Book Review: BTS The Review by Kim Youngdae

안녕하세요! I think in all of KAC I have only ever done one book review...and it had nothing to do with k-pop, anime, Japan, or Korea. So it was only time before I did another book review. This time, however, it is actually all about k-pop and Korea! It is actually a full comprehensive review book of probably the biggest boy group in the world right now. 시작!

방탄소년단 리뷰하다 - 김영대지음
Before I break down my thoughts, let's talk about the book itself. It come in two versions (at least to the best of my knowledge it only comes in two) Korean and English. (I own both) The Korean version costs 19,800원 ($17.35) and the English version costs 22,500 원 ($19.81) - at least this is what it cost for me to buy them. 

What Sets BTS Apart? 
The Music Behind BTS' Phenomenal Popularity

What is the secret to BTS' exceptional worldwide popularity, referred to as the "BTS Phenomenon"? Is it because of the seven members' X-factor, their amazing talent and explosive energy on stage? How can they be understood within and without the context of K-pop? What do the ARMYs, their loyal brigade of worldwide fans, mean by "BTS-Pop?"

Youngdae Kim, a seasoned critic of Korean popular music boldly tackles an unprecedented task: an in-depth review of BTS' entire discography. After all, the proper approach to give musicians their due respect is by listening to their music - it's the heart of their message and their route to the top.

I don't even know how I found this book, but I remember seeing it and needing to have it. Once I had the English version in hand and decided I would write a review of it...I needed to own the Korean version as well. I'm sure you're wondering what it actually is as well as my thoughts. So let's talk it through! 

First thing is that the book breaks down each album and each song. As the title states, this book gives you "A Comprehensive Look at the Music of BTS". From 2 Cool 4 Skool to Love Yourself: Answer, Kim Youngdae breaks down every song and gives insight into each of the songs from their creation to their inspiration and everything in between. I truly wish I could find the time to do such a deep review, that is something I aspire to do. Wouldn't that be a fun idea? Now, the book also looks at their career and also provides interview with music experts as they dive into the rise of the largest Korean idol group. 

Now one large element that seems to be talked about is international appeal and hip-hop roots. If you've been around long enough then you are familiar with BTS' hip-hop/R&B roots (this is actually what originally drew me into BTS). They compare and discuss the trend of hip-hop in K-Pop history - including the naysayers who trashed the group for being "hip-hop idols", which groups who hold the similar feel but elect to not call themselves "hip-hop idols" didn't face as harshly, (I'm not saying these other groups didn't face problems but BTS explicitly called themselves hip-hop idols from the beginning and didn't really fill the mold for any style other than "Bangtan style") but if you were around in 2013 to basically 2017 you probably have seen the harsh criticism against them. An interview with Kim Bonghyeon showcases this. 

Kim Youngdae: In fact, I know there was more covert criticism toward BTS than what we've heard. Do you think such disapproving tendency still exists in the hip-hop scene?

Kim Bong-hyeon: I think there's less of it nowadays. To me, this reality is pretty ironic. RM and SUGA demonstrated styles that were closer to hip-hop in the early days, and both had good rap skills. Even back then, I tried my best to evaluate their abilities fairly instead of judging them by their cover as an idol group. But all I received from the hip-hop communities was a backlash. 

(excerpt from Interview 01 BTS, the Underrated Rappers Kim Bong-hyeon, hip-hop journalist)

International fans are a large part of BTS' takeover. Fan culture plays a large part in all phenomenon (I'm looking at you Twilight and TwiHards) but especially within music. Let's take a look at the changes in boy bands within America through the years (we just can't let them go). The most prominent thing in American history to note when it comes to "boy bands" is the "British Inavsion" of the 60's with the Beatles. To this day artists are inspired by and credit the group for their music and influence. Then you had the Monkees, The Jackson 5, and the Osmonds. In the 70's and the 80's you started to see an influx of "boy band" popularity with Menudo, Bay City Rollers, New Edition, and most notably New Kids on the Block (I remember growing up listening to NKOTB because it was music my mom listened to in high school and also in my childhood). The 90's in America was the true period of boy bands with Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, NYSNC, All-4-One, 98 Degrees, Westlife, and so much more (I was a 98 Degrees girl in the 90's). You can't say you grew up in the 90's with having listened to ANY boy band. The 90's was also the noticeable start of k-pop with groups like H.O.T and Shinhwa. 

The 2000's was the start of k-pop boy bands (k-pop in general) becoming noticed in America. Korean groups like Shinhwa and Super Junior were getting world recognition in East Asian Countries (not yet reaching American markets). It wasn't until the 2010's that boy bands (and k-pop) sky-rocketed into the mainstream once again (it had faded out at this point so it was a resurgence). One Direction, The Wanted, Big Time Rush, and NKOTBSB (New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys) dominated while k-pop gained notice with Shinhwa, TVXQ, Super Junior, Big Bang, Shinee, and EXO breaking out (not quite on all the airwaves but noticeable to gain a large American following).

2016 saw Big Bang, EXO, BTS, Shinee, GOT7, Seventeen, Infinite, and VIXX become top 20 sellers in Korea while becoming further loved in America with the invention of KCON in 2012 to bring large and new name groups to their international audiences. All of this was made possible because of fan interest and k-pop continuing to grow with the new market that was initiated in 2016/2017 with the rapid rise of BTS' popularity.

Given the general prominence of K-pop, it is unfair to view this as failure. Although it is difficult to quantify, when I observed BIGBANG, 2NE1, EXO, and other K-pop groups' activities and their fans' reactions, I was able to sense the huge change in the interest, if not "fever," for K-pop. The clout of K-pop was definitely growing in an unprecedented scale. 

(excerpt from Column 03 Narrative and Authenticity over Localization)

BTS isn't the first group to catch America's attention, they certainly won't be the last, but they have most definitely left a lasting impression. Younger groups like Stray Kids, Monsta X Black Pink, ATEEZ, etc. are making their way into public eye thanks to BTS' success and I guarantee we will continue to see an increase in those newer groups making a break into the American market especially because of the mainstream popularity.

K-Pop is no longer obscure within the American market. Where seven years ago I had to explain to everyone about k-pop; it is now know even if it isn't fully understood as of yet. While I may not have been cognizant of "k-pop", I do know that I have heard Korean songs over the years. Rain and BoA were listened to by my best friend in high school, so I had heard of them. Then there was "Run Devil Run" by SNSD in 2010, "Tonight" by BIGBANG in 2011, and "Rising Sun" by TVXQ in 2009 which was in the fourth Fast and Furious movie. In addition, 2PM was heard by me in 2011's anime Blue Exorcist as the end credit. It wasn't until 2012 that I began to obsess over the music (it was still difficult in 2012 to get music downloaded legally as well as music videos and shows weren't all available for streaming). 2012 until 2019 it is actually vastly different what is actually available. I can't even imagine having to try anything from 2005 to 2012 because I have to imagine it was even harder. Within the last 10 years Internet globalization has expanded vastly and opened more doors. YouTube was starting as I was starting High School. It was new and definitely not something accessible to all viewers. Country/Continent limitations have decreased in recent years but a lot of East Asian videos were not able to be reached by international audiences until recently (and still there are a lot of limitations). Those changes have definitely changed how k-pop is perceived because it is accessible. YouTube and Twitter have definitely helped grow the market in these last several years.

"Be yourself, Speak yourself, Love yourself"

Shin Hyeong-cheol: In fact, I have come across criticisms of this "BTS Mantra (Love Yourself)," dismissing the declaration as a variant of the egocentric "self-consolation" fad. Before making such a hasty judgment, I would advise them to consider its enormous influence on today's young generation all over the world. If the mantra could pull today's youth out of their self-hatred and transform their souls to become "bulletproof," what more could you ask for? 

(excerpt from Interview 04 Consolation for the Distressed Youth Hyeong-cheol Shin, literary critic)

It isn't a secret that k-pop has led fans to loving Korea culture but is k-pop changing the way the rest of the world sees Korea?

The experimental attempt is considered one of the monumental moments in Korean hip-hop history. While such an endeavor is very rare among idol music, "Shangri-La" by VIXX in 2017 introduced gayageum and hanbok to their music visual elements, exploring the theme of Asiatic fantasy. 

(excerpt from Column 06 Eolssu: a Presentation of "Korean Authenticity" in K-pop)

No. People are more aware of Korea and Korean culture but it doesn't change the minds of people who already have an opinion of South Korea. From personal experience, one of the things, especially older generations, choose to think about when Korea comes to mind is North vs South. Like, it is absurd to believe that you can like South Korea and not have to bring up the North. I have talked to so many people about my love for Korea and they "joke" saying "hope you don't mean the North". In all honesty, I think Americans are just terrified of Korea. Anything that is different or they don't understand is scary to them. But that's neither here nor there. Younger generations are definitely more open to this change and I'm excited to see what k-pop's influence will do over the coming years. The dream is that one day all Americans will become more open minded and accepting of beautiful cultures like the Korean culture without degrading it for not being American.

Wow, sorry I got a bit off topic there...

So in conclusion, I think EVERYONE should read this book. It is a book that tips its hat to the amazing senior groups BTS looks up to as well as showcasing the depth of 방탄 in general. Fans, especially new fans, should learn the truth about these seven brilliant men and non-fans can learn to respect their music, their influence, and their journey.

Thank you 김영대씨 for the amazing book.

You can buy your own book here: 

That's all I have this time (I could probably go on for hours about the subjects brought up in this book...but I won't because I think you should read it....if you have read it and want to discuss, definitely reach out!). Please support Kim Youngdae and BTS. Also don't forget to come back to KAC as I prepare to take on Korea in 2020 so you can follow my journey to leaving (a blog post explaining everything will come soon). Until next time!

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Ja ne!

xx Kat/캍


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