BTS makes history by topping Billboard singles chart with song sung in Korean

Posted on : 2020-12-02 18:17 KST Modified on : 2020-12-02 18:17 KST
First time a non-English song has debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100
BTS. (provided by Big Hit Entertainment)
BTS. (provided by Big Hit Entertainment)

Even the language barrier cannot get in the way of the BTS juggernaut.

The K-pop group topped the Billboard singles chart for a second time with its new song “Life Goes On.” What’s notable, however, is that the song is almost entirely in Korean. Industry analysts see the news as a signal that BTS has established itself as a popular act in the American mainstream.

On Nov. 30, Billboard announced that BTS had reached the top spot on the Hot 100 singles chart with its new release “Life Goes On.” The track, which is the lead single from the group’s new album “BE” released on Nov. 20, is sung almost entirely in Korean apart from the chorus. It is the first song with Korean lyrics to reach No. 1 in the 62-year history of the Billboard Hot 100, a ranking of the most popular songs in the US. The previous record for a song sung in Korean was set by PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100 for seven straight weeks in 2012.

“Life Goes On” is also the first non-English song to debut on the chart at No. 1. To date, only eight songs sung in languages besides English have topped the Hot 100. With its latest release, BTS sweeps the top positions on both the Hot 100 chart and the Billboard 200 album chart. On Nov. 29, Billboard announced that the album “BE” had reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Sharing their response on social media the same day, BTS said, “We want to sincerely thank our Army,” a reference to the BTS global fan club.

Experts say BTS has reached a high enough stature in the international music market to transcend the language barrier. Popular music critic Kim Yeong-dae said, “While some analysts suggested that having English lyrics was a big part of ‘Dynamite’ reaching the top spot on the Hot 100, the current situation shows that BTS have achieved the kind of absolute, one-of-a-kind strength that allows them to reach No. 1 based solely on their name, regardless of the language, genre, or style.”

“There’s never been a non-Anglophone group like that in the history of US pop,” he said.

Some observers said the achievement was the result of an explosive increase in fans due to the success of “Dynamite.” Popular music critic Park Hee-a noted, “‘Life Goes On’ has been struggling on the US radio chart because of the language barrier, but it overcame that disadvantage through tremendous album and single sales.”

“This is less a matter of them establishing themselves in the US mainstream market than of blazing a completely different trail by capturing the mainstream market thanks to a powerful fan base,” she suggested.

Foreign news outlets also gave major coverage to the achievement. The US business magazine Forbes wrote that BTS had “subverted a Western music industry whose archaic practices are often rooted in racism and xenophobia.”

“BTS are now in a league of their own,” the piece declared.

By Kim Kyung-wook, staff reporter

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