BTS, the insanely popular seven-member South Korean boy band, has been beating music records for years. But on Monday, August 31, they reached a milestone no other K-pop artist has achieved—debuting a single at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 via their first all-English track “Dynamite” released last month.
According to Nielsen Music and MRC data, the single has been streamed 33.9 million times and sold 300,000 singles since its release on August 21, beating out Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallions’ controversial earworm, “WAP.”
It’s been a steady rise for the disco-inspired song, which now holds the title for biggest YouTube premiere ever, garnering over 101 million views in just 24 hours. Six different versions of the single made it to the top 10 of iTunes charts. BTS also swept this years’ VMAs on Sunday, August 30, winning four awards.
How did a band from a small (by K-pop standards) music label achieve this in less than eight years after their debut? As the group’s leader RM has said time and again, it’s all about the fans.
“If there’s anything that I’ve achieved, it was only possible because I had my other BTS members by my side, and because of the love and support of our ARMY fans,” he said during a speech at the United Nations in 2018.
An ARMY of fans
To this day, BTS fans, known as ARMY, are behind much of the band’s success.
Billboard ranks singles for the Hot 100 based on a combination of all-genre United States streaming, radio airplay, and sales data. To get “Dynamite” to the top of the Billboard charts, fans from around the world personally reached out to their local radio stations to ensure airplay. It was a mission they took seriously, with the hashtag #BTS_Dynamite trending on social media when the song dropped.
Despite having had four #1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart and holding the record for the most weeks at number one on the Social 50 chart, debuting at #1 on the Hot 100 had always eluded BTS.
“The bigger the dream, the better. We want to rank number one on the Hot 100 chart, and number one on the hot 200 chart,” BTS member Suga said in a previous interview.
This wish was granted, but not by any stroke of luck. The fact that the first BTS song to reach the milestone is in English was no accident.
"BTS's new approach [in releasing an English song] is a strategy to get them to a better place on [the Billboard] charts," Kim Zak-ka, a pop music critic from South Korea, told VICE News, explaining that American radio shows rarely feature non-English songs, which contributes to the Hot 100 chart.
Aside from releasing the song in English, BTS also dropped multiple remixes to increase first week sales and a second version of the music video just a few days after the first one premiered.
“BTS's universal sound and message gained sympathy in a time when the global music market sinks in a swamp and people need to get comforted due to the coronavirus,” Kim Young-dae, music critic and author of BTS: The Review, told VICE News.
“BTS's fandom has increased greatly in recent years. On top of it, BTS released their song in English, so they could overcome their disadvantages when it comes to radio airplay. English speaking fans also feel more comfort through their music.”
The first time an artist of Asian descent reached #1 on the list was in June 1963, when Japan-born Kyu Sakamoto topped the charts with his song "Sukiyaki.” Hip-hop ensemble Far East Movement also topped the list in October 2010 with "Like a G6.”
One Korean artist that came close in 2012 was PSY, for the song “Gangnam Style,” but he only reached number two on the charts. Today, PSY congratulated BTS saying, "Finally, proud! I'm really proud," sharing the chart results to his Instagram Stories.
This win meant a lot to South Koreans globally, including South Korean President Moon Moon Jae-in, who took the time to congratulate BTS on Twitter.
“It is truly amazing,” Moon wrote. “It is a splendid feat that further raises pride in K-pop. The song ‘Dynamite,’ which topped the list, is all the more meaningful as it has been composed to give a message of comfort and hope to people around the world who are struggling with COVID-19. It will bring huge consolation to Koreans suffering from the national crisis caused by COVID-19. I offer my heartfelt congratulations.”
In response, BTS thanked Moon for his support.
“Thank you once again for your warm words of congratulations,” the group responded in a tweet. “Though it is a difficult period, it would be good if our song could be even the smallest of comforts and one of positive energy. We trust that all the cities of the world, including those in our own country, will be revitalized once again through the bright lights, and we will strive in our work in the arena of music, for it is what we can do best.”
Even band members said they’re still surprised by the achievement.
“Really just talked about this with [my bandmate] Suga but thank you so much and thank you again ARMY. I’m so sorry I don’t know what to say. Tears keep coming,” member Jimin said.
BTS and its fans are now setting their sights on the next big milestone, hoping for a Grammy win by next year, a feat no K-pop artist has been able to achieve.
Miran Miyano and Junhyup Kwon contributed reporting.