K-pop group BTS’ popularity is because of fan groups in Ottawa and beyond

If you don't know who K-pop sensations BTS are, I’m afraid to say you've been living under a rock. The seven-member ensemble debuted in their home country of South Korea back in 2013 as a teenage hip-hop group. After an image and sound change–going for a more mature, experimental sound while still maintaining an essence of their urban and hip-hop influences, the group really started making waves on a global level. Their popularity exploded in 2017 with the release of their hit single “DNA” which they performed live on the American Music Awards that same year. The song peaked at 67 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to become the first song by a Korean act to be included on both Billboard’s “Songs of the Year” list and Spotify’s “Global Top 50” playlist.

K-pop sensation BTS. (Photo: Big Hit Entertainment)

Since their breakthrough, their career has only been on a continuous rise, cementing them as the most successful K-pop act in history. In a span of just over two years, since they made their official splash on American airwaves, the group has released four chart-topping albums, has become the first Asian act to score a #1 album on the Billboard 200, the first act since The Beatles to score three #1 albums in a single year, the first Asian act to surpass five-billion streams on Spotify, have embarked on two record-breaking worldwide tours, performed on Saturday Night Live, performed on Dick Clark’s Rockin' New Year’s Eve twice, and much, much more.

Besides being incredibly talented, and brilliantly marketed by their company Big Hit Entertainment, much of BTS' success and popularity outside of Asia stems from the devotion and grassroot efforts of fan groups and street teams in cities across the globe. Jess Craig, founder and president of Ottawa BTS Army, a local fan group that formed just over a year ago to bring Ottawa BTS fans together and promote the band throughout the National Capital, talks about her favourite K-pop group fondly saying, “BTS has the complete package–you have talented rappers, dancers, producers, vocalists and lyricists all within the seven members. Even if you don't understand or speak Korean, the music and artistry speaks to you itself.”

Local BTS fan group, Ottawa BTS Army! (Photo: Ottawa BTS Army Facebook)

Craig also emphasizes that BTS’ lyrics, often addressing universal issues like depression, peer pressure and anxiety, crosses all cultural boundaries and allows the group's music to connect with the masses. “Their lyrics talk about real life struggles that anyone can relate to,” Craig says“What connected with me the most was the “love yourself” message from BTS' last era.”

Craig says this in reference to BTS' 2017-2018 project “Love Yourself,” which consisted of three albums and two global concert tours, that focused on the messages of self love, expression and acceptance.

The positivity that BTS gives to their fans through performance and song is returned not just through simple “fangirling,” but through pretty impressive dedication and work, something that is the norm within K-pop fandom in general. Explaining what Ottawa BTS Army in particular does to support and spread BTS’ music and message Craig says, “The main things we do as a fan group is host events where fans can connect with one another, promote BTS through social media, posters and radio, and support charities and social causes.”

The group has donated to five different charities in BTS’ members’ names and are involved in local initiatives like “Clean the Capital” and the Pride parade, reflecting the philanthropy and positive influence BTS themselves spread. BTS are known for giving back and we want to reflect that within our own community,” Craig explains.

BTS Army at Ottawa's Capital Pride. (Photo: Darcy Ryan via Ottawa BTS Army Facebook)

K-pop fans in general are extremely passionate and dedicated. Fan activity has proven to be the key catalyst of not only just BTS’s popularity, but the K-pop wave in general that’s been slowly brewing for the past decade. “It is the effort and passion of the international fans that helps expand this genre beyond South Korea and into our home countries,” Craig explains, It’s not easy, but we continue pushing forward for the recognition that BTS and K-pop deserve. Our local efforts in radio, streaming and promotion, both on and offline, is what is helping BTS, and K-Pop as a whole, reach the levels that they are currently achieving.”

This rings very true looking at just the city of Ottawa itself, where the K-pop wave has hit hard in a relatively short period of time.“Within the past year of starting Ottawa BTS Army, we have seen the popularity of K-pop music grow significantly,” Craig notes, “Local radio stations play BTS and other K-pop groups upon request and at local music retailers, like Sunrise Records, you can find BTS albums and merchandise. For those 19+, spots like Babylon and the Bourbon Room regularly host K-pop club nights throughout the year.”

The K-pop wave is ever expanding and with BTS gearing up to release what is sure to be another record-breaking album next month, Map of the Soul: 7, the buzz isn’t going to be settling down any time soon.

Is a K-pop concert here in Ottawa the next thing in the cards perhaps? As a fangirl myself, I can’t wait to see what the future holds.