by Andie Bernas and Lorenzo Tan
With slicked back hair and dressed in mod suits, seven young men stood on stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York. If this scene from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert looked all too familiar, it’s because it was. Colbert presented a black and white segment of BTS’ Boy with Luv, referring to the group as “the fabulous lads from Seoul.” Cut to young female fans with ‘60s-style bob cuts, then BTS, stylized in the iconic Beatles font, with their own iconic Ludwig-like drum set in the background.
Their imitation of The Beatles’ US debut on the Ed Sullivan show is a bold statement to make in today’s pop culture environment. While the performance itself wasn’t the most notable, the imagery of BTS stylized like the Fab Four has many striking implications that link the two acts’ cultural impact on the world. If you think about it, they have more in common than you think. Here’s why the BTS x Beatles comparison is important.
BTS and The Beatles both came from relatively small beginnings and perseverance before breaking into mainstream pop.
SM, YG, and JYP Entertainment monopolize the K-pop industry as the Big 3, handling the majority of popular groups. There are famous groups outside of these, yet none as notable as the Bangtan Boys. BTS debuted under Big Hit Entertainment in 2013; the company didn’t have the same resources to propel their acts, so BTS had a slow breakthrough. It took three years for them to explode onto the big stage.
The Beatles started as a small skiffle band inspired by the likes of Buddy Holly, with accessible songs and simplistic instrumentation. John Lennon, fresh from his Quarry Bank roots took to Liverpool and shuffled around until their familiar Fab Four was lined up. It took five years for them to come up with their first few strong records such as “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.”
Both groups were considered unconventional in the beginning.
Originally categorized under Korean hip-hop, BTS debuted as a unique group. While they had the standard line-up of vocalists, rappers, dancers, with some doubling roles as a leader, visual, hyung (eldest) or maknae (youngest), they didn’t completely follow the K-pop formula. Their reflective lyrics about youth, Korean society, and rebellion, intrigued fans especially because the members themselves helped produce and write these songs.
The Beatles ran in the same fashion in the ‘60s, running new techniques in their recordings and performances all throughout their discography. With the carte blanche access afforded to them by Abbey Road studios, their experimentation on every track ran deeper, with notable songs like A Day In The Life and Paperback Writer displaying their mastery of maximizing equipment for artistic design. Their experimental sound is a strong factor in the start of Beatlemania.
Intense, vibrant fan culture is nothing new, and an integral aspect of both boy groups’ massive fame.
Beatlemania defined the norms for hyper-involved fanbases. The ‘60s were rife with an unprecedented frenzy for the favorite Liverpool band. After rocking out on the Ed Sullivan show, to the tune of around 73 million viewers, the media and fans could not get enough of them. From every flight, show, and appearance, mobs awaited the Beatles.
K-Pop fans take that fanaticism to elevated, modernized heights. A lot of systems are in place that assure fans of many ways to support their favorite groups. You have hi-touch meet and greets which require buying hundreds of albums (it’s a Willy Wonka type of raffle). Every group has their own light-stick, bluetooth and battery-activated, customized to represent their aesthetics; bring yours to a show, and see it light up to the rhythm of their songs.
BTS has an official fanclub that recruits fans every year through an application process and fee (complete with a membership card). In terms of fan engagement, best believe that ARMY, the official BTS fandom name, is a league of its own, whose support propelled them internationally.
BTS parallels the Beatles in terms of chart success.
They’re the forerunners of the Hallyu wave on the international front, a tact gateway to the rest of the K-pop industry. Their album “Wings” was the first Korean album to enter the Official U.K. Charts, and BTS is the first Korean act to hit #1 on the Billboard Top 200, with Love Yourself: Tear.
No other artist after The Beatles, until BTS, has had three different albums hit #1 on the Billboard Top 200 within the same year. “Map of the Soul: Persona” culminated the triumvirate after “Love Yourself: Tear,” and “Love Yourself: Answer,” both topped the chart. This mirrors the epic feat pulled off by The Beatles’ archival records Anthology 1, Anthology 2, and Anthology 3 when released in 1995-1996.
The two boy bands also managed to tap into strong spirits of the times: the Fab Four spoke to the vibrant, youthful hippie movement unique to their decade.
The Bangtan Boys, meanwhile, took to the roots of South Korea’s state sponsorship in the Hallyu wave. Past both of their musical influences, they provide major socioeconomic impact to their respective countries.
Though it’s been 49 years since their disbandment, The Beatles’ legacy continues to add $100 million a year to Liverpool’s economy as visitors flock to see their hometown. In South Korea, more than 7 percent of total tourists in 2017 were ARMY. BTS brings in $3.6 billion a year to South Korea’s economy, and this is expected to grow thanks to their “Live Seoul Like I Do” campaign, which encourages fans to visit the same places as BTS.
While, of course, there are many differences between the two groups, BTS’ imitation of The Beatles cemented the symbolism of the two acts. They are not, and should not be called, “the new Beatles” — they are their own cultural phenomenon. BTS is making way for a new trend in globalization as Asia rises with more influence. As The Beatles paved way for the British Invasion, so does BTS for their fellow K-pop musicians in the Hallyu Wave.