No, you’re not seeing things. Not only am I creating a blog version of some of my most popular threads, but I’m also going to update them with newer insights!
For instance, I wrote the thread “BTS: Return Of The First Gen?” in December 2017. However, this update comes in September 2019. A lot has happened between the time I first published my thoughts on BTS and their throwback appeal, so I decided to add some 2019 thoughts on the topic.
So I thought I’d not only create a blog version
on the off-chance my Twitter account goes “poof!”, but I’d also provide some updated insights into the topic.
BTS is very much a 4th gen group in terms of when they debuted.*
However, there’s a theme I’ve been noticing with this group that’s highly irregular: They are steadily drawing in older fans. MUCH older fans.
This is true on a global scale. We actually had a Tennessee ARMY give an interview where she ably defended herself from the implication she was too old to like “a pop boy band” like BTS. If only that interviewer knew HOW diverse BTS’s fandom actually is!
2019: One thing I regret is that I didn’t immediately get into the significance of why BTS drawing in much MUCH older fans was irregular or important. I have since tackled this in other threads, but allow me to touch on why this distinction was and remains important.
First, K-pop as a genre is looked down on by the VAST majority of Korean adults. It’s not even called “K-pop” as much as it is “idol music,” and its seen as a sub-genre aimed at teens and especially foreigners.
Second, it’s very common for a pop group or artist to have fans that are their age and younger. I don’t include creepy “uncle fan” marketing. It’s just expected that young artists of the moment will not draw fans that are much older than they are.
Adults of a certain age tend to adopt a fixed perspective on music that makes them feel that the current music trends aren’t as good as what they remembered or just feel…off. Some might attack the authenticity of popular music or the talent and skills of the people involved. In any case, there’s usually a rift that forms which makes it hard for most young artists to ever reach fans beyond a certain age group.
Lastly, it was very clear to me starting a couple of years ago that BTS was seeing a strong reaction from people in their 30s and up. That’s a very wide age gap. If people my age and up were really beginning to enjoy BTS’ music, I felt it had to be for a very significant reason—one that significantly separated BTS from their music peers of the same age.
Looking at the local response to BTS, that is, how they’re seen in their native Korea, has been especially interesting. From their JTBC political news fanboy (whose bias is Jimin)…
To the news anchor noona who LOVES Jungkook…
…and Seo Taiji inviting the group to perform at his special anniversary concert.
It was also hard to ignore the slew of netizens in their 30s and 40s who openly admitted to liking BTS and their music.
(I originally I linked to @vlissful in the thread, but she was suspended so that tweet is gone. T.T)
One of the comments by a k-netizen struck a chord. As translated by @vlissful: “Don’t look down on 30s, 40s. It is the generation that enjoyed the golden age of the music industry.” This person then named K-pop artists from the 1st Gen.
(S)he added, “After this period, innumerable [manufactored idols] came out” and the only idols the public really knew were YG’s 2NE1 and Big Bang (worth remembering that YG is a Gen 0/1st Gen idol himself).
2019: Something else for me to add here. At this point (2017), YG Entertainment was probably the better respected of the “Big 3” because of YG’s association with Seo Taiji and the Boys. Also, his media play antics of selling his artists as more authentic and talented than other idols did work for a while.
So if you’re reading this years later and not understanding why people had anything good to say about this agency, this is well before YG became synonymous with major scandals.
Anyway, I’d also seen an interesting BTS discussion on r/Bangtan about BTS’s booming popularity with the Korean general public.
A particular comment resonated with me. It sparked an intriguing discussion of BTS and the “Koreanness” of their music vs typical K-pop (which isn’t seen as authentic Korean) This section was especially interesting, emphasis mine:
So…what does it all mean? Well, it feels like I and a lot of I-Army were wrong about why BTS was increasingly liked in Korea. It might not be just their global achievements; it could be that BTS feels like a “throwback” to the 1st Gen of K-pop.
If their music’s authenticity feels, emotionally like a throwback to the first generation, it certainly explains why so many new BTS fans are much older than they are.
2019: I have since tweaked my opinion here a bit. It’s true that their global achievements earned them considerable prestige in Korea. And it’s also true that for some, nostalgiac fans, BTS captures the spirit of a bygone music era. However, I don’t feel that this is necessarily the main factor in why they’ve attracted such older fans.
I eventually came to the conclusion that there was never an innate desire for one, specific type of fan. At least not on the part of ARMYs who went out of their way to turn as many people as possible on to BTS. And this more so than how any specific demographic felt about BTS, was crucial.
With that in mind, it’s kind of telling that BTS broke the record for the most album sold since 1st gen idols g.o.d. It’s also telling that their entire discography is trending right now on Korean charts. It could be 1st gen fans falling in love with them! (2019: It probably was….)
That has really interesting implications for certain persons who are waiting for BTS’s audience to outgrow them. Unlike typical Kpop idols whose fans are expected to outgrow them, BTS seems to be in a situation where the majority of their fans are reminded of their youth.
In retrospect, it might also explain why some 2nd/3rd gen fans are so resentful of BTS and their fans: Imagine being so liked by a generation that considers your faves fake and “non-Korean.”
Seo Taiji himself said that this was “BTS’s era.” If BTS ends up being the Seo Taiji and the Boys of today, it’s very interesting indeed to think what direction they might inadvertently push the K-pop world.
2019: I should clarify; I meant in terms of being perceived as an influential force that leads others to follow them as musical trendsetters. And that’s actually something that we’ve seen happen repeatedly in recent years.
Thank you for checking out the updated blog version of this thread! I’m happy to say that more of these are on the way. 🙂
Why do YOU think BTS resonates so strongly with Gen 0/1st Gen artists and fans? Share your thoughts below!
*Okay, so NOBODY seems to agree on K-pop generations. Some people consider BTS a 3rd gen group. Others a 4th gen. Because I measure generation changes by distinct shifts in the industry rather than who debuted, I have my own way of marking K-pop generations. And for me, BTS is a 4th gen group.
IMAGE: Seo Taiji/YouTube