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The Year in K-Pop on the Charts: BTS Breaks Genre Barriers While the Scene Expands Its Reach

With BTS becoming South Korea's breakout superstar act, Billboard's year-end charts saw the septet breaking genre barriers while the charts felt the K-pop heat more than ever.

They say a rising tide lifts all ships. With BTS becoming South Korea’s breakout superstar, Billboard‘s year-end charts saw the septet breaking genre barriers while the industry felt the K-pop heat more than ever.

BTS Surpasses K-Pop Genre: Firstly notable is BTS soaring into a slew of Billboard‘s main all-genre charts in a way no Korean act has done in the past. With their combined and continuous success in the areas of sales, streaming, radio airplay, social activity and touring revenue, BTS earns the No. 8 position in the year-end Top Artist chart, ranking them in a Top 10 alongside the likes of Drake, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Those similar statistics make BTS the No. 2 act in the Duo/Group ranking, only behind Imagine Dragons and beating out heavyweights in hip-hop (like Migos at No. 3), and pop (Maroon 5 is No. 4).

Billboard’s year-end music recaps are based on chart performance during the charts dated Dec. 2, 2017, to Nov. 17, 2018. Data registered before or after an artist’s chart run is not considered in these standings.


Previous to BTS’ debut at No. 10 last year, no Korean group had made the all-genre Top Artist rankings. Only solo star PSY made two appearances in 2012 (debuting at No. 56) and 2013 (No. 42). This year, boy band EXO also makes the ranking at No. 76 marking the first time two South Korean–based acts had made the year-end list.

In another first, BTS also sent entries to the year-end Billboard 200 Albums chart. August’s Love Yourself: Answer leads by debuting at No. 85, followed by May’s Love Yourself: Tear at No. 101, and their 2017 EP Love Yourself: Her even made the list at No. 150. The combination of their success on the Billboard 200 chart — which combines sales and streaming data — sees them land at No. 21 on the year-end Billboard 200 Artists chart. BTS is the first Korean act to ever appear on either album-focused list. 

BTS also further broke genre barriers by landing on two year-end dance charts with their Steve Aoki collaboration “Waste It on Me” making both the 2018 rankings for Hot Dance/Electronic Songs Songs (at No. 68) and Dance/Electronic Digital Song Sales (No. 38).


As previously reported, BTS reigns over the parade of K-pop artists that landed on the year-end Social 50 chart. Two years ago, in 2016, BTS became the first Korean group ever to appear on the year-end Social 50 list while 2017 saw the addition of EXO and Seventeen. Now, eight more boy bands (including GOT7, NCT 127 and Monsta X) join the year-end ranking as well as two girl groups (BLACKPINK and TWICE).

More K-Pop Album Sales: K-pop acts also make their best showing on the world-genre charts with the top-selling albums and songs in the category conquered from a majority of Korean artists. The year-end World Albums chart, which collects only sales data, sees BTS and its members mostly lead in sales with EXO, BLACKPINK and NCT 127 earning positions as Korean-artist releases represent nine of the final 20 positions (up from six in 2017 and three in 2016). See below for the ranking of the best-selling K-pop albums in America for 2018:

1. BTS, Love Yourself: Tear
2. BTS, Love Yourself: Answer
3. BTS, Love Yourself: Her
4. J-Hope, Hope World
5. EXO, Don’t Mess Up My Tempo
6. RM, Mono
7. BLACKPINK, Square Up
8. BTS, Face Yourself (Japanese-language release)
9. NCT 127, Regular-Irregular

On the World Albums chart throughout 2018, BTS had the best results on the list overall coming in at No. 1 on the year-end World Albums Artists chart. EXO ranks second-best (at No. 5 overall), followed by BTS members J-Hope (No. 6) and RM (No. 7), as well as BLACKPINK (No. 9) and NCT 127 (No. 10).

Also, More K-Pop Song Sales: Meanwhile, the year-end World World Digital Songs chart collects only sales data and also sees BTS leading the way with occasional appearances from a few other K-poppers. Korean-artist releases represent 21 of the final 25 positions (up from 16 in 2017 and 17 in 2016). See below for the ranking of the best-selling K-pop songs in America for 2018:

1. BTS, “MIC Drop (feat. Desiigner)”
2. BTS, “Fake Love”
3. BTS, “Idol (feat. Nicki Minaj)”
4. BTS, “DNA”
5. BTS, “Blood Sweat & Tears”
6. BLACKPINK, “Ddu-Du Ddu-Du”
7. BTS, “Go Go”
8. BTS, “Fire”
9. BTS, “Euphoria”
10. BTS, “Save Me”
11. BTS, “I’m Fine”
12. BTS, “Don’t Leave Me” (Japanese-language release)
13. BTS, “Airplane, Pt. 2”
14. BTS, “Anpanman”
15. PSY, “Gangnam Style”
16. BTS, “Epiphany”
17. BTS, “Trivia: See Saw”
18. Red Velvet, “Bad Boy”
19. BTS, “Dope”
20. BTS, “Not Today”

BTS also earned the No. 1 spot on the year-end World Digital Songs Artists chart. BLACKPINK did second-best among K-pop acts (at No. 4 on the list) followed by TWICE (No. 5), Red Velvet (No. 6) and girl group MOMOLAND (No. 10).

So, what do all these numbers say? Firstly, BTS is killing it — duh — but doing so by breaking across genres in a way we haven’t seen a Korean-pop act do. But second, there is an increasing amount of interest in a diverse amount of artists and releases from the K-pop scene that is helping the scene continue a healthy growth in the industry even if not every act is hitting BTS levels of chart success.

Billboard Year in Music 2018