It was meant to be a celebratory occasion, but fans around the world were left heartbroken after K-pop group BTS released a highly anticipated video event marking the ninth anniversary of their debut. Seated at a long table and surrounded by purple balloons, the boy band dropped a bombshell announcement on their future plans.
“We’re going into an ‘off’ now,” said BTS member Suga, which was originally translated as “hiatus” in the video’s English subtitles. But just hours after the news broke, Hybe, the entertainment company that manages BTS, scrambled to clear the air, denying that the band is going on a “hiatus.”
As of writing, the subtitles have been revised to say that BTS is taking a “temporary break.”
“To be clear, they are not on hiatus but will take time to explore some solo projects at this time and remain active in various different formats,” Hybe said in a statement sent to VICE World News.
But fans got the gist of their message: BTS is going on a break. The announcement came as a shock to most, with the band giving no definite indication that they were considering the move.
“I immediately started bawling,” Trish Sotto, an ardent BTS fan from the Philippines who had flown to Los Angeles last year to catch the group perform live, told VICE World News. “Not in my wildest imagination would I have expected an announcement about a break. In fact, our entire fandom was gearing up for a tour announcement.”
As fans wonder what the break means for the future of BTS, many have also expressed overwhelming support for the band’s decision to put their mental health first. Some say that the break is a long time coming for the boy band, as members faced burnout, an identity crisis, and looming enlistment into South Korea’s military.
Since debuting in 2013, the group has grown to become one of the world’s biggest music sensations. They have unlocked milestones for K-pop on the world stage—becoming the first K-pop group to be nominated for a Grammy Award, bagging Artist of the Year at last year’s American Music Awards, and having been invited to speak at the United Nations.
But between relentless concert tours, album preparation, and dance choreography, it is clear now that burnout had begun to set in. In the video released on Tuesday, the members opened up about their struggles with exhaustion and creative block.
“The problem with K-pop and the whole idol system is that they don’t give you time to mature. You have to keep producing music and keep doing something,” said RM, the group’s leader. “It feels so wrong to even say that we’re exhausted.”
“[Making music] now compared to seven, eight years ago feels completely different. Back then, I had something to say but just lacked the skills. Now I don’t have anything to say,” added Suga. “Right now, I’m just squeezing it out because we have to satisfy people’s wants and the listeners.”
For fans, these revelations came as a surprise. While the group has not shied away from sharing their struggles, they usually avoided speaking about those issues until they’ve been resolved.
“In the past, whenever they said they were in a funk, it was always after they had gotten over that hump. But I think this is the first time they’re sharing that they don’t know what to do except to take a step back,” said Sotto, who described Tuesday’s announcement as a “glass shattering moment.”
“It’s a lot of bravery to take a step back when you’re at the peak of your career.”
Since the announcement, fans have rallied to show their support for BTS amid the changes. Popping off on Twitter are hashtags like #BTSBestFriendsOfMyLife and #ThankYouBTS, as fans flooded the platform with tributes to the band.
“I believe they are doing this simply because they do need a break. They worked nonstop for a whole decade,” Betty Silva, a 20-year-old fan from the U.S., told VICE World News. “We all go through changes and we just need to accept it with open arms and embrace it.”
According to BTS, their creative struggle stems from an identity crisis, as members figure out the goals of the group.
“We’ve come to think about what kind of artists we each want to be remembered as to our fans. I think that’s why we’re going through a rough patch right now. We’re trying to find our identity and that’s an exhausting and long process,” said Jimin.
Jung Min-jae, a music critic in South Korea, told VICE World News that he thinks that the group is setting a good example for other pop idols to take care of their well-being while balancing their careers.
“Fans may be disappointed, but I’m looking at it positively,” he said. “If BTS spends their rest period well and returns fully, I think it will set a good precedent for other K-pop groups, too.”
Upcoming military conscription is also a major reason why a change of plans appears inevitable for the wildly popular boy band. The conscription of 29-year-old Jin, BTS’ oldest member, has been the subject of much debate for years. Under a new law introduced in 2020, Jin, who was originally scheduled to join the military last year, has managed to put off his conscription until the end of this year. Despite his stardom, he remains obligated to serve almost two years in the military—a requirement for all young, healthy men in South Korea.
Kim Do-heon, another music critic in South Korea, told VICE World News, that the announcement “shows that the first chapter of BTS [has] ended.”
“Each member will try to get back to normal and work on solo projects to show their own musical styles that they couldn’t as a group,” said Kim. “They were honest about this on their own content, which carries considerable weight in the group, even in the K-pop and music industry.”
Follow Junhyup Kwon on Twitter.