World Music Day: In 2018, I accompanied my friend Ruchika to a film about a band of South Korean boys at PVR Cinemas, Guwahati. Initially, I took it to be a documentary that dwelled on the exploits of the boys on and off stage as they embarked on a musical journey. I wasn’t brimming with excitement but thought it might be a good idea and a welcome change from the films that I generally watch and review. Every time I expressed my opinion about what I thought the film might be about on our way to the theatre, Ruchika would giggle mysteriously, indicating that I was in for a surprise. I was in for an introduction to K-pop!
As we waited for the film to begin in PVR’s lobby, I could hear boisterous audiences from the previous show leaving the theatre shouting emphatically — “BTS! BTS! BTS!” They are called the BTS army, quipped Ruchika, leaning towards me and trying to avoid being overheard by the huge number of girls who had already gathered for the next show. Many of these exiting audiences just went down a floor and re-climbed the stairs to make their way back to the lobby where I was. Apparently, they were about to watch the show again. I was perplexed.
Soon the theatre door opened and we were led in with all the others. As I walked up to my seat, all I could see around me was a sea of girls dressed in every possible variation, colour, and contour with some artificial appendages that I had never seen before in my life. They were aged between 15-30 years and were of all ethnicity. While Nagas, Mizos, Arunachalis, Manipuris, and Khasis outnumbered others emphatically, there still were Marwaris, Bengalis, and Axomias in the audience.
The show hadn’t even started, and the audiences were already creating a euphoric atmosphere that gave me a feeling of being in a concert. I could barely hear what Ruchika was telling me from time to time. The screen wasn’t even showing anything, and the theatre was booming with the re-sounding cheers of BTS! BTS! BTS!
Within moments a logo appeared on the screen that read “Big Hit Entertainment” and the crowd simply erupted. I had never seen an Indian audience go this crazy at the sight of a logo. Not even at the Yashraj Logo in Salman bhai’s Sultan. There the audiences waited for bhai to appear in his underwear before they went berserk. After that, it was just sheer hysteria. Gradually, I was introduced to the stars of BTS: short for Bangtan Sonyeondan. The names Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook started to make an impression. I was beginning to get an idea of their reach and impact. Every member of the audience had a favourite and they went ballistic whenever that particular star got centrestage in the performance.
Oh! Before I forget, what we were watching was nothing but a highlights video of an actual concert that had happened somewhere in South Korea sometime back. This video is available online to watch for free but still, the crowds came in huge numbers to enjoy it on the big screen. It was also shocking for me to notice that we paid much more than the usual film ticket, and still, the theatre was full. This was unprecedented even for a Salman Khan film.
It was a spectacle like no other. Seeing Assamese girls sing along Korean lyrics at the top of their voices was nothing short of incredible. It was as if the whole theatre was transformed into a massive stadium where the BTS was performing and their loyal fan army was holding ground and cheering their every move. It was also interesting to note that probably I was the only male in that entire audience. Later in the show, maybe I caught a glimpse of another guy, but that is something that I don’t remember clearly. As the show progressed, the atmosphere got crazier. There came a time when everyone in the audience was on their feet and I, along with my friend, were probably the only ones sitting and we could no longer see the screen.
Forced to stand up, we obliged, and I am thankful to God that we did. Within moments, I heard a loud thud behind me and even in all that noise, it was loud enough to be audible. Looking behind, I realised that a girl from one of the rows above ours had literally jumped out of excitement into the seat where my friend was seated. Going by the look of craze on her face as she lay tangled in her own body parts, I was sure that she wouldn’t have minded jumping on my friend if she was seated in that chair, as this girl was oblivious of everything around her. She might have hurt herself too but was euphorically shouting Jimin! Jimin! Jimin! I was astounded at what I was witnessing.
This was just one of the many instances of the unheard-of craze that I witnessed among the audiences and it just forced me to research what this BTS phenomenon was all about and how it had come to envelop audiences in my city without me even getting an air of its existence.
BTS or Bangtan Boys or Bangtan Sonyeondan is a Korean all-boys Pop band that is part of the larger Korean Pop (K-Pop) phenomenon.
According to VOX, K-Pop is a blend of addictive melodies, slick choreography, production values, and an endless parade of attractive South Korean performers who spend years in gruelling studio systems learning to sing and dance in synchronized harmony. Its inception can be traced back to 1995, but it was only after Wonder Girls first cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009 with their crossover hit “Nobody” that K-Pop made its mark. It has now transformed South Korea’s music industry and propelled its stature to an impressive $5 billion industry.
Today, there are hundreds of aspiring K-Pop bands and thousands of young Korean kids lining up outside the studios every year hoping to make it big in the Industry. The top bands in 2019 were BTS (Big Hit Entertainment), GOT7 (JYP Entertainment), Blackpink (YG Entertainment), Stray Kids (JYP Entertainment), and Twice (JYP Entertainment). The names of the companies running them are integral to the gig because it is these entertainment firms that call the shots and make the big money. The stars, in this case, are not born though they must be gifted to an extent. They are manufactured from an ever-increasing pool of kids who are willing to sign off their lives for a chance to be a K-Pop Star. The companies train these kids for 4-5 years before they can even think about debuting. Many never debut. The ones who do may become successful stars or not.
K-Pop as a phenomenon has not only brought South Korea to the notice of the world, it has also shaped the imagination of the youth of the country and gave them a specific parameter on which to judge themselves. South Korea is a country that has the tenth highest rate of suicide and is known as the plastic surgery capital of the world. It has earned those titles for interesting reasons and the distinct influence of the K-Pop phenomenon cannot be ignored in all this.