It’s hard to fathom, but for global K-pop supergroup BTS, the band’s biggest goal once was to enter not the top 10 or top 40 but just land on the Hot 100, the main singles chart of Billboard for the top 100 popular songs in the United States, period.
“My personal goal this year is making it to the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Making it onto that chart is every artists’ dream,” member V of the South Korean septet said during a press conference in Seoul on Feb. 18, 2017, before its “Wings Tour” concert.
Come September 2020, BTS has emerged as the first South Korean artist to reach No. 1 on the main Billboard singles chart with “Dynamite” — which soloist PSY almost achieved eight years ago with “Gangnam Style” peaking at No. 2 for seven weeks straight.
Previously, the only Asian to make it to the top of the Hot 100 was Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto with “Sukiyaki” in 1963.
Over the past years, BTS has made headlines over and over in breaking records and thus new grounds in terms of pushing and K-pop overseas further. The group has often been compared to the Beatles, matching the rare achievement of the “Fab Four” in terms of having three No. 1 Billboard albums (on the Billboard 200 album chart) in one year.
Yet conquering Billboard’s benchmark singles chart is seen as adding a layer of significance to the band’s already long list of accolades — a sense of affirmation that the once underdog South Korean act has unequivocally captured the imagination of mainstream America in terms of pure pop music consumption, especially against other big names such as Cardi B, Drake and The Weekend. BTS’ previous endeavors on the Hot 100 went as high as No. 4 with “ON,” released in February.
“With the music industry having gone digital and reoriented towards singles, the singles chart is where the popularity of cutting-edge music is truly gauged,” pop music critic Lim Jin-mo said.
BTS’ new accomplishment is also perceived as the culmination of over nearly two decades worth of trials and errors in the K-pop industry’s attempt at penetrating the world’s biggest music market, which began in earnest during the early-to-mid-2000s, if not counting the Kim Sisters’ advent in America during the late ’50s-early ’60s.
A close look at BTS achievements with “Dynamite” in its first week shows where the band’s true strength lies: in digital. The song garnered 33.9 million US streams and sold 300,000 units — including both digital and limited edition vinyl and cassette tapes — in its first week, ending Aug. 27, Billboard reported, citing date from Nielsen Music.
With digital sales alone counting 265,000 units, “Dynamite” debuted with the biggest digital sales week since Sept. 16, 2017, when Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” launched with 353,000 units.
Its music video also attracted more than 3 million concurrent viewers at its premiere and garnered 101.1 million views in 24 hours globally, making it the music video with the biggest first-day debut on YouTube to date. Among BTS’ discography since its June 2013 debut, “Dynamite” isn’t just special to the group’s global fan base ARMY and observers of the K-pop industry, but also to the band itself.
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A stand-alone digital release wasn’t even on the minds of the group just six months ago, while most of the world wasn’t fully aware of the full-on destructive nature of COVID-19.
Prior to the pandemic, BTS had big plans in place, including the “Map of the Soul” world tour and the production of a new studio album. But with the virus having disrupted people’s everyday lives, the tight year-long schedule for BTS has also been affected, bringing the careers of the seven-man act to a sudden halt.
The forced hiatus ended up giving singers free time to explore personal projects — rapper Suga released his second solo album “D-2” — and also provided a chance for Big Hit Entertainment to brainstorm and explore new opportunities. BTS held a paid online concert titled “Bang Bang Con: The Live” in June, which set a Guinness world record for “most viewers for a music concert live stream,” attracting 756,000 viewers in 107 countries and regions.
“Dynamite” was conceived during that phase, when the band was tinkering with new ideas for its future while virtually stuck at home and at their recording studios. The upbeat disco-pop track, written by David Stewart and Jessica Agombar of the London-based music production trio Mad Teeth, was one of the numerous songs that BTS came across while preparing for the group’s new studio album.
It was also produced as a gift in mind to fans under stress during the pandemic, who were deprived of the chance to see BTS at in-person concerts. The song also came as a “refresh project” for the members who felt as being stuck due to the pandemic. “We wanted to try something that was light and mindlessly exciting. We had a blast recording the song, dancing in the studio,” BTS leader RM said during an online press conference held on Aug. 21. “We had the urge to share the song as soon as possible while still working on it, hoping to offer a boost of spiritual energy to fans.”
Jimin said that the new single is “the song that BTS wants to play to fans at this moment in time.” “Dynamite” has also been a refreshing project for BTS for being the first song by the group that’s sung entirely in English.
This factor has undoubtedly played a great part in creating broader exposure towards outside of its more traditional fan base in the US According to Billboard, the song drew an impressive 11.6 million radio airplay audience impressions in the week ending Aug. 30.
“To tap the US or countries that are familiar with English, it would be better to sing the song in English,” Lim said. Riddhi Chakraborty, a senior writer at Rolling Stone India, agreed. “I think the fandom would be cheering the song no matter the language. But having “Dynamite” be in English might have helped with radio play in the US,” Chakraborty, a leading K-pop expert in India, noted. Lim, meanwhile, also pointed out that what’s equally important for a true hit song is to have lasting power.
“I think a true hit song in essence should have lasting energy. Even though ‘Gangnam Style’ didn’t break into the top spot, that song was a true hit song in every sense of the word,” noted Lim, pointing out how “ON” slipped to 68th place in its second week after debuting at No. 4 earlier this year.
The BTS online fan community was abuzz, celebrating the stunning debut of “Dynamite,” with the hashtag #BTS1onHot100 trending on Twitter. In South Korea, the news of BTS’ new accomplishment broke early Tuesday which happened to be the birthday of BTS singer Junggook.
“Congratulations. You deserve the No. 1 spot. You worked hard,” one Twitter user in South Korea wrote. (Yonhap)