Seven members of K-pop band BTS stand wearing black suits in front of a yellow background that says "BTS Butter"

Dedicated BTS fans buy tickets to join virtual K-pop concert

Even fans in the US tuned in at 5:30 a.m. to watch the live BTS concert online. Culture critic Maria Sherman, author of "Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS," joins us to talk about BTS fandom.

The World

Social media platforms have been blowing up with millions of tweets and posts about K-pop band BTS.

It celebrated its eighth anniversary over the weekend with a virtual concert. It's not clear how many people paid to attend the online concert, but a similar show last October pulled in nearly a million views.

The group is composed of seven members — J-Hope, RM, Suga, Jungkook, V, Jin and Jimin.

Related: Can K-pop stars wield their celebrity to influence climate action?

The group's latest music video — of the long-awaited single, “Butter,” described as a lighthearted and fun song for summer — racked up more than 17 million views on YouTube in less than an hour of its release. And the song also topped iTunes Top Songs charts in multiple countries, including the United States.

Since their debut in 2013, BTS has garnered global recognition for its self-produced music and activism, which includes giving a speech at the United Nations and publicly calling out anti-Asian racism.

The band topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart three times in 2020, and was nominated for prominent music awards like Billboard Music Awards, MTV Video Music Awards and for a Grammy Award.

Related: Kazakhstan's 'Qazaq-pop' boy band Ninety One challenges gender norms

To talk about the success of BTS, The World's Marco Werman spoke with music writer and culture critic Maria Sherman, who joined from Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the book, "Larger Than Life: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB [New Kids on the Block] to BTS."

Marco Werman: A virtual concert with many, many people in attendance from time zones all across the world. Has BTS taken this kind of boy band fandom to a whole [other] level?

Maria Sherman: Absolutely. The fact that a virtual event can have the same sort of success, if not way more success, than a proper live show, that's totally new. That's absolutely K-pop fascination that is BTS's success.

For a lot of people, including myself, part of seeing live music is about being surrounded by fellow fans. BTS seems to be thriving during the pandemic with these big virtual shows. So, are these concerts able to create a sense of community?

K-pop, more so than any other teen music phenomenon, at least in my lifetime, really exists online. If anyone is going to [have] success or any entity is going to [have] success in this, sort of, COVID realm, where we can only watch live music digitally, it's going to be an act like BTS.

$50 per ticket for the virtual show. Did I see that correctly?

Yeah, I think it was $46 and for both days it was $86. So, that's a lot. But, you know, if you're trying to get front row at a live BTS concert, like, in person, it's a lot more than that. So, you've got to, kind of, find a happy medium there, I guess.

So, the concert was streamed live from Seoul. People in the US had to wake up at about 5:30 in the morning, or earlier, to watch, which is real dedication. A lot of fans in North America boasted about waking up early to watch. What do we know about this audience?

Oh man, I've done it, too. I sometimes joke that I can tell you what time it is in Seoul, but I can't tell you what time it is in LA from New York, because I'm just so in this world. In a weird way, I think it actually ... further legitimizes your experience of fandom, because you have to actually commit to this fandom. It requires work.

With all these added extras that fans get from the virtual shows, do you think that maybe they've been offered so much that they might not want to return to a live show?

I kind of struggle to see a fan saying that they don't want to see these guys in person, though I do think there are certainly benefits [for] K-pop groups, especially BTS, to continue doing these virtual events. As for fans, whenever they can access BTS, they're going to access BTS, regardless of the medium.

It sounded like you've attended at least one of these BTS virtual live shows. Have you? And what has it meant to you?

I have, and it's great, because I don't personally — maybe it's because of my age or location — I don't know, I don't have a lot of BTS fans in my physical space, but I do around the country. So, we'll do ... a Zoom call and we'll watch together. And it's really sort of [a] beautiful communal experience. And I think it even sort of reinforces the idea that K-pop and BTS are a truly global phenomenon. But with BTS, there's something about the sense of borderless-ness. It really feels like you can access all these different places on the planet when you enjoy a group like this, because I can't really talk to another group that's made me feel that way. They've changed the game. They've sort of allowed everybody to access them in South Korea and this music, and it's a really beautiful thing.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

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