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First time with BTS? Chances are that you’ve at least heard of them. As the K-pop superstars are gearing up to make their performance debut at the Billboard Music Awards May 20, Billboard decided to put together a handy primer for entry-level fans who want to learn more about the group.
Why Should You Know BTS?
BTS are the most internationally renowned group to come out of an industry built for global success (read: the Hallyu wave). They carved out a unique spot for themselves in the K-pop industry as socially conscious idols whose authenticity is derived from their underground hip-hop origins. Although most idol groups are marked by their conceptual versatility, BTS consistently hits the mark regardless of genre. They don’t only promote songs -- their comebacks are built around narratives that are prime fodder for fan theories about everything from flowers to literary references to the members’ fears.
The septet has bagged so many trophies across the globe, they’ve started breaking their own records. The global barriers that used to exist in the American music industry are coming down, and BTS is at the forefront of that shift.
What Does Their Name Mean?
No, BTS doesn’t stand for “behind the scenes.” However, the group added an English meaning to the acronym in July 2017: Beyond the Scene. The letters originally come from the group’s Korean name, Bangtan Sonyeondan (which translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts). Certain parts of the fandom also refer to them as Bangtan Boys, or Bangtan for short. Get all that?
Who Are the Members?
Real name: Kim Seokjin
Nicknames: Worldwide Handsome, Third Guy From the Left, Eat Jin
Roles: Vocalist, VisualJin is so “worldwide handsome” that he went viral for it. Seriously. But he’s also positioned himself as BTS’s variety show ace. His dad jokes have transcended language barriers (thanks to some keen fan translators). And he’s always down to display his love for food on his own mukbang (food broadcast), Eat Jin.
Real name: Min Yoongi
Nicknames: Agust D (his stage name as a solo artist), D-Boy, Min Yoongi Genius Jjang Jjang Man Boong Boong, Motionless Min
Role: Lead Rapper
Suga’s the chopper of BTS’ rap-line as his “tongue technology” makes speed rapping look easy. He loves playing basketball -- he even included samples of basketball squeaks in “Intro: The Most Beautiful Moment in Life.” He has a dry sense of humor, but he can often be found getting excitable when he hypes up J-Hope. His writing credits are scattered across the group’s discography. Last month, he was even promoted to a full member of the Korea Music Copyright Association. To get a better sense of his personal music style, listen to his mixtape, Agust D.
Real name: Jung Hoseok
Nicknames: Hobi, Sunshine
Roles: Main Dancer, Lead Rapper, Sub-Vocalist
J-Hope’s stage name is fitting given that he regularly presents himself as ARMY’s “hope.” His infectious energy makes him one of the strongest mood-makers on the team. But he’s also the group’s dancing machine, as he’s got all the dance moves on lock. Peep his series of dance practice videos, Hope on the Street. To get a better sense of his personal music style, listen to his mixtape, Hope World.
Real name: Kim Namjoon
Nicknames: Sexy Brain, God of Destruction
Roles: Leader, Main Rapper
RM is renowned for his smarts -- he reportedly has an IQ of 148. He’s the only member who’s fluent in English, which he picked up by watching Friends. He often ends up translating for his members during American interviews. He changed his stage name from Rap Monster to RM in November. As a soloist, he’s worked with a wide range of artists, including Krizz Kaliko, Wale and Fall Out Boy. To get a better sense of his personal music style, listen to his mixtape, RM.
Real name: Park Jimin
Nicknames: Chim Chim, Mochi
Roles: Main Dancer, Lead Vocalist
If you hear any stratospherically high notes in any BTS song, you can bet it’s Jimin. Not only is he adept at flashing his abs, but his specialty is contemporary dance. He’s often labeled by fans as the most adorable member, but he can’t do aegyo (cutesy behavior). He’s also known for being supportive of his fellow group members -- who else could be Suga’s personal cheerleader?
Real name: Kim Taehyung
Nicknames: TaeTae, Vante, CGV
Roles: Vocalist, Visual
This mischievous idol is known for being so popular that it’s hard to keep track of his celebrity friends like actor Kim Min-jae, actress Ha Ji Won and actor Park Bo Gum. V is practically synonymous with Gucci at this point because that’s his go-to designer brand. His photography skills sometimes find their way onto Twitter. The deep-voiced crooner also recently made his acting debut in a drama called Hwarang.
Real name: Jeon Jungkook
Nicknames: Kookie, Nochu, Bunny, Seagull, Golden Maknae (the youngest member)
Roles: Main Vocalist, Lead Dancer, Sub-Rapper, Center, Maknae
First things first: Jungkook is good at everything. Covering all of his talents would require a master list too long to get into here -- but they certainly include drawing, dancing and rapping. He debuted in the group as a shy 15-year-old and grew into one of its funniest members. He uploads song covers of artists such as Justin Bieber, Tori Kelly and Adam Levine to SoundCloud every so often.
Albums You Should Know
Billboard picked the must-listen albums that’ll help initiate anyone into the group’s ARMY.
The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1
This era marked when BTS transitioned from underdogs to full-fledged stars. The EP is an ideal entry point because it seamlessly balances accessibility and artistry. “I Need U” became the septet’s most chart-friendly single at the point of its April 2015 release, ranking No. 1 across various Korean real-time charts. At the same time, their art direction became far more ambitious. Here we see the beginnings of BTS’s conceptual world-building, as the “I Need U” music video is jam-packed with symbolism.
Dark & Wild
The BTS members are down to tackle any genre from trap to emo these days. But they’re fundamentally a hip hop group, and 2014’s Dark & Wild is crucial to understanding their sonic roots. Their first full album displays an impressive knack for cohesion built on a strong assemblage of tracks. The septet presents a more polished version of the hard-hitting, old-school hip hop of their rookie days.
The Wings era set BTS on the fast track to Stateside recognition as the album set the record for the highest-charting K-pop album on the Billboard 200 in October 2016. Each member’s personal color shines on their respective solo track. It’s fitting that growth is one of the album’s recurring themes -- their commercial strength nearly doubled as members like Jin branched out into song composition.
Songs You Should Know
BTS has a sizable discography proportional to having been around for half a decade, so that’ll take some time to explore. But here are a few of the most important entry points for new listeners.
For ARMYs who joined the ranks post-2015, “Dope” is one of the most common initiation songs thanks to the combination of the song’s catchy saxophone riff and the members’ mesmerizing footwork.
“I Need U”
“I Need U” is often seen as the turning point that set BTS on their upwards trajectory of success - this was the first song that landed them their long sought-after first place trophy on Korean music shows in May 2015.
“Boy in Luv”
BTS’s track record shows that the group is hellbent on improving with each comeback. But don’t turn up your nose at their older material. “Boy in Luv,” released in early 2014, is emblematic of their brash blend of old-school hip hop and boy band charms.
Although BTS have been making waves in the States for a while, “DNA” was the group’s breakthrough. BTS became the highest-charting K-pop group on the Hot 100 when the song peaked at No. 67 in October. The group later performed the song at the American Music Awards, becoming the first K-pop group to perform at a U.S. awards show.
“MIC Drop” Remix
… Until they broke their own record a month later by charting the “MIC Drop” remix with Steve Aoki and Desiigner at No. 28 on the Hot 100.
Shows You Should Binge
There’s a reason why BTS is the most followed artist on the Korean streaming platform V Live -- they know how to put on a show even when they’re off the stage. The septet features in a wide assortment of variety and reality shows, which are necessary components of any ARMY recruitment.
American Hustle Life
This reality series is jam-packed with ridiculous antics from when the members were rookies. But the biggest takeaway from the show is the group’s proven dedication to studying hip-hop, as they are mentored by Coolio and Warren G. The latter G-funk great even produced a beat for RM on “P.D.D.” You can watch the first episode here.
Here’s a must-see clip of Suga and V proving that you don’t have to sacrifice swag to save money.
Run BTS! is a Korean variety series tailored to BTS’s propensity for being outrageous. In every episode, the boys go on a new fantastical mission to compete for prizes while maximizing their ridiculous antics.
The horror maze episode was prime variety content, as the constant stream of jump scares almost made Suga throw down against zombies. Watch it below.
Burn the Stage
YouTube Red aired this 8-episode peek behind the scenes of BTS’s 2017 Wings Tour. The documentary series peeled back a few of the layers of their pristine image to reveal backstage hardships, disputes and hard-won teamwork.
Watch the first episode for free below.
When you’re done binge-watching all of these shows, head over to this comprehensive spreadsheet of every morsel of BTS content.
Fandom Spotlight: ARMY
ARMYs are so active on Twitter -- the digital home base of the BTS members -- that they made BTS the most tweeted-about artist in 2017. One of the perks of a lively fan base is the perpetual outpouring of creativity from fan art to fan theories to fan fiction. Not to mention that bilingual fans often provide up-to-the-minute translations of the group’s activities. The relationship between Korean ARMYs and international ARMYs is an anomaly among most K-pop fandoms in that both sides have pet names for each other: K-Diamonds and I-Lovelies.
Following the release of their “Singularity” and “Fake Love” teasers, their 11-track LP, Love Yourself: Tear, is set to drop on May 18. On that same day, BTS will hold a comeback preview show in Los Angeles. A couple of days later, the septet will hit another milestone as the first K-pop group to perform at the BBMAs. The group is also slated to make a slew of American TV appearances on shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
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