Why BTS is taking a break after 9 years in the limelight

Posted on : 2022-06-16 16:59 KST Modified on : 2022-06-16 16:59 KST
The K-pop group’s announcement came as a shock to many, but fans voiced support for the artists taking a break
Members of BTS (provided by Big Hit Music)
Members of BTS (provided by Big Hit Music)

BTS’ sudden announcement that it is taking a break from activities as an ensemble has many wondering what’s behind the K-pop juggernaut’s decision to step back.

So far, it appears that the announcement was based on the determination that after all the identity struggles and creative issues faced by the act during its race to the top of the pop world in the nine years since its debut, the members have reached a point where they need some time off.

Over the past few years, BTS has topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart multiple times with the songs “Dynamite,” “Butter,” and “Permission to Dance.” The group has also won various honors at the American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, and elsewhere.

But the members have also described confronting some questions about who they are in the process.

Leader RM spoke about this in a video posted on the group’s YouTube channel on Tuesday night.

“For me, it was like the group BTS was within my grasp until ‘ON’ and ‘Dynamite,’ but after ‘Butter’ and ‘Permission to Dance,’ I didn’t know what kind of group we were anymore,” he said.

As RM’s remarks indicate, the teen-oriented “bubblegum pop” style of songs like “Butter” and “Permission to Dance” was not what the members aspired to. When they debuted as a hip-hop group in 2013, their songs carried the messages that they wanted to express. But their recent focus on popular appeal appears to have left them feeling conflicted over who they are as artists.

“Whenever I write lyrics and songs, it’s really important what kind of story and message I want to give out, but it was like that was gone now, I don’t know what kind of story I should tell now,” RM said.

BTS members said they would be taking a break from working together as a group in a video uploaded to their YouTube channel, “BangtanTV,” on June 14. (still from YouTube)
BTS members said they would be taking a break from working together as a group in a video uploaded to their YouTube channel, “BangtanTV,” on June 14. (still from YouTube)

Also contributing to the members’ fatigue is the structure of the K-pop industry, where acts must keep releasing new songs to maintain their popularity and profitability.

“The problem with K-pop and the whole ‘idol’ system is that they don’t give you time to mature,” RM said, sharing his concerns that the resulting music sometimes does not come out the way the members hoped.

The remarks have prompted some criticism of the K-pop system, where even a group as big as BTS struggles with aspects of the industry.

“While the K-pop acts do grow as a result of their management companies’ training, there’s a flip side to that coin in the sense that it’s a structure where the musicians aren’t able to act individually and showcase their own tastes or preferences,” commented critic Seo Jeong Min-gap.

“Hopefully, BTS speaking out like this will be an object lesson for different companies and the K-pop industry as a whole,” he suggested.

Another possible factor contributing to the hiatus has to do with Korea’s military service requirements.

Jin, the oldest member, was born in 1992, and after an amendment of the Military Service Act, his enlistment has been deferred to the end of this year based on a recommendation from the minister of culture, sports and tourism. The uncertainties surrounding the members’ enlistment make it difficult for them to plan any group activities for late 2022 into 2023.

The individual BTS members are currently prepping for a second chapter of their careers in which they put out their own solo albums and collaborate with different artists. J-Hope is the first of them to try out the solo route.

Around the world, members of the Army — BTS’ dedicated fan group — voiced their disappointment, but also shared messages of support.

“The best moment is yet to come for both of us. You don't need our permission to step back and focus on yourselves because we'll meet back again. See you in the future my loves,” wrote one YouTube commenter.

BTS’ announcement has also received major coverage from the foreign press. The BBC wrote that while BTS was not disbanding, the fact that the members are taking a break at the height of their popularity is likely to have major ramifications not just for K-pop but for music and popular culture around the world.

By Jung Hyuk-june, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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