(T/N: The term ‘흙수저‘, which directly translates to ‘dirt spoon/chopsticks’, originates from the term ‘(born with a) silver spoon’ (used to describe someone who was born into a rich family, usually in a degrading manner as it implies that they don’t need to work as hard as others). It means the opposite and refers to those who were born poor.)
“BTS = rebellion of the #DirtSpoon/Chopsticks (stereotype)?”
Having debuted in June 2013, they’re already running towards their 4th anniversary. Starting from the Rookie Award, they’ve been slowly, but surely, moving up, receiving their first 1st place on a music broadcast show 2 years after their debut and being crowned the winner of the Daesang award at year end ceremonies a year later. As if Korea is too small, they now dominate the stages of the world and have grown into a K-Pop group Billboard loves. BTS are the ones writing a shining legacy.
BTS belongs to BigHit Entertainment. It’s a company lead by composer/producer Bang Sihyuk, but if compared, it is true that [BigHit] is different from other big companies. Nonetheless, he has led BTS to great success as they are now leading the music market in Korea. We interviewed Bang Sihyuk representative, who wrote the ‘legacy of the dirt spoon/chopsticks success’, and heard his love for BTS, learnt of the secret to their great success, as well as their future plans.
Q. I’m going to be frank. What is the key to BTS’ success?
“Honestly, I don’t know. Seeings the reviews of fans, reporters, and critics after their success, they say that BTS have good performances, that their music fit the world’s trends well, and that they tell their own story. They’ve gotten the global young adults to relate (to their music). In addition, their friendly communication through SNS and many other channels have also played a part in their success.”
Q. Did BTS lead the ‘N Episode’ series (trend) with their ‘School Trilogy Episode’ and ‘HwaYangYeonHwa 2 Part Episode’?
(T/N: The ‘N’ in ‘N Episode’ is just a variable, meaning many are using the ‘__ Episode’ series format.)
“Many older groups have done these kind of series, but you can say that BTS tried it for the first time in a long time. However, our company hates planning something artificial. It might seem that way from an outsider’s point of view, but we don’t depend on immediate ideas. We simply have the firm philosophy that BTS themselves need to talk about their own stories. Since we were trying to thoroughly express that, the amount of content was too large to put into one album. Hence, rather than forcefully putting everything into one album, we divided them. It wasn’t a unique plan. We simply split up the release of (the contents).”
Q. Comparing how they were when they just debuted and now, it seems like BTS’ color has changed quite a bit?
“I think it seems different because it depends on the perspective you look from. In the idol market, concepts are very important and if you look at music concepts, BTS have definitely tried different colors. We hear some people say ‘aren’t they different (now)’, ‘BTS has changed’, but in our company we’ve banned the expressions ‘change’ and ‘transformation.’ That’s because our standpoint of telling stories of people in their teens and 20’s has never changed. They just do music and follow trends that fit their age. Fans could leave thinking it’s a betrayal to their original concept, but I think they understand the consistency (in their music/concepts). From the beginning till now, BTS have been truthfully expressing stories of themselves and their generation, telling the stories others wanted to hide. We never plan ahead on ‘what concept should we do this time.’”
Q. Members each released their mixtapes and do a lot of collaboration activities
“For that fact, we’re giving (the members) freedom. It’s because we should not touch their music. In order to produce high quality music, the company can help, but I think we shouldn’t touch the members’ direction of music. The intentions of the members are the most important. Before they come to me for a final check, they check with the producers themselves. The company’s role is just to ensure that the music qualified enough to show to the fans. They get a lot of collaboration offers outside of Korea and I don’t interfere in that at all. There’s only one rule: if they are contacted by an artist and a collaboration works out well, the company will be there as backup. The company has never drawn the big picture first and reached out (for a collaboration).”
Q. The BTS members actively use their SNS accounts
“I’m leaving the members free [to do what they want]. This also wasn’t a deliberate marketing tactic. Our company doesn’t have a culture of prohibiting one from doing something. The only thing was that I asked them not to make personal SNS accounts because that’s not very team-oriented. That’s why they’ve been using one account since pre-debut. They understand well that it’s a team account and they’ve been enjoying using their SNS. It keeps a positive circle going since everyone likes the ‘fandom culture’. Sometimes, it gets to the point where it’s hard to post everything on SNS because they make so many contents individually.”
Q. It’s unique that they’re a group with a big international fandom but there aren’t any foreign members in the group
“Honestly, I never thought the reaction from overseas was going to be at this level. When we first launched, we were just trying to keep the K-Pop idol ‘virtue’, meaning that we made sure their performance was good. We didn’t focus on their music alone, we focused on the whole production, which includes their clothes and music videos. I think we got sympathy from fans all around the world as the worries/problems of youths are the same all over the country and are relatable to many ages. Another thing is that it’s easy to communicate with global fans through YouTube. Having BTS fans to translate [our content] and recruit more international fans is becoming a culture. I can’t be more thankful. I was really surprised recently. Apparently in Estonia, near the Baltic Sea, they made a ‘BTS dance class’ at a dance academy. That’s really amazing.”
Q. How were the North and South American tours recently?
“It was surely more than expected. I knew BTS have good reactions from the US, but South America also showed us hot attention. I was surprised by the explosive interest since the ticket selling, and was shocked that the fandom got bigger as they went from South America to North America, and all the way to LA. The fact that BTS are at this level, haha. The real reasons that we can stand this tall are the K-Pop singers and companies before us. So we also felt the responsibility of opening the path to the Western market for later generations (of K-Pop groups).”
Q. What are your thoughts on using the term ‘Dirt Spoon/Chopsticks’ to describe BTS?
“It’s not an expression we started using first. Some people think we used the expression for a marketing purposes, even though it’s simply used to describe how BTS is different from other [K-Pop groups], and we don’t like that kind of viewpoint. To be straightforward, we don’t want that kind of marketing. This isn’t an issue about whether the expression ‘Dirt Spoon/Chopsticks’ is likable or not. It is true that BTS succeeded even though they came from a company without any brand value. I understand why people describe BTS with the expression ‘Dirt Spoon/Chopsticks’, since we started without any assets and have considerably succeeded, but I’d like everyone to abolish the idea that it’s for marketing purposes.”
Q. Something BTS do not have are rumors of bad relationships among the members
“It’s obvious because they do not have bad relationships among themselves. They love each other to death. They still often fight as they are a group of 7 boys, but I taught them before their debut to solve their problems within the group. And the members listened to it 100%. They live so well together to the point where I wonder how could there be no bad relationships. (I think) this a way for the team to achieve longevity like Shinhwa.”
Q. It’s a fact that the number of anti-fans increases as fame increases
“I think there is a tolerable level (of anti-fans). If they insult the members with untrue rumors or attack them personally, I believe that is more than just malicious comments. I have already submitted a complaint to the police. This is an issue I can never forgive. Lying and cursing behind an anonymous name is a culture that shouldn’t exist. Anything below that can be understood as freedom of expression, since the internet is a fair society with protected anonymous privacy. But I cannot ignore anything beyond that line. I’m willing to sacrifice time and money to face them head on. Moreover, the members get hurt and suffer from them as they’re still all youths. They get hurt the most when our music or contents receive unjust negative reactions due to (false) rumors. Their unique pride from debut to now is the truthful content we’ve made. Now that I think the anti-fans have crossed the line, I’m facing them to protect the members without any settlements.”
Trans by ARMY Base | @bangtanitl
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