When it comes to boy bands, the U.S. and the U.K. have historically ruled the conversation — but not any longer.
In 2017, the music industry is five years removed from when One Direction and The Wanted began racing up the Billboard charts, which in turn preceded the Jonas Brothers‘ first charting hit five years prior, with similar waves in boy band popularity spaning back to the likes of B2K, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Boyz II Men, New Kids on the Block, New Edition, Jackson 5, The Osmonds, The Monkees, The Beatles and beyond. The time for a new sensation is now, and while there’s been much talk about a 2017 renaissance of boy bands, Korea’s male groups have spent nearly two decades owning Asia — and their impact is now finally being recognized, rather undeniably, in America.
This week alone sees K-pop boy band BTS ending its six-week reign on the Billboard 200 as the band’s Love Yourself: Her EP finishes after a Top 10 debut and four weeks in the Top 40 — a feat no current boy band, Korean or otherwise, comes close to matching. Earlier this year, fellow boy band phenomenons EXO notched their second Billboard 200 entry when their album The War debuted at No. 87, selling 7,000 equivalent album units.
Ten different boy bands came to tour America this year, offering stateside fans the chance to see BTS, EXO, Seventeen, GOT7, B.A.P, Monsta X, B1A4, SF9, DAY6, SHINee, and BIGBANG members G-Dragon and Taeyang in the flesh. Meanwhile, boy bands both veteran and new headlined America’s premiere K-pop festival KCON this summer, as Seventeen, CNBLUE, GOT7 and Highlight (formerly BEAST) all received top billing.
Prior to 2017’s surge in boy bands, BIGBANG was more or less the most visible foray into America’s burgeoning K-pop interest. In 2012, G-Dragon, Taeyang, Daesung, T.O.P and Seungri became the first Korean male acts to play stateside arenas, selling them out in the process. The quintet’s “Fantastic Baby” boasts more than 300 million views on YouTube, was used in a promotion for the Pitch Perfect franchise and could be heard in an episode of Glee. That early success has been followed by three boy bands charting on the Billboard 200 (BIGBANG with two entries, EXO with three and BTS with five), while boy bands have become a constant presence of Billboard’s World Albums chart. (This week alone look out for BTS, Astro and GOT7.)
Meanwhile, this new wave of boy bands’ social presences can also not be denied. BTS’ huge social-media footprint helped them win the 2017 Billboard Music Award for top social artist at this year’s event, while the likes of GOT7, Seventeen, EXO and Wanna One are all logging multiple weeks on Billboard’s Social 50 chart, thanks to vigorous online followings and scoring millions of weekly YouTube views.
The rise of K-pop boy bands in the U.S. has been anything but sudden. Beginning at the start of the 2000s, Korean soloists and idol groups began holding shows stateside more and more. By 2010, the trickle had resulted in a handful of concerts each year — and by 2013, K-pop’s boy band invasion in the country was full-blown, as popular groups like TVXQ!, VIXX and INFINITE held local concerts. Since then, it’s been a sheer explosion, with 2017 seeing more K-pop boy bands holding — and selling out — concerts in North American than ever before. Meanwhile, several groups have even taken measures to make their events more intimate, holding fan meetings in small venues for only their most dedicated fans.
Selling out concerts in major American cities is no easy feat, especially for foreign acts. But many of these Korean boy bands have been able to do so in part because of how accessible they’ve made themselves through social media, connecting with fans from around the world regardless of geographic boundaries. Twitter, Instagram and live streams have increasingly become windows into the daily lives and personalities of K-pop stars, diminishing the standoffish idol-like qualities imbued in many in the field and making them more relatable to fans around the globe.
K-pop boy bands are determinedly looking to enter North American markets more than ever before, in part because of China’s wavering support of Korean entertainment exports and partially due to the diminished presence K-pop has as of late in Japan compared to a generation ago. And they’re seeing success in doing so, not only because of their accessibility but because they have been able to use the genre’s innovative nature to hop aboard trends that will resonate with Western audiences. BTS’ collaboration with The Chainsmokers’ Andrew Taggart and its upcoming release with Steve Aoki and Desiigner, Seventeen’s shift toward pop-EDM and SF9’s Latin-inspired tropical single, “O Sole Mio,” are just a handful of instances where boy bands are following current trends and blending them with K-pop’s unique finesse and flair for vibrant dance-pop.
With the West lacking popular local boy band alternatives since One Direction went on hiatus last year, Korean boy bands seized an opportunity to become a sizeable part of the pop industry, subtly attracting the attention of fans and music watchers around the world as their dedicated fan armies grow each day. With concerts and media appearances on the rise, there is no denying the growing impact K-pop boy bands are having on America’s increasingly-diversifying pop scene.
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