One historic victory after another . . .
South Korean band BTS became the first Asian act to win artist of the year at the American Music Awards last Sunday. The K-pop group also picked up honours for favourite pop duo or group and favourite pop song for their hit “Butter.” In their acceptance speech, members thanked their fans and reflected on their accomplishments over the last few years. In 2021, BTS set new chart records, made their third appearance at the U.N. General Assembly, and teamed up with McDonald’s for one of the most successful collaborations in the franchise’s history. Over the next two weeks, BTS will be performing at four sold-out shows in Los Angeles in their first in-person tour since 2019.
National pride . . .
After BTS’ historic win, South Korean President Moon Jae-in tweeted a congratulatory message to the group adding that “Korean culture is dominating the world, and it is boosting the country’s national status and diplomacy.” Many see the success of South Korean pop culture as an essential tool for soft power, or a country’s ability to influence the world without using coercion or threat. Fans and several lawmakers have called for an exemption from Korea’s mandatory active-duty military service for BTS members in recognition of their contributions to promoting culture and Korea’s image abroad. However, earlier today the subcommittee of the National Assembly’s defence committee failed to make progress on discussions about a revision bill granting a waiver for pop artists.
Beyond politics and economics . . .
Although the political benefits of South Korea’s pop culture diplomacy are harder to parse, the economic impact on the country is clear. BTS alone is bringing in an estimated C$6 billion a year, around .5 per cent of the country’s entire economy. While considerable investment, clever marketing strategies, and the ubiquity of social media and streaming platforms created favourable conditions for BTS’ rise to stardom, the band’s greatest asset is arguably their connection to fans. Collectively known as ARMY, BTS fans find community and comfort in music that resonates with their personal experiences, and are inspired to do good by speaking out on social issues and organizing charities in the band’s name.