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BTS, the biggest boyband ever?

BTS & Coldplay’s ‘My Universe’ soars to top billboard singles chart

(YouTube)
(YouTube)
BTS has topped the Billboard Hot 100 again Tuesday with “My Universe,” its collaborative single with Coldplay, piling onto the otherworldly feats by the pop sensation that has popped out five No.1 singles in a little over a year.

It marked the Septet’s 11th week on the top spot this year, more than any other musical act, and was Coldplay’s second US No. 1 since “Viva La Vida” in 2008. It also debuted No.1 on the Digital Song Sales chart, fitting for the boyband who sold more albums than anyone besides Taylor Swift in the first half of 2021.

BTS is currently the most successful boyband in the world. The Seoul-based pop sensation last year became the first Korean artist to take the No.1 spot on the Hot 100, a feat it repeated this year with “Butter” in May and three-peated with “Permission to Dance” in July.

“Butter” is the first single to wear the crown for 10 or more weeks since Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” did it for 11 weeks from January to March 2020. Only 40 songs have managed the feat in Billboard’s history.

Its gigantic accomplishments leave very little doubt that the BTS is the most successful Korean act ever, and even draws the question of how it fares compared with other boybands that enjoyed international fame. Where would their faces be carved in the Mount Rushmore of boybands?


Boybands, success and K-pop

Boyband is a term loosely defined as an act consisting of male singers -- usually, but not always in their teens and 20s -- singing pop music usually about love. While not always the case, many boybands are characterized by highly choreographed dance moves.

Among the earliest of the prominent boybands include New Edition and New Kids on the Block, but the early to mid-90s belonged to a different type of band, a vocal group by the name Boyz II Men. This massively popular band topped the Hot 100 charts for a whopping 50 weeks overall.

At the turn of the millennium, two acts with similar features -- young, attractive male singers with highly choreographed dance moves -- burst onto the scene in the form of Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. The former went on to become the best-selling boyband of all time with over 100 million records while NSYNC managed to log 12 songs in the top 10 in the Hot 100,

It was also around this time that what would later be known as K-pop was born, which differed from pre-existing Korean pop music by being centered around mass-produced, idol trainees that often debuted in form of boy bands or girl groups. Their popularity would be mostly contained to the Asian region for the time being.

Korean pop music managed to gain international popularity over time, but never really slipped into mainstream music scene in the US. Wonder Girls were the first to crack the Hot 100 in 2009 with “Nobody,” but disappeared after a solitary week at No. 76 spot.

This changed when Psy dropped “Gangnam Style” in 2012. The global “horse dance” craze made him a YouTube star and the first Korean to crack the top 10 spot, occupying the No. 2 spot for seven weeks and charting in for an accumulated 31 weeks.

As sensational as Psy was in 2012, he never climbed back to the top 10 after 2013, and no other Korean act managed to repeat the feat.

That was until BTS did in 2018 with “Fake Love.” The group became a regular on the charts with five No. 1 hits, seven top 10 hits and 15 songs in the Hot 100 chart in its relatively short career. Last year, it became the first and only musical act to top the Billboard Social 50 chart for 200 weeks, edging out SNS powerhouses like Justin Bieber, who currently has more followers on Twitter than any other musician in the world. 


Following footsteps of behemoths

The nine Billboard Music awards, Grammy nominations and Brit Awards, addressing the United Nations General Assemblies all point to BTS being the biggest boyband in the world today. But from multi-diamond records to accumulated year on No.1 spot, BTS’ predecessors have left some titanic shoes to fill.

Some might consider it borderline-blasphemous to compare the legendary Jackson 5 -- later known as the Jacksons -- to any other, especially when considering that the siblings from Gary, Indiana, were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, honored by the US Congress with Special Commendation for Positive Role Models in 1972, and were the first group to debut four straight No. 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100. “I want you Back” and “I’ll Be There” are still beloved half a century after their release, a feat that is rarely repeated by any artist, period.

It may be premature to compare BTS to such legends, but the band is currently among the top-selling, most talked about on SNS, and the most accomplished musical acts in the world, both in terms of chart standings and accolades. While boybands of the past have made enormous strides, perhaps it would not be such a stretch to suggest that the South Korean youngsters are walking in their footsteps. 

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

By Korea Herald (koreadherald@heradcorp.com)
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