though on paper, BTS has out-streamed, out-sold, and overtaken Western acts in 2020, I still don’t think they’ve reached the top of the mountain. Hear me out -- even though every measurable metric says that BTS is killing it, the group still lacks the recognizability and radio airplay that other non-Asian artists receive. Case in point: My family dressed up (and danced) as BTS in our company’s Halloween Costume contest and we got fifth place, two spots behind a Tiger King-clad family. (I’m over it. Really, I am. Lol.). If you’re not a music journalist or already part of the Army, BTS may still seem like an anonymous K-pop act -- whereas anyone would around the world would recognize John, Paul, Ringo and George.
Andrew Unterberger: I'd like to see them do something that's not so much new for them as for popular male pop vocal groups in general -- stay together. BTS has been gigantic for a half-decade now, and that's around the point in the timeline where nearly every one of their biggest predecessors -- from New Edition to the Backstreet Boys to One Direction -- has begun to disintegrate. The group has already bucked a number of historical trends, but just surviving for long enough to really grow as an outfit and take their music and their message to further new and interesting places would be perhaps their greatest accomplishment of all.
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