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The Economics of BTS

By Mihika Sujir

South Korean boy band BTS has become a global phenomenon. Following their first Billboard win in 2017, their success trajectory has skyrocketed. From breaking records to breaking barriers, BTS is now the greatest challenger to the dominant global culture of America.

Though the international impact of BTS is irrefutably ground-breaking, their impact on their homeland is even more impressive. The pandemic has immobilised economies all around the world but BTS has managed to keep its nation afloat with just one song.

Economic Ripple Effect

A joint study conducted on 5th September by Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and its affiliate Korea Culture and Tourism Institute estimated the economic impact of the band’s latest release “Dynamite” to be 1.7 trillion KRW (1.43 billion USD ).

The group’s first all-English single that came out on 21st August accrued 101.1 million views in just 24 hours, breaking the YouTube record for most views in a single day. The song also topped the Billboard Hot100 chart making BTS the first South Korean artist in history and the first Asian artist in almost 60 years to do so.

This achievement is expected to generate about 313.2 million USD in revenue from consumer goods (cosmetics, food, clothing), 207 million USD in direct revenue and create close to 8000 jobs making “Dynamite” a type of multiplier initiating massive ripples in the system.

GDP Contribution

It is without doubt that the band’s economic power is ineluctable hence it isn’t surprising that they play a considerable role in South Korea’s total market value. According to a report by the Hyundai Research Institute (HRI), BTS’ contribution to the national GDP was 4.65 billion USD in 2018 which is 0.3% of the total value, almost comparable to the 0.7% contribution by the national airline, Korean Air.

This puts BTS among the likes of South Korea’s mighty conglomerates. The musical mastodons that once slept on cold floors are today part of the oligopoly that moves the South Korean economy.

Furthermore, Big Hit, the band’s managing agency has signed endorsement deals with the top 2 conglomerates- Samsung and Hyundai. Every brand knows an endorsement deal with BTS is a guaranteed spike in product sales. What one needs to understand is that BTS as a single entity, and not the K-Pop industry as a whole, has managed to rake in this much value. The band is an industry behemoth in itself.

Agency IPO

The company, Big Hit Entertainment Co. Ltd., is also preparing to go public in October. This IPO is expected to raise about 962.6 billion KRW (812 million USD) which is set to be South Korea’s largest IPO in three years.

BTS members will be granted 68,385 shares each which is predicted to be worth around 9.2 billion KRW (7.7 million USD) (source: Big Hit’s IPO registration statement).

Increase in Tourism

Before the pandemic, 796,000 foreigners visited South Korea annually because of BTS, hence promoting the tourism industry. The Seoul Metropolitan Government gave credit to BTS in helping recover Seoul's tourism industry which was negatively affected by the THAAD ban. The Korea Tourism Organization even conducted a survey on the most popular spots in South Korea where the top five locations selected were BTS-related places.

No country has managed to bring in this much value and revive industries with the help of one pop group and BTS managed to accomplish so much by simply doing what they love.

Cultural Impact

American culture dominates the world and almost every arts industry is influenced by it. But BTS is challenging the throne by rapidly penetrating international markets. Thanks to BTS, the desire to learn the Korean language has increased drastically. As a result of this, the new NEP will include Korean as one of the languages that will be taught in schools and colleges.

The civic group Nation’s People Preserving the Korean Language chose BTS as the “Top Promoter of the Korean Language” of 2018 for promoting and increasing the interest of the Korean language around the world.

BTS make sure to stick to their Korean heritage being a global artist, evidently seen in one of their music videos “IDOL” which includes a lot of ethnic imagery combined with traditional Korean instrument sounds in the song. The band also performed a shiver-inducing classical-modern rendition of the song at the 2018 Melon Music Awards where one of the members, Jimin, performed a mesmerising Korean-style fan dance often performed by women. Many suggest that Jimin portrayed a kumiho, a nine-tailed fox that shape-shifts into a beautiful woman to seduce men to eat their hearts according to Korean mythology. This dance gained him an individual award by The Kim Baek Bong Fan Dance Conservation Society in appreciation of “reinterpreting the dance in a unique way and raising the status and aesthetic value of the Korean fan dance globally.”

BTS Jimin at Melon Music Awards 2018

Cultural Awards

Aside from winning ceaselessly at Korean music award shows, BTS’ trophy case is extremely diverse.

The septet’s contribution to the promotion of Korean culture has received frequent recognition from the likes of South Korean President Moon Jae-in not to mention various politicians. In 2018 BTS received the Order of Cultural Merit for outstanding meritorious services in the fields of culture and art in the interest of promoting the national culture and national development. It is awarded by the President of South Korea who recently congratulated BTS on their latest single’s success.

BTS receiving the Order of Cultural Merit (2018)

This year BTS is also set to collect the James A. Van Fleet Award by The Korea Society which is awarded to "one or more distinguished Koreans or Americans in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the promotion of U.S.-Korea relations.” It is one of the most prestigious awards in the field of U.S.–Korea relations.

Double Standards in the Western Industry

BTS are rightfully appreciated in the homeland and are even considered the nation’s pride. However, internationally the group isn’t revered as much.

The Korean film industry and the K-Pop industry spearheaded by BTS have had a huge impact in promoting Korean culture abroad. Kdramas along with movies are often seen trending in popular streaming sites. Parasite, the first South Korean film to have won 4 Academy Awards is one of the examples of the film industry’s impact.

Bong Joon Ho, the highly acclaimed director of said film mentioned BTS in his Golden Globes’ interview stating that the group is much more influential as compared to him and have contributed even more to South Korea.

But why is Parasite winning all the right awards and not BTS?

Parasite received endless acclaim from Western critics, some calling it a “masterpiece” whereas BTS continue to be snubbed at popular American award shows. Even their most successful and deft works are often reduced to a superficial pop culture trend. Their artistry never gets the praise it deserves.

Although they have won various awards from the MTV VMAs, AMAs, and Billboard Music Awards among others, the awards are always limited to the social media and K-Pop categories when there are Western artists who are nominated in the foremost categories but don’t come close to what BTS have achieved over the years. Their album Map of the Soul: Persona was one of the best-selling albums of 2019 yet did not receive a single nomination at the Grammys - the “Oscars” of the music industry.

So why the double standards? The prominent reason seems to be how Western media views the group's diverse, yet largely young and female fanbase. This sexist outlook overlooks the group’s artistry and disrates BTS to a manufactured group with deranged fangirls.

BTS do not need Western validation but it is the outright display of xenophobia that seems to prevail and hamper the group’s brilliance.

The name BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts”, a name that insinuates to their goal of youth empowerment. Many of their songs regularly bring up socio-political issues faced by the youth and include lyrics that unapologetically yet playfully criticise power imbalances which is quite prevalent in South Korea, hence motivating young people to speak up.

The group even teamed up with UNICEF to stage campaigns against violence towards children and teens around the world, with the hope of making the world a better place through music. In 2018, BTS leader Kim Namjoon (RM) gave a speech at the United Nations urging young people to find their voice by speaking up no matter the caste, creed, colour or gender.

Hence, it is unmistakably obvious that BTS are not some temporary social media trend on the verge of a freefall. No, BTS with their artistic prowess will continue to impact every corner of the world and their mighty growth trajectory is proof of it. BTS are not just a boy band, they are a cultural movement that is highlighting some glaring issues around the world so why not treat them as such?

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